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Album review: Bad Bad Hats are two of those things

Indie rock is in a weird place. What used to be the dominion of status-quo challenging weirdos on the fringe is now largely a land of nicey-nicers who all seem to be angling for a spot in a Target back-to-school commercial with backpack-clad kids dancing in some brightly-lit pastel room of the damned. The music has gotten bland and washed-out, much of its humanity drained by computer recording software that allows users to perfectly place each drum hit and make sure every last vowel sound is perfectly tuned and in time. There's little chaos, little grit, little in the way of guts.

This week, we're looking at the newest record by Minneapolis' Bad Bad Hats, who call themselves "indie rock," but who sound for all the world like they're about to break into Sixpence None the Richer's "Kiss Me" at any moment. They sound like The Current has become sentient and assumed the form of an inoffensive band that is the ultimate music to order a latte to at Starbucks.

This is the kind of stuff that fits squarely into the "fine" category. They're not a terrible group by any means — their songs are produced expertly, they have some hooks in tow, so on and so forth. What they don't seem to possess is any real desire to do anything but just kinda exist in a state of inertia, without form or purpose beyond eventually getting to ride around in a car with James Corden, singing their own songs karaoke-style and grinning the whole way, gaining a million views from middle-schoolers and people who clicked the wrong video when they're trying to watch Men Without Hats' "Safety Dance."

Somewhere in the last decade, it became hip to be square — not in that cool Huey Lewis way, where he's saying "Hey, I'm kind of a dork, bite me" — but in a way that is somehow a capitulation, a white flag being waved, where artists are rewarded for sounding generic and faceless and not being challenging whatsoever. Bad Bad Hats' "Lightning Round" is a product of this environment, where there's no message, no urgency, no purpose beyond arranging pleasing sounds in a pleasing way for people who only want to be lightly pleased. Is this the era for this kind of music?

Opening track "Makes Me Nervous" gets right down to the business of being boring right away. Its midtempo, breezy groove sounds like some sort of Jessica Simpson music bed that a producer named "Jimmy X" or something probably deleted off a hard drive back in 1999. Lead vocalist Kerry Alexander establishes herself as one of those singers who overenunciates words like so many currently do — she turns the line "Kiss on the cheek / another week" into "Kish on the chayk / another wake." It's grating as all get-out, and she pulls this act throughout the record. The whole song itself is also apparently about being bummed that your cellphone isn't working right. It's bubblegum, purely, but it's not chewy or sweet enough to make a lasting impression.

Each song produces the same results. On "1-800," Alexander is again pining for someone who won't call her (this woman should maybe get a new phone plan), and she's masticating her own lyrics. "Call back, tell me where you're at" turns into "Coil bike, tell me why you're ight." There are synths and plinky guitar notes and percussion, but nothing ever happens.

A worse crime than being terrible is being boring, and Bad Bad Hats are guilty of the latter. Oh, well.

Artist: Bad Bad Hats

Album: "Lightning Round"

Produced by: Brett Bullion

Website: www.badbadhats.com

Personnel: Kerry Alexander (vocals, guitar), Connor Davison (bass), Chris Hoge (drums)

Click here to listen to the album.

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