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Optiganally Yours

Produced by Mattel in the 1970s, the Optigan (a combination of "optical" and "organ") is an organ that plays back the sounds of real instruments that have been recorded onto celluloid disks with alluring titles like Polynesian Village, Latin Village and Singing Rhythm. Optigans, while endearing, proved to be unreliable and commercially unsuccessful, so they were produced for only a few years. Pea Hix began collecting Optigans from thrift stores and organ dealers several years ago. Shortly after he became enthralled with these endearing and eccentric instruments, he dreamed of starting an Optigan-based cover band that would perform cheesy cover songs in dive bars. Hix teamed up with Rob Crow (of Heavy Vegetable/Thingy/Pinback fame), and soon the two were writing and recording original songs on the Optigan. It wasn't long before they recorded and released Spotlight on Optiganally Yours on Cargo Records. The album received rave reviews for its warm, fuzzy, and utterly charming off-kilter pop songs.

In 2000, Hix and Crow returned with Exclusively Talentmaker on Absolutely Kosher Records. While the duo still calls itself Optiganally Yours, they recorded this album using two Optigan cousins: the Chilton Talentmaker and the Vako Orchestron. The album's title was cribbed from the name of a store in Covina, California. The Talentmaker is similar to the Optigan, but it can play several chords (E flat major and minor chords as well as true A and E major) that the Optigan cannot. It also has the bonus feature that allows the player to open the front of the instrument and scratch the sound disks, which is impossible to do with the Optigan. The songs on Exclusively Talentmaker are slightly moodier but no less whimsical than those on Spotlight On.... "Gepetto," featured here, is about a person doing the cha cha inside of a whale -- and loving it! Lyrics like "If I wanted hockey hair I'd learn to play the game," and copious tuba sounds propel the hilarious "Poodleman," which tells a frightening tale about receiving an unwanted mullet haircut (short top and sides, long in back, just in case you didn't know).

The sleepy lo-fi lullaby "You're Something Special to Me" is a cover of a song by the cult late '60s sisters trio The Shaggs, who were unknown in their own time, but whose guileless garage-pop has become revered by a generation of younger artists. The track appears on the Animal World compilation, Better Than the Beatles: A Tribute to the Shaggs.

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