SONIC REDUCER I never swooned over Jemaine Clement when his clueless geek-goon was busily copping quasi-Street Fighter moves in 2007's Eagle vs. Shark, and I never noticed the spacey Middle Earthly beauty of Bret McKenzie when he was striking sultry elfin poses in The Lord of the Rings. But somehow, two discs of season one of HBO's Flight of the Conchords and a couple jillion listens to the duo's new self-titled Sub Pop album later, I'm hooked. I woke up this morning with the cyborg-gut-busting "Robot" roving through my head ("The humans are dead / We used poisonous gases / And we poisoned their asses.... It had to be done / So that we can have fun"), and I silently sang the lusty-nerd verses of "The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)" ("You could be a part-time model / But you'd probably have to keep your normal job") to myself for the rest of the morning. Apart from those lyrics, I'm at a loss for words for a change. All I can say, doltishly, is "uhhh, they funny." Otherwise I'm considering a leg transplant and dye job so I can become the "Leggy Blonde" of FOC dreams or at least a Rhys Darby tat.
What have they done to deserve such gushery? The way they sweetly snark at my rock, garbed in the amiable skin of a fumbling indie-rock-folk duo. The manner in which they poke at pop clichés, letting them fly well above the heads of those who don't grasp the Shabba Ranks and Marvin Gaye references and somehow those unfortunates still crush out on FOC. The botched trysts and fumbled musical careers of the pair, played by the half-Maori Clement and the sometime reggae musician McKenzie, which make all and sundry adore them that much more. Their humanizing humor, which stems primarily from FOC's New Zealanders-straight-outta-Middle Earth naïveté.
Much has been made of the rise of so-called indie rock comedians like David Cross and Eugene Mirman who both, coincidentally or no, are FOC labelmates but lo, Clement and McKenzie are the real thing. They have the facial hair. They swill water. They hail from the land of the Clean and Tall Dwarfs. They combine pop-savvy wit and wiseacre lyrics, while sending up genres ranging from between-the-sheets R&B swoons ("Business Time") to backpacker hip-hop ("Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros" with Clement trotting out a ringer imitation of Del tha Funkee Homosapien) to art-rock nipple-antenna anthems ("Bowie"). A good deal of FOC's appeal hinges on the fact that pop is so utterly ripe for lampooning after all, doesn't the title of E=MC2 (Island) sound like Mariah Carey is attempting a self-conscious, FOC-style jab at her own intellectual prowess?
It also helps that FOC come so often with the hooks: I can't stop replaying "Inner City Pressure" and reveling in its low-budg, pseudo-seedy Pet Shop Boys video tropes repeatedly in my skull. My only critique of their recently released full-length might be that the songs cry out for a DVD clip or eight: while some tracks sport lyrics with built-in yuks that allow the songs to hold their own, still others like the puzzling opener, "Foux du Fafa," completely lose the original, necessary context FOC was hitting on patisserie workers while frolicking through a color-coded Scopitone-esque Gallic pop reverie that justifies, for instance, its litany of French baked goods. Some numbers such as "A Kiss Is Not a Contract" are sweet and strong enough to include on the CD, though you miss the series' accompanying Serge Gainsbourg video parody even if the tune itself bears little musical resemblance to Sir Serge's oeuvre. Still, most of FOC's soaring sonic moves don't fall too far from the tree shaken during the more larky outings of producer Mickey Petralia's other client, Beck.