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Good looks, good hooks, and big Afros: L.A.'s the 88 comes to town

Wednesday, Aug 13 2003
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In a city like Los Angeles, a gimmick is often all a band needs to snag a record deal. Mixing rap with metal? Great. The Beach Boys with the Pet Shop Boys? Even better, you're hired, kids! The problem for L.A.'s the 88 , however, is that it has no trendy angle -- that is, unless you consider pitch-perfect pop-rock songwriting a gimmick. Delivering short, fun bursts of reverent rock, the 88 (which is most often compared to British Invasion bands like the Kinks) plays the kind of songs that'll stay in your head like a brain tumor. No wonder it was recently voted best pop/rock band by the city"s most prominent alternative weekly.

Thanks to constant gigging, airplay on SoCal radio stations, and a fantastic debut LP, Kind of Light, the 88 has almost grown too big for its hometown britches. Listen to the record and you'll see why: Crammed with three-minute pop masterpieces that ebb with Adam Merrin's piano lines and flow with guitarist/singer Keith Slettedahl's raspy, strained-yet-sweet vocals, the album presents a band that's ripe for an MTV invasion. While the quintet might come across as precious, with its vintage Wurlitzer organ prominently featured center stage, it's hard to find fault with a group that so deftly marries loud, ringing guitars with vocal harmonies and melodic piano/organ lines, as it does on songs like the buoyant and beautiful "How Good It Can Be."

If you can call dressing up for a gig a gimmick, then the 88 is guilty: The band takes the stage sporting suits, ties, and guitarist Brandon Jay's surreal, gravity-defying Afro (à la The Simpsons' Sideshow Bob), which moves like a palm tree in a hurricane during louder songs such as "Melting in the Sun." But aside from looking good (certainly no crime in L.A.), the guys are gimmick free and quite simply one of the most talented bands the City of Angels has produced in years.

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Charlie Amter

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