Happiness is a rare commodity in these times of uncertainty and almost assured destruction. If happiness were more material, there is no doubt that many a child’s arms and fingers would be severed in pursuit of this wondrous, priceless feeling. Fortunately, there’s not to high a price on happiness, unless you can download it without getting sued. Otherwise, a good $13 will suffice for the purchase of Sean Tillman’s latest masterwork.
Sean Na Na’s effort is nothing short of shimmering, frolicking guitar pop. The contents of this pretentiously titled album (CoPe We Must = Coke-Peppered Weed Mustache) are most fitting for a young city dweller’s studio apartment or a lonely suburban teen’s Wes Anderson-decorated bedroom. Nevertheless, anyone else under the sun could easily accept the catchiness and narrative wit of the album. Tillman’s clear, pretty voice resonates with the musical storytelling of Ted Leo. In place of the political grandstanding however are individual, slice of inner-life tales fit with surreal images and detailed observations that are both introspective and giddy. Sean Na Na aspires no further than to capture the strife, love and hope of everyday people, not unlike The Replacements’ aw-shucks loser ballads.
Maybe that’s not happy with a capital ‘H,’ but like a divorced middle class mother, Sean Na Na washes over whatever sadness that pops up with a bright face of carefree pop chords. Sean’s guitar is pervasive over all the other instruments and provides the sweetness that embodies the faster songs. Even if the characters are unable to move or be moved, Tillman’s chords pack a reviving thrust of life that won’t drag the listener into a similar quagmire of emotion. The album is made up of mostly peppy, upbeat numbers that convey a time, place and/or state of mind, but the album does not lack its anthems. “The Hunter” is a track that is more stripped down both musically and lyrically. Guitars are wailed upon with classic rock bravado, not strummed with folk rock sensitivity. Tillman’s words are confined to a stricter verse/chorus/verse pattern, but not simplistic or glossed over in unimportance to emphasize the loud riffs. “Black Bag” comes in two tracks later and has a similar rock swagger.
For an album that was recorded in various locations, it’s quite consistent, sounding as if it was recorded in one straight sweep. If anything this shows that Tillman is a more than capable producer and sometimes no one can record someone’s band better than the one who writes the songs. To add to the more festive aspects of the album, Tillman brings along a herd of party guests spanning from Dillinger 4 to The Distillers, The Shins and the Afghan Whigs. It’s true that pop music has established itself in all major contemporary genres for decades now, but to the credit of bands like Sean Na Na, at least there is still evidence that pop can be imaginative, beautiful and literate in less than forty minutes.