Cloud Cult|Say Hi to Your Mom

Advice From the Happy Hippopotamus|Ferocious Mopes

If Dr. Phil made an album, it might sound something like Advice From the Happy Hippopotamus. Cloud Cult rocks like a motivational speaker on a self-help book tour: Songwriter/mastermind Craig Minowa bathes us in treacly words of encouragement on the (for the most part) insipidly soothing "Training Wheels," checking up on our progress with a gentle, track-saving chorus that simply repeats "How are you doing?" over and over. Backed by inspiring acoustic guitar and a rousing electro-orchestra, Minowa uses his fraught, high-pitched voice to remind us on "Start Over" that he knows what it's like to be in our shoes. Testimonials from the audience come in the form of "Light at the End of the Tunnel," in which the only vocals are a woman's sampled voice detailing her near-death experience. And then there's "What It Feels Like to Be Alive," 51 seconds of Minowa calling on actual crowd members to scream their joy of life to the world and themselves. Which raises the question: Is this guy for real?! Maybe. Hippopotamus may resound with daytime-TV platitudes, but it's also got the kind of easy charm that keeps the Oprahs of the world in business.

Cloud Cult's show buddy Say Hi to Your Mom, on the other hand, spackles the offbeat charm on so freaking thick that one starts to feel walled in. I don't usually pay attention to lyrics (I find this kind of weird, considering I'm a writer). But Say Hi to Your Mom (which has to be one of the worst band names ever) has actually made me take notice of and even -- eureka! -- listen to the words. Unfortunately, it's not exactly for good reasons. SHTYM, one of those one-man-bands all the sensitive boys are so fond of these days, is the project of sensitive boy Eric Elbogen, who writes lyrics about hot (well, cold, to be more accurate) android love ("Yeah, I'm in Love With an Android") and being a ghost ("I Think I'll Be a Good Ghost"). Fuuuuucked up! Hilllllarious! The other reason I can't help but pay attention to Elbogen's oh-so-warped lyrics is that the music accompanying them is often so minimalist that it hardly seems to move or even exist at all. Sometimes this works, as in the repetitive bass motifs that lend "The Forest Scares the Hell Out of Me" a kind of cheekily ominous quality. Ferocious Mopes is best when Elbogen quits trying so damn hard and lets the music tell the story for a while.

 
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