With Maturing Sound, Anaheim Band Set for a Big Jump
Lit didn’t catch artistic or commercial fire with the skillful but uninspired grunge rehash of its 1997 debut album, “Tripping the Light Fantastic.” But with this first release for a major label, the Anaheim band alights nimbly yet forcefully on a patch of strategically valuable sonic territory that could be the jumping-off point to big things.
If alterna-rock were a chess game, Lit would control the all-important mid-board squares, where the diagonals of cutting force intersect with the horizontals and verticals of straightforward pop-melodic appeal.
The band hits hard, with a rhythm section that can pummel, and a guitarist, Jeremy Popoff, who flits between inventive liquid squiggles and trenchant, scraping riffs while reining in his ego to serve the songs and support the vocals of his younger brother, A. Jay Popoff. Jeremy’s guitar performance parallels Chris Karn’s on the 1998 album by O.C.'s Sonichrome, one of last year’s best (and, unfortunately, commercially submerged) blends of pop sweets and rock roughage.
Lit’s talent, which includes a vital, kinetic stage presence, has long been apparent. The big development here is that the songwriting, handled jointly by the Popoffs, has matured.
“Light Fantastic” offered hooky bits, but at its core it was just the bland, sour posturing of grunge habit, with dour moods unilluminated by the force of detail and vivid sketch work.
“A Place in the Sun” (no, the title cut is not a cover of the fondly remembered Stevie Wonder nugget) gives us evocative glimpses of people moving through emotionally charged moments in life, facing romantic dead-ends with honest feeling or seeking escapes in such everyday human respites as an invigorating car ride, or a moment of just sitting still and finding some peace within.
While there’s self-reproach and disgust enough to go around, the overall effect of the album is uplifting; the sheer melodic zestfulness that courses through every song speaks to the possibilities of life, even as A. Jay’s pliant nasal-chesty voice registers plaints and complaints.
And there’s humor: In the opening lines of “Miserable,” A. Jay may sound stricken with self-pity, but there’s comic relief in the wordplay: “You make me come / You make me complete / You make me completely miserable.”
Popoff’s plaintiveness comes across especially well: he commands a nice wistful tone that, in lovely moments like the bridge of “Down,” brings compassion to the fore without straining for the big emotive effect. The song, a love-ode to a simpatico automobile, comes across as a fetching alterna-rock kid brother to NRBQ’s exquisitely innocent hot-rod mash note, “Little Floater.”
A cursory first listen might suggest that Lit is just adding another layer of redundant dust on the sarcophagus of alterna-rock--"Miserable” sounds like a hit-ballad contender a la Semisonic’s “Closing Time,” and “Zip-Lock” introduces a hint of funk like Third Eye Blind, minus the patent falseness of tone in Third Eye Blind.
There’s much more at play here, though. A. Jay’s voice has a lot of Elvis Costello in it, and for appealing stretches Lit jumps wholeheartedly into the pop-loving mid-'60s.
“Quicksand” and “Lovely Day” sound like prime Smithereens numbers; the supremely infectious circa-'65 chorus backbeat in “Lovely Day” clinches the meaning of a song about fighting off the existential blahs and finding a moment of respite within.
On “Happy,” a similar rhythmic bounce, coupled with bright, swaggering horns, makes it sound like Elvis Costello giving Paul McCartney the boot and commandeering “Good Day Sunshine” and “Got to Get You Into My Life” as his own.
This is the ‘90s, of course, so the Popoffs can’t just adopt McCartneyesque pure-pop buoyance without introducing some angst; but when A. Jay sings “It makes me so mad, ‘cause I want to be happy so bad,” you’re in there rooting for him. His song, after all, has already brought a smile to your ear.
Lit plays Monday at Club 369, 1641 N. Placentia Ave., Fullerton. 7:30 p.m. $10. (714) 572-1781. Lit also plays Tuesday at Tower Records, 220 N. Beach Blvd., Anaheim. 6 p.m. Free. (714) 995-6600.