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Posted on May 10th, 2011 (12:00 pm) by Bo Smothers

“Supergroup” is a dangerous word. For some, it conjures memories of musical triumphs; winning combinations of various talents that together made (in some cases) music greater and more endearing than what the individual parties created on their own. Bands like Crosby, Stills and Nash; The Traveling Wilburys; and The Highwaymen. For others, however, the term supergroup is more of a dirty word, describing more often than not the disappointment in, and sometimes utter failure of, individually talented artists that when working together, only manage to eke out crap. After all, if you blend all the colors of the rainbow, what you're left with is mud brown.

So, when I tell you that 8in8 is, in fact, a supergroup – self described as “Tomorrow's supergroup today” - comprised of Amanda Palmer, her husband Neil Gaiman, Ben Folds and OK Go's Damian Kulash, I beg members of the latter opinion of supergroups to hold off their judgment when I give this second fun fact about their album, Nighty Night:

That it was completely written and recorded within a 12-hour period, and is just 19 minutes in total length. And that it's also one of the best pop albums I've heard in quite some time.

But onto the music, all glorious six songs. Nighty Night hits the ground sprinting with “Nikola Tesla”, a light, funny and overwhelmingly energetic love song describing Palmer's imagined tryst with the underdog inventor, which is fueled by Palmer's dark, choppy and aggressive chamber-pop piano riffs and breathless rushes of lyricism. High quality, intelligent lyrics are present throughout the album, thanks to, according to Amanda Palmer, wordsmith Neil Gaiman. The song is never without the melodic drive of Palmer's piano, and is undoubtedly as fast-paced as the album ever gets, and also as about “Amanda Palmer” as the album ever gets. That is to say, Palmer fans will find a track to love in “Nikola Tesla”, sounding like an unreleased B-side from the Dresden Dolls mastermind.

The next track, “Because The Origami”, slows down the pace dramatically. The song, still held aloft by a strong, if surprisingly sad, piano line – this time played by Ben Folds – is initially a neat, sarcastic nudge on modern child rearing, sung in duet between Folds and Palmer. The lyrics of “Origami” match its melancholy tone: “you took the shoes and ran away / We gave them your description / now we haven't heard a thing in weeks.” The song, in short, provides a more thoughtful counterpoint to the energetic opening track, a slower uppercut to complement “Nikola Tesla”’s preliminary jab.

Next comes “One Tiny Thing”, the track in which I feel 8in8 really hit their stride, managing to buoy comfortably in between the energetic heights of the first track, and the moodiness of the second. This song, voiced by Damian Kulash, is moved forward melodically by semi-waltzy, dissonant piano chords (notice a trend?) and kept in rhythm by remarkably well balanced and well timed handclaps and stomping, especially considering the short time frame. What makes it great however, is that whereas all other songs on the album reflect, to some degree, the individual styles of the artist singing, “One Tiny Thing” has a timbre of it's own, and a damn catchy one at that. It's a slow moving, sometimes bluesy, strange little song in a minor key, and it has that indefinable playlist factor that guarantees this song running through your iPod for months to come.

The next two songs, “Twelve Line Song” and “I'll Be My Mirror”, are both hilarious, driven by light, twinkling piano lines, and exceedingly evocative of Ben Folds' and Amanda Palmer's trademark sound, respectively. The first describes “a squirrel kill[ing] himself / in my bath...one tiny furry tragedy” and the second “a tiny asian woman screaming in the street today.” “The Problem with the Saints” is in some ways a second high point for the album. Voiced by Neil Gaiman in his performance debut, his droll narration is a nice juxtaposition to the lyrics, which are poetic and violent in turns, displaying better than any other of the songs Gaiman's writing style. And melodically? You guessed it--the brunt of the burden is being carried by Palmer's stabbing blues piano, complete with her own solo. A fitting capstone to such a fantastic album.

The album is, in short, a triumph, belonging to that first category of supergroups, perhaps not up there with the likes of CSN&Y's Déjà Vu, but certainly a great deal better than anything Them Crooked Vultures have ever released, and just hair above or below – depending on your musical tastes – Dark Night of The Soul. This is for many reasons – the piano, the lyricism, the astonishing production value considering the time constraints – but one more important than the rest. It's that for the most part, the individual members of 8in8 retained their musical personalities, rather than changing styles to fit the image of the new band. Everyone in 8in8 did what they saw fit, and in doing so, managed to create the wonderful Nighty Night.

Track List:

1. Nikola Tesla
2. Because The Origami
3. One Tiny Thing
4. Twelve Line Song
5. I'll Be My Mirror
6. The Problems With Saints

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

88 / 100
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