The Free Design
Kites Are Fun
(Light in the Attic 004)

The Free Design's sunshiny vocal pop didn't make much of an impact back in the 60s, but has been rediscovered in recent years courtesy advocates in the indie-pop arena. Of course, that's almost a strike against them, but as with the Mutantes and the Millennium, some hipster fetishes turn out to be as good as the hype would have it.

The merely curious will be satisfied with a best-of, but the group's catalog of individual albums is well worth diving into – sparkly harmonies and mellow grooves a'plenty to keep you happy for days and days. The Free Design surely walked their own path, blending Association-esque breezepop with Singers Unlimited vocal arrangements and charming, childlike lyrics that have no shame about stopping to smell the roses.

Kites Are Fun opens with the peppy and perfect title track, right away letting you know that you may have been wrong to pay so much attention to The Beatles and the Mamas & the Papas all this time. Sure, the popular kids seem cool at first, but it's always the shy kids off in a corner scribbling in their doodlepads who end up being the most interesting for the long term.

Lush, pastoral instruments bounce off of sassy brass, jazzy drums way in the back, allowing the vocals to provide all the propulsion – hence, the record doesn't sound all that dated. The High Llamas have tried to make records like this one forever without any success … of all the indie bands claiming a Free Design influence, I'd cite Call and Response as the only one to really build on the marvellous foundation provided by siblings Chris, Bruce, and Sandy Dedrick on this superfine debut.

"The Proper Ornaments" takes a curious anti-materialism stance with a tone and approach akin to The Carpenters' "Druscilla Penny" … I love it when nerds take a stand. A few covers are included ("59th Street Bridge Song," "Michelle," "A Man and a Woman," all of which seem to have been required to include on every album from 1966 to 1969), in arrangements that make them much more interesting than you'd expect. But the band's infectious, absolutely unique originals are spellbinding, and endlessly enjoyable.

It's rare to find an album that, instead of trying to perform for you, or connect with you, or excite you, simply sits down to spend some quality time, just being nice to you. How refreshing to have unironic songs about kites and umbrellas, instead of, like John Lennon going on about a circus poster.

Review by Rad Brad