With sing-a-longs like "Scrub, Scrub, Scrub," "The Selfish Shellfish" and "Freedom of the Heart" espousing the virtues of hygiene, sharing and spending a sunny afternoon with a friend, Los Angeles-based band Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang plays dada pop for both preschoolers and their parents.
Standing in sharp contrast to the Good Time Gang, L.A. retro rock quintet The 88 oozes vintage cool, donning suits and antique ties while jamming classic-rock beats and pop harmonies.
"I play in a children's band with a few of the guys in The 88," says lead singer Keith Slettedahl, a Good Time Gang-banger along with 88's guitarist Brandon Jay and keyboardist Adam Merrin. "I can just be the guitar player and I don't have to worry about anything else. It's a really good band."
Of course, you might not know The 88. If you haven't been turned on to the band's infectious rock and inspired live shows, chances are you soon will. The L.A. Weekly named them the city's Best Rock/Pop Band in 2003, and they'll be featured on the soundtrack for the smash twilight soap opera, The O.C. (due out Feb. 24). The 88 also performed live on KCRW's acclaimed Morning Becomes Eclectic radio show with Nic Harcourt.
All this makes The 88 one of Los Angeles' best kept secrets, though past shows in San Diego and an appearance on Fox Rox have helped spread the word locally. "I guess the plan coming up is to get out of L.A. and play some other shows," Slettedahl says. "Honestly, we probably aren't very well known anywhere else."
Kind of Light is the sort of album that is instantly familiar, instantly knowable. By the second or third track, most listeners understand the buzz surrounding the band.
Released last year, Kind of Light contains 13 extremely listenable tracks, ranging from the title song's bittersweet psychedelic pop to the Beach Boys harmonies and Elvis Costello organ of "Sunday Afternoon."
The album's airtight songwriting and complex harmonic layering is more impressive when you consider The 88's relative inexperience. Slettedahl-who penned all the songs included on the release-didn't write his first song until six years ago at the age of 24. Having graduating high school, he began drifting along and generally feeling baffled by the world, he explains. He then turned to songwriting.
"The worse things got for me personally, the more I felt this need to do something about it," Slettedahl explains, possibly referring to substance abuse that he admitted to in earlier articles on the band, yet tries to avoid nowadays. "I was feeling so down about myself, I had to do something, anything, to give myself worth. I started trying to write songs almost out of desperation."
After a brief stint under the name The Freeloaders, The 88-Slettedahl, Merrin, Jay, drummer Mark Vasapolli and bassist Carlos Torres-slowly emerged. Despite unavoidable comparisons to The Kinks, the band knows how to meld classic song craft and fiery musicianship into their own distinct sound.
"We didn't say to ourselves, "We're going to make this album and we're going to sound like The Kinks,'" says Slettedahl. "There's so much more going on. When you say The Kinks, most people think of the garagey stuff like "You Really Got Me' or "Come Dancing.' Most people don't own Village Green (Preservation Society).
"My favorite music is old music, and that will never change."The 88 perform with American Luxury and Sweetness at The Casbah, 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 4. $6. 619-232-HELL.