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If you were planning to record an ambitious and quirky pop album and had your choice of collaborators, Mike Watt might not be one of them -- there's no arguing the man's tremendous talent as a bassist and songwriter, but his pedigree is in punk and hard rock, not indie pop. But clearly Sam Dook of the Go! Team is more imaginative than most of us; he teamed up with Watt to form the side project Cuz, and their first full-length album, Tamatebako, is a curiously marvelous triumph, a set of songs that leaps through hoops of style and culture and always land gracefully on its feet, ready to dance. Ranging from the nervous indie rock of "Houdini" and "W/No Bee StIng" or the "Sonic Youth with a dance beat" sound of "France Gnarl" to the moody acoustic landscapes of "Thinkin' About Thinkin'," and the languid, sadly beautiful drifting of "Fickle Fortune," each song on Tamatebako has a personality of its own, but they fit together marvelously, and Dook's beds of percussion, guitar, and electronics are a fine match for the rich, melodic framework of Watt's bass, while the craggy warmth of Watt's voice turns out to be just the right touch for tunes like "Song for Ronnie" and "Slipstream" (his abilities as a vocalist have rarely been used to better advantage than they are here) and make a nice complement for Dook's reedier, British-accented voice. Dook and Watt also have an impressive collection of guests on board, from Petra Hayden on strings and vocals to beat poet and novelist Charles Plymell, who provides a memorable dramatic reading for "Sand and Bones." Tamatebako is witty, thoughtful, and engaging music that isn't afraid to take chances or shift gears en route, and Dook and Watt's unlikely partnership results in an album that's fresh and distinctly pleasurable.

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