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A Soft Kill

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Album Review

One of the key stories about the music industry in 2008 is the sudden resurgence in the sales of new vinyl LPs. (One New England record store chain claimed in a May 2008 article in The Boston Globe that after being negligible for years, vinyl sales now equal a full tenth of their CD sales, a remarkable uptick for a medium that supposedly died in the '80s.) Following in the higher-profile footsteps of Radiohead, whose In Rainbows was available for months as a lavishly packaged LP and as a digital download before the CD hit the stores, and Elvis Costello, whose return-to-rock Momofuku was at first available only on vinyl, indie pop one-man band From Bubblegum to Sky has bypassed CDs altogether for his third album. A Soft Kill has been released only as a digital download from all the usual suspects and as a vinyl LP that includes a coupon for a free download from the Eenie Meenie Records website. (The first 100 copies also included a T-shirt and a free CD-R with a unique drawing by From Bubblegum to Sky's Mario Hernandez.) That's a shame for those who got rid of their turntables but still haven't picked up an MP3 player, because A Soft Kill is by some distance Hernandez's best album. In the four years since 2004's Nothing Sadder Than Lonely Queen (itself a big step up from 2000's spotty, homemade-sounding Me and Amy and the Two French Boys), Hernandez has perfected his trademark sweet-and-sour blend of sunshiny pop tunes with dark, cranky lyrics. The best songs on A Soft Kill have the rollicking vibe of vintage Apples in Stereo circa Fun Trick Noisemaker, with an extra dose of playful homage: "The King of Failed" blithely rips off the chorus melody of Little Peggy March's "I Will Follow Him" for its main instrumental hook, and the Motown cop of the title track's fuzz guitar line is equally blatant. But the fuller arrangements and generally more polished sound of these 11 songs help underscore the pure pop roots of Hernandez's aesthetic in a way his lo-fi earlier records didn't. The ultra-bouncy "Guest Relations," with its chipper "hey hey hey" refrain and jaunty fuzzbox riff, isn't an arch D.I.Y. approximation of a great bubblegum pop single; it's the thing itself.


Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

From Bubblegum to Sky was the solo project of indie-pop mastermind Mario Hernandez, born in San Antonio, TX in 1967. While attending high school in Alameda, CA, he began learning guitar, and with classmate Jamie McCormick formed the duo Teeny Records (later Teeny Hi-Fi), issuing their debut single "Weekend Go" in 1992. Later rechristened Ciao Bella, the duo scored a major pop underground favorite in 1997 with the LP 1, only to dissolve soon after; seeking to further fuse his twin obsessions -- American...
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A Soft Kill, From Bubblegum to Sky
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