If the Cardigans were, as their third album claimed, the first band on the moon, Tahiti 80 are that little car the astronauts drove in while they were hanging up there: unnecessary but a hell of a lot of fun. Puzzle, the Paris band's just-released debut, is a superb post-modern pop record, the kind made possible by the advent of our quickly developing 21st-century pastiche fetish. As with most of the records made under that umbrella, there's not much in the way of new sounds to be found here. In fact, most everything can be traced to two sources: '60s pop bands like the Kinks and the Zombies, and the current French electronic-music scene. But when it works--as on "Yellow Butterfly," the gorgeous, shimmering, tempo-shifting opener--it works oh-so well, making you forget (or at least forget to care) that addition isn't quite magic.
It's a trick a handful of my favorite bands pull, that ability to refashion your parents' dusty old records into something fresh and exciting. A part of me feels like a sucker every time I fall for it: the major-to-minor chord progressions, the breathy vocals, the discofied open-and-close of the high-hat. I know what's coming, I know what's coming, I know what's coming--then it comes and I've got a goofy grin on my face. Kind of like sex, I guess. And that never gets old. The Cardigans make me lose my shit perhaps most easily of all. I even love Gran Turismo, the weird, creepy proto-goth fourth album. So when I learned that Tore Johansson, the Swedish guy who helms the band's records, mixed Puzzle, I was in. Other beneficial word-ups: Andy Chase, of New York City layabouts Ivy, produced; his partner Adam Schlesinger, who's also half of Fountains of Wayne, played keys; suit-wearing Sub Pop balladeer Eric Matthews played trumpet. In short, the grin was already forming.
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Once I heard the record, the grin was stuck. And I knew I'd been tricked once again, duped by singer Xavier Boyer's awkward English and his band's breezy, computer-kissed jangle 'n' strum. Like Buzz Aldrin's lunar hot rod, it's weightless and a little obnoxious. But I just can't help myself.