Brendan Benson's story is as familiar to fans of homegrown neoclassical pop as the records so many of its practitioners look up to: Signed to Virgin (apparently in an attempt to woo that moneyed power-pop market Matthew Sweet and Jellyfish broke wide-open), he released the accomplished One Mississippi in 1996 to good reviews and nonexistent sales, only to have it acquire a lost-classic status when the record label allowed it to drift out of print and the Internet lifted music-geek word of mouth out of the realm of stuffy twice-yearly record conventions. That's where the yarn would usually end (along with some gripe about how today's radio stars just don't appreciate a well-crafted melody, and did you hear that the Posies are getting back together?), only Benson's coming to town next Wednesday, and he'll have with him a new record that's better than the first and might actually have a chance of connecting with an audience in its own time.
Lapalco, that record, is a top-notch power-pop disc, nearly as good as the pair made by Benson's occasional writing partner Jason Falkner--tuneful, funny, sad, cozy, dorky, a little sexy. As in Falkner's stuff, its link to the past is something you won't be able to ignore (if that's important to you), but that doesn't mean it won't sound totally right on the drive home: "I know a guy, lives in Los Angeles," Benson sings to himself on the pretty "Metarie." "Sometimes his life there makes me so jealous." For better or worse, it's small, well-made music designed for a small, appreciative audience, which is why it's so nice to see that the small, smart Brooklyn label StarTime International has issued it, instead of another gigantic corporation that'd surely forget the record the week after its release and probably had no idea who'd like it in the first place. Indie rock was invented to save guys like Benson from the kind of fate he nearly met; come see how much fun self-reliance can be.