Milliseconds after your child treads through the wavy field of blue shag carpet and steps out the crayon-swirled door of his bedroom, GI Joe and the Incredible Hulk leap from the “Action Figure” stenciled cardboard box and spark to life a party that makes Charlie Sheen and Robert Downey Jr.’s New Years Eve bash look like an Easter Sunday get-together at Dr. Laura’s house. Well, at least that’s what Greg Kurstin would have you believe.
In the early ’90s, Kurstin’s band Geggy Tah hooked up with David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label. The head Head himself was one of the album’s executive producers. Little wonder that the band’s experimental approach to song crafting appealed to Byrne, whose fame was created by fusing different styles into a unique sort of geeky white-boy funk sound with the band Talking Heads in the ’80s. Little wonder too that Geggy Tah’s funk/jazz/rock hybrid would ultimately fall on deaf ears. Talking Heads are one of a precious few hyper-cool experimental bands to ever even sniff the winds of commercial popularity, much less discover those winds filling their sails and propelling them to household name status. You’ll most likely be able to find Action Figure Party in the same discount bins as the two Geggy Tah albums soon, which is a shame.
Songs like “Pong Baby”, “No Sleep”, and “Gamera” have a killer key-driven Medeski Martin & Wood attitude thang goin’ on. (MM&W are a slick little funk-jazz trio I highly recommend). The title track “Action Figure Party”, and especially the disco-sexy “Clock Radio”, come off like, now prepare yourself, Michael Franks meets Jamiroquai. The rest of the tracks range from straight-up jazz to Velcro catchy sample-filled joints guaranteed to get your ass wigglin’.
Is Action Figure Party pushing the musical envelope here? Well, no. “George & Cindy”, the most universally accessible track on the disc, sounds so much like Us3’s 1993 hip-hop acid jazz hit “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” that you’d have to check each songs dental records to tell them apart. What differs here are the artists involved in the project. Kurstin (who’s played with Matthew Sweet, Janes Addiction and Sheryl Crow) surrounds himself with artists not known for this type of music: Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers); Jose Pasillas (Incubus); Miho Hitori (Cibo Matto); Gabrial McNair (No Doubt); David Ralicke (Beck); Yogi (Buckcherry); Daniel Shulman (Garbage); Mike Elizondo (Fiona Apple); Yuval Gabay (soul Coughing); Gary Novak (Chick Corea, Alanis Morrissette); Brian Reitzel (Air, Red Kross); John Molo (Bruce Hornsby, Mickey Hart) and Sean Lennon. The results of this massive collaboration aren’t mind-blowing, but they are fun.
If you’re a fan of this type of laid back fusion then this release will definitely appeal to your musical taste buds. But if you’re actually considering throwing your own Action figure Party, just don’t invite the Hulk. Talk about an angry drunk.