If Peach Kelli Pop’s self-titled debut was classic bubblegum, their new album takes that wad of gum and shoots it through a pinball machine. Led by California-via-Ottawa native Allie Hanlon, the project has grown much more complex since the doo-wah-diddying power pop that permeated their beginnings. The leading factor behind this shift is Hanlon’s decision to record in a studio for the first time. III is cleaner than her previous releases, its 10 tracks composed with clear-eyed precision. While the sophomore LP is still full of catchy pop ditties, Peach Kelli Pop’s energy has been turned up to 11.
Lead single “Princess Castle 1987,” a chaotic and twinkly synth number, is a prime example of this more layered and highly caffeinated approach. But behind Peach Kelli Pop’s seemingly saccharine exterior, the band examines more serious, politicized topics. The unattainable “ideal” female body is a recurring theme on III, first spotted on “Shampoo.” Hanlon squints through stinging hair care products as she attempts to be “pure, perfect, clean…the best girl you’ve ever seen.” It’s Marina Abramovi? aggressively brushing her hair in “Art Must Be Beautiful; Artist Must be Beautiful,” set to a maniacal attack of melodic garage-rock.
The most poignant moments arrive near the middle of the record. On “Plastic Love,” the dream woman is one who is a “perfect 10, ageless, firm…You don’t need to hear her views/ She’ll always smile at you.” Hanlon’s cheery delivery belies her disdain for objectification, exuding an air of snark not unlike that of fellow West Coasters TacocaT on NVM. “Big Man” continues to condemn oppressive social norms, ending with an all-too-familiar scenario: “Tells what I can and cannot do/ Who my body belongs to/ Because I don’t seem to have a clue.” But before this sentiment has time to settle, the band launches into a cover of the Sailor Moon theme song. To some it might feel a bit out of place, but the cartoon heroine’s technicolor bravado is an apt choice for Hanlon’s sugar and spice aesthetic.
By the finale of III, the adrenaline rush has worn off. “Please Come Home” is a yearning ode to a departed companion that sways effortlessly through a bittersweet hook. In under twenty minutes, Peach Kelli Pop shifts from violent bubblegum pop to Shangri-Las style melodrama, yet Hanlon & Co. do so with such agility that you’d hardly notice the transition.