You, me, the music, and me.

Friday, December 09, 2005

GAME THEORY Lolita Nation

Enigma STB-73280 (1987)

I first bought Lolita Nation on cassette during my first year at Dalhousie University in Halifax. I had heard only one Game Theory song before ("Erica's Word", from a compilation tape called The Enigma Variations 2) but figured I'd take a chance since they were produced by Mitch Easter, who also produced R.E.M.'s first few albums and had a great band of his own called Let's Active. At the time, I was pretty excited to be living in Halifax and to have access to a greater selection of music than what I was hearing on the radio back home. In those pre-Nirvana days, it was a shock to my system to walk into a record store and see new releases by bands like Sonic Youth, Husker Du, and Dinosaur, Jr. Heady times, indeed.

Game Theory were a power-pop group from North Carolina led by singer/songwriter Scott Miller. Miller had a knack for writing insanely catchy tunes wrapped in sparkling arrangements; his lyrics could be wryly sardonic, bracingly bitter, or heartbreakingly sincere, and his subject was usually love or its disintegration. It seemed to me that Game Theory never got anywhere near the amount of success that they deserved; they didn't even get the minimal attention paid to other "alternative" bands of the era. Too bad, because Lolita Nation deserves to stand beside anything put out by R.E.M. (or XTC or the Beatles, for that matter).

Lolita Nation was a real grab-bag of an album, a double LP packed with some of the group's strongest songs mixed together with shorter, more experimental tracks. "Vacuum Genesis" is a brief snippet of what sounds like Miller humming softly while vacuuming, "Where They Have to Let You In" features spooky chain-rattling and chirping crickets, and "Turn Me on Dead Man" is a backwards-tape track that somehow sounds just as melodic as any of the songs on the album. Oh, the actual songs? They're pretty good, too; "The Waist and the Knees" is a biting rocker that deals with the disillusionment of record deals, and "One More for Saint Michael" is a loping acoustic track that references Star Trek ("Captain Jim throws the Prime Directive out for the umpteenth time/it's habit for him now"). The record contains many tiny little "Easter eggs" for listeners with good ears; the guitar freakout at the end of "The Waist and the Knees", the last track on side one, contains a riff that is the the theme of the opening track on side two, "Nothing New". There are also many little samples of and references to earlier Game Theory albums (many of which have been reissued sporadically on CD and are rather rare; at one point, the Lolita Nation CD was going for upwards of $100 a pop on eBay).

Game Theory released one more album before breaking up; Miller went on to form The Loud Family, which released several albums of fine, quirky avant-pop in the Game Theory vein. These days Miller is keeping busy recording and playing occasional shows (some with friend and fellow singer/songwriter Aimee Mann) and a new Loud Family album is scheduled for January. If you didn't catch Game Theory the first time around, check out what Scott Miller is doing now. If you appreciate intelligent, heartfelt pop music, you won't be disappointed.


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