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Album Review

Like every release from Frank Orrall's folksy, soulful big-rock band, the group's seventh effort, 7, is all over the map. That's probably a very good thing for his many fans who have come to expect all sorts of genre explorations and trippy stylistic changes, but maybe not such a good thing to win over any newcomers. Further, 7 almost seems like two albums thrown together — 7 and 8, or 7 1/2 — with the sprawling 14 tracks seemingly split right down the middle between the first half's lush, full-fledged winners and what seems like mostly B-side caliber afterthoughts in the second half. For every breezy Hawaiian-tinged soul number like "Perfect Music" and every punchy rocker like "From This Moment On," there's a clunky sub-Dead Milkmen joke punk misfire such as "Candy" or an artistic ripoff of another band like "In Comes the Night," which apes Peter Murphy while stealing a melody from the Church. Again, longtime followers won't care, because they'll revel in the good and the bad, and at least there's a lot of fun to be had. Take the soul-funk of "Sticky" for instance, with its SNL pronunciation of "lovers" and lighthearted 1980s vibe. The usual earth and water references are rampant and love juices flow throughout the album, most outrageously on the second half's best song, "Super Tarana," where Orrall sings about doing things all over his significant other while love is spread all over him. It's worth noting that "From This Moment On" and "Super Tarana" sound quite a bit like the Arcade Fire, as both groups rock out thunderously with the aid of violins, and Orrall channels an urgency that's come to be Win Butler's trademark. Fans of that group would do well to track down these two songs, but it's likely that the 1980s soul and light rock, the Lambchop horns, and the Polyphonic Spree hippie Technicolor revelry on display elsewhere on the album would turn off this same new audience. History has been to known to look at Orrall and company as a band that never lived up to its potential, as overly slick studio production extinguished early promise. There's a lot to like on this album, but there's also a sense that a great deal of editing and better sequencing would have made for a release that leaves an overall better impression. The sometimes gorgeous but often aimless and somewhat amateurish 7 is, in its own way, a perfect overview of Poi Dog Pondering, who have many tricks up their sleeves but who sometimes flub the final reveal. It's probably also their finest hour since 1995's Pomegranate.


Formed: 1986 in Hawaii

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

The eclectic worldbeat/folk-rock outfit Poi Dog Pondering were formed in Waikiki by vocalist/guitarist Frank Orrall, violinist/vocalist Susan Voelz, and multi-instrumentalist Dave "Max" Crawford, the only constants in the group's history; sometimes swelling to upwards of ten members, the band has seen numerous personnel shifts. Named in part for a Hawaiian expression meaning "mutt," Poi Dog Pondering relocated to Austin, TX, and picked up a following through extensive touring; they released two EPs,...
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7, Poi Dog Pondering
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