It’s been six years – seven if you’re reading this in the summer of 2015, which we won’t discount, even if reading becomes obsolete in an insanely compressed timeframe – since Mike Pace has been musically active in any public sense. That was the year that the well-loved, critical darling rock band that he fronted, Oxford Collapse ... well, collapsed. They had a good run, with two albums for Kanine and two more for Sub Pop, all of which pushed for the revival of ‘80s minded collegiate guitar pop through the twinned nuclear winters of electroclash and the garage-punk revival, all but holding the door for groups like Vampire Weekend and Real Estate to rush in and achieve success.
In the interim, Pace moved to Austin, Texas with his wife while she finished grad school, eventually returning to a New York City that was much like he’d left it, where he co-hosted over 100 episodes of a podcast called Worst Gig Ever, where musicians, comedians and other performers took turns recalling their most painful resentments in service of their craft. He’s also been diligently working on music both as a career path and for his own edification, the fruits of the latter you now have in front of you: Best Boy, eleven new songs by Mike Pace and the Child Actors.
Fans of Oxford Collapse should be able to get what’s going on here right away, as Pace left clues even in that group’s last days as to where this music might be headed: namely, the B-side “Spike of Bensonhurst,” with its piano-lesson lead and winsome lyrics about returning to a place called home after a long time away, neatly frame up many of the directions explored on Best Boy. Keyboard-led callbacks to mix tapes, green grass, the new release wall, borrowing the car (a high-mileage Japanese import that would see another twenty years on the road), traveling to the city, sleepovers, White Castle, and the concepts of progress and an exciting future that many of us kids of the ‘80s and ‘90s were promised – rather than the dystopian bureaucracy we failed to heed the warnings about – conspire to tell a story of Pace’s upbringing on Long Island. Filmic reminiscences scatter throughout the album, seeding a fascination with movies in an era where more choices were made to the consumer than any before, where we focused on screen credits and transposed our own hopes and desires to the contents of VHS rentals.
Produced by quantity rock critic and former Get Him Eat Him frontman Matt LeMay, who also added drums and additional instrumentation to the recording, Best Boy dashes between yearning, romantic rockers like “Summer Lawns,” “Cold Calling” and “Fire Sale,” off-Broadway production numbers such as “The King of Corona,” and gorgeous folk directions in “Would You?” and “Southern Cordial,” offering perspectives that range between Stamey/Buck-styled guitar mastery/historical refraction, punk rock, and try-outs for “Movin’ Out” in ways that add to each rather than stand apart.
Only one or two generations of Americans came close to achieving the promises we were led to believe. Best Boy takes a long, wistful look at those promises, and the paths to which they should have led us all, yearning for a time when everything was relatively OK. Mike Pace and the Child Actors use those memories to extend a musical legacy deserving of both fondly-remembered and newfound appreciation. Six years was too long to wait for something this good.