Last year I put together a mix of newer heirs to the jangle-pop pantheon and sitting right in the middle was L.A.’s Massage. Though, to be fair, I could have made the mix a collection of Massage tacks and it would still have wrapped up the full scope of sounds that the new class has been digesting. The band’s sophomore album tightens and refines the impulses that they had on their debut — rifling through Creation singles, Flying Nun’s more melodic end, and a scattered selection of bittersweet indie pop one-offs. With more contemporary melodies in mind, the band reaches for an (ever so slightly) toughened version of what Veronica Falls were able to achieve. While they don’t always slip into the Mamas and Papas harmonies that the Falls made essential, they have the same knack for molding ringing guitars, melancholy melodies, male/female vocal volleys, and a dash of afternoon sunlight into the kinds of songs that stick with you.
There are a dozen buzzed indie bands that might make their home in one or more of the sounds on Still Life and not be able to make ‘em land like this. If you’ve taken a few rounds with aughts Captured Tracks and binged on the second life of Slumberland, you’re already in the right place. Yet what makes Massage more than just an extension indie-pop’s permanence is the effortless amalgamation of their influences. Those tight ringing guitars pull from the Sarah school, lifting bits of East River Pipe and Brighter. There’s a bit of the propulsion and pop of Primal Scream’s early days on Sonic Flower Groove. They dig deeper though — the September sighs of The Chesterfields, a swell of strings that recalls Blueboy mix with the breezy bigness of The Las and Sneetches. While the hallmarks are there, the band never makes a single track stick out as an homage. The past touches every moment on Still Life, but like seeds in the breeze their influences scatter to the corners of their songwriting, occasionally casting shadows but mostly just letting their scent linger faintly. It’s hard to make indie pop capture a feeling of freshness, but Massage make it look easy.
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