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by Annie Zaleski

April 29, 2013

Scott Miller's Power Pop Legacy

by Annie Zaleski  |  April 29, 2013

On April 15, pop music lost one of its most gifted songwriters and passionate fans when Scott Miller, the man behind '80s college rock favorites Game Theory and '90s indie darlings The Loud Family, passed away unexpectedly at age 53.

He was widely considered a cult artist, although that label does his music a disservice. Bay Area-based Game Theory especially were a panoramic and inclusive band that considered melancholy power pop -- particularly Miller's beloved Big Star -- only a starting point. Game Theory were inspired by classic British Invasion rock acts (The Hollies, The Beatles) and keyboard-laden U.K. New Wavers (Squeeze, XTC). Yet their diverse 1987 classic Lolita Nation underscored Miller's encyclopedic knowledge of music; the sprawling double album referenced Brian Eno's buzzing '70s solo records, The Beatles' noisy psychedelic phase, Roxy Music's pastoral prog and askew synth-pop.

At the time, the band's closest peer was Let's Active, the whimsical indie pop act fronted by producer Mitch Easter, who produced many Game Theory albums. Sonic parallels could also be drawn with '60s-pop revivalists The Three O'Clock, whose Michael Quercio was another Miller creative foil. Game Theory mostly orbited in the same sphere as other quirky '80s pop songsmiths: Big Dipper, The dB's, The Windbreakers and even a nascent Yo La Tengo.

When Game Theory dissolved at the end of the decade, Miller put together The Loud Family. That group's music was initially more hard-edged than that of his previous band (although the new songs were no less erudite or deeply felt). Gradually, The Loud Family too settled into a comforting pop groove, where piano, organ and fragmented found sounds cut through a familiar mix of furious guitars and melodic hooks. During the '90s, The Loud Family introduced a whole new generation of fans to Miller's songwriting genius, though plenty of the artists inspired by his music – Jellyfish, Velvet Crush, Brendan Benson, Matthew Sweet, Ben Folds and even Guided by Voices -- found greater success.

Since the news of his death, musicians (and avowed Miller fans and/or collaborators) such as Aimee Mann, Michael Penn, The Posies' Ken Stringfellow, Ted Leo and The New Pornographers' A.C. Newman took to Twitter to express their sorrow. Their condolences are especially cutting, as they hint at possibility: At the time of his death, Miller was reportedly set to reboot Game Theory for a new album, Supercalifragile. In the absence of new music, listen here to a collection of tunes written by Miller, as well as the music that inspired him and songs over which his shadow looms large.

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