I first came upon the music of Todd Leiter-Weintraub via his humble but promising solo disc, Lo-Fi Is Better Than No-Fi At All, and then again as the honcho of Hop On Pop, producing As Drawn By Ethan, Age 2 back in 2004. Todd and his rotating cast of popsters are back, and since I’ve let two previous solid releases go by without much of a peep, I figured I’d throw down an old school dissection for the latest, Chicken On A Bicycle. The earlier output stayed within a well-defined but nonetheless enjoyable border of Big Star and Guided By Voices, and there is some of that here too, but the album purposefully branches out on a much wider scale, held together only by Todd’s steady vocals and his melodic sensibilities rooted firmly into the ground.
The opening track “Here” is playful pop with odd harmonies and keyboards, not as immediate (nor cheesy) as some sequencer pop but there’s definitely potential. “Sheila Of The Worms” is a live number that sounds very fresh. It’s upbeat and catchy and has the crowd singing along despite being a debut performance (always a good sign). “Tortured Artist” and “Hey” are the GBV workouts – You’d think Bob Pollard with his 5,000 songs has found every possible way to create a unique pop/rock song, and yet Hop On Pop somehow manage to find a few more. We take a dark turn at “C’mon Angel” – very well written, and Johnny Cash’s American Recordings is good influence to have, but I’m not sure the conviction is there in the vocals. I love the high end bass on “I’m Pathetic” and the overall Camper Van Beethoven-esque sound of “Leo Goldberg’s 2-Step.” Not all experiments fair as well as others (I’d much prefer more solo acoustic nuggets like “Say You Will” over the semi-orchestral pop ballad “C’mon Let’s Go”). As enjoyable as the album is, it’s versatility works against me recommending it as an introduction to the band. Grab the earlier stuff if you want to dip your toes in, but feel free to dive over to Spade Kitty if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous.