Ben & Jason

Emoticons

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AllMusic Review by

With Emoticons, Ben Parker and Jason Hazeley have crafted an austere pop album both of the times and of a timeless quality. Most of the songs deal with love, relationships, anguish, or joy, or some combination of these four motifs. The second track, "Air Guitar," is the first sign of the great treats to be found later in the album. It's a bouncy track reminiscent of the post-Beatles work of Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Its light, airy textures sound nearly magical, thanks to Parker's jew's-harp and Hazeley's accordion, shaker, and -- believe it or not -- chest of drawers. Though the subject matter is miles away thematically, the song brings to mind the cheese grater and other kitchen utensils Robyn Hitchcock utilized on Respect. "Smiling Shy" is a bit of a stretch for the band; half of it is charming, as Parker attempts the same sort of poignancy as Thom Yorke à la "Fake Plastic Trees," but Parker lacks Yorke's range, so the song ultimately becomes more grating than ingratiating. "Cartoon Heart" sees Parker singing dreamily romantic lyrics in a sort of sped-up ballad. On "What I Meant to Say," Parker starts off in a lower range, so when he does hit his highs, it's quite an endearing effect. "Trapped Behind the Glass" sounds if it was recorded underwater. It is another highpoint of the album, emotionally and musically, detailing an individual's self-doubts. "Romeo and Juliet are Drowning" once again sees Parker in Thom Yorke mode, this time creating a bittersweet tenderness as he tells someone (perhaps himself) that he or she is in a "mad if you want her, mad if you don't" situation and shouldn't let her slip away -- it's the usual tale of unrequited love, and it works entirely. "Dear Sally" has further echoes of McCartney (and perhaps Crowded House in that band's more lighthearted moments), as the song bops along with an otherworldly grace. All in all, Emoticons is a beautifully arranged album, full of many pop charms. If it overstays its welcome at times, Ben & Jason make up for it with more charisma than you'll find on ten other albums combined.

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