Kissing Book CD Release
Fri Nov 2
Red & Black

When I first made contact with Andrew Kaffer, the singer from subdued Portland pop band Kissing Book, just arranging a place to meet him posed some ideological difficulties.

"Wanna meet me at a coffee shop?" I asked.

"Well" he said indecisively, "I'd like to, but wouldn't that mean that we'd have to buy a cup of coffee? I mean, when you go into a coffee shop, you're expected to buy something."

I figured he must be very poor. I offered to pay for his cup of coffee.

"It's not really that," he said. "It's just that, I hate how you can't really go anywhere without having to be a consumer. There should be more places where people can just hang out Where you could maybe bring a lunch, maybe not, and not have to pay any money to be social."

But here's the weird thing. Once I met Andrew, who brought along KB's bassist, Drew, neither of them claimed to have any particular ideological leanings, especially in their music. In fact, Andrew was just as adamant about his music not "meaning anything," as he was about being a big consumer. "We just play what we like," said Andrew, refusing to budge from this position.

People like that are so annoying.

I didn't believe Andrew, not only because of the coffee shop debate, but also because Kissing Book's new album, seems incredibly serious and disciplined. But like Andrew and Drew, their album can be pretty misleading at first; it has a lot of jazz influence in it, and this shows up in tight, clean drums and guitar--bossa nova-like pop that's muted and controlled, but preserves the weightlessness of jazz.

But if the instrumental element of the band is the calculated part, it's Andrew's vocals that carry the emotional impact of the music. His voice comes off pregnant and warbly, and feels very honest. In the first song, "hey kids," Andrew drifts in smooth and soft, yet sets the tone of the entire CD with a voice full of feeling and conviction. It's like a jazz-influenced lullaby, except one that makes you buckle.

Later, after we'd completed the interview, Andrew called me and asked if he could send over some lyrics, so I could perhaps better understand what their music "is about." The lyrics, which are pretty much decipherable in the songs, do give some insight into what Andrew is about. "But when they say it's not the end of the world you know they're right/or are you just too scared to admit that you know saying/no to corporate america is not enough?" he asks in track one. Throughout the CD, Andrew continues evaluating politics through a very personal lens, and matters like the problems of corporate America carry as much weight as forgetting to water the plants. No wonder he sounds so upset when he sings.

Andrew and Drew are unable to explain what their music means even on a personal level, let alone what they'd like it to mean for the listener. But in the end, I realized they're right. Who knows or cares what it means? I can only tell you how it feels to listen to. It feels very sad, but very good--not in an indulgent kind of way, but in way that acknowledges the bad and admits that there's still hope. And probably, the fact that these two guys are so confused themselves, is the reason the music is so moving.