Mo Troper
Photo: Courtesy of Dark Secret Media

Mo Troper Releases Another Album of Scuzzy Power Pop

Mo Troper collects what sounds like scraps from his previous album and forges a charming spread of 1960s-inspired lo-fi bedroom pop on MTV.

Mo Troper
Lame-O Records
2 September 2022

Mo Troper is prolific. Or at least on a creative spurt as of recently. Last spring, the singer-songwriter released Dilettante, a 28-track mammoth of an album full of scratchy, power pop goodness. Now, as if he didn’t have enough room on that album, the Portland-based musician released his follow-up, MTV, an equally raw album of 1960s-inspired bedroom pop. Although the release might seem like leftovers at times–some songs resemble more rough sketches than complete songs–a DIY spirit runs thick in MTV‘s rough-around-the-edges production, presenting a charm that feels a little more than just mere scraps.

It seems like the natural progression for bedroom musicians; when they leave their rooms, it follows that the production quality becomes cleaner after each new release. Look at Beabadoobee or Soccer Mommy. Working with producers in a studio clarified their vision, and for the better. But Mo Troper is moving backward in some ways. Though featuring a prominent vocal effect, Mo Troper’s 2016 debut Beloved sounded on par with squeakier releases from Joyce Manor or early Weezer. 

Mo Troper’s following releases, Gold!, Exposure & Response, and Natural Beauty, featured crystal clear vocals that allowed listeners to hear the lyrics and quickly absorb its sticky melodies. MTV‘s twin Dilettante was more DIY-inspired. The vocals were distorted, the overall audio was scratchy–sounding like it was recorded on a cassette tape–and the riffs were pretty scuzzy most of the time. His latest follows in its footsteps, literally and figuratively, with similarly fuzzy sound quality. 

Mo Troper seamlessly sways between folk flirtations and grittier punk excursions. His early releases had more raw energy, and each record seemed to become more and more intricately arranged. Growing up listening to the Beatles, his arrangements resemble the maximalist pop of Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with plenty of overdubs and sweet harmonies to go around. 

It’s clear that Mo Troper is targeting the sophisticated pop songwriting of the 1960s in its active chords: he cleverly bounces around to different key centers. A constant among the tottering, his voice maintains an even mix of nasally pop punk and Tiny Tim falsetto. He has one of those voices where it seems annoying at first, but when you get used to it, you come to appreciate it more due to its uniqueness. Like most things, the album can grow on you but a lot quicker than you might expect. 

Mo Troper’s MTV is almost unbearably lo-fi. His voice is beyond distorted, sounding like he recorded it through a tape recorder and played back through two other tape recorders, one at a time. The low fidelity is almost unlistenable; his frequencies hit just above the threshold to give you a headache. Most listeners will find it annoying and probably won’t give the album the time of day. If you can get past the static, fuzz, and distorted vocals, there are some genuinely juicy pop moments. I would say it’s worth the risk. Mo Troper produces an album that sounds more DIY than any other DIY album if there was even a possible way to measure that. You get the point. 

Mo Troper rides a fine line, finding the middle ground between emo, folk, and punk genres with emotional lyrics and heartfelt delivery. His nasally, high-pitched falsetto recalls the emo heydays of the early aughts with bands like My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if his voice is really that high or if the tape was spread up to make him sound almost like a chipmunk. In one song, he mimics Bob Dylan with folk, fingerpicking guitar patterns and accompanying harmonica. Mo Troper has a range that is both eclectic and wide; whichever way he decides to lean, he does so with confidence.

MTV is almost just as ambitious as Dilettante in its humble 15-track listing. In each release, Mo Troper experiments with overlapping textures, mostly static and fuzz, in the process, carving arrangements that make him out to be less of a singer-songwriter and more like a wacky rock composer. Think Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart, but less weird. Mo Troper collects what sounds like scraps from his previous album and forges a charming spread of 1960s-inspired lo-fi bedroom pop. 

The album may not exactly be his magnum opus; it’s obviously too noisy to be. Plus, MTV reads more like a collection of excessed ideas–some unfinished or only snippets. Regardless of the specifics, the release is still enthralling and entertaining with its wild arc. At one point, the audio speeds up and slows down, warping his voice low, then high, all within the same song. The unpredictability and volatility of Mo Troper make MTV worthy of, if not capturing, our complete attention, causing us to look up for a brief moment to find out where all that extra noise is coming from.  

RATING 7 / 10