The Mayflies USA / The Pity List (Archives, 2000)

Power pop is less about innovation than a belief that you can express some universal emotions in a glorious noise just by mastering some basics, no matter who or where you are, or even what year it is. It’s about setting catchy paeans at the altar of guitars and drums, and worshipping in unassuming garages or unfinished basements.

This Chapel Hill quartet are some exceptional disciples, and The Pity List serves as a stereo tour of the following power pop commandments.

Thou shalt seek a Big Guitar Sound. Mayflies USA observes Rule #1 with taste. The opening “Florida To The Radio” nimbly weaves at least three or four layers of guitars into even the quietest passages to great effect, like so much major-key baklava.

Leave the politics to folk singers and Tom Morello. Your concern is The Girl, not The Man. This keeps things timeless. You may occasionally sing about something else, like struggling musicianship, but only if it’s brilliant (“another Monday, dragging trash behind the restaurant / punishment for knowing what you want”).

Leave the politics to folk singers and Tom Morello. Your concern is The Girl, not The Man. This keeps things timeless.

Thou shall not worry about syncopation. It just gets in the way of the guitar solo. If you follow the other rules, you can succeed even with a steady stream of eighth notes deliberate enough to choke a song in other genres.

Thou shalt not overproduce …
 Chris Stamey, a Southern pop godfather, helped here. He knows the charm of leaving in someone yelling out a chord change, or the mystical power of adding a new guitar part in the third verse.

… except when it comes to harmony vocals. If they remind you of Pet Sounds, that’s good. Pretty harmonies are power pop’s equivalent of an ever-faithful dog. Their unwavering sweetness, supporting even the saddest lyric, subliminally preaches that even if you got dumped, it’s OK. And even if it is, in fact, not OK, it’ll be OK later. Sort of like the blues, except completely different.

The Mayflies observe these and other rules about real melodies, tambourines and keyboards, and song lengths in making at least two classics (“Getting To The End Of You”, “The End Of The Line”) that would make Matthew Sweet, Weezer, or any earlier purveyor proud. The rest of us should just be glad someone’s keeping the faith so well.

(This is another review from a batch of recently unearthed articles that I wrote for the Music Monitor in 2000-2001.)

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