The world of pop is perpetually an odd one — and I admittedly cannot unravel it. However, what I do know is that pop is now synonymous with mass marketing and big business as the genre continues to mingle with MTV and its habitual skittering from trend to trend. Has Brian Wilson been buried in bubblegum debris? Are the Beatles ignored and neglected for a more hip “the” band?
I would check my vote in the “yes” column. But, thankfully, Dolour, the brainchild of aspiring Seattle songsmith Shane Tutmarc, has his two musical cents to add in opposition. Suburbiac, Tutmarc’s sophomore outing, recalls ’60s pop of a better, simpler time. The Beach Boys and Beatles weigh in heavily in Dolour’s musical bibliography, but Tutmarc crafts pop songs that are innocent and genuine rather than predisposed and dollar-driven. By any rate, we are assured Tutmarc doesn’t play his gigs in scantily-clad, navel-bearing shirts while lip synching to a song he didn’t even write.
Suburbiac is ripe with songs that sweep the ears away in pop sweetness and tug on the heart with love-tinged sentiment, but its most convincing musical tale is weaved in the discs’ title track. Introducing itself with tightly wound drum patterns and slow creaks of mandolin, the song quickly sways into saccharine pop vocals that stick lines of spite into high school drama everywhere: “So let’s make the most of your last $20 bill / And hire a hit man to hit your boyfriend”. However, as Tutmarc’s sweet voice sails in every direction, the track soon takes on skittering piano notes and surprising tones of synths that shade the song in a wide spectrum of musical hues.
And this is where Tutmarc shines: he’s able to craft finely tuned, art-satiated pop songs from classic avenues (pianos, strings) and contemporary outlets (synthesizers, electro-beats) with equal ease and precision. The song is cohesive and self-contained in a three-minute track to help prove pop still can be imminently arty and traditionally catchy.
But the disc does encompass a few deviating departures in sound that leave the listener lost wondering where the simple harmonies and pretense-free pop have gone. “Iceland” is the chief culprit. In its pseudo-rock anthem of lovelorn sentiment and stadium-catered guitars, Tutmarc forgets a vital detail: rock’s not your thing, dude. It doesn’t derail Suburiac completely, however, and Tutmarc is quick to compensate with more of his art-pop aesthetic on the following track of “Get Yourself Together”.
Dolour — although shying away from a complete pop reinvention — does put a delightful spin on an age-old formula. Yet, it’s a formula that’s been degraded and demoted beneath a market of disposable pop puppets. Ultimately, Suburbiac is radiantly pop and artfully innocent, through and through. And, honestly, when was the last time you could genuinely say that about an album?