Mo Troper Gold, Out February 10th on
Good Cheer Records
1. Something To Talk About
3. Border Patrol
4. The Hero
5. New Korea
8. I Love You
10. I Don’t Even Know
11. On The Short Side
12. Irreplaceable (Bonus Track)
So Mo Troper Gold is a compilation of the very best of Mo Troper’s pre-solo and side efforts: Your Rival, TeenSpot, and Sancho. Cool? All right, if this is your first time: Troper’s an LA–by-way-of–Portland pop songwriter who, legend has it, always carries two reusable grocery bags (plastic is so done), each bursting at the seams with hooks, over either shoulder, wherever he goes. A fisher king, if you like. Well, it’s at least true that the guy deals in catchiness, and that’s enough for a Greatest Hits to anybody who’s been listening.
In about 2008, still Troper’s high school daze, the song catalog first began to grow, which is how his first real project, Your Rival, came into being. By the way – if, maybe, you think a wry name like Mo Troper Gold is any news, there’s hardly an installment of his that’s been christened without a wink or nod. Even in the beginning, Your Rival self-released a duo of precocious tapes. 360 Degree Sound! whose Hancock seems to be a riff on the (now naïve) marketing-speak that was once inseparable from AV tech; and Seven Sparkling Children, which is hippie, or ’70s, or something.
And now, for example, the far-out cover of Mo Troper Gold was made by David Liebe Hart, known mostly for Tim & Eric fame but an off-beat artist in his own right. “Literally my only friend in LA,” says Troper – a classic case of real recognizes real. But despite his tongue-in-cheek wit, according to him, “I actually don’t know how to be funny the way stand-ups can. I mean, I’ve got a sense of humor. Or, at least, I hope I do?” Troper’s in the same trap as all creatives, and maybe everybody: self-loathing and self-aggrandizing are two sides of one coin.
Then it is funny… or not, that he’s the erstwhile co-owner of DIY labels Good Cheer Records: they’re all about musicians promoting themselves, not shamelessly, but without shame. One of Portland’s de facto indie chroniclers. Troper’s still one of their star players, and won’t be resting on his laurels in the wake of his fiery, infectious April 2016 record, Beloved. Though it garnered national attention, it caught a touch of flak for its personal, at times vindictive lyrics. “The critique was kind of muted, but I knew about it,” he says.
Perhaps in response, demos from his upcoming album (which is set to be a double LP) are more deliberate and arranged. Lyrically speaking, Future-Troper is interested in self-analysis over self-caricature, portraiture over pugnacity. Think songs against clickbait moguls who monetize tragedy; think tributes to Nintendo’s unsung ’80s innovators. This new stuff suits him just as well as anything else has. But first, with Gold, he’s, ahem, taking a look back at his days as a Rose City rock firebrand.
Gold begins by getting more mileage out of what could be Troper’s best opener yet: “Something to Talk About” from Sancho’s lone beacon, the What If EP. (“Sancho was kind of our party band,” he concedes.) The song contains one measly lyric, whose aphoristic elegance verges on pop Nietzsche. “Go on and break my heart / so I have something to talk about.” Troper’s voice returns to the lyrical eponym in a few yearning but precise variations, squeezing the pathos out in a tiny little eternal recurrence. Nice.
Lest he be an Emily Howell-style heavy-pop CPU in the flesh, Troper’s “trademark, snot-nosed pwnage” (Pitchfork) is liable to bite back. Pre-Sancho, the winning cassette tracks from his musical nascence got reimagined for Your Rival’s “high school romantic apocalypse” full-length: Here’s to Me. (It rips.) It and now Gold gives you, for one, “Spraycan,” which jumps off with a metaphor that’s cute on the surface. “I’m a little spray can / But see how strong I really am,” is a lyric only just too industrial for Raffi. But this and the scintillating accompaniment – complete with beautiful, pyrotechnical guitar wails, a little crunch, and sonorous scale walks in the bass – belie a banger that’s really about complicated relationship politics. “Your lack of shame is the frosting on the rotten cake, / but when you hold me in your hands, forget about your mistakes. / You shake me up!” It’s a dig at both his manipulat-ish love interest and himself, for being complicit in their inadvisable romance.
The truth is, Troper doesn’t need a reason to dust off the classics and give them the nega–Time Life Ultimate Love Songs treatment. He’s been delivering the goods since he started, and the goods are good. Detractors could call this music a little callow, maybe, but it’s really more fitting to say that it’s youth affirming itself through music, just like it always has: my feelings are stupid, and maybe my songs too, but I’m still here and you’re still listening.
RIYL: Teenage Fanclub, Weezer-vania, Redd Kross, art