Death by Chocolate

Zap the World

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The second album from Mike Alway's retro-pop project Death by Chocolate continues with the same basic idea as 2001's self-titled debut, groovy, swinging '60s instrumentals interspersed with Angie Tillett's surreal stream-of-pop-culture poetry readings, but improves upon the first album in several important respects. Most importantly, the shadowy production team behind the music (Jeremy Butler, John Austin, and Matty Green) have traded the first album's rather rinky-dink sound into a more fully realized blend of all the right '60s Europop tropes -- wordless ba-ba-ba vocals, muted trumpets, swelling strings, bossa nova rhythms, etc. -- and a sleek, glossy modernity. Tillett's spoken-word bits are equally upgraded, with fewer context-free recitations of hip cultural touchstones and a sly, pointed sense of humor. The covers are way cooler too, this time including "While I'm Still Young" from the classic '60s beat film Smashing Time; "Cutoutgirlscout" from the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore cult comedy Bedazzled; and the title track, from the apparently LSD-inspired children's show H.R. Pufnstuf (it was Witchiepoo's theme song), but the real conceptual masterpiece is the opening track, a dead-on re-creation of an infamous commercial for Vox wah-wah pedals the Electric Prunes did in 1967. Everything about the track, from the puckish but loving spirit of the imitation to the unashamed record-store geekery that inspired them to do something so silly to begin with, is indicative of a warped brand of genius. Those who don't approve of cuteness will scoff; for everyone else, Zap the World is a most charming bit of pure pop fluff.

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