May 19, 2002

Kleenexgirlwonder-"After Mathematics"

Know what I hate? When a smug, self-centered, self-congradulatory artist-type makes a record that makes me have to change my opinion of them. Kleenexgirlwonder, or Graham Smith, has been one of those artists who, from the first time I heard, I have never ever liked. I can't explain why..oh, yes I can..I thought his music sucked! I thought that the adjectives of "talented," "clever," "genius," and "original" were completly wasted upon Smith.

Then this record appeared in my mailbox. I wasn't expecting too much, which was probably for the best, as what I heard was much, much more than I expected from Graham Smith. Sure, I'd read the little bio that came with the record, but I rolled my eyes at it when I saw mentions of his new hip-hop direction, references to TLC, and those previously-mentioned adjectives that I'd seen so many times before. All I could think was "Gee, Har Mar Superstar did this kind of thing, what, two years ago?"

However, confronted with After Mathematics, I have to change my tune, for, somewhere, he changed his tune drastically from that first time I heard him. In the place of his lo-fi indie-pop bedroom sound is this odd mixture of hip-hop and indie pop, and, surprisingly he pulls it off rather well. What Smith's doing on After Mathematics, however, may not be all that different from what he's been doing all along, but he's using that beatbox someone gave him. While there have been others to blend hip-hop with indiepop and indie rock, there's something about Kleenexgirlwonder's own style that seems quite original and, better still, quite enjoyable.

The first song, "I'm Pregnant," was quaint--and though it didn't leave much of a mark the first time I heard it, it did after a few more listens. It's that clever college-rock thing, but it was easily and quickly forgotten by the time "Ain't a Damn Thing Changed" came on. The song is supposed to be a R&B ballad in the same style as TLC's "Waterfalls," the melody sounds not unlike George Michael's "Faith" with hints at TLC's "Unpretty." It's quite funny hearing this white boy throwing down the most clich├ęd hip-hop phrases as if they were original Graham Smith ideas. Still, when guest rapper Zarathustra joins at the end of the song, you're certainly enthralled by this new indie-rap-rock blend. More traditional indie-rock songs such as "Amelia" and "Why I Write Such Good Songs" seem to have traces of this new style, and are greatly improved and much more interesting than I'd expected.

The one flaw with After Mathematics is that while Smith has certainly struck some new, interesting ideas, he is either just now developing these ideas, or simply doesn't know how to carry these ideas any further. If I were cynical, I'd say it's certainly the latter; but I really think that the former is the case here. After "The Intentional Fallacy," the album just seems to drift back into lesser lo-fi indie rock, and though the closing song, "Fitzcarraldo" is quite excellent in its haught, dramatic, album-closing epic way, those last few tracks seem to pale in the face of the first of the album. The high points of After Mathematics were enough for me to give Smith a better listen, and here's to the future, and further explorations of these new

--Joseph Kyle

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