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JOY ZIPPER (Buy CDs by this artist)
Joy Zipper (Bar/None) 2000
The Stereo & God EP (UK Mercury) 2003
American Whip (UK Vertigo) 2004 (Dangerbird) 2005
The Heartlight Set (UK Vertigo) 2005

Joy Zipper, a duo from Long Island, New York, makes the musical equivalent of candy-coated cyanide capsules. Band- and life-mates Vincent Cafiso and Tabitha Tindale's music is a breezy mix of the Mamas & Papas and Stereolab, full of sunny, intricate male/female harmonies but glazed with a sheen of Teutonic cool. But their lyrics offer such pleasantly delivered sentiments as "Our death is inevitable" and "Feel you most when I'm deep in madness." Excelling at upbeat cynicism, Joy Zipper can rival the cheerful cruelty of Ween. It seems appropriate that while the band's name is usually assumed to be kinky in some way, Joy Zipper is actually Tindale's mother's name. This band revels in mixed messages and skewered expectations.

Whether the relationship numerology of "Like 24 (6 + 1 = 3)," Joy Zipper's opening track, actually adds up to anything is debatable, but the melody is a gift from the god of Brian Wilson's teenage symphonies. "Transformation Fantasy" manages to make meditating on mortality as pleasant as a walk on the beach. "Pillow" is hallucinogenic folk music, while "Booda" lopes along on a stoned '70s soul groove. An interest in — and skepticism toward — faith and religion color the tuneful "Check Out My New Jesus," "God" and the trippy, Donovan-ish "The Power of Alan Watts." Joy Zipper concludes with a jazzy, partially Japanese ode to "Apathy," followed by a couple of minutes of creepy instrumental music which sounds like the soundtrack to a '60s psychedelic sci-fi film.

The Stereo & God includes the single "If I'm Right," which races along with more urgency than Joy Zipper's usual relaxed vibe. The whole EP is less ornate than either of the full-lengths, concentrating on more straightforward, unadorned arrangements. Cafiso and Tindale's knack for great harmonies and melodies remains intact, however, especially on "1" and "Gun Control." A re-recording of "Check Out My New Jesus" is a little more sprightly than the original. The disc also contains the video for "If I'm Right."

American Whip kicks off with "Sunstroke," a catchy but off-key instrumental that sounds like a music box assembled by a well-meaning gorilla. "Christmas Song" expresses many positive thoughts, but it's very likely sung by a lunatic, while "Baby You Should Know" is great shoegazing pop; a sunnier My Bloody Valentine. The lilting "33x" is welcome and refreshing, even when Tindale purrs "I'm getting tired of life." The second half of the album dwells heavily on the topic of drugs, with the depressing "Alzheimers" as well as "In the Never Ending Search for a Suitable Enemy," which could serve as the duo's manifesto. Among contemporary bands, only the Delgados can match Joy Zipper's combination of sonic bliss and evil thoughts.

On "Go Tell the World," the first track on The Heartlight Set, Joy Zipper seems to address persistent (but pointless) comparisons to the White Stripes by turning in a fuzzed-out stomper that does come close to intersecting the Stripes’ orbit. After that, the album returns to Joy Zipper’s standard of dizzyingly lovely pop music. Some of the magic has faded with familiarity, but "Anything You Sent" and "Thought’s a Waster of Time" are every bit as good as anything on the first two albums, while the Lenny Bruce tribute ("For Lenny’s Own Pleasure") and others come close. "1" is reprised from The Stereo and God.

[Brad Reno]