Formed at a Flaming Lips show, named after a Beat Happening song and inspired by twee-pop titans like Talulah Gosh, Sacramento’s Tiger Trap exemplified the new generation of love-rockers in the early ’90s. While the scene’s starchier young women veered off to become riot grrrls, singer/guitarist Rose Melberg turned her quartet toward endearing, simple, sexually ambiguous post-adolescent odes to romance in all its heartrending joys and disappointments. Ebullient tunes like the Calvin Johnson-produced Tiger Trap‘s “Super Crush,” “For Sure” and “Words and Smiles” leave overt politics aside, making their points for dignity and individualism in subtler ways. Winsome but never wimpy, Melberg’s sure, sweet voice and catchy melodies — energized by the band’s upright and enterprising casual electric rock, firmly driven by drummer Heather Dunn (who later played with Lois and the reformed Raincoats) — make Tiger Trap a solid delight of potential appeal beyond the timorous realm of independent amateurism. As Colette did a century earlier in the first of her Claudine novels, Tiger Trap ennobles the obsessions of adolescent romance by not entirely succumbing to them.
The subsequent Sour Grass EP, a final salvo from the short-lived band, presents five fine (especially the title tune and “Don’t Ask”) new songs cut from the same cloth but produced a tad more ambitiously by Yo Yo Records magnate Pat Maley.
With that, Melberg bagged Tiger Trap, moved to Portland, Oregon and continued on with a pair of new bands. Go Sailor, a trio with bassist Paul and drummer Amy, plays polite janglecharm — a sparser, toned-down (but no less peppy) version of Tiger Trap’s punk-pop. Joined by a couple of compilation items on the nifty ’96 album, Go Sailor’s three four-song EPs benefit from Melberg’s growing confidence, both as a writer and a singer. (The sonic upgrade from 7-inch to CD is also advantageous.) There’s nothing fancy here, but the songs are wonderful in their melodic and emotional purity.
Recycling the name of a minor ’70s British new wave band, the Softies — Melberg’s duo with fan-turned-partner vocalist Jen Sbragia (who has recently recorded with the All Girl Summer Fun Band) — offers weightless guitar/harmony song sketches recalling the skeletal jazz-influenced pop that led Tracey Thorn of the Marine Girls to form Everything but the Girl. With no songs in common, the K 7-inch EP and It’s Love (whose one non-original is a version of Talulah Gosh’s “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, Thank God”) are still awfully samey. While lovely in small doses, the unvarying translucence of the duo’s quiet simplicity — which erases the differences between one lovely/cute love song and the next — is cloying in quantity.
Again, Melberg’s abundant talent and increased self-assurance save the day. Stronger melodies and sweeter harmonies (both vocals and softly interwoven electric guitars), plus shifting rhythms and slightly more intricate chord structures, make the eight-song The Softies consistently engaging. The sheer fabric of the duo’s romantic music is no more varied than on It’s Love, but the patterns into which it is shaped here (the extra-dreamy “Half as Much,” the peppy “Snow Like This,” the breezy “All in Good Time”) are easier to tell apart.
Rose’s recent endeavors, apart from marriage and motherhood, include drumming in the trio Gaze and a solo project.