Friday, November 21, 2008

Georgie James. Places (Saddle Creek, 2007)

"Ambition runs from our family/ We don't like anyone to disagree."

Power pop sometimes gets dismissed by the brainiacs. It's not overly serious, not too complicated, and is by nature incredibly eager to please. Take a few chords, lay 'em over a peppy backbeat, and there you go, right? Maybe. But honestly, who doesn't like power pop? Especially when it's expertly crafted, bedecked in layer after layer of shiny hooks and unforgettable major key melodies? 'Cuz here's the thing: great power pop isn't complicated, but it's not easy, either. Case in point: it takes some serious chops to come up with a collection as instantly enjoyable and profoundly catchy as Places, Georgie James's single (sadly) release.

The criminally short-lived Georgie James popped onto the DC scene in late 2005, following the break-up of the much-missed capitol city dance-punkers Q and Not U. John Davis, who had previously supplied the habit-forming drum tracks for Q and Not U, decided to pick up guitars and bass, hooked up with vocalist/keyboardist Laura Burhenn, and hit the studio to record a demo, which they self-released in 2006. Places, put out on Omaha's Saddle Creek label (home to Bright Eyes, Cursive, etc.) followed in fall 2007. They played a bunch of shows, won the hearts of loads, and then announced their demise in August 2008. Boo.

But at least we'll always have Places, in all its grinning, sun-drenched glory. This was one of my favorite albums of 2007, an insanely satisfying forty minutes of pure pop for now people. And I think I like it all the more because it doesn't sound like much else coming out of DC, now or ever: it's got one foot in the District's staunchly rhythmic, hard-charging territory, certainly; but Georgie James had their sights clearly set on '70s touchstones like Big Star, the Raspberries, Badfinger, and early Todd Rundgren. The tunes are lovingly crafted and pleasantly straightforward, with subtle instrumental filigrees to keep your attention riveted from first song to last.

Laura Burhenn is a big part of why Georgie James works so well. She shares vocal duties with Davis throughout, and she has pipes to die for. Amazing range, and a soulful, intimate delivery that insinuates itself into your braincase and pretty much sets up shop there for the long-term. Plus, she contributes piano, Rhodes electric piano, and wurlitzer to a bunch of the tracks, and the Rhodes, especially, dresses the songs in a rich, warm tone that beautifully burnishes the compositions.

Every track, practically, is a stand out. "Look Me Up" is the well-chosen opener, with ringing clarion chords out of the gate and a herky-jerky tempo and crashing drums. "Cake Parade" makes excellent use of the cozy Rhodes and Burhenn's voice, as she delivers vaguely political (hey, they're from DC) lines like, "The sun is up, looks like a perfect day/ To put our soldiers on a cake parade/ We can line them up and march them down the hall/ Where they can play at guns and/ We don't have to look at all." It's protest with a smile on its face, the melody the definition of radiant.

Single "Need Your Needs" is the most Q and Not U-like track here, with an aggressively dancey beat and the best guitar work on the LP (check out the scampering, fleet-fingered solo at the 0:32 mark). "Long Week" is a clear highlight, with heartbreakingly beautiful vocals from Burhenn and bluesy, lilting hook on the chorus: "So cry your eyes out, pretty baby/ Hold my hand and try your tongue/ Oh, it's been heavy 'round here lately/ And you'll feel lighter when you're done." Elsewhere, the bouncy "Comfortable Headphones," the sprinting, cheerily spiteful "Cheap Champagne," and the hand-clappy stomper "Only 'Cause You're Young" (with its upbeat warning of, "Yeah, you can live with violence/ You can live with silence/ Only 'cause you're young, you know," and its Who-checking final verse) elevate the collection to bulletproof status.

If you like top-drawer power pop with a bracingly acerbic edge (and you should, by the way, if you have functioning ears), try Georgie James on for size. Listen to Places and feel ecstatic to have found this record, and simultaneously crushed by the knowledge that it's the only one they'll likely ever put out.