“If you’re young and starry-eyed, here’s your chance to get in ahead of the game: Grab a cheap guitar or a cheap keyboard, a four-track or a boombox, and make what you can. Someone, somewhere, will love you for it.” Nitsuh Abebe, Twee As Fuck, on Pitchfork in 2005
The above sentence captures the charm of indie-pop in just 40 words, cutting through the “jangle” and stick-figure cats so many get hung up on when discussing the style to reach its heart. “Twee” music embraces anybody, regardless of musical talent or pristine recording capabilities. Have you listened to a Pastels’ record from the 80’s? Julliard they aren’t. That amateur streak remains integral to so much indie-pop, and has become one of the cornerstones of the community.
So what happens when an artist previously restricted by DIY recording embraces clean sound and musical professionalism? Three-Weeks-Old Lovesick Puppy…the name alone should tip you off to whether you’ll like this type of sound or not…originally posted seemingly homemade tracks to her MySpace, fuzzy little creations highlighted by the driving keyboard-assisted “Stop.” Lead singer Mikiwo and company returned in 2011 with their first mini-album, the adorably titled Tickle Tickle, yet Three-Weeks-Old Lovesick Puppy come off as a very different creature on these 25 minutes. Whereas once the group conjured up images of cardigan-clad kids strumming away outside of a train station for one-yen coins, Tickle Tickle comes off as more professional all around, twee signifiers replaced with jazzy touches. Lovesick Puppy now play sophisticated nightclubs in my imagination. They probably wear blazers.
This shift ends up showcased clearest on Tickle Tickle’s version of “Stop.” Lovesick Puppy’s original recording opened with grin-inducing keyboards before barreling into a sunny chug. The new take leaps right to Mikiwo’s vocals, but the pace has been slowed down a bit to make room for lounge piano and bass. Everything seems a little less tight than on the MySpace incarnation, the drumming occasionally going off on its own and the only use of electronics being some high-pitched whooooshing happening in the back. “Stop” now sounds simultaneously looser but more polished than what Lovesick Puppy initially posted online more than a year ago, above all else more serious. Choosing a superior version seems a thankless task…I’d lean towards the original due to its bright energy, but the final cut still sounds gorgeous, in a refined sort of way.
The remainder of Tickle holds onto this new-found seriousness while never letting the twee spirit leave. Album-highlight “Parachute Love” mimics the ramshackle enthusiasm of the band’s early version of “Stop,” even going as far as to open with a similar series of electronics. From there it’s pure rush, fast-paced drumming spiraling away as the singing gets slightly muffled by the surrounding dash. Though still polished, “Parachute Love’s” energy recalls those early Lovesick Puppy recordings in the best way. The two tracks tucked away at the end of Tickle similarly work as a middle-ground between indie-pop and jazzier aspirations, like seeing a college graduate realize they can still have fun despite new responsibility. The only misstep on this album is drawn-out “Tick-Tack-Toe,” which features one plodding guitar solo too many.
It’s tough to expect anything out of a twee-tastic group, especially one named Three-Week-Old Lovesick Puppy. Yet Tickle Tickle meets whatever hopes I’d pinned to them ever since I first fired up “Stop,” though it does so in unexpected, professional ways. I personally hope Lovesick Puppy can continue finding ways to sound so studio-clean while still exploring indie-pop ideas. For now, we have Tickle Tickle a reassuring debut.