Issue #166: All Girl Summer Fun Band by All Girl Summer Fun Band
June 17, 2019
Released In March, 2002
Released By K Records
Like most autistic adults, I’ve had a lot of Special Interests throughout my life, but the only two that I’d consider lifelong have been music and reading. However, I wrote a lot of letters in high school. Like, a lot, A LOT. Any money I had that didn’t go to books or music went to stamps and stationery. I would walk to the post office on my school lunch breaks to send letters and packages — that is how diligent I was as a pen pal.
The majority of my letters were written to my best friend at the time, who I met because she was dating one of the few friends I had at my school. This isn’t her story, though. It is, however, the story of a friend of hers that I became very close with. Her friend had the same name as me, but spelled differently. We liked the same music and books, we wore similar clothing, and went to many of the same shows, just several states away from each other. When her friend became my friend, we did what all music geeks in the ‘80s and ‘90s did, and made each other mix tape after mix tape. We stayed pen pals for years, spending Spring Breaks and summer vacations with each other, and in early 2000, she ended up getting a job near me and we lived less than 20 minutes apart for the first time in our friendship.
She would come visit me and my son (who was still a newborn at the time) and hang out with us while my husband was at work, and we continued making each other mix tapes, even though most people had switched over to CD mixes at that point. My birthday mix one year included several songs off All Girl Summer Fun Band’s self-titled release and I immediately fell in love. I borrowed the CD so I could copy it for myself and spent most of that year listening to it on repeat (see again, Special Interests) completely unable to pick a favourite song. They all were, and they honestly all still are.
I put this on, and as soon as “Brooklyn Phone Call” starts up, I nod and say “yup, this is my favourite,” and listen to it four times in a row. But then “Canadian Boyfriend” comes on, and I stop dancing to say “no, wait, this one is my favourite.” And then repeat for every single song. On all of their albums (though, since I’m being real, “Grass Skirt” off their Summer Of ‘98 EP might have the slightest of edges, but it is a very close call). Even my 12 year old, who mocks most things I listen to, walked in during “Later Operator” (can someone help me come up with a “Miss Susie” style pattycake clap for this?) and grudgingly admitted he thought this band was not at all terrible — high praise, indeed.
My circuitous route to All Girl Summer Fun Band started because of some letters I wrote in high school, so it feels entirely appropriate that I’m listening to them again (still) this Summer where I’ve rediscovered the joy of having actual pen pals… though this time it’s more because of a current Special Interest in fountain pens, pretty inks, paper, and having an excuse to use them. Whatever, I’ll take it.
50 Foot Pop Queenie
Twee music to its core that proudly showcases the humor and sincerity as well as melody and grittiness of the genre.
Imagine if sincerity were an instrument, just like a guitar or piano. Your major key songs would be the unflinchingly earnest ones, where the narrator and the singer speak together from the heart. Playing in the minor key might mean things are a little muddier in terms of voice, or that subtext is shining through the words being sung, giving the listener more to sort through when assembling meaning. If that sincerity instrument did exist — Sinceritar? Sincairhorn? — All Girl Summer Fun Band would teach master classes on how to play it, and their self-titled debut would be a canonical text in the curriculum. The album plays with voice in so many interesting ways, stringing together humor, seriousness, openness, and artful obfuscation, all in harmony. What first jumped out were the spots where lyrics revise themselves, like in the chorus of “New In Town:” “I’ve never seen him before / Except for yesterday and the day before.” You actually hear it right off the bat in opening track “Brooklyn Phone Call,” which starts “Ask me out and I might say no,” before doubling back with “down the road I’ll know that it’s you and me.” There’s also the excellent I-see-what-you-did-there lyrical sleight of hand that joins the verses and choruses in “Later Operator,” though “It’s There” may address this notion of sincerity most directly: “You’d better stay away from me / For fear I’ll tell you how I feel / Oh, sure, it’s something good / It’s something real.” And then there’s “Somehow Angels,” which strikes me as All Girl Summer Fun Band at their most direct. The tempo slows down, and the language throughout is concerned with veracity. “Inside it is clear.” “It’s true when they say.” “A picture of friends whose friendship is dear.” “I’m looking at you.” It’s a literal and figurative change of pace that looks you right in the eye, showing the remarkable sense of depth in how these songs are narrated.
Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds
How cool are these chicks? Well, halfway through their incredibly endearing self-titled project, you immediately want to hang out with them. And not in a “wow, it would be so cool to hang out with a rockstar” way, but in a “I would actually like to have a beer with these people” way. They’re funny and creative, as seen on the hilarious “Car Trouble,” and the third verse plot twist of “New In Town.” They have their own theme song, for heaven’s sake! It’s called “Theme Song.” I told you they were funny. This is so hip hop. Think about it: hip hop is the only genre where the artists routinely create theme songs for themselves. Often, the choruses are just new ways to say the artist’s name. Look at Jay-Z. Most of his biggest hits are just fun ways to say “Jay-Z,” “Hova,” or “Jigga.” To hear a rock band do it is oddly entertaining, and campy (in the best way possible, of course). And what I like most about the album is that they leave you wanting more. Even though the tracklist is a satisfactory 13 songs, none of them are over three minutes long. I’m a firm believer in less-is-more, and All Girl Summer Fun Band will have me wanting more all summer long.
Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator
Each of the four members have logged time in other popular Northwest bands from The Sofites and The Thermals to Haelah and Cherry Ice Cream.
Bands like the All Girl Summer Fun Band are in a way critic-proof — you either like them or you don’t. What they’re doing — jangly, sixties-inflected pop with one eyebrow raised — sounds so simple and even slightly amateurish that an excess of analysis could just let the air out of the balloon. But if you did let that air out, you would inhale pure charm along with just a touch of helium. So I’ll just say the lyrics are witty, the melodies stick, and the ratio of melancholy to blitheness is the formula for perfect pop. Sometimes the critics job is just to point you in the right direction (and all credit to SJ Lebowski for leading me her), so I’ll just say that if you don’t feel like buying a used CD and figuring out how to get it on your phone, click play here. And if you want to trace the threads of this band, which has been silent since 2008, you can listen to the current wave of all-girl fun bands like The Courtneys, Chastity Belt, or Daddy Issues. Or you could look back to bedrock avatars like The Raincoats. Of course, you should also check out AGSFB’s second album, 2, and their last, Look Into It, which streams on Amazon Prime, if nowhere else, and sounds tighter and edgier but with charm fully intact. Finally, some of the band members (Kim Baxter, Kathy Foster, Jen Sbragia, and Ari Douangpanya) connect into other scenes via groups like The Softies and The Thermals. In fact, with The Thermals having disbanded in 2018 and The Softies done in 2000, that means that Foster and Sbragia are free to revive this fine band. How about a “Summer Fun” tour, ladies?
Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore
About seven years ago, I answered a call for writers on a site I loved, one that covered books and albums, sometimes movies, but in such an intellectual, funny way. Nervous, I sent them not just a resume, but a piece of academic writing so they could see how well I could cover the classics. The fact I got the gig was probably at least a little bit bemusing to Susie and SJ, the two main writers for the site. Throughout the life of the site and beyond we’ve talked music, books, film, memes, everything in between, but somehow it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago, talking about our picks, that we realized we both love All Girl Summer Fun Band. SJ snuck this pick out before me, one I’d somehow not brought up my whole time here, even though the salty-edged twee fun of this album is always a good listen. Sugary sweet voices pipe up over crisp, light-hearted pop, often in a chorus of two or more. Even more than the somehow beachy type pop, I love the lyrical content of the album. Tongue in cheek, irreverent, unabashedly feminine fun, and low key sarcasm permeate the album, no better showcased than the absolute awesome track “Later Operator.” The Miss Mary Mack style song champions off beat dudes, excusing a number of small crimes because each one is just such a good lay…ter operator. What’s a girl to do, really, but sing about it and laugh a bit and get hers? Reliving this staple album from about 2003-era me was just as fun as it was driving around campus, creek water dripping from my hair down to the leather seats in that car with no air conditioning, messing up air drums and singing what felt like inside jokes between me and the band.
Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite
Once again, I am left wondering what the intention was of a record after spending time with it. This is in no way a complaint, but merely an observation. My initial spin of All Girl Summer Fun Band was basically, “This is a well-titled band and record. It’s summery and has a bit of an Exile In Guyville lo-fi thing goin’ on.” The second listen was where I began to doubt the first half of that, and maybe — just maybe — the second half was more on the money. During my third spin, I found several aspects that, if I’m correct in my interpretation, are deliciously subversive. It’s a twee record, perhaps overly so, but that’s part of the album’s overall charm. I find this whole presentation to be satirizing the perfection of ‘60s girl-groups and the whole doo-wop sound. The hook of “Later Operator,” for example, sounds like a playground ditty that you sing while learning to jump rope. When you look at the lyrics, though, you notice that while the boyfriends in question are “weird” and “shy” and “cheap,” the girls fawn over them regardless. It’s like they’re powerless, and I think that’s what’s being made fun of all over this record. Same thing when the girls want to be the girlfriend of the guy in “New In Town” only to discover he has a boyfriend. Then there’s the lo-fi production and (intentionally) slightly-off harmonies that take this satire of Phil Spector-era stuff even further. If I’m right, this is so tongue-in-cheek that there might be holes in the sides of the band members’ faces. That, or AGSFB just made a fun album and I’m overthinking this. Either way.
Steve Lampiris (@stevenlampiris)
Sure, Let’s Go With That
“They’re the All Girl Summer Fun (la la la la la la) / The All Girl Summer Fun (they’re having fun again)”
This album is, indeed, fun. Summer is here, it’s a beautiful day (readers, I hope that this holds true for the day you come upon this article), and this album feels wildly appropriate. At some point in my life, I realized that, for my listening experience, music accompanies moments, and I think that I’ll remember this one when I think about the end of the spring of 2019. I feel relaxed and excited and carefree right now, and this music accompanies the mood perfectly. I feel like I should head to the beach, which isn’t a bad feeling to have in the middle of June. I love how stupid and clever the lyrics are — there’s something literary about the band’s self-awareness. The vocals are in tune some of the time, and the guitar tones are pretty messy, and it all just meshes into this perfect mood. I feel like it would be impossible to not have fun recording this album. Wouldn’t it be funny if the atmosphere were filled with all the tension of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours sessions, yet then this album came out as the result? That wouldn’t make much sense at all, but it would certainly add to the contradiction between talent, listen-ability, and seriousness going on here. I feel like some of the songs on this album would make for good tunes to teach kids at a summer camp. Maybe it’s just the music that’s putting me in that thought place, but when they sing that “my boyfriend never bathes, my boyfriend never shaves” and then launch into “Later Operator,” I can’t help but remember those cheeky songs we’d sing as kids. It’s weird to compliment an album by calling it both stupid and literary, but I really did enjoy this one.
Joel Worford (@joel_worford)
Confused & Confusing Since 1965
I’m reminded of a stupid/brilliant joke from Flight Of The Conchords’ “Business Time” when I listen to this record. “You turn to me and say something sexy like, ‘Is that it!?!?’ / I know what you’re trying to say, girl / You’re trying to say, ‘Aww yeah, that’s it'” I have a similar mindset when I listen to this record because every time “Cell Phone” comes to a close, I find myself blurting, “Is that it!?!?” But considering how quickly I scramble back to start the record up again, clearly I mean “Aww yeah, that’s it.” Crude humor aside, I’ve talked about twee a lot here at OYR over the years, from our very first issue with Standard Fare to one of my own picks with Feral Conservatives. As much as those records were rooted in twee and gave me an excuse to worship at the altar of C86, I don’t think they really sounded like my internal idea of “twee.” This record though, this 27 minute swaying and bouncing record where no song goes past three minutes and sounds like it’s a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of an original tape that wasn’t even that sleek to begin with — yeah, this is my idea of “twee.” Short bursts of melodic ideas (“Canadian Boyfriend“) that are equally sharp and sugary (“Later Operator“), polished in the mechanics (“Girl No. 3“) and rugged in the presentation (“Stumble Over My“). The tongue is placed firmly in the cheek for most of the record (“Theme Song“), but none of this feels like a lark (“It’s There“). The instrumentation is tight, not flashy, and always feels like they’re hiding something back in order to just deliver a purely great song hovering around that primo 100 second mark (“Cutie Pie“). It feels modern with its punky wit yet classic in its doo-wop-y presentation, subverting both simultaneously whenever they can (“Car Trouble“). This is twee to its core and listening to it is just heaven for me, especially on the weekend after school lets out in our area ushering summer on exactly the right note. (I wish I could say I planned this out knowing this, but serendipity plays a big part here at Off Your Radar.) I could keep listing things I love about this record and the twee genre itself, but really, I think I only need to repeat four words: Aww yeah, that’s it.
Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart
Al Volo by Stormy Six
Chosen By Jeremy Shatan