Popular Genius – Glittering Generalities

Popular Genius
Glittering Generalities

Popular Genius isn’t afraid to be known as an “alternative pop/rock” band and all the connotations of widespread listenability that title may bring. The Nashville band will no doubt draw countless comparisons to bands like Barenaked Ladies, and yet they don’t mind. They’re just making sweet, charming pop songs that are catchy, fun, and that, most wonderful of all, are sure to make you smile.
The music here is a bit sparse at times, likely due to limited production resources, but the band makes due wonderfully with what they have, going from keyboard-driven pop songs to up-tempo guitar and horn-led songs. Guitarist/singer Andrew Bissell’s voice is remarkably similar to the singer of Barenaked Ladies, which will no doubt cause the easiest comparisons. But while this band shares BNL’s penchant for sweet pop tunes, they also perform some gorgeous, lush tunes, complex on many levels, proving they’re more than a catchy hook and a sing-along chorus. And that means staying value, which Glittering Generalities, their second full-length album, definitely has.
The album starts with the startlingly sweet “Marla,” a self-defacing pop gem contrasting melancholy lines like “Marla, I’m not sure that you even know that I exist at all” and a sly pop-culture nod, “Marla, I think you know that Britney Spears looks like a skank compared to you.” The horns on “No One Understands Me” give the song an up-beat rhythm that flirts with ska one moment, a tango the next, all with a sly wink and a danceable flare. The quirky “Where Did I Come From?” is silly (“One time when I was 5, got bored and crossed my eyes, just to see if they’ll stay that way”) and undeniably fun, with a light rhythm and chiming keys. The band rocks a bit harder with some distorted guitars on “Stupid Mistake,” and even the vocals sound a bit different on the sweet, jangly “September’s Song.”
Despite their confidence in the up-tempo songs, the band’s best moments might be on the endearing quieter songs. “Best Friend” uses acoustic guitar and tells the story of unexpressed deeper feelings for a best friend. “I Wonder…” is a nice, quiet introspective track that is just Bissell’s voice to a soft, rich piano. And “Dull” certainly isn’t dull. It’s a lovely, dreamy song that allows Bissell’s voice to really soar, and the piano is a wonderful touch.
Unwilling to fall into the pop-rock tedium, Popular Genius (who get their name, incidentally, from a Sailor Moon trading card) spice up their music with horns, flute, piano, acoustic guitar, and more to keep things interesting. And while their formula isn’t new, the band gives the songs a fresh approach that’s as comforting as the first really warm day of summer. Their songs will have the same effect on you as that warm day. They’ll make you smile and will put you in a cheerful mood, and sometimes you can’t ask for more.