Mo Troper is truly one of a kind, and that’s never been more apparent than on his fifth full-length, the winkingly titled MTV. Arriving hot on the heels of his 2021 full-length, Dilettante, the album finds the Portland, OR-based power pop extraordinaire diving further into home-recorded immediacy to make a record that feels like a strikingly direct conduit to the world of Mo–where heartbreak, hilarity, and hooks all go hand-in-hand.
“My third record, Natural Beauty, was super labored over,” Troper explains. “It was the total opposite of where I am now. It cost a lot of money and took a lot of time, and it just wasn’t really rewarding by the time it was done. So I’ve been less interested in doing that process again.” Most of MTV was written during, or in the immediate aftermath of, a lengthy tour and then quickly captured at home on an 8-track tape recorder. “I’m just really interested in writing songs–that’s the most fun part for me,” he says. “So when it comes to recording, I think the first pass is usually best. The more attempts I make, the more sterile things become. I’m just kind of pushing that mentality even further now”
The album opens with “Between You And Me,” a one-minute-long introduction that welcomes listeners to MTV with a fragile melody and a gentle beat before the drums kick in so loud and distorted that they’d envelope the entire song if not for Troper’s unshakeable knack for melody. The song’s cacophonous conclusion leads right into “I’m The King of Rock N Roll,” another cut of scrappy guitar pop that’s somehow enhanced by the sound of mics peaking and tape hissing. “I think there’s a bit of positive pressure when you’re working with tape,” explains Troper. “It feels a little more ‘now or never.’ The prospect of spending unlimited time on something isn’t really appealing to me right now, I know I’ll just overcook it until it loses the energy.”
Just when you think you’ve acclimated to its raw aesthetic, MTV hits you with “Tub Rules.” The thirty-second jingle never actually lays out any bathtime etiquette but does still serve to instruct the listener: buckle up, because MTV is picking up speed–varispeed that is. One of the album’s most interesting tools, the pitch-shifting technique involves a manipulation of the tape to change the speed and sound of a track, and has the side effect of adding an otherworldly quality to the music and vocals. Troper uses varispeed liberally throughout MTV, often pushing his voice into registers usually reserved for cartoon characters, but somehow this collision of surreal production and heart-aching melodies only adds to the pathos. “It started because I really drive myself crazy when I hear pitchiness in vocals,” Trooper explains. “So when I first started recording with an 8-track I realized that if I increased the pitch on everything I wouldn’t notice pitchiness anymore. So it was a very analog solution to a problem that could have easily been solved with a computer. But I do think it just adds a strange character to a track, and I’ve always been fascinated by that kind of stuff.”
MTV hurtles through 15 songs in just 31 minutes, with most of the tracks never even coming close to the three-minute mark. The sequence feels like a combination of a fever dream and a travel diary, intertwining tales of romantic longing with the ups and downs of cross-country touring. Songs like “Across The USA,” “Royal Jelly,” or “Coke Zero” unravel the headaches and heartbreaks, often alternating between unflinching emotional details and legitimately funny one-liners. “I feel like I’m just in this mode of rebelling against the expectation for artists to be emotionally or aesthetically cohesive,” Trooper says. “I think about all my favorite records and songwriters, and they’re often these people who would have really depressing stuff and then insane moments of levity that don’t get talked about as much. I want to make music that’s emotional but also campy or sarcastic or resonates in other ways. I’m like, ‘you know what, it’s all me.’”
That innate cohesion first and foremost comes from Troper’s astounding melodic sensibility. Even when MTV veers into its weirdest territory, he can’t help but dip into his seemingly endless supply of earworms–like on the unsettling-yet-sugary vignettes of “Final Lap,” or the frantic “Power Pop Chat,” which features indecipherably blown out outro vocals that still somehow carry a highly hummable tune. “To me MTV feels like a very wild recording, and I did want to make something that’s sort of aggressive and maybe even difficult, but in some ways it’s also the most organic record I’ve made,” Trooper says. “I just felt the same kind of freedom as when I first started getting into making music, and it was impossible to make the distinction between something that was a joke or an ‘actual’ song. It’s all wrapped up in the same package.”
The album comes to a close with “Under My Skin,” a song that manages to feel triumphant and melancholy all at once through only an acoustic guitar and some of Troper’s finest harmonies, all altered by varispeed to sound like a headtrip collaboration between 1964 Paul McCartney and a helium balloon. It’s a fittingly off-kilter ending and the perfect summation of Troper’s appeal: truly personal music–in all its beauty and strangeness–presented with so many irresistible hooks that even the most traditional power pop head will be left shouting, “I want my MTV!”
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