Music

The Mayflies USA: Walking in a Straight Line

Will Harris

The Mayflies Usa

Walking in a Straight Line

Label: Yep Roc
US Release Date: 2002-07-16
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Third time's the charm?

The first release from the Chapel Hill-based Mayflies USA was actually a self-titled EP that emerged on Clancy Records in 1997, but, for all practical purposes, the band really first caught the eye of discerning music fans with Summertown, their 1999 full-length debut. Summertown was produced, mixed, and engineered by former dB Chris Stamey. Born in Chapel Hill, Stamey certainly possessed the sort of resumé, not only being behind the boards but behind the microphone that made him a perfect fit for the group's sound, a mixture of the Beatles, Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, and the Posies. Yet, in interviews to promote the disc (or, at least, in the one I did with them for Amplifier Magazine), the band was already concerned about the possible stigma of having a connection to some sort of perceived "North Carolina power pop scene". As such, at the time, they were uncertain as to whether they'd work with Stamey again.

Apparently, they must've decided that there were more checks in the "pro" column, since, when The Pity List arrived in records stores the following year, Stamey's name once again appeared in the same capacity. A few years have passed since then, however, and, with Walking in a Straight Line, the Mayflies USA apparently decided to bite the bullet and cut Stamey loose. He's nowhere to be found on the release. In his place, the band has brought in Keith Cleversley. As it turns out, he's a great choice for the band, having worked not only with the aforementioned Posies but also with the Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, and Zumpano. The result of this collaboration has produced an album that finds the Mayflies still bringing their jangle-pop sensibilities to the table, but, with Cleversley's assistance, things feel a bit darker, full of less of a same-old, same-old sound from track to track.

Some have complained that Stamey's production was a bit unimaginative; that certainly isn't the case with Cleversley, who fuzzes up the guitars here and there (such as on "The Greatest Thing") and switches the instrumental emphasis away from just the jangle. "Can't Stop Watching", for instance, starts off fully propelled by its percussion, then flows along with the aid of guitar and a fair amount of keyboard.

The harmonies throughout Walking in a Straight Line are stellar, but, then, that's one thing that's been a hallmark throughout the Mayflies' recorded output. "Malaysia" is definitely a highlight, with its hummable melody ably aided by chiming guitar work; the same goes for "123". In a sense, it's easy to see why the Mayflies USA were petrified at the thought of being lumped into the Carolina power pop scene, but, at the same time, it isn't surprising that folks tried to throw them there. Listening to Summertown and The Pity List, it's no wonder that the band found themselves comfortably sharing bills with the Connells.

There's nothing to be ashamed about in their back catalog, but, listening to Walking in a Straight Line, the band's evolution into having a more expansive sound shows that working with Chris Stamey was a means to an end. They recorded two solid albums of quality pop music and began to cement their reputation and fan base outside of North Carolina. Having Stamey's instant name recognition attached to them certainly did more to help them than it did to hurt them. After two albums with him, however, it was definitely time for the band to spread their creative wings with someone else.

Sure, they'd carved a nice, comfortable niche in which they could've hung out for as many albums as they wanted, but these guys clearly have aspirations that involve more than just re-writing Byrds and Big Star songs for the rest of their career.

Walking in a Straight Line is unquestionably the strongest album the Mayflies USA have put out in their career, and it certainly bodes well for the future.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image