Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
On his sophomore record Exposure & Response, which begins with the bombastic “Rock and Roll Will Change The World,” it’s hard to tell whether Mo Troper is hopelessly nostalgic for an era he never experienced, or simply donning the “old soul” get-up ironically. Most likely, it’s a bit of both. For much of Response, the L.A.-via-Portland songwriter clearly has Brian Wilson on the brain; the album is loaded with glorious harmonies, bright horns, lavish strings, and Troper delivers each line with charisma that—in a bygone era—would have filled stadiums.
But Exposure & Response isn’t a period piece. Despite the fact that most of the songs stick to a pre-punk pacing, rarely exceeding mid ’60s California bop, the record’s modern fidelity helps it sidestep the “retro” tag, and Troper’s diatribes about the elite contain too much millennial sarcasm to be confused with the gripes of an earlier era. Throughout Response, Troper finds his sweet spot when he’s yanking from both generations simultaneously.
“Your Brand” and “Big School” are the standouts, melding Phil Spector-esque majesty with Jeff Rosenstock-ish witticisms like, “Turn a tragedy into something you can work with” and “Pay to have someone reassure you that you’re smart.” Although Troper’s limited vocal range and lack of stylistic variation make for a slightly tiresome middle patch, changeups like the squeaky a cappella “Wedding” and the pulsating crunch of “Wicked” are smartly sequenced, revitalizing the listener before Exposure & Response’s stellar back end.
Despite what the opening song says, Troper knows that rock ‘n’ roll won’t change the world. But listening to him soar through some of the sweetest, warmest, most charming rock songs in recent memory is almost enough to make you believe otherwise.