Kaiser Cartel’s “Season Song” pops on the stereo, and suddenly I’m in preschool again, romping around the playroom in short pants, listening to kiddie songs on the school record player. Chipper whistling and handclaps fill my ears while Courtney Kaiser sings of “bumblebees and growing trees” in a voice like a warm hug.
About three minutes later, the track is over, and I’m back to jaded-twentysomething mode, sneering at this derivative piece of juvenile fluff, ready to take the critical knives to Kaiser Cartel’s March Forth. But something strange is happening: That cheesy little tune keeps popping back into my head. And -- sin of sins! -- it’s making me smile.
“It’s time to cheer the seasons of the year!” Hell yeah.
The duo of Kaiser (vocals, guitar) and Benjamin Cartel (vocals, drums) has succeeded in tapping into that primitive pleasure center of my brain -- you know, the one that used to guide all of my music-listening habits. The higher-level regions of my mind are all in revolt, but everyone else is shouting them down: Just shut up and enjoy the music.
Okay, the rest of the album doesn’t stir up such cognitive dissonance. But Kaiser and Cartel make music so willingly unpretentious that it’s a bit of a shock to think that they’re based in Brooklyn. They know their way around a melody, which is about all that March Forth contains: simple sequences of notes meant to hold space, stir up a fleeting emotion, and then fade away.
Outside of “Season Song,” most of the album floats by in a haze of sleepy bliss, washing over the senses without penetrating. Great for coffee shops, or lazing in bed, but not so much the stuff that gets anyone doing cartwheels. Still, it’s a fine comfort record. After the doomed harmonies of opener “Oh No” fade away, it’s all gravy, with sweet acoustic pop like “Okay” and the Lilith Fair balladry of “Good Ones” taking over. Hell, I’ve even got a soft spot for the Mellotron-laden “Dog Stars,” even though I’m pretty sure it’s a tune written in tribute to an actual puppy.
Fittingly, the album ends with the duo thanking “the toothpaste cats” as well as “you ... (meaningful pause) ... for listening.” Sure, this is a relatively slight effort -- those in search of adventure had best look elsewhere -- but for the aural equivalent of a fluffy blanket, this is your crack rock.
"Okay" video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtuTTOkjU8U