The musical subgenre of power pop arguably began with a mighty Fadd9 chord at the top of the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.” Since that letter was nailed to the church door in 1964, guitar-toting kids sprung into action, from brilliant 1970s groups like XTC and The Raspberries to the ’90s sounds of Teenage Fanclub and Sugar. Now, the jangly, heartfelt style lives on as more of a common touchstone among music fans of a certain age. It’s probably a better conversation starter with the thick-rimmed-glasses guy or gal at the bar (perhaps when “Cruel To Be Kind” comes on the PA) than your Waka Flocka Flame-loving nephew.
So, arguably decades after its commercial heydey, what can power pop music do for the world? Enter Eyelids, a Portland, Oregon, power pop group that will clearly need to be dragged away from the stuff kicking and screaming. They are a band of lifers – principal members Chris Slusarenko (guitar, vocals, songwriting) and John Moen (drums, songwriting) have put in time with Guided by Voices, Boston Spaceships, The Decemberists and Elliott Smith, to name a few. Yet beyond its context and roots, there isn’t one song on Eyelids’ new long-player, Or, that doesn’t make a strong case for power pop being a fruitful artistic idea in 2017.
Peter Buck of R.E.M. – basically jangle guitar’s MVP – is behind the boards this time around, and he shines every chiming guitar part and sweet, hangdog lead vocal from Slusarenko and Moen into a radiant whole. As far as the songs themselves, they’re killer, mostly written from the struggling perspective of acquaintances and friends of the band in Portland, Oregon. Slusarenko’s opener “Slow It Goes” is impossibly hooky, with a dark, beating heart – “If I can’t keep from crying, why can’t you?” is a heartbroken Zen paradox of a line. Moan’s songs, like “Don’t (Please) Come Around Here” are subtler, moodier — the vinegar to Slusarenko’s olive oil.
Throughout, the two songwriters in Eyelids clearly push and pull on each other, resulting in a great, shivering tension. And that tension is what makes the best power pop what it is. The point of this kind of music isn’t poetry or trenchant insight, it’s a sense of triumph when you feel really, really bad. “I loved you/Well, never mind,” sang Alex Chilton in 1974’s “September Gurls.” “I’ll feel a whole lot better when you’re gone,” insisted Gene Clark with the Byrds. Sometimes only a great big gleaming curl of guitar can help you ride that feeling out. With Or, Eyelids attack these feelings of insecurity, loss and pain with beautiful songs and big twang. There’s so much power left in this pop.