The Smittens Of Burlington, Vermont

As soft and twee as their clay figurine counterparts on the album cover, The Smittens are downright adorable. A homespun recipe of primitive naiveté, goodtime sixties sing-alongs and eighties pop, Gentlefication Now! is a not-so-subtle reminder that “Being nice is a political act.” In the tradition of such artists as The Shaggs and the children of the Langley Schools Project, the components of this quintet sound as if they decided to learn to play some instruments and form a band within the last six months. The male-female harmonies recall an unpolished Belle and Sebastian or The Children’s Hour. Max Andrucki, labeled “The Dashing Smitten”, adds a certain Fred Schneider element of kitsch to The Smittens’ sound, but his buttery crooner’s baritone is infinitely more appealing than a shrill, attention-seeking harangue. While half of the five Smittens are gay and the other half straight, they will be the first to attest to the fact that “This is not faggot rock, this is not a point of view, we see everything they do” on “To the Enemies of Political Pop”. The Smittens are for anyone who can relate to the themes of relationship anxiety, sexual confusion, jealousy, playful bitterness vis-à-vis your hometown and its boring inhabitants, loving your friends but needing your space; in short, The Smittens are for everyone. “Gin and Platonic”‘s chorus borrows the melody of the Go-Gos’ “Vacation”, but adds new lyrics: “Relationships I never wanted / relationships I have avoided / gin and platonic never let me down.” Even when lamenting, the quintet is ebullient, as demonstrated on “I Hate Vermont”: “If I walk down Church Street one more time I’ll die,” Dana Kaplan sings, lovingly indicting the group’s home town of Burlington, VT.Holly Ann Chagnon, dubbed “The Littlest Smitten”, contributes Romper Room disco piece “The Champagne Room”, which wouldn’t sound at all out of place in third grade choir classrooms across America. “Doomed, Lo-fi and In Love” features one of the album’s most astute lyrics, “So, I used you for a while last summer just to relate to a pop song.” Indeed, The Smittens have allowed pop songs to dictate their lives, and with delightful results. To some, the album’s liner notes may seem a bit much — each member is pictured next to his or her clay alter-ego and Smittens name (The Charming Smitten, The Lady Smitten, et cetera), under which are listed likes and dislikes (Likes: Soy, Dislikes: patriarchy) — but The Smittens’ music proves that there is no pretension here. From the first rippin’ guitar chords and bouncy spinet-like keyboard notes through closer “Deep Blue Sea”, an a capella duet accompanied only by quiet finger snaps, The Smittens glow with a genuine desire to institute Gentlefication Now!. The way they sing it, brother, it sounds like a little revolution.