The August Teens could have titled their long-time-coming debut release Songs about Girls, but that was probably too obvious. After all, other than the lesson in financial preparedness, “Pocket Change,” every song is about a girl. There are the titular girls, “Sweet Elaine,” “There is No Amber Klein” and “Sheila Doesn’t Want Me,” but many go nameless. However, this isn’t the Beach Boys; there are surprisingly few happy endings in these thirteen songs. “Sweet Elaine,” whose melody echoes “Save the Last Dance for Me,” has a secret that probably shouldn’t have been shared, “If you kept it on a shelf, I wouldn’t have it on my brain, but you told me anyway and you got me to despise her, now I’ll never get to dance with sweet Elaine.” Even though the heroine of “All the Elements” seems to be perfect—“she’s cool, polite, she doesn’t go out every night”—she’s obviously not. It’s hard to pick out what exactly the problem is, “but if she thinks we should go out she’s wrong.”
The tragedy of “Amber Klein” is solely that she stopped being sad and lonely, while our narrator continues to bemoan his lack of romantic luck. A sweet guitar lick from Dave Esmond and crushing drums courtesy of Josh Labbus introduce the nonsensical “Pizza in Your Heart,” which seems to chastise a callous lover by asking, “Is there a donut in your soul, or is there just a hole?” Or maybe they just had the munchies. And you can probably guess the tragedy of “Lovers Can’t Be Friends”: he thinks they can; she knows they can’t. In case we didn’t quite get the point, the song is reprised at the end of the CD like some sort of Broadway musical. Even the seemingly happy songs aren’t really all that happy. The enthusiastic “Buttercrush,” a definite highlight with its harmony vocals and Kyle Urban’s sweet bass line and the pseudo-surf guitar, may just be about unrequited love.
Whether the songs are autobiographical or not, you can’t help but feel a little sorry for lead singer/songwriter Dan Hardgrove, who apparently has had his (fictional) heart broken over and over. That is until you get to “It’s Gonna Break My Heart (When Your Baby Ditches You (For Me)),” which stands out as the big winner on A Kiss in Wisconsin. Not only does it have a super cool double-parenthetical title, but it also features a kickass “cha cha cha” ending, hands down the best way to finish a song. The song of feigned remorse hits below the belt with zingers like, “I hear your girl has her eye on me and it really makes me blue, because if she wants to give me all her love, what’s she gonna give to you?” Ouch.
The CD features excellent musicianship from all involved, and Urban’s production is appropriately gritty. The boys get sincerity points for thanking in the liner notes every venue they have ever played and every band they have ever played with. Yeah, the lyrics aren’t always genius; they are occasionally clumsy and the rhymes sometimes forced, but they are all sung so earnestly over such ridiculously catchy melodies that their awkwardness is part of their charm. After all, this is pure power pop; it’s all about the tune that gets stuck in your head for days courtesy of big hooks and repeated choruses. You weren’t expecting an epic poem in three minutes or less, were you?