Bay Area combo Agony Aunts share members with The Corner Laughers and feature occasional guests like local indie-pop auteur Alan Clapp of the long-lived Orange Peels. Like the Laughers, Agony Aunts are purveyors of sunshine pop: a breezy, harmony-laden, cheery, and melodically bright style best exemplified by The Association, The Mamas & The Papas, and post-surf-mania Beach Boys, while more recent exponents of this sub-genre include The Apples in Stereo, The High Llamas, and The Ladybug Transistor. Sunshine pop absorbed influences from The Beatles and Motown, too — note the Aunts’ magnetic, funk-style guitar motif driving “Family Drugs” (which could be from an early record by The Jackson 5) and the sumptuous, jovial melody line of the title song, sounding like a cousin to The Fab Four’s “Penny Lane.”
Agony Aunts seem to delight in subverting the conventions of “upbeat” pop — despite the sunny presentation, there’s little bliss beneath shiny surfaces. While it’s uncertain whether the Aunts sing about a (potentially toxic) mineral or a person on “Uranium, My Love,” it blasts out as a thunderous, anthemic love song. Do Agony Aunts tip their sunbonnet to Carly Simon’s fetching anti-Valentine “You’re So Vain” with their equally pointed and engagingly bittersweet “You’re So Vague”? (You be the judge.) The triumphant tension-and-release crackle of “Cool Fresh Nights” — with its killer Who/Cheap Trick-style chorus — belies its sarcastic tone of disappointment with a friend/lover.
With their perky co-ed harmonies and tight, spunky tunes, Agony Aunts present disconsolate content in an irresistible package. (Mystery Lawn Music)