The third wave's answer to the Beach Boys or perhaps an Osmonds for a new age? Nah, not really -- for starters, there's a girl in the band, keyboardist Heidi Blobaum, and she's not even related to the boys. Besides, unlike the Mormons' greatest commodity, the Gadjits actually play instruments and write their own songs. Still in their teens, these Kansas City residents self-released their debut album, and eventually caught the attention of Rancid's Tim Armstrong, who promptly signed them to his Hellcat label and brought in the Slackers' Victor Ruggiero and the Scofflaws' Victor Rice to oversee At Ease. The pair's nice-and-clean production accentuates the Gadjits' youthful sound (i.e., simplistic arrangements and rhythms), but that's OK, because it also emphasizes the band's catchy melodies and Brandon Phillips' distinctive vocals and lyrics. And more to the point, the production captures the group's energy and enthusiasm, particularly noticeable on songs like the instrumental "Corpse I Fell in Love With," the knees-up skanker "Party Girl," and the rocking "Need Yo' Luv." But for all the simplicity of the band's sound, there's more to the Gadjits' music than initially meets the ear, as the band blends its chugging reggae rhythms, circa 1968, with a mod-ish element that sets the group apart from the rest of the pack. It's best evidenced on the Maytals-meets-Stax "Backup," the Booker T. & the MG's-ish "Beautiful Girl," and the funk-ified "Seat 6," but even bleeds into straightforward skankers like "Tell Yourself" and "California" (with its echoes of Prince Buster), mostly thanks to Blobaum's deft keyboards. Covers of "Mustang Sally" and Symarip's "Skinhead Girl" nicely sum up the group's influences, but don't quite prepare one for the flashes of "La Bamba" that spring up in "Traffic Tickets." They still have some growing up to do, but already the Gadjits are on par with many of their older contemporaries, while their songwriting is often light years ahead.
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AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene