Casper & the Cookies

Dingbats

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Dingbats is the fourth full-length album by Athens, Georgia indie rock funsters Casper & the Cookies. Dingbats may also refer to small ornamental characters used in typesetting, which is a strangely apt comparison to a band whose members write odd little ornamental pop songs and who are also incidentally, characters. Originally formed around the home recordings of songwriter Jason NeSmith, who had already been using the alias Casper Fandango, the group released a variety of recordings under the Casper banner before finally settling on the Cookies name with 2004's Oh! Since then, NeSmith, wife Kay Stanton, and a rotating cast of bandmates have consistently turned out an inventive blend of power pop and punk with strong veins of weird, retro, experimental kitsch. On Dingbats, their first studio record since 2009's Modern Silence, they continue to sound like no one else with 13 more herky-jerky but generally captivating pop tunes. Longtime fans of Casper won't be disappointed, but the album's best and most accessible moments bookend this strange and slightly uneven effort. The thrilling opener, "Improvvisamente Ardito," recalls the best and most harmonious elements of their hometown's fabled Elephant 6 pop scene, with NeSmith's voice taking on a distinctly Alex Chilton-esque tone. Closing out the set is the beautifully elegant and somewhat shambling ballad "When the Moon Was in Command." In between these two standouts is a mix of fun, upbeat pop songs by both NeSmith and Stanton that range from comically obscure ("Drug Facts" and "Jennifer's House") to complexly melodic ("Thing for Ugly") and often resemble an odd mash-up of Minutemen rhythms and B-52s panache. Dingbats certainly jumps around a lot, but it's a truly original mix full of some pleasant surprises.

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