[26 June 2006]
Pop music. I’ve been thinking a lot about pop music lately. It’s not that I’ve got too much time on my hands. It’s just that with all these records to listen to I’ve got to start making classifications, lists, and manufactured means of separating one sound from another. The term “pop” originally was a shortened reference to popular, but it’s come to embrace and define a lot more than that. By record sales alone Metallica is surely considered popular but would anyone hazard the ass kicking they’d get by referring to them as a pop band? Hells naw. In my mind at least, the term “pop” when used as a musical descriptor encompasses everything from Britney Spears to Death Cab For Cutie to The Decemberists. It means songwriting with a particularly acute eye for melody, simple straightforward structure and hook. It’s repetitive (a chorus gets repeated) and the beat is syncopated and easy to follow. But the keys for really good pop music is that it gets stuck in your head or makes you shake your ass. Irving’s Death in the Garden Blood on the Flowers isn’t ass shaking music, but you’ll have a summer worth of choruses stuck in your head by the time you’re done listening.
Now without boring you with my highly detailed theories of pop music stratification (and they get quite detailed when the bus is stuck in traffic because a man with no pants on has decided to lay down in the middle of the street), let me just say that Lost Angeles band Irving fits happily into what I call Summer Couch & Car Pop Rock. This is pop music easily digested while seated in your favorite spot on the couch watching MTV hits with the sound down. Songs in this genre are easily converted into ring tones and sound great coming out of car windows between May and August. The best examples of this sound range from the Cars “My Best Friends Girl” to Fastball’s “The Way” and The New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give”. All in all not bad company to keep as far as catchy little earwigs go.
Irving has certainly done their homework. The Cars comparison may be the most apt in trying to illustrate the band’s sound. “Jen, Nothing Matters to Me” is three and a half minutes of poppy goodness. A trilling synth line and a thickly echoed guitar chord that would make Ric Ocasek proud holds the song together. “I’ll Write the Song, You Sing for Me” is also anchored by keyboard hum and Irving’s ability to add a touch of density through sweet harmonies.
Irving is at their best when they stick to their simple guitar and keyboard formula. A tune like “Hard to Breathe” is as fine a pop song as you’re likely to hear this summer. Complete with handclap beats, synthesizer and a memorable guitar lick, it’s three minutes of summer perfection. The album’s title track is a loose, fun rave up that sounds like it has a kazoo solo at the beginning. “Situation” has the same beat and riff as The Stone Roses’ “I Am the Resurrection” but without the smug self-importance that Ian Brown seems to bring to everything he touches.
Death in the Garden Blood on the Flowers is summer fare of the highest order in the sense that even if you love this record you won’t be listening to it in October when the days are short and chill. The music’s fun while it lasts but it dissolves quickly. There are certainly worse things you could be doing with your listening time.