Pop Zeus - Tell Me So [EP] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Pop Zeus

Tell Me So [EP] (2014)

Gnar Tapes

Portland project Pop Zeus' Tell Me So EP is full of whimsical vocals, spring reverb and Casio keyboard drum machines. This is the definition of "bedroom pop": four–track twee tunes that thrive in the lo–fi setting. It's supposed to sound a bit thin. It's supposed to sound rough around the edges. It's all part of it's charming aesthetic. Tell Me So is the followup to a self–titled full length from 2012, but this is my introduction.

Mikey Hodges is Pop Zeus, playing everything on the record. He was inspired to take on this project by the one–man records of Prince, Stevie Wonder and Todd Rundgren, and I too feel that pull, having grown up on the earliest Paul McCartney albums post–Beatles, where he performs everything. There's something magical about playing live with other musicians, but there is also something enticing about the complete creative control that comes with being able to play every goddamn instrument and seeing your vision to completion on your own. Ben Folds and Ben Kweller have more recently put out records like this, the first being extremely successful and the later sounding a bit weak on the rhythm section end due to this approach. It's a risky venture, but can pay off big. Being a short EP, the risk is lower.

"Take It Off" is a killer indie ballad, all about romance and sexy–making. Plunking xylophone keyboard tones, acoustic guitar and chunky tambourine push it forward as Hodges sings, "When I see you in my favorite dress / I just wanna take it off of you. Not a totally unique couplet, but something you don't hear in the shy twee world. Title track "Tell Me So" swings the best an '80s drum machine could possibly swing, with some light clean electric and reverbed–out vocals and a surf–tone lead line introducing each verse. There are some clichés thrown around ("It's your world / I'm just living in it til you make leave") but the lyrics aren't necessarily the point here –– these are simple love songs that sweep you away with gentle indie pop textures.

Bedroom pop is a sub–sub–genre that I can get behind, but the overly schooled musician in me sometimes has trouble with the one–take sounding vocal performances on this release. For the most part the hooks trump the flutters in pitch, but there are an instance or two that stick in my craw. The prechorus and chorus falsetto of "Carolyne" are all over the map, skewing a touch flat.

The Tell Me So EP introduced Pop Zeus to me nicely, in a quick dose of hazy pop jams. I would hope Hodges can keep the slapdash aesthetic while improving the vocals a bit. Looking forward to future tunes.