Pop Goes The Kitty

This is pop with a lowercase "p." It's not big and spectacular and

doesn't go POP! Ricky Martin doesn't shake his bon-bon, and

Britney doesn't jiggle her, as Lil' Kim puts it, beeeeeeeeep.

It's highly doubtful that Kitty Vermont ringleader Mark Proksch

will star in a MTV video or be a casualty of an ill-fated cola

commercial that involves non-flame-retardant hair.

There just isn't room in the top 40 for The Kitty Vermont — unless, of course, lyrically obscure tales of love crooned over banjo, synth and sequenced basslines (as found in "We Choose Romance" [RealAudio excerpt] become the next big thing. During that tune, Proksch sings, "And in the end they'll see/ It was merely redundancy/ Mathematical cat and mouse, of which they're a flea/ And in the end they'll find/ Their loneliness multiplied/ Leaving them with such emptiness and sad compromise." Clearly, this ain't no "Baby, hit me 'cause I'm not that innocent."

What makes Wonderful You pop is Proksch's love and devotion to the art of crafting a lovely song; for him, it's melodicism uber alles. On this album you'll find the most darkly textured yet honey-drippingly sweet synth-pop numbers since OMD unplugged their keyboards and called it a day. "Back to Better Days" (RealAudio excerpt) sports a melody those '80s popsters would have traded 100 spiffy haircuts for; "Avalon" (RealAudio excerpt) would make them feel like proud fathers.

The Kitty Vermont recall a time before pop music was defined solely as visual and aural spectacle (given that, in part, it always was anyway); Proksch sounds like a person who's spent long hours laboring alone, crafting the prettiest melodies he could assemble. The easiest and most obvious comparison one can make is to the music of Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields, 6ths, Future Bible Heroes, etc.), though it's more accurate to say they share the same influences: equal parts Tin Pan Alley songcraft, '80s techno-pop and sardonic worldview.

Though this is essentially a solo project, Proksch occasionally fleshes out his album by bringing in some accompanists, such as guest vocalist Carly Strozinsky, who adds life to "That's Why I'm Leaving You," "A Diamond in the Rough" and a handful of other songs. Her pretty voice provides a nice counterpoint to his ordinary voice (though it is that very quality, or lack of it, that makes what he sings seem more compelling).

Proksch is the latest in a long line of talented songwriters that includes Merritt, Elvis Costello, Alex Chilton and those masters of blissful melancholy, Abba. And in these times, when all that glitters goes gold or platinum, it's albums such as Wonderful You that ensure pop doesn't go completely to the weasels.