Full disclosure: I’m a fan of the full range of what we’ll call power pop, which includes a lot of music that’s more rocking and less poppy than the wimpiest examples of the genre. I don’t want to call anyone wimpy, exactly, but sometimes it’s great to be bowled over by powerful pop that is also fun, and, you might say, a bit cynical–in a cool way. Music that works off one of the most important parts of power pop, or whatever we’re calling it.
When it comes to power pop, you see, it’s all about guitars, and guitar riffs. That’s the wheels of the car, the basic underpinning. Apart from that, power pop can also map the geometry of the shared space where glam rock, Memphis power pop, the Stones, Bowie and the Sex Pistols meet. This brings us to Sour Ops, a group of Nashville power poppers who live in the space I mention above. They’re prime exponents of guitar pop, or guitar rock, whatever we’re calling it now. Their music is a prime example of the power of riffs and the continuing appeal of the coolly cynical, rocking songs that go with them.
Over the course of the last two years, Sour Ops–led by guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer Price Harrison, who is also an architect, photographer and graphic designer– has released some of the finest post-power pop (that’s what we’re gonna call it right now) in recent memory. In 2020 alone, the band has released a neat half-dozen singles that provide riff-heavy thrills. There’s the It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll, Stonesy shuffle of “The Sexy Sadist,” the Aladdin Sane vibe of “Inside the Mind.”
In the wake of the band’s equally fine 2018 full-length Family Circuit and 2019’s Tinder Flame EP, Sour Ops’ new single, “I Want You Around,” shows off their range. On the aforementioned collections, you’ll find touches of Big Star-like folk-country amid the mighty riffs. “I Want You Around” continues in that vein.
Joining Price and drummer George Lilly, whose post-British Invasion drumming has powered the band from the start, and bassist Tony Frost, is celebrated Nashville pedal-steel master Paul Niehaus. His credits include turns with Music City avant-rockers Lambchop and power pop band Snakehips, another Nashville group, led by Price’s brother, Mark Harrison, and featuring Price and Tony Frost.
In addition, “I Want You Around” sports deeply empathetic background vocals by veteran singing ace Shaun Murphy. Her credits include stints with Bob Seger, Little Feat and Meat Loaf. The song hints at country-Americana, but it’s not wimpy, either.
Being a power pop fan and a Nashvillian, I appreciate the way Price Harrison’s story fits into the deep story of how the town’s rock scene has evolved over recent years. Both Price and Mark Harrison were born in Alaska, and the family moved to Murfreesboro, Tenn., in time for the brothers to become obsessed with the British Invasion and the Velvet Underground. The brothers took up guitars, and began their journeys.
Mark went to school in Memphis in the early ‘80s, and fell into the scene around Alex Chilton, Tav Falco and other Bluff City miscreants. This shade of Memphis music would influence Snakehips, whose work–represented on a series of excellent albums cut over the last two decades–continues in the tradition of Memphis musicians like Big Star, the Scruffs and Tommy Hoehn.
For Price, who went to Vanderbilt University in the early ‘80s before getting his architecture degree at Yale later in the decade, Sour Ops comes at power pop-rock-glam from a slightly different angle. It’s precise, but it’s got an edge. “I tend to see rock ‘n’ roll as a highly structured operation,” Price says. “Within these constraints you’ve got all these variables. Marc Bolan is a perfect example.”
Indeed, Sour Ops’ Family Circuit track “All That I Want” crunches like T. Rex and AC/DC. The riffs, in typical Sour Ops fashion, do their work in the manner of the Kinks’ legendary guitarist Dave Davies. Meanwhile, “Not Enough” has the classic power-pop jangle of the Scruffs, and then there’s “Mind Like Glue,” a tune that puts me in mind of the great, underrated Virginia power-pop band Artful Dodger, whose ‘70s albums are monuments of the style.
As Price laughs, “Sour Ops is not bluesy at all. It’s more akin to AC/DC or something than it is Alex Chilton.” This is true, and it’s also true to note that Harrison & Co., on Family Circuit, Tinder Flame and their new singles, do make a kind of bluesy commentary on modern social mores. Family Circuit ends with a song titled “Alabama Mall Child,” which suggests Price is taking a look at our famed American, post-Trump, post-power pop dystopia, and making geometric art from the experience.
That’s why I love Sour Ops, because they notice things, make connections, and turn it all into an experience you can dance, or, as they used to say in the ‘70s, boogie to. Boogie, indeed, ‘til you can’t boogie no more. I’ll leave the form-vs.-content discussion for you to take up, and at another time, and hope you’ll give Sour Ops the attention they deserve.
Price Harrison: Guitars, Vocals, Keyboards
Tony Frost: Bass
George Lilly: Drums
Amanda Broadway: Background Vocals
High Violet PR