Power Pop Class Of 2002: Arlo

arlo350When you kick off an album with a flurry of Tommy-era Pete Townshend windmill guitar chords, it’s like opening a jar of strawberry jam at a picnic table. You’re bound to attract wasps. Arlo’s rocking new pop longplayer, Stab The Unstoppable Hero (Sub Pop), would’ve kept the record-shop staff in the film High Fidelity busy arguing over influences that run the gamut from Creedence Clearwater to the Knack, from Nilsson to Nirvana. The Los Angeles group—guitarists Nate Greely and Sean Spillane, bassist Ryan Maynes and drummer Tom Sanford (all four sing)—are fully aware they’re an attractive nuisance for record-collecting geeks. They, too, are record-collecting geeks.

“It’s a disease,” says Greely, admitting he’s “stuck on classic rock. I spend as much money on records as a junkie would on heroin.” The only way to feed his addiction, he says, was to spend thumb-numbing hours sifting through dusty cartons of vinyl at garage sales and record stores. Greely was convinced his stash of 500 albums was hot stuff until he ran into a die-hard collector recently. “We played with this older guy in Buffalo,” he says, “this pack rat whose house was cluttered with accordions and strange instruments—thousands of records and CDs everywhere. And I’m like, ‘Oh no, this is where I’m headed.’”

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Power Pop Class Of 2002: Bigger Lovers

bigger-loversh“Isn’t it every kid’s dream anymore?”

That’s how Bigger Lovers singer/bassist Scott Jefferson justifies four grown men chasing the perfect pop song like 30-year-old rookies. Huddled around a cluster of pints at a local bar, the Philadelphia quartet is fielding questions and running the perfunctory band drill of discussing locations for a new practice space. It may be a brilliant career on a smaller scale, but the Bigger Lovers—Jefferson, singer/guitarist Bret Tobias, guitarist Ed Hogarty and drummer Patrick Berkery—don’t really question their assignment.

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Power Pop Class Of 2002: Mayflies USA

mayflies360Most bands rightfully despise comparisons to other ones. But when it came time to make their third album, Walking In A Straight Line (Yep Roc), Chapel Hill’s Mayflies USA found a specific make and model to emulate: the Stones’ Exile On Main Street.

“They made it with a mobile unit and had a siege mentality about it,” says bassist/vocalist Adam Price.

“We’re sort of aiming high by saying that,” says guitarist/vocalist Matt McMichaels with a laugh. “But it sounds like they would have made the record even if no one had put it out. And it sounds like they were on top of each other at the time they recorded it. You can actually hear the proximity of people to each other.”

During the recording of Walking In A Straight Line in Chicago earlier this year, the Mayflies were able to learn something about proximity and personal space; Price, McMichaels, guitarist/vocalist Matt Long and drummer David Liesegang all lived in a single room.

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L.A. Story: As A California Youth, Franklin Bruno Dreamt Of Power-Pop Glory

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Growing up an hour east of Los Angeles, I was too young and protected to witness the city’s early-‘80s power-pop explosion at close range. But in my secondhand way, I was weaned on the scene. Most Sundays, while my mother and grandmother worried over the family’s lunch, I was in the living room poring over the club listings in the Los Angeles Times. In those days, the Times gave local music generous coverage, but the ads were even better, listing shows at now-vanished clubs like the Starwood and Madame Wong’s (a converted Chinese restaurant) and still-extant ones like the Roxy and the Whisky A Go-Go. The Whisky had the best, most mod-looking ads: alternating stripes of black-on-white and white-on-black, announcing a parade of bands—the Unknowns, Real Impossibles, Gary Myrick & The Figures—that I romanticized like mad.

Los Angeles had one other big thing going for it: KROQ. Long before becoming a template for alt-rock stations nationwide, KROQ was an independent oasis in a town dominated by dinosaur rock. Glam scenester Rodney Bingenheimer spun rare imports and drooled over girl groups on weekend nights; the rest of the week, the station made concise, exciting songs like the Kingbees’ rockabilly-tinged “The Big Rock” and Great Buildings’ soaring “And The Light Goes On” into regional hits, alongside an Anglophilic diet of Joe Jackson and the Police. Early on, of course, came “My Sharona” by the Knack (pictured), which was to Los Angeles in 1981 what “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was to Seattle a decade later.

What’s noteworthy is how closely this music co-existed with other local trends. Power pop was the radio-friendly lodestar of a constellation that spanned glorified bar rock (Naughty Sweeties) and arty outsiders (Suburban Lawns), with the so-called Paisley Underground (Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade, Salvation Army) just beginning to be noticed. I’m sure I’ve idealized the amount of infighting there must’ve been, but from my vantage point in Upland, it looked pretty idyllic.

This isn’t the chapter of Los Angeles rock history that people mythologize, but it’s never been forgotten here. Major players like 20/20 and the Plimsouls have mounted the odd reunion, while the Poptopia and International Pop Overthrow festivals bring together the city’s new-wave-inflected style and more ‘60s-centric variants. If Weezer didn’t learn something from these bands then I never walked down Melrose Avenue in a sharkskin sportcoat.

Paul Westerberg: The Man Who Wasn’t There

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After his wild life with the Replacements, Paul Westerberg learned to disappear. But when St. Paul returned, he found his down-and-out disciples waiting for him. By Jonathan Valania

And then one day, long after anyone bothered paying attention, he just disappeared. He simply wasn’t there anymore. There was no puff of smoke or trapdoor involved. He just slowly faded away while we were looking right at him or through him or past him. And nobody even blinked.

He went back to the house, somewhere on the sunny side of Minneapolis, to be alone with his headaches and cigars and the mother of his child, with her diet pills and her barbells, and the son who learned to crawl watching daddy’s skin. And he was happy to do nothing, padding around in the middle of the night in his slippers and his sunglasses and all his hair. And he waited until somebody noticed that he was gone, and he waited and waited. And nobody ever did.

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