Time Out New York:
The Stranger (Seattle):
Scott Miller has been making Big Star influenced power-pop records since 1982, first under the Game Theory banner and more recently as the Loud Family. Attractive Nuisance finds Miller contemplating the "facts of entropy" and other real-life riddles: "I don't know what the radio wants when the radio taunts." But his supple melodies belie the dense, often opaque lyrics. Attractive Nuisance is not as consistently strong as some earlier outings (notably Game Theory's Lolita Nation and Loud Family's Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things), perhaps in part because Miller has lately begun collaborating on songs with his band members. But this quirky visionary still delights in the possibilities of the three-minute pop song, whether exploring the lush orchestral contours of "One Will Be the Highway," the nearly avant-garde interludes of "Save Your Money" or the acid-metal roar of "Nice When I Want Something."
Scott Miller, veteran California popster and patriarch of the Loud Family, counts Jacques Derrida among his favorite writers, but he also loves all six albums by the original Monkees. That isn't as much of a contradiction as it might seem -- like much postmodern lit, the Monkees' big-screen movie Head is mostly about its own process -- and it goes a long way toward explaining Miller's songs, which embrace the pop craftsmanship of the psychedelic 60s even as they aggravate its artifice. His first band, Game Theory, emerged in the early 80s in the same burst of west-coast retro that produced the Dream Syndicate, the Bangles, Rain Parade, the Long Ryders, and the Three o'Clock. But like former dB's guitarist Chris Stamey, Miller has grown progressively more interested in subverting the sound with experimental electronics, avant-garde flourishes, and just plain weirdness. Attractive Nuisance (Alias) is the fifth album by Game Theory's successor, the Loud Family, and its moderately catchy tunes are cut with all manner of strange noises: eerie horn samples fade in and out of "Soul D.C."; the trippy interlude of "720 Times Happier Than the Unjust Man" includes the sound of a skipping CD; an out-of-sync, gradually accelerating drumroll introduces the verse in "Nice When I Want Something"; and "Save Your Money," a quiet meditation propelled by a four-note piano figure, is decorated with a string of electronic blips, percussive blasts of guitar noise, and a spiky piano freak-out courtesy of Loud sister Alison Faith Levy.
Like his sometime collaborator Quercio, Scott Miller came to prominence in the '80s with one baroque-pop band and now leads another. There's no real gap between Miller's two projects, however: One day Game Theory became the Loud Family, a change that reflected no essential difference between the two. Both bands are Miller and a revolving cast of players, and offer quirky but eminently tuneful pop-rock with blown-mind lyrics. The Family's new Attractive Nuisance (Alias) opens with "720 Times Happier Than the Unjust Man," and if that's the album's most eccentric title, the song itself is no more than typically offbeat.
The Family's mannered style is also rooted in the mid-'60s, but Miller isn't simply a revivalist. Indeed, Attractive Nuisance is optimistic that it just might be the music of the future. "I used to live in a backward century," the singer-songwriter muses in "Backward Century," a song that features a "Penny Lane"-style horn flourish under a trippy chant of "We're going backward." A benevolent patriarch, Miller allows keyboardist Alison Faith Levy to sing one of her own songs, suitably titled "The Apprentice," which slows the album's momentum. But when Miller's at the controls, Attractive Nuisance is as sprightly as it is idiosyncratic.
Time Out New York
Time Out New York
Like R. Stevie Moore or Martin Newell, Scott Miller is a cult artist, He's been hailed as a genius by his devotees, dismissed as too quirky or simply ignored by others, but the pop craftsman soldiers on, blithely ignoring trends. Miller made six remarkable records with his previous band, Game Theory. Attractive Nuisance is his sixth with the Loud Family, and it, like all the others, is melodically masterful, structurally dense and lyrically arcane -- pop music for pop-music scholars.
The affordability of quality home-recording equipment has freed Miller almost completely from music-biz structure, which is just how he wants it. "I don't want anyone drumming up support here/I don't want Capitol whispering in my ear" he coos in "Soul D.C.," which later drops the magic words "willful obscurity." Elsewhere, hooks jump out from dark corners, verse-chorus-bridge structure is sliced and diced like a Ginsu chopping veggies, songs stop in mid-gallop and reverse field, and Miller's string of brilliant/hilarious song titles continues: "No One's Watching My Limo Ride" and "720 Times Happier Than the Unjust Man."
Miller's work is best measured against itself (as is the case with many cult artists), and on that scale, Attractive Nuisance ranks with its two immediate predecessors, Interbabe Concern ('96) and Days for Days ('98), as the Family's finest. Aside from keyboardist Alison Faith Levy's "The Apprentice," Miller composed all or part of every song, and his skill is now so keenly developed that his influences (unlike the distinct Big Star footprint on early Game Theory recordings) are invisible. Capable of stretching the pop form to accommodate all of his subtlety, anger, humor or surrealism, Miller may be better than ever. Did I mention he was a genius?
The Stranger (Seattle)
The Stranger (Seattle)
On this new album, Scott Miller, the guiding light of the Loud Family (and former Game Theory visionary), proves that the previous two brilliant albums -- Interbabe Concern and Days For Days -- were no flukes. This is an equally striking collection of the kind of genuine pop-rock craftsmanship that is all too rare in the increasingly stylist-oriented free-for-all of the current industry. You think Belle and Sebastian write intricate, hook-laden pop symphonies? Listen to the grandeur of Miller crooning "Blackness, Blackness." This is his specialty: the plaintive ballad, with a little whining thrown in. He's better at it than Eric Carmen ever was.
As a rock neo-classicist, Miller can't be underestimated. Whereas pop posers like the Minders, as well as the whole Elephant 6 crowd (Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control), strive for a contrived spirit of "purity" (which basically means they're not even ambitious enough to tune their instruments), the Louds are unabashedly professional. Their albums take a while to wade through, precisely because the songs are so complex and intricate. (Four stars)
Smoldering, dark, smoky folk music imbued with a literary sensibility. The Loud Family continues to amaze.
The Loud Family are neither loud nor a family. Shall we discuss? Very well. This musical clan is actually the brainchild of former Game Theory singer-guitarist Scott Miller, a smartypants popster whose offkilter sense of musical mischief is matched only by his keen ability to fashion a sharp hook from the most unlikely of ingredients. Tunes like 720 Times Happier Than the Unjust Man and No One's Watching My Limo Ride sparkle and shine with all the '70s power-pop crunch of Sloan, but combined with the English-lit grad-student smarts of Fountains of Wayne and the oddball instrumentation and production of a guy who either owns his own studio or has way too much time on his hands. If only all pop albums were this much of a nuisance.