The Boy Least Likely To
The Law of the Playground
3.5 out of 5 stars
The snow has thawed and the sun shines bright — the annual winter depression has faded just in time for the sophomore release of indie’s cheeriest duo, The Boy Least Likely To. According to some, spring is a time for picnics, long walks and a renewed sense of optimism. The Law of the Playground, lined with playful melodies and lighthearted lyrics, is the perfect soundtrack for the season.
A band with an odd name like Boy Least Likely To must be difficult to pin down conceptually and musically. The band attempts to define itself in one song in particular, “The Boy Least Likely To Is a Machine,” which playfully alludes to the band’s conception (“I made a machine / called The Boy Least Likely To”) only to follow with the confusingly immature “It feeds me shortbread biscuits / and it makes my little dreams come true.” The juvenile antics persist throughout the album and force a question: How does a band that creates such happy-go-lucky songs gain the respect of the highly pretentious scene in which it resides?
To answer this question, one must take time to understand the band’s music. The song structures are relatively simple, but the band’s pop sensibility and creativity produce a consistently vivacious soundscape bursting with energy. Employment of unconventional instrumentation, including a banjo and washboard combo (“When Life Gives Me Lemons, I Make Lemonade”) and a violin solo injected with buzzy synth chords (“Every Goliath Has His David”), is vital to keeping the band’s sound interesting while avoiding staleness and redundancy.
Ultimately, TBLLT’s ability to match its lyrics to the overall feel of its songs distinguishes Playground. “The Boy With Two Hearts” reflects the manner in which the band craftily connects its narrative lyrics with its music. The track tells the tale of a young lad who is too full of love. The “oom-pah” of the trombone evokes the image of a boy with an awkward and unattractive demeanor, but the gentle glockenspiel line reveals his charming personality and good intentions.
Playground’s witty yet immature lyrics are equal parts self-deprecating and self-assured. Frontman Jof Owen sings with a severe lack of confidence, always pondering the prospects of love and heroism. Owen sums up this sentiment in “Stringing Up Conkers” when he exclaims, “I just want to change the world in whatever little way I can,” which is followed by an appropriately understated harmonica solo.
Some may deem this bashful optimism refreshing while others may find it bothersome and annoying. Still, the presentation of the subject matter is tasteful and flawlessly falls in line with the album’s many lush melodies. TBLLT’s cheerfulness is never forced and never oblivious in a Pollyanna-ish sort of way.
The closing track showcases the way TBLLT retains its realistic perspective while toying around with fanciful ideas. “A Fairytale Ending” twists the conventional happily-ever-after tale by viewing it with a much more rational perspective. The song introduces themes of gallantry and childish bravery before snapping back into the harsh truth of reality.
The closing line, “Limping off into the sunset / with our tails between our legs / Muttering quietly to myself / and wondering if this is the way that / my fairytale ends” seems to come to the conclusion that valiant ambitions may not always come out as one intends. In this sense, TBLLT puts into practice the lessons it sings about: It takes valiant stabs at creativity without sounding too ambitious, which, fortunately for them, results in songs that contain meaning that is deeper than it first appears.