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Looney toons

The many eyes and space adventures of Critte and the Borzoi

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There's an oddly storied history of bands that are made up of cartoon characters. Starting with Alvin and the Chipmunks, the notion of creating a virtual band gained a foothold on the fringes of pop music. Notably, Archie and his friends leapt off of the page to release the shamefully catchy bubblegum trifle of "Sugar, Sugar." Most recently, artist Jamie Hewlett and Blur's Damon Albarn joined forces to create the absurdly complicated mythology of the Gorrillaz, an anime-indebted quartet whose design was intended to form the foundation of a planned full-length cartoon musical, which never came to fruition, but whose seeds gave us at least two (maybe three, depending on who you ask) classic albums, blending sophisticated Brit-rock with and an invigorating dose of electronica and hip-hop.

It's hard to say exactly what the appeal of virtual bands (a term popularized by the Gorrillaz) is, but at least part of it must be due to the overwhelming level of lifestyle worship that comes along with being a fan of rock stars. Who wouldn't like to live in the exaggerated world of Josie and the Pussycats, or Jem and the Holograms? These are characters that not only get to travel the world as famous musicians, but also get into wholly unrelated adventures that frequently find them doing things like visiting outer space or doing battle with evildoers. Plus, having a rock band with a written storyline is far less messy than the things that we learn about the lives of actual rock bands. (Remember that rumor about Led Zeppelin and that fish? Yuck.)

Enter Critté & The Borzoi, a Seattle duo who also present themselves as a cartoon trio with a complicated backstory of their own. Though the band is actually the work of Bradley Oliver Wilkinson and Hector Manuel, Critté & The Borzoi is explained to be a group of space explorers made up of Critté (a girl with 20 eyes), Cap'n Arpeggio (the girl's mentor), and their trusty dog (a Russian wolfhound, also known as a Borzoi). Released in conjunction with their debut EP, Stuart's Cove, is a comic book that further details their mythologies and their exploits. Stuart's Cove, then, is a truly conceptual album, meant to be enjoyed alongside a visual representation of the adventures described in the songs.

As you might suspect, a threesome of space musicians with a nonstandard amount of eyes don't exactly make the kind of music that you'd hear on Warm 106.9. Critté & The Borzoi make electronic pop that packs a little more of a punch than their dream pop label suggests. "Twenty-Eyes" is a chugging little number that picks up steam as it goes along, emerging from the haze of reverb the more momentum it gains. The nimble synths and stuttering beats coalesce into an intoxicatingly catchy groove that pulls the listener in. At almost five minutes, it still feels like it's over too soon, which is as wondrous a feat as can be found in pop music.

This is uncomplicated music made more complex by the characters created by Wilkinson and Manuel. The title track from Stuart's Cove is anthemic, in its modest way, barely rising above a calm chant, but still exuding a gravitational pull. This quality can be found in much of Critté & The Borzoi's songs, with the tight interplay between the duo building a pleasant tension that elevates the relatively simple setup of the band. I won't say that I completely understand the world that Wilkinson and Manuel have designed, but I'm more than a little curious to explore it and all of its delightfully surreal nooks and crannies.

Critté & The Borzoi, w/ Young Pioneers, Wood Knot, Mutt, Tuesday, April 5, 7 p.m., Cover TBA, All Ages, Le Voyeur, 404 E. 4th Ave., Olympia, 360.943.5710

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