“Hey, what are you guys doing down there?” “Oh nothing, mom, just recording one of the sweetest, most adorable and sublimely accomplished dinkypop albums of 1995.” Connecticut brothers Peter (vocals, guitar, organ, drums) and Tarquin (bass, vocals) Katis are, with drummer Adam Pierce, Philistines Jr. Their stock in trade is simple, gentle songs of surreal whimsy that spin tunefully like Brian Wilson’s mildest dreams while evincing the outlandish basement-brewed conceptual wizardry of pioneering British producer Joe Meek. All of this is accomplished in voices with the fresh-scrubbed wholesomeness of 4-H clubbers. Rudimentary, perhaps, but hardly naïve.
Unlike most pop auteurs aiming to whip up confectionery masterpieces, the Philistines Jr. neatly balance guitar and rudimentary organ for an irresistible, joyful pop sound that is neither raw jangle nor synthesizer flash. The five- song Continuing Struggle is delightfully direct, offering engaging random-access autobiographical lyrics as a bonus. The title track begins to recount the band’s tangential A&R experience and then trails off; “My Short-Lived Career as a Professional Athlete” skates into a broken leg on the hockey rink; “The Army Song” promotes the draft for personal reasons (“Mandatory conscription would be Adam’s friend and be my friend…I could take orders from someone other than my older brother”). Mom and Dad Katis get in the act for “145 Old Mill Road” (the family’s address in Greenwich); the latter parental unit points out that it’s not too late for the brothers to apply for medical school.
Using toy piano as an accent and strikingly clear sound as an asset, The Sinking of the S.S. Danehower (perhaps inspired by the underwater photo of young musicians Paul and Dave Danehower that graces the back cover) is a small masterpiece, wandering in and out of the story/theme advanced in “We Will All Go Down Together” and “Wo Ist Das Unterseeboot?” with a lovely cover of “Moon River,” the VCR adventure of “N,” the enthusiastic welcome back of “It’s Paul & Dave!” and “The Sci-Fi Song,” a thoughtful (if noisy) consideration of being in a band that tours in outer space. Even the instrumentals are memorable.
The Philistines’ rhythm section also serves in the not entirely dissimilar Iris, a tighter, rockier quartet led by sweet-voiced singer John Meyer and guitarist Kan Nawaday. (The Katis brothers also play in the hockey-themed Zambonis.) Engineered by Peter Katis, After School Special is charming but less whimsical and invigorating than the other band’s records. Dynamic bouts of My Bloody Valentine bent-guitar exorcism and a wispy approximation of Haircut One Hundred add character, but the material — some of which is downright delightful — could be more consistent.
The Happiest Guys in the World is a Katis brothers trio with guitarist Leon Dewan. Their album of jolly indie pop is a casual outpouring of boundless enthusiasm and wide-eyed optimism. Every song title ends in an exclamation point (including, perhaps a little self-consciously, “Love…Is It the Answer?!”). Brief quotes of classics by Neil Young and the Beatles only add to the guileless charm of this slight delight.