REVIEW: Pop & Obachan - Misc. Excellence

Laura Kerry

“The city you love / Might even know your name / Or your birthday,” Pop & Obachan sing in the final song on their debut full-length, Misc. Excellence. Awash in the dreamy, upbeat haze of their pop music, the line is an optimistic one. The band—a duo, Emma Tringali and Jake Smisloff —live in Brooklyn, a borough in a city famous for its cool nonchalance and harsh anonymity. “Bad Way” ends the album with a very different portrait of that city, one that not only knows who you are, but celebrates your birthday with you.

The whole album pushes against the vision of New York—or living in the world as an artist—that deals in hip cynicism. The title Misc. Excellence came from the label on a second-hand tape reel that Tringali and Smisloff had started to record on last year, but it also reflects the album’s general ethos, with its dose of sunniness, hint of swagger, and general abundance of earnestness. Lest that description turn you off, though, particularly as the summer days of Real Estate, Alvvays, and the like give way to less jangly tunes, rest assured that Pop & Obachan handle their optimism deftly—and with near equal measures of darker material.

Misc. Excellence contains “Elora’s,” with its bright guitar and bouncy melody that resembles Tennis or Cults, but it also has “Picking Pieces” with ethereal vocals and spacier guitar parts that skirt the border between dream-pop and psychedelic. For every country blues- or Motown-infused chord progression and percussive shuffle on “Baby Greens,” there’s a wistful arpeggio, slide guitar, and gentle cymbal crash on “Take It!” On the upbeat “I Bet High,” Pop & Obachan sing about the confidence in putting all on the line, but here it doesn’t go well (“I bet high on a losing man”). Elsewhere, hopefulness is disguised as sadness; “I know in my heart / That it can’t stay the same,” Tringali sings over warm, somber keys, “But let my love remain.”

Pop & Obachan exhibit the same balance that they show in sentiment in their compositions and production. Part of the joy of Misc. Excellence is the pleasure of the sounds that they employ dexterously. Focus too much on the dazzling, Beach House-like guitar in “Sick as a Dog,” the weaving guitars in “Mononucleosis,” or the infectious melody on “Take It!,” and you might miss the bass, unsung hero of these three songs. Through two EPs and this full-length, the duo has developed a clear and unmistakable sound, but they don’t fear variation—whether it’s the introduction of the dry, tinny electronic percussion at the start of “Bad Way” or the fuzzier guitar solo that builds to the conclusion of “Picking Pieces.” With that kind of music, their optimism is understandable. As the title suggests, Pop & Obachan’s new album is excellent.