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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Lackloves’ Modern (Retro) Pop

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At this point it’s fair to recognize songwriter Mike Jarvis as an elder statesman of Milwaukee’s pop music scene. In addition to a rsum that includes time with The Blow Pops, Root Cellar, Simpleton, Chicago’s Green and three albums with The Lackloves, guitarist/vocalist Jarvis has toured Europe and Asia. The Lackloves’ latest album, Cathedral Square Park, marks a lineup shift back to the band’s original trio incarnation after spending much of its existence as a two guitars/bass/drums quartet. Drummer/vocalist Tommy Dougherty and newcomer bassist/vocalist Kevin Ponec round out the current lineup.

Since the beginning, Jarvis’ songwriting has been informed by classic British Invasion pop; his group typically brings down the house at the annual Imagine No Handguns benefit concert that pays tribute to John Lennon. Amid all the musical sea changes from grunge to emo to alt-country, Jarvis has not once wavered, faithfully refining his core influences in the modern setting. His tunes never stray far from the familiar jangle of a Rickenbacker 12 string guitar, catchy hooks, melodic bass lines and choruses layered with vocal harmony “ooohs and aahs” from Dougherty and Ponec. Feel free to call the music “retro” or “familiar,” but the songs simply stand up as links in a chain of timeless pop. At his best Jarvis can go toe-to-toe with another local pop icon, Mike Fredrickson, whose band The Mosleys preceded The Lackloves, earning reams of critical acclaim.

Early on, Jarvis wore influences like The Beatles, The Hollies and The Zombies on his sleeve. (He’s a student of pop music, and his list of great power-pop icons was included in the recently published book Shake Some Action—The Ultimate Power Pop Guide.)In a sense, the new album qualifies both as a carrying of the torch and as an evolution for the band.

Speaking about “Another Kind of Girl,” Jarvis says, “I kind of was going for a Nick Lowe/Rockpile thing and, for the backgrounds, I distinctly recall wanting a ‘Love American Style’/Cowsills group vocal onslaught. On ‘Space Age Romeo’ I was very consciously going for an Imperial Drag sound. They were Roger Manning’s post-Jellyfish band.”

Previous lineups featured lead guitarists, but this time those chores fell to Jarvis. Smart guitar riffs and textured parts inform the tunes in favor of solos. The band’s sonic palette often recalls Cheap Trick and the Flamin‘ Groovies.

The group’s process typically involves Jarvis bringing songs to the band and the group working out arrangements, but Ponec’s “Marlena” offers a subtle diversion, echoing Buddy Holly’s driving hits. According to Ponec, the tune is a decade old and Jarvis heard him play it with a previous band.

“That was very generous of him,” Ponec says. “He didn't have to do that. He had enough songs to fill out an album, but he wanted to record that song. That just confirmed what Mike had said to me when I joined The Lackloves. He told me that he didn't want me to think of this as ‘his’ band. He wanted me to know that this is ‘our’ band.”

The Lackloves play a CD release show at Linneman’s on Saturday, April 19, and on May 3 as part of the International Pop Overthrow Festival at Linneman’s.