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December 1, 1999

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It's hard to figure out whether to take the Promise Ring seriously or not. Kings of the "Boys Who Cry" scene and champions of the picked-on, the Promise Ring serve as the Sanrio of the indie rock world, and they've been stockpiling happy fans like Pokémon. The artwork for Boys and Girls (guys, make that check out to Blur...) consists of two identical photos of a boy and girl fixing themselves up in bathroom mirrors. Given the nature of their fanbase, who treat the floors of small college clubs like Milanese runways, this should be an obvious joke-- the length of the pre-concert dress ritual of some of these kids must reach near Kiss-makeup levels. But the band cuddles such teen melodrama in their music and appearance that it's difficult to chalk this up in the satire column.

Take, for example, the song "Best Looking Boys," containing the lyric, "Best looking boys go all the way," as evidence. The Promise Ring often dangerously redlines into "Family Circus" levels on the sickeningly-cute-o-meter; singer Davey von Bohlen has a lisp, which I'm starting to believe is not in fact anatomical, but rather just a unending supply of Jolly Ranchers in his mouth. But all of this doesn't seem to matter so much. The music is such a sugar kick addiction, particularly in this swallow-size EP format.

The band are obviously faithful followers of the Church of Weezer Christ and Latter Day Superchunk; the pogoing bass and repetitive riffs are pure pop. But in the mix, the Promise Ring reveals their secret ingredient: danceability. Sure, it's "Baby Sitter's Club," bouncing-on-bed, sleepover-pillowfight dancing, but it's dancing nonetheless. One gets the idea that the boys of the Ring tickle and giddy-slap each other for pep.

But once again, von Bohlen's lyrics fashion him into a Mark Rothko of songwriters-- minimal, abstract, chock full o' primary colors, suggestive, repetitive. Part of me had problems with the fact that Promise Ring can only describe boys as "going all the way" and girls as... um... well, on the moody "American Girl" all von Bohlen can offer is the phrase, "American Girl," ad nauseam. This doesn't do much for the advancement of gender politics. But, oh yeah, it's pop music! You're not supposed to take it seriously! So, in that case, the boys are in top form here.

Pitchfork Media

Brent DiCrescenzo