Thee More Shallows new album Dad Jams has the catchiest opening riff to an album I have heard for a long time. The flute riff is right up there with the whistle in Peter Bjorn and John’s megahit ‘Young Folks’. What an extraordinary way to return from a fourteen-year hiatus (apart from music for TV and Film) and frontman Dee Kesler’s suddenly realisation that he was a middle-aged man with kids. That arc from Rad to Dad is at the core of this album.
These are songs that bubble along with warmth and optimism with the writer’s hand occasional plunged into a melancholy pocket. Apt that an album about raising kids has a slight toy-symphony feel to it. It’s as if, when the kids go to bed, Dee sneaks some of the kid’s toy instruments into the mix i.e. the track ‘A Mummy At The Lake’. There’s electronic popping candy on tracks like ‘Boogie Woogie’ with its gently driving momentum and ‘Little Brave Friends’ has Eastern charm and tumbling drums from former band mate Jason. The downhearted ‘Copy Body’ is written like a sad Disney song at the point when the hero must face the dark before dawn, and ‘Drinking Tang’ has all the quirky charm of an XTC song. ‘Hocus Pocus’ is an atonal shape-shifting operetta, ‘A Strobelight On A Dumb Dancefloor’ shifts from tea dance waltz time to a hop-skip-and-jumping 4/4 acoustic guitar ballad and the album ends on ‘Wizard Wednesdays’ with thunder sounds that accompany a piano lullaby which sits in the midpoint between Robin’s ‘Halfway Down The Stairs’ and Roger Waters’ ‘Goodbye Cruel World’. And if the sad tone of the album’s end is too much then all you have to do is hit repeat and get a minty fresh blast of flute back at the beginning of the album.
Adults spend a lot of time having to inhabit the world of children and a decade of nursery rhymes and kids TV can’t help but feed into the DNA of Dad Jams. And that’s definitely one of its strengths: one foot still in being a Dad and the other taking a step towards reclaiming yourself after the selfless act of parenting. As Dee says, “I finally found time to eke out another collection of songs – in the thick of my ‘dad’ years”. And these are songs that have a hint of Sparks or Erasure but also have the feel of Kraftwerk but on comfy cushions. As the press release says: “‘Dad Jams’ is probably the coolest album anyone’s ever written about fatherhood” and it still fits into its cool checked shirt, but that shirt still has the remnants of a kid’s meal down the front and some Lego in the pocket. The next album I suspect is Dad Jams II: The ‘I Hate You’ Teenage Years. Good luck Dee!
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Review by Paul F Cook