Death by Chocolate

Death by Chocolate

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Death by Chocolate contributed a couple of the more bizarrely captivating songs to Jetset's second and third installments of the Songs for the Jet Set series, but one wouldn't be remiss to question whether or not their twee yet strangely subversive 1960s pastiches could successfully extend to an entire album. The group (or perhaps "concept" is a more appropriate designation) emphatically answers the question on its eponymous debut full-length. Led by mere teenage nymphette Angela Faye Tillett, Death by Chocolate sounds like everything that the '60s were and everything that they were supposed to be all wrapped up in the same package. Milky-skinned innocence is juxtaposed against Serge Gainsbourg-like heavy breathing, Victorian dress-up shares space with streamlined space-age fashion, and a private childlike worldview exists alongside the freakish surreal haze of the international jet set. In other words, Death by Chocolate, at any particular moment, sounds as if it could be the work of the hairy house band in a sleazy go-go joint on Sunset Strip, a group of art-school kids providing the music for a museum opening (not unlike Stereolab, in fact, who once served that very role), a band playing the soundtrack to a Sid & Marty Krofft children's program, or a group of session musicians scoring a spy thriller. And it usually sounds like all of the above within the same song. Tillett talks her way through the songs, and her words vacillate dramatically between cutesy kiddie rhymes, Edward Lear-esque tomfoolery, and high hallucinogenic weirdness, while the music is a hip melange of rock, slinky theme-show noir, retro-futuristic lounge, and pop art. In other words, it is rather like something out of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory if Pete Townshend and John Barry had collaborated on the soundtrack. Both the music and the lyrics are highly referential -- everything from Volvos to elephants to Hanna-Barbera and pogo sticks makes an appearance. It is just as highly reverential. Their cover of Smoke's "My Friend Jack," originally on the third volume of Songs for the Jet Set, is a cornerstone of the album. They also reinterpret Dudley Moore's nearly forgotten psychedelic novelty "The LS Bumble Bee" and reimagine both "If You Want to Sing Out Sing Out" (from the black comedy Harold and Maude, and the only time Tillet literally sings on the album) and "Who Needs Wings to Fly?," Sally Field's theme from The Singing Nun. The group's original songs mine the same territory with wonderful results, while also borrowing from the Archies on "Ice Cold Lemonade," the Doors (particularly Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger) on "A B & C," and outright cribbing the organ riff from "I'm a Believer" for "The Salvidor [sic] Dali Murder Mystery." If it all sounds just a little fey for comfort, it is. But it is also wonderful and endearing. The album may be full of moments that verge on maudlin, but there are even more moments of inspired mania that throw together toy psychedelia, bubblegum pop, and the Monkees. It is an irresistible combination.

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