The Bran Flakes are made up of Otis Fodder and Mildred Pitt, two people who choose to wear giant purple smiley-face masks when they appear in public. Any information dispatched from this duo is inevitably cloaked in childish rhetoric, filled with images of candy and kittens. Frankly, it reads a bit like a cult manifesto, which isn’t far from the truth. The Bran Flakes are sending an open invitation to join their cult of innocence through everything they do. And so far, it seems to be working. Leading up to their recent six-year hiatus, they had a growing following that believed fervently in their message of joyous simplicity.
They broke their silence with I Have Hands, their first release for Illegal Art. Like labelmates Girl Talk and Steinski, the Bran Flakes’ music is entirely sample-based. However, there is a key difference in their aesthetics. If Girl Talk juxtaposes Kanye West and Pilot with a sly wink, the Bran Flakes juxtapose Dolly Parton and the Osmonds with a playful elbow to the ribs. This is children’s music aimed at an adult audience, like an episode of Sesame Street soundtracked by the Avalanches.
The best songs here exist at that intersection. When serious issues are addressed with the naivety of childhood, the sense of defamiliarization that can be created is almost uncomfortable. “You Can Do Most Anything” features a sample of a little girl singing, “If I should do what I’m planning to do, the thought of it really scares me,” followed directly by a gruff male voice saying, “Poison should be stored in a very safe place, and ‘Poison’ should be written on each bottle face.” The meaning of these quotes placed side by side — whether they speak of suicide or violence — is made even more unsettling by their cartoonish nature. It speaks of the corruption of innocence directly and viscerally. Less serious topics, like the awkwardness of unfulfilled romantic feelings, are equally effectively addressed. On “I Have a Friend,” a tired and nervous-sounding male voice sings, “Well, I mean, I think you’re very nice,” interrupted by a girl crying “Go away!”
The Bran Flakes’ cult of innocence certainly is appealing at first, but it only stays interesting when adult topics are addressed through their lens of childishness. Such interesting incongruities are sadly sparse throughout the record. Songs like “Don Knotts,” which consists mainly of a sampled voice saying “Don Knotts” over and over, or the appropriately titled “Singing Dogs,” are exemplary of the overall tendency toward shallow playfulness on the record. Unfortunately, it takes quite a bit of effort to sift through 30 such songs to find the more immediately arresting moments. The sugar-rush aesthetic grows tiresome over the course of the record and threatens to overshadow the more sublime moments.