The neo-power-pop movement is like pretty much every other musical revival (ska, swing, salsa and so on): In the end, it's motivated by nostalgia for an era that's gone but not entirely forgotten -- which isn't exactly a recipe for new, fresh or surprising sounds, is it? But also like pretty much every other musical revival, there are exceptions to this rule: discs that are every bit as retro as others of their type, yet still have some fizz left in them. Call it the Carbonation Principle.
Enter the Salteens, a trio featuring singer/ songwriter/guitarist Scott L.D. Walker, singing bassist Megan Bradfield and drummer Dion Willis, that formed in Vancouver, Canada, circa 1997. The act's ultra-modest bio notes that the group specializes in two-and-a-half minute ditties, and that's about right: Short-Term Memories (released on both Canada's Endearing imprint and Michigan's Drive-In Records) sports ten tracks that clock in at around 25 minutes. But there's more to the songs' success than the musicians' understanding of the ol' brevity/soul-of-wit continuum. The production, by Marc L'Esperance, is spare and clean, allowing each element of the combo's approach -- hooky guitars, bouncy rhythms, jaunty trumpet (by Kyle Axford) and keyboards (courtesy of Patrick Brealey), plus loads of hand claps and bah-bah-bah-bah! background vocals -- to parade past with pride.
Most important, though, is the band's flat-out exuberance. For instance, "Bubba Da" starts with Walker declaring, "Don't be testy/I'm not breaking up with you" as if it's the funniest opening line ever in the history of recorded music, and while it isn't quite that good (pretty hard to top "I am IRON MAN" in my book), Walker's tuneful, I'm-trying-not-to-crack-up nasality puts it over awfully well. (Delivery's half of the battle; just ask Federal Express). That's followed by "The Best Thought," a hey-kids-let's-write-a-song tribute worthy of Mickey Rooney ("It's the best thought we ever had!"); "Guy Dog," the warmest imaginable adolescent lust-fest ("If you're tasty/I'm not hasty"); the unexpectedly dreamy "Emptyhead"; and "Nice Day," in which even sexual preferences melt under the midday sun ("I know you think that I'm gay/But I just play the part -- so we get it on!").
The Salteens make this stuff seem easy, which it's not: Ten Month Sentence, by Porter Hall, another new power-pop release on Endearing, is catchy, too, but remembering one note of it ten minutes later is about as easy as watching Al Gore dance (Christ, the guy's got the rhythm of a cinder block). As for Short-Term Memories, it's built for the long haul.