Sparked by the frequently brilliant keyboards, witty lyrics, and less-than-memorable vocals of Greg Kurstin, Action Figure Party's self-titled debut is highly engaging and largely appealing, though at times a bit too clever for its own good. It includes the fusion of "Everybody's Ready," the bright riffing of "Pong Baby," the slinky voodoo of "No Sleep," and the watery, mysterious "Geffem," one of the album's most successful tracks. Kurstin is good at pacing, too: Separating the marbleized "Geffem" from the pushy, funky "Clapper" (the album's most Ramsey Lewis-derived track) with the dreamy "Green" is an inspired move.
Kurstin's idea, apparently, is to animate action figures -- figures which, of course, are still lifes until they break free of their bases. Kurstin has blended all sorts of jazz idioms with turntablism, synthetic and organic percussion, and lyrics that range from the superficial (the title track) to the insightful ("Clock Radio"). The textures are nuanced and intense, the musicianship spirited and unexpected. Kurstin, who has worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, bop vibraharpist Bobby Hutcherson, and the promising alt-rock band Geggy Tah, has assembled a motley, diverse crew spanning Chili Peppers rock, Cibo Matto's idiot-savant worldbeat, and the salty, eccentric funk of Soul Coughing. His co-workers here include Sean Lennon, Buckcherry guitarist Yogi, and Peppers bassist Flea. There's nothing strained about this product, although some tunes are more successful than others -- "Flow," the Chick Corea-like song that caps the album, is more about influence than originality. But in the end, it's clear the musicians of AFP work well together, even if it might be another album or two before they generate warmth commensurate with their cleverness.