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8/26/2010

Music

All smiles
Regional pop act Rabbit! records the anti-album

 

Rabbit!
Connect the Dots
(Rock Salt)

“Jellybean, jellybean/You’re my automatic sunshine machine.” “Who’s got the magic? I do!” “I’ve got a brand-new chap stick that you think tastes like grape.” Despite bearing the heft of 17 songs over the course of 45 minutes, the debut album from Mt. Dora-based popsters Rabbit!, Connect the Dots, concludes with a gentle guitar strum, a couple of well-placed xylophonic tings and a satisfied “Ahhh” sung by mono-monikered singer Yara. The feeling on the other end, however, is not quite so post-coital. Guileless but not altogether guiltless, Connect the Dots asks its listeners (and especially critics) to set aside their expectations that this band and its album will reveal any emotion other than pep, contain any agenda but to share snapshots of a sunny morning or serve any real purpose as a complete album other than to play a bunch of two-to-three-minute morsels of incongruous pop. The foursome itself, founded by regional veterans Devin Moore and Ashton Allen, admits these are empty calories – the kid-friendly product of a group of industry-grind-weary friends enjoying their freedom from anything resembling band ambition. 

Within that context, Connect the Dots is a jarringly mood-altering thing to give in to. The eye roll-worthy lyrics mentioned above verge on Kimya Dawson cutsiness, sure, but for every sexless foray into adulthood (“Recipe For Love”) there’s a piquantly observed ode to real romance (“Now That I Found You”); for every childish daydream (“Ladybug”) comes a Lennon-esque psych-pop masterpiece like penultimate track “Blue Sky.” 

“It hasn’t been something where people are peeking into my soul, and it was such an awesome breath of fresh air,” says Allen of creating Connect the Dots. “I’m not depressed all the time,” adds Moore. “It’s just peeking into a different part of our personality.” 

 “It’s not brooding singer-songwriter guy,” concludes Allen.

In other words, Dots skirts the razor-thin line between pop and novelty like a pro. It’s expertly crafted enough to trust their claim that the nothingness is the entire point. It helps to know that with the exception of newcomer Yara, who had never sung publicly before joining Rabbit!, all of the group’s members have local indie cred to burn; Moore from his days as the frontman of one-time breakout act Bloom, Allen, a former bassist for industry minded Gainesville vets Big Sky and a nationally recognized solo artist, and Emma Jean Branch, a recently surging scene standout.

“I was in a band that chased after something for years and when that’s your livlihood, you’re like, ‘We’ve got to make it,’ says Allen of his Big Sky days. “We started out in this pure place where we made music and just enjoyed it. It’s like looking for love or something; when you stop looking that’s when it happens.”

What’s harder to discard is the fact that Dots is being released and funded by Moore and Allen’s day job as founders of the rapidly expanding jingle factory Rock Salt Songwriters, a service in which the two, along with “an army” of around 50 different songwriters around the country, provide catalog and original songs for ad campaigns, commercials, TV shows, films and more, often within the same day. While they’re fully capable of generating content from any genre – Allen laughs about the time the TV show Weeds asked for a wrestling entrance song “about dogs” for a particular scene, a song they wrote, recorded and mixed within 90 minutes and was used in the episode – but their specialty is exactly the kind of upbeat California pop found on the Rabbit! album. (In fact, the popularity of a song they did for a Honda commercial led to the very formation of the group.) To a cynic, it could seem like Connect the Dots is nothing more than a demo reel: 17 small, catchy, perfectly repetitious samples for the benefit of licensing departments. If that’s the case, it doesn’t seem to bother them. 

“I’m not gonna cry about it if I get a call that some agency wants one of the songs for a new Target campaign or something,” says Allen. “I think Rock Salt accidentally created a band, and if the band accidentally helps out the business in return, then it’s fine by us.” 

As Moore points out, the crossover between the two is a little more deliberate than that. “We have [publicists] who are putting it out there and looking for opportunities for us.” In an interesting turnabout, it’s the very success of Rock Salt, which is doing just fine with or without Rabbit!, that staves off claims that Rabbit! exists as a cynical marketing ploy. “The majority of stuff we do isn’t Rabbit!” says Allen. 

But even if the band was born from marketing, Rabbit! insist they are genuinely together for the fun of it and nothing more. Ask them about their goals, or even their hopes for the listening experience of Connect the Dots and you get a pregnant, truly contemplative pause with no answer waiting at the end. They are a band about nothing, transparently commercial and serving no purpose other than to allow a group of friends to have fun crafting nuggets of joy together. Connect the Dots, then, is the anti-album in a bizarrely rebellious sense. 

“It’s a punk record!” laughs Moore. “You dig deep and maybe it’s not as simple; there’s some cool production here and a nod to another era there … it’s not just thoughtless. But it is just what it is.” Adds Allen: “We just punked the punk scene.” 

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