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Published: 2008/05/23
by Jesse Jarnow

Jesus That Looks Terrible On You – A Big Yes and a small no


Despite being comprised of all of Fat Mama, the seminal and mostly unheard hippie fusionists, there is little jamband futzing in A Big Yes and a small no (besides moe.-like grammatical pissantary). Led by vibraphonist Kevin Kendrick, the Mamas backing Kendrick’s dandy pop are all cool melodrama on Jesus That Looks Terrible On You. With hyper-articulated lyrics, the 30-minute, eight-song debut is a catalogue of arch despair. Besides the put-downy title cut — one of the album’s weaker points, despite being a great name — the venom is equally self-directed ("I’m Always Manic (When I’m Around You)") and the product of mutual loathing ("Composure").

The latter is a fine example of Kendrick’s cleverness, suggesting that "we just end this with a kiss" before a nicely building rhyme sequence of closure/proposing/composure/composing. The specifics are a bit over-the-top ("if you keep your composure, I’ll keep composing"), but they’re catchy as hell. The album’s best moment, "Faded Away," skitters over a surf-ska charge. Kendrick’s wordplay continues, "not god-fearing, but I’ve got hearing, and I love to hear you pray" he sings, before achieving title. It’d be hard to call this indie rock, given its occasional jazz figures (the intro to "Composure"), ska upbeats, and the vaguely calypso rhythms of "I’m Always Manic," but the term — like calling something "punk" in the ’70s or "new wave in the ’80s" — has arrived at its imprecision through democracy, so indie rock it is.

Often, Kendrick spends a lot of syllables setting up his chorus phrases, which can feel weighty while waiting for the resolution. "She looked like summer’s final stand before it gets colder, as she looked back at me looking over my shoulder," he sings on the disc-closing ballad, "Looking Over My Shoulder," the refrain ending with an unusual image of both singer and subject glancing over their shoulders. But even in its imperfection, Jesus remains utterly charming throughout. "Yesterday, I robbed a bank and blew it all on flowers," Kendrick sings to begin "I’m Always Manic," the album opener, suggesting that it might be nice to get on his good side, even if Kendrick himself doesn’t quite know when it’s going to emerge.

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