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Dan Emery Mystery Band

Sentiment and silliness

By Fred Choi

Every once in a while you get the urge to buy a random CD because there's just something about that front cover. The interplay between the dark shadows and the angelic light, perhaps. The mysterious, haunting expression of the girl in the corner. The sexiness of the guy leaning against the wall wearing a black t-shirt and jeans. The amazing depth of feeling and meaning, somehow encausulating all of the world’s emotions in a single 4" by 5" picture. Only once in a lifetime do you find that the CD case, with its visonary art which you just paid 16 bucks for, contains a CD that is equally sublime. Each song, each lyric, each note, each soundwave’s amplitude, period, and frequency, is absolutely riveting. The tears flow, without shame. The laughter comes, unbidden. Forgotten are the problem sets that are due tomorrow. Gone is the pain of pining, the need for food or drink, the libido. There is only the music, that washes over you like a warm breeze, and watches over you protectively, like a new mother does to her newborn. Only once in a lifetime, if you’re among the lucky few in this world, do you happen to cross paths with an album like that, an album that makes you realize that all things are possible, that life isn’t futile, that the world is a beautiful, beautiful place.

love and advertising is not that album.

But it comes close.

It’s simply impossible to ignore the front cover of The Dan Emery Mystery Band’s debut release, love and advertising, especially if you’re a college student with a one-track mind. How to describe it? Quite simply, it is of two juvenile bonobos (also called pygmy chimpanzees) kissing in the French manner. Somehow the picture (from primatologist Frans de Waal’s book Good Natured) manages to be memorable in a strange way. Yes, it’s mysterious, haunting, and sexy, but more so, it’s just plain funny. And amazingly enough, after contemplating it for awhile and seeing past the refreshingly frivolous fun of it, we find that it may also be stirring something deep within our soul, the innocent beauty perhaps reminding us of the sight of young children sharing graham crackers and watching Teletubbies videos.

The same can be said for the music. Sure there are bands like They Might be Giants, Moxy Fruvous, and The Dead Milkmen playing in every T station in Boston, but very few combine their silliness with the charming honesty that the Mystery Band somehow conjures up out of nowhere. A classic example is the ballad, "Her Favorite Bra." The male narrator relates his relationship with a female friend, and how he feels a deep empathy towards her. He tells of how he listens to her tell him about how she just got fired, is going to be evicted, and may be convicted in court. The attention turns to his friend’s "favorite bra," given by her grandmother, the kind that everyone needs, "to support them in what they’re going through." The conclusion to the song is obvious and corny, but the music makes it poignant too. After she leaves, the narrator sits "thinking about bras" and coming to the conclusion, "I want to be a bra for you/I want to be a bra for what you’re going through.. firm, strong.. that you can depend on."

This odd combination of sentiment and silliness is the strength behind many of the songs on the album. Most are told in a personal, narrative style, which lends credibility to the band’s self-categorization as being a type of modern folk music. This puts them in such unlikely company as Jewel, Bob Dylan, and Ani DiFranco, but their punk rock sound and amusing, extended spoken sections of prose make their songs more immediately appealing. In the wonderfully hectic "The Only One Who Loves You," the narrator paints a crazy city tableau of mass-marketing and discontent, with his love and him in the center of it all. In "The Girl in the Laundromat" the narrator relates a situation that will be familiar to many listeners. He has seen the beautiful stranger in the laundromat, but was never able to say “hi.” This is especially tragic because they had "a lot in common." They both put their laundry into the machines. They both put quarters and detergent in. They both stood up and watched the clothes go, "Round and round and round." Although the song could easily be banal and hokey, the candidness of the band makes it convincing.

Songs that are more substantially fun focus the attention more on the music and less on the lyrics. Although not as engaging as the narrative songs, The Mystery Band doesn’t disappoint, however. The song, "(One Good Reason To) Shake Your Booty" makes the listener want to get up and dance, with its rhythmic guitar and piano-playing perfectly complementing the drums’ ounding. The song "Student Loan" sounds a bit like a summer camp song and conjures up a nostalgic smile. However, their slower songs tend to get lost among the attention-grabbing, faster songs ("her favorite bra" being the major exception because of the interesting analogy). But on closer inspection these songs, while weak lyrically, are rather pleasant. The fairly serious songs, "I Just Want to Live" and "Alone on the Moon" actually have nice, memorable melodies and are worth listening to. Although the inclusion of an acoustic piano in the band immediately brings comparisons to Ben Folds Five in mind, the similarities are mostly incidental as the piano is more integrated in The Mystery Band’s sound.

The Dan Emery Mystery Band is definitely headed towards some sort of fame. Their debut album is strong and although it is immature in more than one place, they make up for it in their straightforward and somewhat innocent accounts of modern joys and woes. So if you have to indulge yourself and buy a CD with cool cover art, love and advertising (available only at CDNow,, and the Band’s website, is a pretty good bet. Also, they’ll be playing at the Kendall Cafe (233 Cardinal Mederros Ave, Cambridge, 617-629-9188) this Friday, March 12. Be there, or be a lonely pygmy chimpanzee with no one to kiss on a Friday night.