Our Most Beloved (CD/DVD)
By James Kochalka Superstar
Released by Rykodisc

James Kochalka Superstar is ready for the world, and with this first major-label collection, I think it's possible the world might just be ready for them.

I've been a fan of this band since the first time I heard their music, back around the turn of the century with the CD Carrot Boy the Beautiful. You might be surprised at how many CDs this band has produced, each with its own unique personality and each showing a little more musical depth and development, in addition to Kochalka's trademark blend of magical thinking, addictive hooks and profound whimsy. Our Most Beloved brings together 25 of the band's classic tracks, starting with the humble and unassuming "Twinkle Twinkle Ringo Star" and then moving into full-blown Kochalka weirdness with "Magic Finger (It's My Dink)." The third song on the disc is perhaps JKS's best known and certainly most hook-laden tune, "Monkey vs. Robot," and it's a concept and a song that continues to sound fresh and fun years after I first heard it.

The next track is a personal favourite, although it's been redone because of a sample that was in the original version: "Pussy Gangster" is one of the band's shortest tracks ever (less than half a minute long, in fact), but the transitions and leaps it makes as James and his bandmates both make fun of and pay tribute to hip hop and rap never cease to delight me. It's also an essential lead-in to the following track, the cunnilingually brilliant "Talk to the Wooky."

The one track I really, really wish was on here is "Saving my Strength," the lyrically silly ditty that both wildly distorts the life story of bandmember Jason Cooley and somehow perfectly conveys Kochalka's respect and affection for his longtime pal and co-conspirator.

Other tracks on here are more than strong enough to provide consolation for the absence of that great "Don't Trust Whitey" track, though: "Ozzy and I," "President Kochalka," "Hockey Monkey," "Neigh-Neigh and Woo Woo," "Bad Astronaut," "Frog on Top of a Skyscraper," and "Don't Trust Whitey" are all absolute gold and essential elements of this true greatest hits package.

There are not one but two great bonuses if you buy the CD: The booklet, firstly, is a full-colour mini-comic about a typical telephone exchange between Cooley and Kochalka, and it's one of the best examples of Kochalka's best comics work: It takes a likely real situation, applies Kochalka's hyper-real, hyper-surreal filters to it, and comes up with something funny and somehow even more truthful than a strict recounting of events might be.

Scene from the video of James Kochalka Superstar's song Copenhagen China Box

As much as I love the CD and all the great music on it, perhaps the centerpiece of this terrific multi-media package is the bonus DVD that includes five full-length music videos from throughout the history of the band. The videos included are:

  • Monkey vs. Robot -- A grungy, low-budget battle between the titular monkey and robot. Funny and strange, as you'd expect.
  • Don't Trust Whitey -- An atypical but welcome sociopolitical commentary that perfectly skewers the U.S. class system. Also the band's best conceived-video performance to date.
  • Hockey Monkey -- Most similar to the Monkey vs. Robot video, a bit on the low-budget side, but an entertaining presentation of one of the band's catchiest all-ages tunes.
  • Pizza Rocket -- Very early Kochalka, but brilliantly animated and a blast for kids (and adults with a sense of humour, but hey, that's mandatory for this package as a whole).
  • Copenhagen China Box -- Fittingly last on the DVD, this latter-day song is given the total live-action treatment, starting with James ordering some food at an outdoor kiosk in Copenhagen before James starts singing about a momentary infatuation in a way that is universally appealing to anyone who's ever had their head turned by a momentary glimpse of beauty; innocent, knowing and profound, it's one of the band's best songs.
Seeing James relaxed and joyful as he performs for the Copenhagen China Box video, it's a perfect summation of Kochalka's timeless approach and endless appeal: I can't ever imagine a time that I'll be so jaded that this video, and this wonderful CD/DVD/comic package, won't make me smile and sing along. Grade: 5/5

-- Alan David Doane

Also: Read ADD's report on an August, 2004 JKS performance.

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