With her wavery Nancy Sinatra voice and pedal-pusher persona, the pseudonymous April March (in reality Elinor Blake, formerly of New York’s Pussywillows) conjures up the kicky spirit of a late-’50s dippity-do teenager on her kitschy five-song solo debut. Written, produced and accordion-packed in vintage Los Angeles style by the pseudonymous Vic Hazlenut and His Orchestra, which includes drummer Carlo Nuccio of the Continental Drifters, the whole affair is over in nine minutes, but that’s enough to contain “Stay Away From Robert Mitchum,” “Kooky” and “How to Land a Man,” smart slices of cultural ephemera from the mildew-soaked bins of an imaginary junk store.
March ups the scale (eight songs, 20 minutes) and relocates her stylistic environs on Chick Habit, latching onto the suddenly chic realm of ’60s Gallic pop as crafted by Serge Gainsbourg and the like. Singing old songs in serviceable French (except for a translated second version of the title track), she receives appropriately dated super-stylized backing from a small studio company headed by Andy Paley. Jonathan Richman strums guitar on “Le Temps de L’Amour.” Formidable!
March’s shadowy collaborator, Vic Hazlenut, is actually one Tim Hensley, who has released albums of his own under other pseudonyms. As Victor Banana, the young auteur made his debut with the incredibly mature Split: 21 songs, each a finely wrought piece of literate songcraft populated by pirates, dancers, monsters and doctors. Shunning any unnecessary electricity, Hensley (vocals, guitar, accordion) employs only a viola player, bassist and drummer. Music for a quirky and literate cabaret.
It makes perfect sense that comic artist Dan Clowes has drawn all the Banana/Smythe covers; Hensley’s music is the aural equivalent of Eightball. The second Victor Banana album is a “soundtrack” to Clowes’ first graphic novel, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron. Between album and book, no movie ever need be made. Invitingly creepy.
The material proffered by Neil Smythe (which is, amusingly, an anagram of Tim Hensley) on Refrains is not all that different from his other alter ego. The arrangements, though, draw from a broad spectrum, pulling in flute, oboe, clarinet, vibraphone, banjo and more. Quietly slick and cynical, the album’s songs either come from, or are aimed at, Mars’ version of Las Vegas.