All Music Guide | 2000

Papas Fritas' third album Buildings and Grounds opens as gently as a breeze, as "Girl" floats along on lazily picked acoustic guitars, cooed vocals, and an arrangement reminiscent of swinging London -- not of the mid-'90s, but of the mid-'60s. It's as clear a signal as possible that things are different now in the Papas Fritas camp. Although this lighter touch wasn't completely absent on their previous record, they have toned down the straight-ahead, big indie-pop hooks which fueled their first album. It may be a little startling at first, particularly for true fans of the band's earlier sparer sound, but Buildings and Grounds is a stronger, more cohesive record than their debut. That's not to say it's perfect. With this new direction, Papas Fritas occasionally consciously recalls classic pop that's more sophisticated than their own music, and while the results are pleasant, they're not always favorable. Papas Fritas just isn't a band who crafts their songs with the precision of Bacharach or layers their productions like Stephen Street did with Blur. That's OK, though, since they work as joyous bursts of pop. They are a band of simple pleasures, which means they still sound the best when the music is peppier, as in the infectious "What Am I Supposed to Do?" and "Vertical Lives." But, given some time, the quieter numbers are quite ingratiating in their own right. Occasionally, they're just a little too self-conscious and precious -- a common affliction of indie-pop -- but it's hard not to be charmed by Shivika Asthana's sighing vocals or Tony Goddess' plain, friendly singing. It's so unassuming that it's easy to hear that they mean it. And, while their talents as writers and record-makers are still developing, Buildings and Grounds makes it clear that Papas Fritas are not only talented, but that they have their own voice, as well. They're pop fans, but unlike many of their pop peers, they're neither overly classicist nor overly insular. That doesn't mean that this is pop music for the charts -- it's entirely too nice and gentle for that -- but neither is it self-defeatingly "indie," as many indie-pop albums are at the turn of the millennium. In other words, Papas Fritas does make personal pop music, but instead of shunning outsiders, they welcome them, providing that the listeners are willing to take the band at their own easy pace. In its own, quiet way, Buildings and Grounds proves that it's worth the time of many pop fans to indulge Papas Fritas, as they awkwardly but winningly find their own voice.

- Stephen Thomas Erlewine