Full disclosure right from the jump: Mo Troper frequently contributes to the Mercury. But I don’t know the guy—we’ve never communicated. So with a clear conscience and no conflict of interest, I can tell you that his new album, Exposure and Response, is an exquisite example of classic, well-crafted power pop. It’s the best work of Troper’s career, and one of the very best albums to come out of Portland (or anywhere else) in 2017.
His last proper full-length, 2016’s Beloved, is also very good. It’s packed end-to-end with melodies so strong and memorable, they consistently rise above the rest of the record’s fuzzed-out bash ’n’ pop din. It sounds like a super-skilled songwriter sailing through a mid-fi sea of crash cymbals.
By comparison, Exposure and Response is a luxury yacht slicing across open waters toward the sunset. Troper’s melodies still soar, but now they’re captured more clearly and surrounded by sumptuous arrangements, often including horn and string sections. The opening track, “Rock and Roll Will Change the World,” begins with a dazzling chorus of “aahs” that could live credibly inside any Beach Boys song.
“Rock and Roll” runs just under a minute and a half long, the first of many short bursts on the album. “The Customer” lasts 72 seconds and sounds like half an acoustic Weezer demo (which is a good thing). “Freebin” makes heartbreak feel hopeful, and blossoms into perfection in its second minute. “Wedding” spends a minute approximating Of Montreal doing a love song, barbershop quartet-style.
Sprinkled among these shorties are Exposure and Response’s highest highlights: “Dictator Out of Work,” an anthem for the downtrodden with a regal trumpet line and a thrilling coda; “Your Brand,” a razor-sharp takedown of industry greed with a symphonic backbone; and “The Poet Laureate of Neverland,” a horn-heavy meditation on the stunted growth of the entitled artist. When Troper stretches out is when his cynical streak really shines through. And cynicism never sounded so sweet.