In the wake of the turn of the millennium invasion of Scandinavian garage rockers, electroclash hipsters, and post-punk emo sad sacks, Norway's Loch Ness Mouse's brand of melodic sugar pop is a refreshing change of pace. The songs radiate with warmth and an almost giddy sense of innocence (something that rarely exists in the cred-obsessed, cynicism-fueled music scenes of the U.S. or U.K.). This carefree feeling coupled with the group's lush harmonies and sprightly acoustic guitars will no doubt make it easy for certain listeners to write them off as being a kitschy '60s-flavored throwback act, but they are in fact much more than this. While the gentlemen of the Loch Ness Mouse are clearly very heavily influenced by outfits like the Beach Boys and the Lovin' Spoonful, their music manages to avoid coming across as a one-dimensional novelty, and is instead an enthralling collection of lovingly crafted pop gems. Whereas the Mouse's 1999 debut effort, Flair for Darjeeling, was comprised of fairly straightforward guitar-based pop songs with an upbeat West Coast-flavored Beach Boys-meets-Monkees feel, Key West is a much more diverse, intricate, and complex album. Songs are made of so many layers of pristine vocal harmonies (including plenty of sparkling "do do do" and "la la la" background choruses) and instruments (including cello and horns) that each track is a virtual symphony, with the giddy spirit of a parade. In the band's finest moments, the Loch Ness Mouse calls to mind the underrated genius of the Turtles, but with a certain modern flair.
Nominated for Norway's Alarm Prize for Best Pop Album of 2002, Key West should easily find its audience among fans of outfits like Summer Hymns, Elf Power, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, the Monkees, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Turtles, the Ethnobabes, and the Tables. Members of Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, and the Olivia Tremor Control lend their talents throughout Key West, giving the Loch Ness Mouse a more formal connection to the quirky and fun Elephant 6 sound that the group has long shown an affinity for in its music. A simple skimming of the song titles reveals that Key West is poised to be a concept album of sorts, as phrases like "Salty Hair," "Aloha," and "Ceylon Sailor" lend themselves to a breezy nautical theme. However, the lyrics of "Market Numbers" reveal an even deeper theme, in this case the choice of brothers/Mouse members Ole and Jern Aleskjaer to become musicians rather than fourth-generation boat makers, crafting pop songs rather than sailing ships. Though the majority of Key West's summery tunes are intricately constructed jangle pop revelry, as highlighted in numbers like "In the City in the Morning," "Market Numbers," and "Jules Verne," songs like "Salty Hair" melt effortlessly from breezy surf pop to woozy, slide guitar-driven psychedelia, with verses that ebb and flow like the tides dragging bits of the beach out to sea. Truly a stunning slice of pure pop bliss.