Power-pop has always seemed to be the underground of the underground of American music. Full of things that lots of people love—that is poppy rock tunes and guitars—it nevertheless has had trouble gaining a foothold among music fans. Which is odd considering how many bands that have become popular have drawn either directly or indirectly from the genre. Then again Cheap Trick isn’t in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, so it may be a larger question. Luckily, the power-pop underground has soldiered on undeterred and has continually cranked out solid albums. Now adding to the canon are The Girls, a Columbus outfit who have self-released a debut album, Let’s Not Be Friends.
On Let’s Not Be Friends, the six-piece band is led by singer and guitarist Jessica Wabbit, sister to Lydia Loveless. One of the best conventions of power-pop is that it embraces the hooky earworm like a child clutches a binkie, and The Girls lean into those conventions. With more hooks than a hanger factory, every song seems designed to have you singing along by the time the second chorus hits. But it’s not done in a ham-fisted way. Instead, there’s an elegant simplicity and craftsmanship to making things work properly.
Lyrically, the songs on Let’s Not Be Friends revolve around journal-esque snapshots of unrequited love, bad late-night decisions with boys, and as the title track details, lost love. Generally speaking, things aren’t too great in the love department. And even when things are almost looking up on “Annie,” Wabbit has to deal with her own “Jolene.” It’s almost a relief when she finally dismisses a suitor with “Take Your Feelings and Go.” But there’s no whiny self-pity. Sure, there’s some regret, naked longing, and a smattering of sheepish embarrassment, but Wabbit owns the feelings. There’s a plainspoken, clear-eyed approach that neutralizes what could be an exercise in navel gazing. In a just world, these songs are being mined for mixtape fodder.
Musically, the band is as tight as the songwriting. Lead guitarist Joey Blackheart sneaks in some hard rock parts to balance Wabbit’s more rhythmical lines, while bassist Bent, drummer Big Nick, and keyboardist Ryan Vile provide a solid, nimble foundation for Wabbit’s Joan Jett, crossed with Pat Benatar vocals. Also props must be given to the background vocals of Raeghan Buchanan and Big Nick for giving the songs a gentle push into the sweet spot. With the amount of moving parts, it would be easy for any of these elements to be out of balance. Instead, everything sits in just the right spot. If the saying is that a band is “sitting in the pocket,” The Girls have set up residence there. Let’s Not Be Friends makes the dual case for the excellence of The Girls and the power of power-pop.