A Review of Liquid Mike's 'S/T'

Some thoughts on a band who won't be local for long.

A Review of Liquid Mike's 'S/T'

It happens with enough frequency to justify withstanding the torrential onslaught of bullshit that is being on Twitter. Someone (in this case Keegan Bradford of Camp Trash) dusts off a little nugget of Bandcamp gold, holds it up to the light and proclaims, "Eureka!" Within the next couple days, there's a palpable stir as several of my trusted mutuals, one by one, chime in with their affirmation for this newly-uncovered jewel, and by the end of the week, there's a whole pocket of avatars nodding and bopping together like a turntable.fm dancefloor.

There's nothing like the unique thrill of hearing something that you know is gonna be a A Thing, and seeing other people have the same hushed realization in real-time. Before the blog write-ups, before the second pressing, before the new label signing — hell, before the band even realizes people are talking about them. Social media is at its functional apex when it's facilitating organic discovery, and that's what happened this week when people in my digital orbit suddenly started talking about the new self-titled album by a band called Liquid Mike.

Released last month on the indie label Kitschy Spirit Records, the 11-track, 18-minute LP is a summer cruise of wistful power-pop with hooks that stick to your wares like burdocks and riffs you can grab by the fistful. Most of the tracks are in and out in two minutes or less, but they all feel like fully-formed ideas. Every song reminds you of something you think you've heard before but can't quite place. It's a pastiche of Nineties pop-rock that aspired to follow Weezer into MTV stardom but couldn't get both feet through the door. The kind of choruses that plaid-shirted dudes swear "would be huge in a different timeline," but are, in truth, too rickety and slackery to resonate with the masses. You and I could happily spend our Friday nights partying to a song about long DMV lines and neglecting to take the garbage out, but c'mon, that brand of endearingly self-conscious dirtbag-ism would've been cashed in on decades ago if there was an actual market to exploit.

That's what makes the type of music Liquid Mike makes so eternally pleasing to the people who are meant to stumble into it. The conflict between the ebullient catchiness of songs like "American Record" and "RAV4" and their, "This would actually sound pretty dope on cassette," recording quality is precisely what makes   post-Pixies power-pop doomed to squander its commercial melodies, but, as a consolation, speak intimately to an evergreen listenership who need their pop music to be wrapped in a j-card design for it to land. In other words, this album is a guaranteed summer soundtrack half of the Joyce Manor fanbase, and 75 percent of the people who've streamed Fountains of Wayne's debut within the last year. What more can you ask for, really?

While this record brings to mind plenty of Superdrag-era reference points, I do think there are several tenets that ground it in the contemporary moment. After hearing the jittery, 3/4 time signature swipes of the second track, "2 Much of a Good Thing," I got the impression that this is a band who had some connection with emo before they went power-pop, and after doing minimal research, that appears to be the case. Vocalist-guitarist Mike Maple (the titular Liquid Mike?) also plays in a band called Drain County with members of the Michigan emo band Charmer, and their late 2022 EP, Sucked Out, sounds a lot like Oso Oso.

This new Liquid Mike LP sounds like a band who skipped right over their Nothing Feels Good and started with Very Emergency. There're twinges of emo in some of the transitional licks and sagging vocal intonations, and I don't hear any of the jangle of Big Star or the collared-sweater chord shapes of Velvet Crush. I'd wager an hour's pay that Jeff Rosenstock's solo material was foundational to these folks, so even in the record's most buoyant, trad-pop moments, you get the sense that they're holding back a raggedy punk freakout. It almost happens during "Holding a Cough," when Maple sings, "By the time I'm 30, I'll be 35," the instrumentation scuffles and the band rev up to a tongues-out guitar solo that teeters on the border between bopping and ripping. If I was DJing, "Pash Rash" would be up next.

It's not all wide-smiled hooks. "TSGA" reminds me of the dusky, dirge-y cuts on the Obsessives' 2017 self-titled LP, a slightly ahead-of-its-time pilgrimage from emo to power-pop that probably would've been a lot bigger if it dropped in 2021. Liquid Mike's Smartie-smoking synths offer a liiiiittle bit of Motion City Soundtrack glitter, but without pulling these songs into the neon side of emo, which would clash with basically everything cool going on here. Maple's voice reminds me of Matt Berry — of the Berries, Big Bite and of course Happy Diving, who Liquid Mike resemble at their fuzziest, most dust-kicking moments.

The best music in this idiom is snappier and sweeter than its production allows it to sound, but if it actually stood in the spotlight of Big Studio sheen, the blemishes would lose their charm. So yes, I think the falsetto vocals on "Wedding in Drain County" (shoutout) and the sheer ohhhh yeah of the riff in "American Record" are enough proof that Liquid Mike could, in another timeline, woo the same major label eyes that Superdrag, Fountains of Wayne and fuckin' Harvey Danger courted in the Nineties. Would that make them a better band? Debatable. I think they're great, I think this record sounds the way it should. I think the emerging generation of power-pop bands — Dazy, Mo Troper, Alien Boy, Snow Ellet, Bad Moves, Supercrush, etc. — are at their best when they're singing world-class songs to 200-cap rooms. More for us.