15 April 2009

The Boy Least Likely To: "The Law of the Playground"

I am sucker for good pop music. I am not talking about the generic kind of pop that is producer generated, employing hapless singers who are not capable of writing their own music. Though this brand of pop artist is the most popular, as major record label producers have the financial backing to promote their product, the brand of pop music that really gets me going is the brand written by the artists themselves. There is usually more passion and experimentation in these efforts, and the Boy Least Likely To fits very comfortably into this group of pop artists. Though taking four years to release their sophomore follow-up due to complications with their record label, “Law of the Playground” is arguably a more solid album than their debut “The Best Party Ever.”

The Boy Least Likely To is a duo hailing from Wendover in the UK; composed of multi-instrumentalist Pete Hobbs and vocalist Jof Owen, they share song writings duty (composer and lyricist respectively). What really strikes me about the Boy Least Likely To is the fact that they are influenced by country music. Country music, as American as apple pie, is usurped by this duo to create a breed of British pop music that is unconventional. Though the songs may follow the format of standards (as most pop songs do), there is this sort of kitschiness that is more than welcomed.

Released 9 March 2009 in the UK, 14 April 2009 in the USA, “The Law of the Playground” opens with “Saddle Up,” an appropriate song to open with after a four year period between albums: “It’s time to get back on the road, saddle up, saddle up, get ready to go…” Strings, banjos, beautifully harmonized vocal arrangements; the listener is just dragged (ever so gently) into the world of the Boy Least Likely To. From the first track, the listener knows exactly what to expect from this album. The second track, “Ballon on a String,” contains one of my favorite, funniest lines of the year: “I’m not a boy, I’m a big, fat balloon…” Speak about absurdity? But it works, “Because I’m a balloon on a broken string; I’m not attached to anyone or anything anymore.” The metaphor is infantile, but effective, vivid, imaginable, and universal.

Throughout the entire album, there is this sense of childishness, this regression of infancy; that is the power of the album. It is difficult enough to write a single song that has a sense of innocence and unaffectedness, but Hobbs and Owen are able to do it through thirteen tracks. From the marching band feel of “The Boy with Two Hearts” to the acoustic guitar sing-along “The Worm Forgives the Plough,” there is a return to the simple things, both sonically and lyrically, that are familiar and heart-warming. The closing track, “A Fairytale Ending,” reminisces about the old stories we read or were read to as kids. “When I was young, I was valiant and bold, I fought off dragons and wrestled with trolls; I was stupid, but I was brave.” But then the ultimate admission, the admission that none of us like to make to ourselves, the ultimate universal slap in the face: “I guess that I’m just like everyone else, I find it difficult to be myself, so I pretend to be something I’m not.” Isn’t that the universal truth? We constantly are wearing veneers that are not who we are? Isn’t that what our childhood taught us to do with all our pretend? And isn’t it just amazing that an album so unaffected, so childlike in innocence, has the maturity to point that out?

Track Listing:
1. Saddle Up
2. A Ballon on a Broken String
3. When Life Gives Me Lemons I Make Lemonade
4. I Box Up All the Butterflies
5. The Boy with Two Hearts
6. Stringing Up Conkers
7. The Boy Least Likely To Is a Machine
8. Whiskers
9. Every Goliath Has Its David
10. The Nature of the Boy Least Likely To
11. I Keep Myself to Myself
12. The Worm Forgives the Plough
13. A Fairytale Ending.

Follow the Boy Least Likely to at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and Vimeo.

Here is the video for “A Balloon on a Broken String.”

A Balloon On A Broken String from The Boy Least Likely To on Vimeo.