All Girl Summer Fun Band – All Girl Summer Fun Band

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

Self-criticism, if not self-flagellation, can come far too easily. Even in contexts where performance or achievement isn’t relevant. I probably didn’t even first become aware of Portland’s All Girl Summer Fun Band until maybe 2021 or 2022. And I didn’t listen to a note of their music until 2023, when I saw them live at a Slumberland-adjacent show with the excellent Tony Molina. And in fact, the AGSFB is a big name in the twee scene and has been since about 1998 when they first formed. But I didn’t know anything about them, and while I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about the music I like, this wonderful band was just something I overlooked. There are good reasons for it (parenthood! job! depression!), but there don’t need to be. This shit isn’t a competition and I don’t have to justify why I didn’t happen to know about this band for so long; it really doesn’t matter how conversant I am in some musical subgenre. I am just focusing on how fortunate I feel that I now know about them.

What I Think of This Album

Truer marketing never existed. All girl band? Yep. Summer fun? You betcha. There you have it. Everything you need to know is right there. Of course, that’s hardly the case. While the album title/band name as essence is a reliable shortcut, taking it will mean missing out on other essential scenery. For one, there is the talent at work, as the four musicians swap instruments regularly and all are involved in the songwriting in some way. Also, there is the band’s pedigree, with Jen Sbraglia being one-half of legendary the Softies (with Rose Melberg of Tiger Trap) and Kathy Foster’s simultaneous rise to prominence with the Thermals. And there is the winking manner of the foursome as they pop out their short, sunny songs of innocence.

Somehow, the quartet of Foster, Sbraglia, and cohorts Arirak Douangpanya and founder Kim Baxter (she somehow convinced the other three, none of whom had every met the others, to form the band) manages to walk the line between sincerity and irony without tripping even once. So while the style is borderline frivolous and the presentation approaches archness, there is warmth, gentle humor, and undeniable intelligence to the songs. The four women are here to have fun and they’re going to do it in a way that is fun, and they realize you may think it’s not fun, but that only makes it more fun for them.

As with most twee, you’re either going to like this a lot or not at all. You will appreciate that “Later Operator” is somehow both G-rated and R-rated at the same time, the simple messaging of “Cell Phone,” the implicit humor in “Canadian Boyfriend,” and the fact that the band has a theme song (“Theme Song”), or you won’t. I hope you do, and I dare say you should.

K Records impresario and Beat Happening leader Calvin Johnson recorded the album and contributes memorable vocals to “New In Town.”

The Best Thing About This Album

How it is born of the bravery to do something just for the fun of it, even if most people won’t like it.

Release Date

February, 2002

The Cover Art

The drawing is by Sbraglia, and I like the ‘60s hair salon theme, as well as the stars in the band name (which remind me of the Eugenius album cover for Oomalama).

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