Sharps & flats

On "Goodbye, So What," New York trio Cake Like play power pop with sweet and sour kiss-offs.

Published July 14, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Cake Like delivers sarcasm and vinegar with sneering riffs, taunting choruses and deadpan humor. On "Goodbye, So What," the New York punkish power pop trio's third album, guitarist Nina Hellman, bassist Kerri Kenney and drummer Jodi Seifert soften their good-natured vitriol and decide that even if their caustic message remains the same, the messenger could be sweeter.

"Goodbye, So What" is an undeviating, toned-down version of the harsher side of the Breeders. The amateurish noise-rock of Cake Like's earliest work is gone, but "Goodbye, So What" still retains the some of the artsy dissonance of "Brusier Queen" (1997). Nevertheless, it's pretty sunny. The fuzzy-toned opener, "Lucky One" sounds like an early Hole outtake until the trio's musicality advances the hum-along chorus. "My Guy" owes more to the bouncy L.A. melodies of the Go-Go's than to abrasive art rock. And the breathy "Don't Tell," is as much a soulful duet between vocal and creeping bass as it is a punky psychedelic throwback.

The group's dead-voice harmonies are especially effective on songs like "Getaway" and the dark, nihilistic "Blacked Out and Blue." Taken as a whole, "Goodbye, So What" is a frugal and unhurried record, with sensual rhythms and rough-hewn textures converging into a slurry, savory and sexy whole. Like the band itself, it's ragged and airy, ominous and righteous -- and loaded with minor contradictions. "Don't be like me," sings the protagonist in "Ashely" to her little sister, which is always a loaded message. And in the deeply grooved rhythm of "Swell," there's a zombie-like chorus singing, "It was a hell of a time, so swell, so swell," but the sentiment is almost the same as "God's Alright," a trippy pop, '60s-inspired, free-for-all.

Five years ago, Cake Like were writing enjoyable, mean-spirited songs like "Bum Leg" with great kiss-offs like "Your dad works for my dad." Without going completely soft, "Goodbye, So What" switches up and presents some of the group's most beautiful work, songs full of atmosphere and memorable melodies. Cake Like still thrash, but they do it unconventionally, with a broader smile and sweet-over-sour send-off.

By Robbie Woliver

Robbie Woliver is a New York freelance writer.

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