Mild Mannered reminds us just how strong pop music can sound when it's given a little rock muscle.
Mild Mannered began as a duo. Sort of. Jennifer and Pat Casa wrote and recorded two records together in their basement under the name Starberry. For this project, they wanted a bigger sound, so they enlisted Pat's friend to play guitar, went to a studio, and Mild Mannered was born. The trio's first record, Believeland, is a self-assured and wholly enjoyable piece of power-pop. It's got all the sweet hooks and approachability of indie-pop, but trades in twee lightness for garage-rock power. Catchy tunes like "The Demand" and album standout "Applehead" combine clean keys with lean guitars to a spare but tuneful effect. Believeland can go from the easy, languid pop of "The Ones Who Got Away" to the charging pop-punk of "Wonder" in just one beat. Mild Mannered is at its best when keeping its sound bright, since the shadowy stuff doesn't quite fit here. "Me" tries for a darker turn and ends up trudging, while "Keys to San Rio" never quite takes off in the way its layered vocals hint it intends. Those few songs undersell Jennifer Casa's vocals, which are in the end the band's greatest weapon. However, she belts it out sweetly over the best of these songs, and hearing her clear, rangy voice reminds us just how strong pop music can sound when it's given a little rock muscle.