Don't let Kawaii's perky, shiny exterior fool you; this Norwegian duo have all the tools they need to create the most saccharine pop imaginable -- toy keyboards, charmingly restrained male and female vocals, organs and retro drum machines -- but they use these ingredients to create an eerily unsettling album. Recorded in its entirety in Mats Jorgensen and Hedda Fredly's kitchen, If It Shines, We Have It
is cold and smooth like a stainless steel countertop with all the flash of fluorescence off a steak knife. Kawaii refers to their work as "the sounds of silverware", which is a disarmingly cute thing to say, especially when a third of all silverware place settings are blades.
Take, for instance, the keyboard work that closes "Friends Who Make You Lonely". On its own, it sounds like something from Pole Position or Frogger -- 8-bit and unthreatening. Tacked onto the end of this nervous and ethereal tune, with all of its bizarre wind chime noise and ghost-like vocals, those peppy video game noises sound like the coming of the apocalypse. Kawaii approach this chaos at several points, but always retract to their synth-pop roots before sending us over the edge. Like in "Friends Who Make You Lonely", they play the ironic juxtaposition to a T -- usually in the same song, and sometimes in the same phrase. "Even Lineup" showcases one of the album's poppiest vocal melodies over what sounds like the preset samba beat from an entry-level synthesizer. It's danceable and catchy, but like the rest of the album, a sadness creeps in through Jorgensen and Fredly's voices, collecting in your bloodstream like lead, and before you know it, you feel heavy and troubled.
If It Shines, We Have It does a fine job of giving equal weight to the group's attractive side and their haunting side. A good chunk of the album's middle section hits an experimental stride: "Cotton Elbows" turns a church organ into a spacy episode of drug-induced trance, while "The Concept of Being A Slightly Wounded Bear" features Kawaii's only true musical breakdown (they usually don't stray this far from the verse/chorus structure). These episodes are kept in check by moments of absolute pop bliss. When "Crowded Muffin" kicks into a Postal Service-inspired psycho dance beat, you'll be hard-pressed not to shake to its rhythm, and "They Would Probably Talk, Sleep or Fuck"'s infectious fun won't be matched by another band, Scandinavian or otherwise, any time soon. Just be careful. Shiny things are attractive, but often have sharp edges.