Is pop music, by definition, the music that plays on the radio and is literally popular; is it music that is inherently not subversive and non-alienating; is it an all-encompassing genre meant to represent music that is meant to be consumed as a product? An idea that would put Ke$ha and Avey Tare under the same umbrella of music. On “I Keep Falling In Love With You Again,” the first song off of their new album The Great Perhaps, The Boy Least Likely To remind us that pop is also a tangible and identifiable style of music: pop music is music that cuts through the bullshit and goes right for the proverbial heartstrings– and it does so without relying on force or aggression at all. Modern pop music – the genre of pop music, that has its roots in rockabilly and soul and Tears For Fears – is something like a small, impeccably sharpened blade that need only be dropped into flesh to deliver a fatal strike. The Great Perhaps is almost disgustingly twee; it is an emphatically uncool album, and one that leaves little room for critical approach because it is so literal and direct in its renegotiation of the classic pop formula. But this is not grounds to deny The Boy Least Likely To their due praise, for they have crafted an utterly enjoyable album – and it would be criminal to suggest that an album’s facility for delight and satisfaction is not of the utmost importance to music criticism.
Twee is a disingenuous characterization for most indie groups. To say, for example, that Belle and Sebastian are a twee pop band (as many do) is to discount their overwhelming baroque, light funk, and classic guitar rock influences. With The Boy Least Likely To, and especially on The Great Perhaps, it is more nearly the case that no other characterization would be appropriate. Sure, instrumentally speaking The Great Perhaps is a focused bit of post-new wave electronic music. Influences in this regard seem to be as diverse as J-pop, New Order, and chip music. As a compositional effort, The Great Perhaps is no wild achievement, but the arpeggiations, the goofy keyboard tones, soft drums, and lullaby guitars support the album’s catchy pop nicely. And there is just something so indescribably “wide-eyed” about this catchy pop that the word “twee” seems to be the only one capable of doing it justice.
“Taking Windmills for Giants” (an awkward reference if ever there was one) is an electronic, pulsy jaunt of a song with the rhythmic spark of something on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Conversely, the mellow “Michael Collins” blends the album’s general arpeggio-heavy electronica with some crushing string arrangements. There is not necessarily anything on The Great Perhaps that is out of the technical range of any other 2000s electronic indie group, but The Boy Least Likely to show a restraint that is more than remarkable and almost palpably unique. They never take anything too far – not emotionally, not in terms of tone, and not in terms of dynamics and volume – this is an album that never loses control of itself, never attempts to play at “rock & roll,” and in effect never sells out its own sonic amicability. On an album with no big moments, The Boy Least Likely To manage to build a steady, respectable momentum without ever letting go of your hand.
The Great Perhaps is more than a little overbearing in its obsession with love – in fact the songs are so singular in their thematic intent that I had to remind myself The Boy Least Likely To is not a solo project. The songs almost all tackle the subject of angst, loss, and loneliness – and especially of love unrequited – as though they exist to reconcile one’s intrinsic discomfort with oneself; the voice of these songs seems to base his/her entire existence on the idea of intimacy and partnership, so that even the most personal songs are directed at a nebulous other – meant at the same time for someone very special and no one in particular. This ambivalent monomania makes The Great Perhaps seem somewhat plastic, and perhaps not entirely truthful – but taken at an appropriate emotional distance the album is soothing and human – a great hook or a great chord progression can do that just as well as a lyric. The Great Perhaps is small and fragile, with hardly a low end to stand on – it is nothing like radio pop, which is generally bombastic and always aggressive. Nothing, either, like the indie music it is doomed to be shelved alongside.