Review Summary: Quirky duo make an album that relies entirely on an obscure, outdated toy keyboard.
The Optigan is really an ingenious instrument. Basically the predecessor of all toy keyboards, the Optigan was an organ that made sound by using pre-recorded celluloid discs of notes and tones (made by real instruments), instead of actually creating the sounds from inside. It was released by Mattel, the very same company introduced the Barbie doll, in the early 1970’s and, despite the many problems that rendered it obsolete, still has a bit of a place in modern music. Optiganally Yours (take a guess where their name comes from) is a duo, comprised of extremely prolific Pinback songwriter Rob Crow and Optigan nerd (he founded optigan.com) Pea Hix. On Exclusively Talentmaker!
, Optiganally Yours’ second release, the two branch away from their namesake, instead relying entirely on a very similar instrument, the Chilton Talentmaker.
As to be expected from an album comprised exclusively by an out-dated, obscure synthesizer, Talentmaker
is very lo-fi, almost to the point where it is ridiculous. Most tracks listen like 80’s b-movie soundtracks; corny tones played within a post-shoegaze haze of indie-pop goodness. The majority of the songs are short, quirky affairs, Gepetto
, a song that finds Crow singing about the joys of being alone inside of a whale ( “no one can bother me in here… and I can cha-cha all day”
are his exact words) amidst spacey organ and simple [optigan/talentmaker created] percussion, is a prime example of this. However, the other worldly drone of closing number Song for America
stretches the formula out to its limit, lengthwise. A quality song though it is, one may find himself thanking god that the track is, not the 33:57 advertised, but a mere 5:23, followed by an extended, and entirely skipable, silence.
Crow’s voice is perfectly suited for the chilled organ and cheesy percussion it is recorded over. It’s a bit atmospheric, but can get a little dull. The album as a whole almost seems like an Indie update of standard elevator muzak, and Crow’s vocals don’t really do much in the way of contradicting this comparison. His lyrics, on the other hand, tend to be a bit unserious (see lyrics from the Pinocchio influenced Gepetto or the anti-jock I’m Bad at Sports
), whether or not this is a bad thing is really up to you. Also not unlike muzak, the tracks are a bit samey; obvious standouts, however, do exist within the hum-drum. Guitar Song’s
interesting instrumentals, full of real sounding guitar and excellent keyboard swells, and The Outer Space’s
dream-like fog of organ chords solidify the tracks, which fall back-to-back on the track listing, as the album’s best one-two punch. But really, even with that last hurrah, Exclusively Talentmaker! is sort of a novelty album. It’s definitely an interesting listen, but the most appealing thing about it isn’t the songwriting or anything like that, it’s the keyboard that the album was crafted on.