Because I first heard The Big Shot Chronicles, the second album by Scott Miller‘s pop combo Game Theory, late in spring 1986, it’s always seemed like classic summer music to me—it’s packed with sunny, ultracatchy melodies, sweet vocal harmonies, and soft-focus psychedelia. The record was produced by Mitch Easter, who also worked on the earliest R.E.M. records and led the band Let’s Active, and The Big Shot Chronicles fits right in the with jangly guitar pop of that era—it was as though Davis, California, had provided an answer to what was happening in the south in the mid-80s. But Miller created music that was more ambitious and elaborate, writing lyrics riddled with nerdy wordplay and songs distinguished by unexpected twists and turns. You could argue that his fussy genius ended up hurting him: Game Theory’s follow-up, Lolita Nation, was the beginning of the end, as his music started collapsing under the weight of his cleverness. His next band, Loud Family, suffered even more from this affliction.