|Rolling Stone | 1997|
With its deft melodies surrounded by crisp guitars and the occasional cello, Papas Fritas' eponymous 1996 debut album displayed an undeniable pop sensibility. But you still had the feeling that, consciously or not, Papas Fritas didn't dare make a full break from the comfortable confines of rock & roll -- as if it weren't quite all right for the band to prefer the Beach Boys to Nirvana. Guitarist Tony Goddess, for example, undermined his songs' sweet core by singing them with the kind of hoarseness you'd expect from vocalists in rougher bands.
That's changed with Helioself, the band's self-assured second LP. Papas Fritas now take even more pleasure in varying their songs' paces ("Live by the Water," for instance, is an old-fashioned lilting waltz) and refining their arrangements -- Helioself's smooth piano and organ recall '70s soft rock, while the album's vocal interplay harks back to '60s power pop.
Often wistful but never maudlin, Helioself deals with the watershed years of finishing college and entering adulthood. At the same time, it's as joyful as alt rock gets these days. Drummer Shivika Asthana may sweetly sing, "Say goodbye to all your friends" ("Say Goodbye"), but the melancholy is balanced by the realization that change also means finding something or someone new. Asthana's vocals later lead the charge on "Sing About Me" as Papas Fritas attempt to summon the insouciant joy found on the most exhilarating Motown singles. That it ends up sounding like Katrina and the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine" only adds to their nerdy charm. (RS 761)