Andrew Say 'Eh-Oh'

Matinee Orchestra survive a case of the cutes.

There's nothing wrong with prolonged cuteness attacks, so long as they're properly built and driven by charm. Doesn't matter how you do it: Supine squirmy kitties and nudist theme parks with invisible witches work equally well. There are plenty of both on Matinee Orchestra's self-titled debut (Arable), along with unspeakably cuddlesome '60s Teletubby prototypes and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Unlike Maximo Park vocalist Paul Smith (and a horde of other worthy contributors), JSB doesn't actually play on the album. But squint your ears hard enough, and you can hear him advising project maestro Andrew Hobson on lilting 3/4 opener "Thank You for Listening," whispering, "Trumpets here, violin next, happy cowboy guitar at the end, and don't let up on that glockenspiel continuo."

Who knows if the glock is "real" or not? Like the crickets and cars that end the track, it might be one of the many apparitions Hobson conjures with his laptop to fill in the odd missing muscle-driven bit. Even beats partake of realms both digital and acoustic, as with the mixed clicks and shaker that drive the gentle first half of "I'll Never Be Afraid Again," essentially an extended intro for a grand processional that rides on the back of a synth more rubbery than an octopus merry-go-round's arms.

Sure, Hobson's brainchild has antecedents galore, ranging from '80s whimsy-mongers Woo to the Olivia Tremor Control. But their efforts were mere sketches; the only way Hobson and company's oil-on-canvas depictions of uncomplicated joy could be more complete is if the disc came with hand puppets and candy. Unless labelmates Psapp ramp ferociously, Matinee Orchestra is probably the best fake children's album you'll hear this year.

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