Last October, the singer-songwriter Jon Lindsayformerly of Charlotte, now of Raleighwhetted appetites for his third full-length, Cities & Schools, with “All Them Houses,” a cannily crafted head rush of a single. Lindsay dropped two tunes shortly thereafter, both offering further evidence of his advanced pop skills. “Lifer” addresses a woman’s life choices and contains the exquisite line, “Nobody waits back home/for the lean banking queen.” And the grabby third single, “When They Broke the World,” fuses Postal Service-style electropop with explosive guitars, undergirded by a bleak sense of society’s future prospects.
As the overdue Cities & Schools moves beyond this opening span of catchiness, it reveals the bedrock influence of power pop, a well loved genre from the seventies that aspired to deliver rather straightforward thrills. In “The Church of Me,” which makes good on a lyrical conceit that could easily fail, Lindsay drops a reference to Twilley Don’t Mind, a 1977 LP by the star-crossed early label mate of Tom Petty. He offers a sonic call-out to Petty himself on the “Into the Great Wide Open”-quoting “Little Queen Drum Machine.”
With songs that are all hook and shiny surfaces, you can end up feeling like you’ve been gorging on candy. “All Them Houses” rewards repeated listens because, while shiny, it still breathes. Occasionally, though, Cities & Schools can feel a bit airless, which makes paradigm breakers like “A Couple More Boats,” a song that boasts a bit of a Ben Folds ballad vibe, and the closing “Could Be Worse,” a tune that tucks a comforting 1-4-5 melody into a sumptuous sign-off, so welcome.
Something in Lindsay’s prodigiousness and preternaturally dulcet vocals recalls Matthew Sweet, a similar wunderkind of a previous era. Sweet’s early records offered an abundance of hooks and a preponderance of sheen. He found his stride when he threw off the eighties strictures and let it rip. Lindsay’s lapidary production touches, like tracers glinting off his vocals, suggest a perfectionist buffing every edge. Maybe next time he’ll get his hair mussed a bitan intriguing prospect.