The Santa Barbara Independent, No. 819, August 1-8, 2002

fringe beat: From the annals of sort-of local music history, we have the ongoing saga of Kristian Hoffman, whose bandography includes the Mumps, the Swinging Madisons, Bleaker Street Incident, and a workload as sideman and musical director for Dave Davies, Rufus Wainwright, Ann Magnuson, and others. And now, he has put out the fantabulous art-pop album, &, which you need to hear. Young Hoffman, brother of another former S.B. resident musician, Erik, sprang to national attention after hightailing it out of town. He was first seen in the fishbowl of television as a young artist living in Chelsea, a friend and musical ally of one Lance Loud. Loud, of course, was the bad boy of the Loud family, subject of the early-'70s PBS documentary An American Family, one of the best weekly TV docu-tragicomedies ever.

For its disarming mix of emotional focus and clever contextual trickery, Hoffman's & is surely one of the finest pop albums of the year, and not just because of the stellar company Hoffman keeps. Never mind, for a minute, that his guest list includes Rufus Wainwright (soulful crooning on "Scarecrow"), Van Dyke Parks (yummy strings on the swoopy-pop "Revert To Type"), Lydia Lunch (just-woke-up moping on "I Can't Remember My Dreams"), That Dog's Anna Waronker (the pure catchy fun of "Get It Right This Time"), and more.

It helps that Hoffman is a handy keyboardist, not limited by the usual cliches coming out of guitar players. It also helps that he has no ties to any isms in the pop world. Once you understand that pop radio doesn't care about you and that pure creativity punches a clock of its own devising, the sky's the limit. Or at least that's one possible reading of a shamelessly fun and perky invention.

-- Josef Woodard

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