Rhythm & Views

The Croutons

Morgan Schlaline and Vic Newman, together known as the Croutons, have one mission: to make their pop songs about as silly as possible. Like They Might Be Giants and Jonathan Richman before them, Tucson's own Croutons sing songs about the mundane (e.g., pumpkin pie) with reverence; just the very fact that they're singing a song about pumpkin pie makes that pumpkin pie more special. Add in jangly electric guitars and an anything-goes attitude (check out the sounds after "The Ballad of Canada Dan at the Grand Canyon"--there's a burp in there somewhere) and the Croutons are silly in an endearing way, like that guy who used to sit behind you in Algebra and put pencils in your hair.

Their first and brand-spanking-new record, Suck, is a Croutons extra value pack: 15 songs, including most of the Croutons' live show favorites, like "The Scout Law" and "On the Donut." At their live shows, the Croutons often engage in stage antics (most often beer-drinking contests, although the liner notes pay tribute to a woman who won a pickled-egg-eating contest against Newman in Phoenix), and since Schlaline and Newman both play guitar in the Croutons, the drums and bass and extra noises are pre-recorded. So one would think that a Croutons record wouldn't sound much different from their live shows; however, one thing is woefully missing from Suck, and that's Schlaline and Newman's hilarious stage presence.

It's hard to can charisma, but the Croutons do a pretty damn good job; "Adobe Abode," the Croutons' lament to summer days ("It's so hot in my apartment, so hot that I stink," sings Schlaline) makes excellent use of studio time, with echoey backing vocals and layered guitars, but songs like "The Nature Song," which is basically just Schlaline and Newman emulating various fauna, is much funnier through the tint of a couple pints, not to mention the fact that when "Nature Song" is performed live, you can actually see the goofy faces the guys make when they're pretending to be monkeys.

Even when the Croutons are singing songs that have a more generalized, subdued subject matter ("Meet You" and "Beautiful"), the songs are completely absent of pretension. The Croutons are at their absolute best when they turn the silly into something else, and "The Laundromat Song" is the Croutons in top form. "It's hot chicks day at the laundromat," sings Schlaline over a slow, bluesy acoustic guitar; you'd be hard-pressed to find a song that better epitomizes what it's like to try and talk up someone in a weird place, knowing you have absolutely no chance in hell. But songs like "British Robot," which is basically just Schlaline and Newman affecting sub-par British accents and singing "C-3PO is a British robot!" have their place; you can tell these guys are just having a bit of fun, and they just want you to have some fun, too, if it's not too much to ask.

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