In the wake of REM’s success in the mid-80s, jangle-laden guitar pop inundated college radio airwaves; arpeggiated guitar chords and wispy harmonies were the order of the day. Back then drummer Ric Menck, a Champaign native, and bassist Paul Chastain, who’s from Evanston, were knee-deep in nasally wimp-pop: the Reverbs, Choo Choo Train, Springfields, Bag O’Shells, and Paint Set were among their bands. When they relocated to Rhode Island their irresistible pop developed more of an edge, and at the start of this decade a couple of other fortuitous things happened. First, they played on old pal Matthew Sweet’s terrific breakthrough album, Girlfriend, and toured with him for a while. Second, they met guitarist Jeffrey Borchardt, whose previous band, Honeybunch, may have had the world’s highest twee quotient. When Menck and Chastain helped to bust his twee pop nut, Velvet Crush solidified. Their new Mitch Easter-produced Teenage Symphonies to God (550 Sony/Epic)–the title, of course, refers to Brian Wilson’s appraisal of the lost Beach Boys album Smile–builds on the sound found on their swell 1991 debut, In the Presence of Greatness (Ringers Lactate): a crackling, way catchy, fat-sounding pop dream with hooky tunes, soaring but nicely strained harmonies, and hard-rocking but not stupid guitar. Plainly evoking heroes like Big Star, the Raspberries, the Byrds, Beatles, and (on the new record) Gram Parsons without necessarily sounding like any of them, Velvet Crush is an anomalous pop band for 1994. Their obsessive attention to old-fashioned song crafting results in an appealing combination of classic pop tricks and a knowing modernism. This is their long overdue Chicago debut. Wednesday, 9 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 525-6620.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Rob Fraser.