Album review: Amo Joy, "The Sane Design" 

The great thing about Sid and Marty Krofft is that their work - "H. R. Pufnstuf," "Lidsville," "The Paul Lynde Halloween Special" - worked on at least a couple levels, both as children's entertainment that delivered properly enlightened lessons about empathy and shit, and as trippy stoner fantasia that featured plenty of barely veiled references to pot and acid. When considering the coloring and activity book included with Amo Joy's The Sane Design, I'm left wondering - like a good capitalist, maybe - about the utility and relevance of this look backwards into childhood. I get the escapism and playfulness, but I'd rather there be something more, either a practical reason for such regression (say, in creating something for children), or something more meaty beneath the cutesiness (say, wisdom or facility).

In short, too much time at the carnival, too much cotton candy, can leave you empty. Amo Joy's sound is deeply indebted to the work of the Athens-based Elephant Six collective, which barely ever existed as a working collective, but did launch bands like Apples in Stereo ('60s pop pastiche), Of Montreal (crazy-quilt harmonies, domestic aspirations become gender-bending glam) and Neutral Milk Motel (painful confessions against weird instrumentation). They take a little from all those bands, but take the most from the circus, striking out a calliope-esque sound that's woozy and topsy-turvy with very little on the low end, and because it's recorded at home, lacks dynamics or much, if any, sense of space.

In general, it's a template that demands endless cleverness - the verbal gymnastics of "Jabberwocky," the catchiness of John Philip Sousa - or it will all sound cloying as hell. And Amo Joy are successful enough. The lyrics of the fractured fairy tale "Circle Round the Sun" and the allegorical hawks vs. doves fight of "The Avian Dilemma" are fun and light. "It's Not an Artist's World" is catchy and bright, with less than remarkable lyrics, while "Mome Raths" nicely climaxes, bringing together the woozy, up-down, huff and puff to make something a little more substantial.

I do wish there was even more novelty to the record. Liner notes indicate that the Optigan ('70s loop-based keyboard), harmonium and theremin all made their way on the record, but I can't say that I could clearly pick them out, both because of primitive recording techniques and a tendency to load down every track.

The Sane Design is the first vinyl release for the revamped and vinyl-centric Standard Recording Company, although a CD is included with every record to make your Amo Joy record maximally portable (and more kid-friendly!)

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Scott Shoger

Scott Shoger

Scott Shoger staggered up to NUVO's door one summer afternoon, a little drunk, poor and crazy-haired, muttering about future Mayor Ballard. He was taken in, hosed down, given NUVO-emblazoned clothes to wear and allowed to work in exchange for food and bylines. Refusing to leave the premises, he was hired on as... more

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