Bite-sized power-pop is the best. For years, bands across the map have been cranking out short, sweet, typically guitar-powered tunes and inevitably drawing comparisons to Guided By Voices, the masters of the form. Some, like Tony Molina in the Bay Area, keep their tracklists as quick and to the point as their songs, resulting in fuzz-pop LPs with the concision and consistency of a hardcore record. Others, like Philadelphia’s 2nd Grade, pile up tracks like GBV in their prime, shuffling through styles and textures in pursuit of patchwork brilliance.
Mo Troper, from Portland, errs on the latter side these days. For a good solid decade now, Troper has been kicking out fantastically melodic guitar jams that pull from a few different aesthetic traditions. His early 2010s band Your Rival shrouded gargantuan hooks in even bigger distortion, putting them in lineage with early Weezer and Joyce Manor. Around the same time he also fronted Sancho, a similarly minded band with an even more blown-out sound indebted to emo, post-grunge, and Built To Spill. In 2016 Troper went solo, steering his sound a bit closer to classic jangle-pop (it’s not for nothing that one of his pandemic projects was an album-length cover of Revolver) while keeping his stomp-box handy and his horizons wide open.
Last year Troper released the winkingly titled Dilettante, a behemoth-on-a-budget that showed off his skill and versatility over the course of 28 songs in 50 minutes. The self-released set ventured far beyond the traditional understanding of “power-pop,” which was partially the point. The small-time musician satire “All My Friends Are Venmo” packed in talky verses a la Dry Cleaning, while opener “Total Euphoria” was equal parts Madchester and nü metal. Talking to The Alternative last year, he said the falsetto acoustic ballad “Sugar & Cream” was “very obviously a fake musical theater song” and dubbed the punchy instrumental “Cum On My Khakis” fake screamo. The idea was to lean against the painstaking perfectionism that made 2020’s Natural Beauty such a pain to record, resulting in an endlessly fun splatter of ideas.
Now comes MTV, his fifth solo album and first for the essential Philly punk and indie label Lame-O Records. (Despite what you might expect, the title is short for Mo Troper 5; I’m sure any references to Paramount Global properties are strictly coincidental.) The new album continues Dilettante’s jumble of styles and fidelities, scaled down to 15 songs in 31 minutes and streamlined ever so slightly. The left turns here aren’t quite so sharp, and Troper seems less interested in pushing power-pop’s boundaries, though he inevitably does so from time to time thanks to his unrestrained muse. This time the focus is on capturing inspired takes of impeccable songs, informed by the ethos that impromptu demos are often more satisfying than a sparkling studio product.
Large chunks of MTV could almost pass for some lost Elephant 6 artifact. Troper filters ’60s psych-pop through the DIY magic of ’90s lo-fi, but with a thoroughly modern twist: His trusty falsetto often sounds pitched-up to helium-huffing levels, a production choice that puts his 20th-century influences in conversation with the distinctly 21st-century sounds of chiptune emo. Still, the vibe is thoroughly analog on tracks like the Beatles-y love song “I Fall Into Her Arms” and “Across The USA,” which applies a dreamy sheen to Troper’s gorgeous tangle of guitar melodies. The Byrds-vintage jangle keeps coming on “Play Dumb,” a trenchant rejection of superficiality that manages to spotlight each individual element, from jubilant piano chords to a groovy walking bass line to scathing harmonized bars like “The past of least resistance is the shortcut to acceptance/ The conversation’s tedious, but the fun is never-ending.”
A similar attitude animates “No More Happy Songs,” on which Troper sarcastically declares, “I don’t care about your bona fides/ You aren’t rich enough to idolize.” His wit is subtler on “The Only Living Goy In New York,” a lovely ’60s folk pastiche designed as Art Garfunkel’s response to Paul Simon. Troper trades out that song’s acoustic guitar and harmonica for warped keyboard and drum machine on “You Taught Me How To Write A Song,” confessing, “I talk about you every day/ I talk about you in therapy.” Weirder and wilder still is “Power Pop Chat,” a shapeshifter that segues from proggy dissonance to a soaring shoegaze-y chorus that reminds me of early Cloud Nothings. It’s quite a leap from the handclaps, shakers, and fuzz-guitar jubilance of “Waste Away,” but Troper sticks the landing.
“I made myself throw up for the second time today,” he confesses on “I’m The King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll,” an early MTV single that serves as a launchpad for enough sublime guitar work to fill out a whole record. Like so much of the album, it’s lyrically heavy and musically buoyant. And then, within seconds, he’s singing about “the rules of the tub” in a comically high pitch on an interlude that barely lasts half a minute — a reminder that power-pop guiding lights from the Beatles to GBV made room for absurdities alongside all the breathtaking classics. I’m not saying MTV is as good as the White Album or Alien Lanes. But if you love those records, there’s a good chance you’ll fall hard for this one too because not many people are making better bite-sized power-pop than Mo Troper right now.
MTV is out 9/2 on Lame-O.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Megadeth’s The Sick, The Dying…And The Dead
• Armani Caesar’s The Liz 2
• Living Hour’s Someday Is Today
• The Callous Daoboys’ Celebrity Therapist
• Yungblud’s self-titled album
• Bill Orcutt’s Music For Four Guitars
• SOHN’s Trust
• The Orchids’ Dreaming Kind
• L.O.T.I.O.N. Multinational Corporation’s W.A.R. In The Digital Realm
• The Veldt’s Entropy Is The Mainline To God
• Lee “Scratch” Perry’s King Scratch (Musical Masterpieces From The Upsetter Ark-ive)
• Kris Kristofferson’s Live At Gilley’s – Pasadena, TX: September 15th, 1981
• Unwound’s Live Leaves 10th anniversary edition
• Stereolab’s latest Switched On comp Pulse Of The Early Brain
• Sarah Bonito of Kero Kero Bonito’s debut EP as Cryalot, Icarus
• The Front Bottoms’ Theresa EP
• Bitchin Bajas’ Bajascillators EP
• S. Raekwon’s I Like It When You Smile EP
• Teens In Trouble’s self-titled debut EP
• Ari Lennox Away Message EP