|Recording information: Apmamman Studios, Sthlm; Atlantis Studios, Sthlm; El Cortijo Studios, Malaga; Solitaire Studios, Atlanta, GA; The Enemy Dojo, Calabasas, CA.
|It took Stockholm-based party mongers Teddybears a while to follow up their 2006 U.S. debut, Soft Machine -- itself a hodge-podge of reworked tracks from the group's earlier, punkier efforts -- with the similarly styled Devil's Music, which was issued in Europe in 2010 and appeared stateside a year later in remixed and slightly reshuffled form. But they hadn't entirely been silent during the intervening years: Joakim hlund was active with his '60s-inspired garage rock/power-pop outfit Caesars, while his brother, Klas, maintained a busy schedule of songwriting and production work for major-league pop artists like Kesha, Sugababes, and, most frequently and notably, Robyn. Both brothers' extracurricular ventures are relevant reference points for the Teddybears' sound, an unabashedly sugary mixture of rock & roll and fizzy electronic dance-pop centered around big, crunchy guitars, equally big, crunchy synthesizers, bluntly energetic beats, and a healthy smattering of hip-hop, reggae, punk, and techno. Both ridiculously stylistically diverse and surprisingly distinctive and cohesive in all its gleeful dumbness, Teddybears' music frequently recalls the hard-partying eclecticism and shameless hookiness of late-'90s, big beat electronica. Very much like its predecessor, Devil's Music derives most of its noteworthiness and novelty (and arguably, for better or worse, much of its musical interest) from an impressive, sometimes head-scratching roster of guest vocalists drawn from pop, rock, rap, and reggae. Most acquit themselves perfectly well: the long-largely-dormant Eve kicks things off (after a vocoded bit of Charles Bukowski nonsense) on an appropriately goofy and swaggering tip with the ironically titled "Rocket Science," declaring "I am the robot Elvis rockin' my bionic pelvis," while the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne contributes a characteristically appealing turn on the gently trippy "Crystal Meth Christians." But a few of the most promising collaborations fall a bit flat. Robyn's appearance on chugging electro-pop nugget "Cardiac Arrest" is fun enough but fairly rote (blame it on the material, which isn't long on melody or personality),ÿand "Cho Cha," featuring both Cee-Lo and the B-52's (!!) feels like a truly wasted opportunity; an odd, rather forced '50s/'80s-pastiche with unfunny zero-entendre lyrics about a cat (hmmm), and, inexplicably, Fred Schneider only gets to sing about half a stanza. Still, the inevitable self-recycling aside (see "Get Fresh with You," which re-does "Louie Louie" via Caesars' wonder hit "Jerk It Out"; it's shocking that there's not a more blatant "Cobrastyle" re-tread here) the hlunds have proven themselves time and again as ham-fisted masters of ear-wormy, marketing-friendly pure pop confections (the delightfully dippy B.o.B. feature "Get Mama a House" has already been used to sell Swedish real estate), and it's hard to complain too much about another cheap and dirty dozen of their trademark trashy trifles. ~ K. Ross Hoffman