Carnival indiepop is very big right now, with bands like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Architecture in Helsinki and even Wolf Parade. And They Shoot Horses Don't They (man, these names are long) jumps on the bandwagon with the debut album, "Boo Hoo Hoo Hoo." No, I'm not crying.
But while "Boo Hoo Hoo Hoo" is an amusing little album, it never quite reaches the pop brilliance of the other bands I mentioned. The circus atmosphere is thick and bright, but all the clatter and smoke never quite pulls itself into a cohesive album. It's fun, but it's only so-so as music.
It kicks off with mysterious thumps and carnival music. So it's a shock when the vocalist howls, "Come off, emptyhead!/You're gonna get your way!/And we're gonna see them all fall down/one by one..." The music evens out into a slight but amusing melody, full of horns, bells and wacky wails from the background singers.
They embrace a slightly more conventional indierock sound every now and then, toning down the horns and party fervour. But mostly they stick to extremely thin melodies -- you just don't notice that they're thin, because they are juiced up into bouncy sweetness with horns, tinny circus melodies, thumpy percussion and distorted wailing-singing.
Don't get me wrong, They Shoot Horses Don't They's debut album is a fun listen. Anything with that much carnival atmosphere crammed into it HAS to be, especially when the people making it sound like they're having fun.
But it's also one of those albums that is best listened to in small doses. Try to listen to all the songs, and they melt into a cute, colorful blur. At times even the band doesn't seem to know where it's going -- the finale, "Apple," starts off as a tight little indie melody, but in the last quarter it disintegrates into a seemingly random assortment of noises.
Okay, those are the flaws. The upside is that it's amusing to listen to, like a bunch of punks who got trapped in the circus overnight and came out with big blinky clown noses. Once you get used to the howling vocals, they add to the carnival atmosphere, along with a heavy dose of jittery guitar, trombones, xylophone, bells and trumpets.
If "Boo Hoo Hoo Hoo" had relied just on its melodies, it would have been terrible. But They Shoot Horses Don't They manage to elevate it to fun and kooky, with all the carnie trappings. Musically thin... yet cute and amusing.