In 2008, the L.A. band Army Navy put out a minor classic in the determinedly minor subgenre of power pop. Insofar as it's even acknowledged to exist outside of the world of record store clerks, power pop is mostly music of misplaced nostalgia and helpless obsession, and it succeeds in no small part by how it manages to remind you of every other pop song you've ever loved. Army Navy's self-titled debut — sunny and sad, sweet and bracingly sour, fresh-faced and weary — was a master class in this balancing act, splitting the difference between '70s acts like Big Star and '90s revivalists like the Posies with effortless aplomb.
Sometimes artists seek to recreate in art what they cannot achieve in life, however, and it often seems that the winsome souls who make this music are always pitching, in their personal lives, towards some new heartbreak. So it's not shocking to learn that the inspiration behind Army Navy's emotionally devastated latest record, The Last Place, is a woman. In the wake of the first Army Navy record, frontman Justin Kennedy fell in love with someone famous — who also happened to be married. The whole affair lasted six months, but it left him with enough bewildered anger and humiliation to pen a whole record. The result is a poisoned Valentine dripping with equal parts beauty and scorn; imagine a Vulcan mind-meld between Teenage Fanclub's Bandwagonesque and Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear and you're there.
The shimmering guitars, bright vocal harmonies, and seamless verse-chorus-verse transitions of Army Navy's debut remain undimmed. If anything, they shine brighter; crack open a power-pop geek's heart, it seems, and gorgeous music leaks out. The first words Kennedy sings on The Last Place's title track are "The last place I wanna be is in my head." It's a bummer sentiment, but Kennedy arcs the melody upward like he's straining to place the gold star atop a Christmas tree. "Ode To Janice Melt" (the name is a reference that Kennedy assured us in our interview, "if she saw the title alone, she would know the song is speaking to her") bops along lightly to a plinked piano and xylophone while Kennedy sings plaintively, "Maybe it's your celebrity/That makes you wanna slum it with me."
The woman in question is never named — partly due, one suspects, to justified fears of libel lawsuits, but it also heightens the album's exquisitely private sting. At any rate, the tortured specifics of Kennedy's romantic dilemma dissolve when exposed to such relentless pop sunshine. When he wails "There's a cost to letting our hearts lust" on "I Think It's Gonna Happen Now," he might get personal catharsis; we just get an effortlessly memorable, relentlessly pleasing soundtrack to our summer.