There’s this great scene in Crossroads—Britney Spears’s 2002 road-trip feel-gooder, not Ralph Macchio’s 1986 guitar-whiz feel-better, though since I haven’t seen the Macchio in forever I’m not willing to swear it doesn’t also contain this scene—where Spears’s plucky Lucy Wagner and her two unlikely pals, sassy Kit and pregnant Mimi, flaunt it ’cause they got it at a skeezy roadhouse that happens to feature a karaoke contest in which the victors win enough cash to fix their broken-down convertible and continue their pilgrimage to Los Angeles, a town where record deals, shitty boyfriends, and, I guess, infant-supply stores line the exceptionally wide boulevards.
If DVDs were as neat as the dudes at Kim’s keep promising they are, there’d be a special feature on Crossroads where you could replace that scene in the movie with a performance by Boomkat, actress Taryn Manning and her brother Kellin’s band, since on the astoundingly titled Boomkatalog.One the Mannings display a plucky resourcefulness and an indefatigable sense of spunk that anyone but the most demanding of roadhouse karaoke judges would deem worthy of the bounty Spears and her homegirls earn. (Taryn also happened to play the part of Mimi in Crossroads, which would have to nudge this little fantasy a tad closer to reality. Oh, there goes gravity.)
At the moment, in fact, Boomkat might be Hollywood’s top roadhouse karaoke band. Kellin, the scruffy-haired Macintosh jock who crafts the band’s tracks and seems less fond of white mesh than his kid sis, possesses the kind of pseudo-encyclopedic knowledge of pop form and style that, since the year Beck broke, has enabled do-it-yourself knob-dialers to flex mad eclectic up in they bedrooms: His beats on Boomkatalog bounce assiduously from studied trip-hop cloud cover to Chuck E. Cheese house-band ebullience to that old-time hip-hop boom-bap, propelling the songs with purpose but never forgetting the impatience of a paying audience—not what you’d expect from a guy who not too long ago logged time at the NBC affiliate in Tucson. On top he piles up every damn sound Sam Ash will sell you (acoustic guitars, bleeping keybs, milk-shake basslines, that sweet filter-disco effect the French and I both love) and a couple they won’t (samples from The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Slick Rick, his sister’s surprisingly expressive voice).
The spirited frontwoman who gives the band its human zing, Taryn, rolls with her brother’s punches subliminally, switching up her steez to suit whatever tumbles out of Kellin’s hard drive. In the lead single “The Wreckoning,” she glares at an ex-boyfriend like a young Shirley Manson; in the lovely “Wastin’ My Time” she does the same with a Portishead full of brat-pack anguish. She boomkatalogs fond memories of yesteryear in “Daydreamin’ ” with a lump in her throat, and big-ups her lawyer Greg Lapidus in “Crazylove” because his name rhymes with “Adidas” (and because it’s something Macy Gray would do). By closer “Left Side/Right Side,” a chuckleheaded plea for peace with swelling “I Try” strings, she’s trotting out the personae of all five Spice Girls separately to demonstrate her dramatic range. Basically, if you ever play Pictionary with Taryn, you should try to be on her team.
All the emoting and the catchy melodies combine to produce the patina of honesty pop is always implying, but step back out of the Mannings’ inviting glow and they’re just two talented Hollywood kids proving how fun it can be to watch TRL. I don’t doubt that they mean what they sing, and Boomkatalog isn’t cold or overly professional or cynical—not at all. It’s totally what you’d want to hear if your convertible broke down on the only road out of here and you needed the music to please work with you, not against you.