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31 August 2015

Game Theory - 'Real Nighttime' (Enigma)

Sometimes I feel like this is Game Theory's best record. It has a nice, full 80's pop production and a lot of guitars, and Miller's voice is given the right about of reverb and compression to make it really soar over these songs. And lyrically it also might have the right balance of the cryptic and relatable, though I like his more experimental verbal constructions. The text on the back cover is cryptic and feels like an Arno Schmidt translation, but the songs inside are only halfway there - 'She'll Be a Verb' is actually a fairly straight love song (if a slightly wistful one); '24' captures the confusion of maturity with no relation to the Red House Painters song of the same name. If you've ever read Miller's excellent book Music: What happened? you'll know he was heavily influenced by the dBs and Chris Stamey in particular; you can hear this influence probably most thoroughly on Real Nighttime of all his records, both in terms of melodic construction and the affect of his singing. Chilton and Big Star too, with 'You Can't Have Me' getting a cover version, though I'm not wild about this take, which seems to remove the pain from Chilton's delivery. The violent overtones of 'Friend of the Family' are echoed in the very punchy drum recording technique, a stomper that opens up in the chorus and is probably the best song on the record. But that's not discounting the brash opener '24', or the sinewy, chorus-laden riff of 'Curse of the Frontier Land'. The latter ambiguously questions success in the music industry or maybe it's just California he's talking about; either way, it's drenched in the imagery of decay and sadness, and odd and moving juxtaposition against Miller's youth-infused voice. You could argue this is almost overproduced, with phase and flange effects on the lead guitars, and keyboards pulsing in the corners of the mix. But I think it works really well. The concise 'I Turned Her Away' closes things out, and there's such a joyous feeling to this record that it makes me really sad Miller has left this earth. But there's even wilder frontiers ahead....

20 August 2015

Game Theory - 'Blaze of Glory' (Rational)

'I never wanted to be tough', sings Scott Miller as the first line on this record, and that's sort of a career manifesto. It's not his debut release - there's the wonderful Alternate Learning LP from '81 - but it's the first one by Game Theory, and I've always viewed this as the Scott Miller band, so I take the Alternate Learning - Game Theory - Loud Family lineage as one more or less unbroken band (with apologies to Donette Thayer's later songwriting contributions). And it's impressive how fully-formed his vision is here. It begins with a snippet of more experimental sounds (like most GT records) before leading off with the one-two punch of 'Something to Show' and 'Tin Scarecrow', both brassy and buoyant. And the Sparks-like rave-up 'White Blues' follows, which ain't a bad tune either. Game Theory are such an exemplary band to me because they managed to sound very much of their milieu while being completely singular and remarkable at the same time - the cream of the crop, the crop in this case being early 80s college rock, or new wave, or Pasiley underground or whatever you want to call it. From this classification, I put them in the same league as This Heat, or the Art Ensemble of Chicago, or Animal Collective - brilliance within a vague framework of the then-'now' sound. The whole Paisley Underground thing I think came later and Game Theory were only really tangentially related to those neo-psych warriors; here, the psychedelia is restricted more or less to the lyrics, as the music is mostly bouncy post-punk with synth punctuations. Miller's voice has always been bright and somewhat effeminate (and an acquired taste which many people I've tried to turn on to his songwriting have never been able to develop), so any of the aggro edges from the fast-paced songs and bashing guitars are softened by this. This, like many first albums, is just a calling card for what's to come later with bigger and better production, which isn't meant to diminish the songwriting within; 'Bad Year at UCLA' is one of the earliest out-and-out classics by Miller,  and 'Stupid Heart' should make all the best-of mixtapes. His lyrics aren't yet as creative in terms of wordplay as what will come in the following decade, but even when grappling with the confusion of romantic feelings that takes place in one's early 20s, he displays a remarkable prescience and irony ('Date With an Angel'; 'All I Want is Everything'). I find myself listening to this just as much as the other ones, despite it's 'early' and 'rough' edges. Unfortunately my copy is packaged only in a plain 12" sleeve, so I'm missing part of the package.