This past spring a friend told me to check out Pop Lolita, a '60s- and '80s-influenced power-pop group which reunited in June 2010 after a brilliant run in Indy from 2000 to 2003. Somehow I missed their show, and shortly after that they were gone again; the band broke up in May, most likely never to return.
I did, however, manage to pick up a copy of their 2002 album Smokerings and Halos from the band’s (former) bass player Andrew Mahoney. After listening to this album just once, I was shocked these guys never got picked up by a label, doubly pissed off that I’d missed their show, and downright depressed to learn they won’t be re-forming any time soon, if ever. According to Mahoney, most of the band members have moved on to other projects, and it’s safe to say: Rest in Peace, Pop Lolita.
But that doesn’t mean their energetic, '80s new-wave grooves won't live on. To listen to their album is to take a trip back in time. The disc’s opening track, “Why Ask Why,” is an anthem direct from a Brat Pack movie; specifically, from the scene in which the heroes of the film are being chased through the halls of their high school by some hapless adult. Drummer Mike Theodore sets a fast pace with sixteenth notes on the high-hat, while Mahoney’s jumping bass line gives the song a rolling, spreading feel. Add in the quick guitar riffs of Mike Contreras and Jonathan Harmon, and the song seems to drip with a sort of whimsical, teenaged hauteur.
“Luton Millwall Riot,” on which singer Amber Lynch coos about a 1985 riot by English soccer hooligans, hearkens back to the sound of famous all-girl '80s bands like The Go-Go’s and The Bangles, albeit with much more depth and intrigue.
Tracks like “This Is City Life” seem to defy categorization. Lynch’s vocals take on a distanced, exotic, pan-Asian feel that makes this perhaps one of the most striking tracks on the album. As a writer, it’s a Cardinal sin to admit that words fail, but it’s difficult to describe the evocative space, the emotion, and the driving rhythm of a song like “This Is City Life” in verbal terms that would make any sense. A few songs later in the album, Pop Lolita seem to get back to their roots a little bit with “Did It All For You,” which points more directly back to the early days of Britpop.
Perhaps gone, but definitely not forgotten, Pop Lolita made its mark on the Indy music scene: cutting one dynamite album, essentially becoming Radio Radio’s house band for a while, and providing a successful springboard for several of its members to move on to other bands. Mike Contreras and John Harmon are members of Redlight Driver, with Contreras lending his time to Thee Pernicious Unicats, as well, and drummer Mike Theodore is with heavy metal band Skyhunter.