Across Domino’s twenty-five minutes, Blue Broderick wanders through a Los Angeles beach, makes a plan to address the leaks in her bedroom ceiling, and idly waves a pen over an empty notebook. It’s her sixth album as Diners, and her first in power pop mode. Through it all, she avoids any trace of the style’s two most combustive emotional fuels: self-pity and spite. The chief thrill of Domino is in Broderick setting her probing interiority against the most immediate rock Diners has ever attempted.
Over the last few years, Broderick has shown adeptness at filtering the mellower sounds of the ‘70s—jaunty Nilssonian electric piano, West Coast AM Gold smoothness—through earnest bedroom pop. On Diners’ previous album, 2022’s Four Wheels and the Truth, she dipped a toe into the rowdy waters of power pop. Here she dives in, skinny tie and all—and with a checkered cover that echoes a cult classic. Joining her on this excursion is Portland-based producer/multi-instrumentalist Mo Troper, who has become something of a power pop ombudsman, interrogating the genre and its fastidious proponents in print and on record.
The two are great company on Domino. The songs are lean but fully developed; Jack Shirley’s mix is as crisp as Diners’ beloved sodas. The details on opener “Working on My Dreams” are typically sharp: the counterpoint riff that foreshadows the chorus, the four-on-the-floor snare thwack, the glammy strut on the two distinct bridges. The subsequent title track crosses ‘65 Beatles with Big Star at their most magisterial. The guitar moments have particular resonance, whether they are the valedictory, Southern-rock smear on the ballad “I Don’t Think About You the Way I Used To” or the drawling handoffs on the slow-strutting “Painted Pictures”.
None of this comes across as mere stylistic exercise. Broderick borrows from the playbook but isn’t buried in it: The snap and drive of these songs serve as edges against which she can hone her thoughts. The meaning of success is a recurring theme: opportunities both missed and misdirected. “Even now I can forget that I’m not here for competition,” the recent L.A. transplant sings on “Domino.” On the blithely skippy “So What,” Broderick refers to golden tickets and winning numbers, only to tear them up on the chorus: “So what would I want it for? So what would it do?”
But she sings it with more rumination than rue. Working in a style that’s consumed with unrequited longing—for a crush, for the perfect riff, for a mythical time when jangle and chime ruled the charts—she finds profound comfort. On “Someday I’ll Go Surfing,” Domino’s emotional center, she considers taking up a new hobby. “I’d have to find a board, and I’d have to find a shore,” she muses, “Without many locals ‘round who’d rather I’d have just stayed at home.” The guitars peal; the backing vocals swoop down in a plaintive warble. Not for a second does Broderick sound out of place.
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