I remember reading Punknews way way back, when I was still at secondary school, and seeing a story about a band called Museum Mouth giving away their demo, much to my entertainment called I Am the Idiot of the Jungle, for free. Half the albums I listen to seem to be free now but at the time it was an almost mind-blowing concept. Another thing blowing my mind at the time was the fact my parents had finally bothered getting broadband, so returning home I found myself able to download it. It was four simple, lo-fi pop-punk songs, with boy-girl (said girl Savannah Levin has since left the band) vocals and the occasional bit of synthesizer, and I enjoyed it and have stuck with the band since. Here I sit, about to write up a review of their third album; and it strikes me as slightly odd, because a band who when I first encountered them were dead simple and could for all I knew have broken up a month later are still here, and have written a concept record.
The whole record is an autobiographical account of lead singer and drummer Karl Kuehn's attempt to start a relationship with someone he's obsessed with but simply can't have, and lyrically explores the many stages of this would-be coupling, with a healthy dose of self-awareness (going on self-hatred) that stops it getting bogged down in clichéd pop-punk girl-hating, or in this case, boy-hating.
Lyrically, then, the album starts from a point of already being refreshingly unique, but Karl's excellent writing allows the full potential of the theme to be reached. There's snappy phrases like "The Smiths never changed my life, but baby you just might." "Handsome and Boring" gently satirizes Alex, whilst at the same time explaining why Karl is so filled with affection for him in a sarcastically touching way: "I always wanted the quarterback but fell for the nerd, president of the chess club he knows every word, to all of OK Computer, by Radiohead, God he's so fucking perfect I'm dreaming or I must be dead." Album closer "Alex Decider," which depicts Karl's decision to move on, showcases his knack for reflecting and remembering within lyrics, keeping self-aware and driving a proper narrative within the songs, as opposed to anchoring everything in the present: "I guess I should have been the bigger man, because my only regret was not holding your hand, in the back of that minivan, but hey I got your number - so I guess I had a plan."
The album also has a lot going for it musically. For anyone wondering, there's no instances where the music is weighed down in order for the story to progress; the songs are contained and simple, much like Museum Mouth's previous work. The super-basic nature of the earliest material and the dance-punk elements of Sexy But Not Happy have been toned down, in favor of more slow, pensive songs wedged between the pop-punk numbers, but the music still sounds a lot like it was recorded in a huge, echoing cave.
The album's usually at its best when the songs are moving fast; "Alex Impulse" and "Drool," for instance, and in the stunning "Crocodile" (for me the album's best song), where Kory Urban's rubbery bass and Karl's drums smash forward Ramones-style before Graham High's reverberating, spindly guitar lines come in, with the band eventually breaking into full-on punk. "Handsome and Boring" is longer, and moves at a slower pace, but feels fast, with a steady beat and wonderful melodies at every moment. The slower numbers on the record's B-side are kind of twinkly without being emo per se, and don't grab one in quite the same way; but they have some of the album's best and most emotionally devastating lyrics, chronicling the obsession falling apart. "Nickels and Dimes" is a good example, starting from sparse plucking and building to a slowpunx climax as Karl laments "I would have never wasted those nickels and dimes if I could have just known I'd never make you mine."
Overall, the record's a smart, cynical and tuneful look at romance and obsession, analyzing them in a self-aware way that's simultaneously similar to and the polar opposite of Masked Intruder. But it's also full to the brim of real emotion; I'd wager it makes a bloody good break-up album too.