Kinda Kinks

I'm not going to do it. I just can't. There will be no mentioning of the Davies brothers here. Not now. Not later. It's an apt comparison, I suppose. But it has to stop. And it's going to be stopping right here. I've been in this business for too little time to be taking it easy like that. It's true that the 88 (and, more specifically, vocalist/guitarist Keith Slettedahl) write relentlessly '60s-inflected hooks. But nearly 40 years of music has come in between, and, despite the overriding sentiment, it appears as though the 88 may have been listening to something other than the British invasion's beloved bickering brothers. How does the band feel about the all-too frequent comparison?

"It's nothing to frown about," says guitarist Brandon Jay with more than a hint of impatience. "We're a unique band, and we sound like ourselves."

Of course, the band does sound like itself. And sometimes T. Rex. And a bit like the Attractions. And the Kinks. Damn.

Their first record, Kind of Light, has a lot of Davies-esque sounds. Melodically and instrumentally, they breach the Kinks line a few too many times. Their recent album, Over and Over, is not, however, a string of "Picture Books" and "Waterloo Sunsets" but is as much Joe Jackson pop ("Nobody Cares") and Big Star balladry ("You Belong to Me") as any of those '60s Brits. The band even makes intermittent stops at Jeff Buckley vibrato ("All Cause of You") and steps into the occasional glam-rock saunter ("Coming Home").

About three years ago, the 88 rose from the tattered amps of a less pop-oriented Valley-based band called the Freeloaders (Slettedahl; Adam Merrin, piano; Carlos Torres, bass) with the addition of two members (Jay; Anthony Zimmitti, drums), but further refined and renamed from a pot of monikers including such varied phrases as breakfast cereals and sentimental avenues. They eventually agreed upon the 88.

The name (although an obvious reference to piano teeth and Ike Turner) made its way into candidacy primarily because it was a reference to a song by modern D.C. rockers the French Kicks. (The 88, according to French Kicks guitarist Josh Wise, is a police precinct in Brooklyn with some sentimental value to a particular member of the band. In light of the 88's grandiose homage, Wise could only say that it was "very flattering.")

"We liked the song and had seen them play at Spaceland." explains Jay. "We just liked the way the name sounded."

Besides being notoriously dedicated to their self-promotion, the 88 have averaged more than 40 local gigs a year, including two appearances on Nic Harcourt's tastemaking radio show and a one-off playing the Band to Elliott Smith's doomed Robert Zimmerman in one of Smith's final live performances. This ever-expanding presence eventually led to getting one of their songs (released on a hand-distributed demo) on The O.C., a seeming rite of passage for local popsters looking to get noticed. "It was funny in a way," says Jay. "We were like, 'I don't know.' It's like Melrose Place. Imagine the Who and Three's Company together."

Their latest video making the rounds—wherever music videos are aired these days—is for "Hide Another Mistake," a metronomic piano-pop workout. For just under four minutes, the band stands within a kaleidoscopic, Olivia Newton-John-meets-Mondrian freakout loaded with leotards and revolving guitars, declaring, "I got the West Coast sunshine/But it don't mean a thing." That's a line Jay clarifies by noting the competitiveness of the town lying below that sunshine: in a place with three bands for every two garages, it's rough going out there. Even if you are good enough to seound like the Kinks. Damn. "You have to work a lot harder," he says. "There are so many options and so much competition. We don't take it for granted at all."



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