The Mayflies USA – Reflecting on the 25th Anniversary of “Summertown” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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The Mayflies USA – Reflecting on the 25th Anniversary of “Summertown”

The Album First Came Out on January 1, 1998

Jan 13, 2023 By Austin Saalman
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North Carolinian cult power pop outfit The Mayflies USA emerged triumphantly from the rich Chapel Hill music scene to deliver three noteworthy college indie releases in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The group, comprised of guitarist/vocalist Matthew McMichaels, guitarist Matthew Long, bassist/vocalist Adam Price, and drummer David Liesegang, soon rose to prominence in the local music scene before evolving into a touring act, playing up and down the east coast. Summertown, the group’s debut album, remains awash in the warmly charming guitar-heavy melodies characteristic of the era’s power pop revivalists such as Teenage Fanclub and boasts some of The Mayflies USA’s finest material. Released on indie label Yep Roc in 1998, Summertown garnered positive reviews from critics, with popular culture publication Spin declaring the group to be “in love with early Eagles and Bob Welch, in bed with Wilco but dreaming of The Replacements and Pure Prairie League and proud of it.” Indeed, the group’s sound was heavily indebted to the popular sounds of the past, namely those of power pop godfathers Big Star and The Replacements, while also possessing a strongly modern bent, their summery electric twang specially tailored to the Clinton-era indie scene. Despite the failure to render themselves a household name, The Mayflies USA’s offerings highlight a golden age in indie and college rock, with the vibrant Summertown remaining their most important achievement.

Opening cut “You and Me” arrives on a pristine ray of retro-inspired indie pop, its dreamlike lyrics inquiring, “What if there was nothing else/But open sky and sea?/An island big enough for you and me.” Price’s laidback vocals are charming and amiable enough to persuade the listener to abandon their reality and join the group in its glistening sonic summertime for 47 blissful minutes of melodic merriment. The raucous jangle-pop of “Just for Fun” and “A Change in the Weather” strongly recalls the likes of Big Star, while “Ariel”—an album standout—manages to channel old school R.E.M. with affecting results, Price painting a stirring portrait of adolescent romance and alienation in the ’90s. Elsewhere, modern power pop gems “NYC” and “The Apple” place the group in league with fellow genre revivalists Gin Blossoms—albeit while maintaining Summertown’s raw, “underground” appeal—both tracks still successfully channeling the then-living ghost of Alex Chilton in their plucky guitar work and wistful harmonies. The scrappy alt-rock of “A Quick Look Ahead” and the damaged intensity of “Down with Peter Green” render either track perfect for rotation on their era’s college radio stations, while the stripped-down acoustic bedroom pining of “Baby’s Got Her Own Ideas” and stoned melancholic sway of “Paper Dolls” reveal a gentler side of the group.

Summertown’s two main standouts, “The Stepford Wives” and its title track, distinguish themselves from the remainder of the album’s tracklist. The former, a power pop anthem for the ages, finds the band in top form, McMichaels’ and Long’s piercing guitars toeing the line between smooth AM rock inebriation and jagged aggression. “Don’t bother with the Stepford Wives/They file their nails and sharpen knives,” Price warns, in keeping with the album’s subtly pessimistic undertone. “Carve their numbers on the wall/And all you ever, ever have to do is call.” It is Summertown’s title track, however, that emerges as the album’s ultimate masterpiece. This downtempo ode to youthful boredom begets an intimate if surreal daydream of “movie slides, amusement parks, and rubber sharks that speak,” with Price assuring the listener, “It’s all right, go out again/One more time tonight,” before assuring, “There’s nothing in the world to see.” The firefly-lit carnival of dreams that is “Summertown” is remarkably atmospheric, the group’s visions of grandeur flashing beneath twilit skies until “Summertown it empties out,” at which point, Price insists, “the dust and devils creep around in Sensurround in front of me.” This track may very well remain the Mayflies USA’s crowning achievement: an understated indie pop offering of great beauty. The brief closing track, “Someday You’ll Say Goodbye,” seems to summarize the album’s sounds and influences, finding McMichaels “counting the change and not coming up with much of anything,” the band sounding at once of the present and past in its glowing power pop whimsy, maintaining composure before breaking into a delirious jam, and ending the album on a lively note, but not before McMichaels imparts a promise: “Someday you’ll say goodbye.”

The Mayflies USA released two more albums, 2000’s indie-centric The Pity List and 2002’s phenomenal Walking in a Straight Line, before fading into the mid-’00s. McMichaels eventually formed the Chapel Hill-based rock group Surrender Human, and later joined the ongoing Big Star’s Third project, alongside original Big Star drummer and sole surviving member Jody Stephens, R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills, Chris Stamey of the dB’s (also Summertown’s producer), and Let’s Active’s Mitch Easter, among others. Matthew Long is currently a member of Brooklyn-based indie act The Library, while Adam Price is enjoying a career as an acclaimed novelist. Over the years, The Mayflies USA have reappeared, disappeared, and reappeared again, reuniting in 2007, 2009, and 2012, respectively, though Walking in a Straight Line remains their final studio release to date. The Mayflies USA represent a certain location in time, long-lost to numerous emergent music trends and shifting pop cultural preferences, but even 25 years on, the group’s output remains a thrill to hear, and Summertown is guaranteed to please any fans of the ’90s power pop revival and college indie scenes, each song at once dreamy, intoxicated, romantic, and jaded—feelings timelessly relatable to the young, and perhaps even to those no longer so.

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