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There are some who would claim that Seinfeld was the best tv show of the 1990s. Others might say Friends or Twin Peaks or Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Newsradio. They’re all a little misguided (well, except possibly for the Newsradio boosters), because the actual best show of the ‘90s was the cult kids’ show, The Adventures of Pete and Pete. For too few glorious years, Pete and Pete explored the gleefully surreal world of the titular brothers Pete(s) Wrigley, always with the unflinching wisdom that the main thing one carries from childhood into adulthood is melancholy and nostalgia for a magic that can never be regained.
With “Jimmy Had a Polaroid,” Seattle’s Math and Physics Club distills the lessons of Pete and Pete into two and half minutes of pristine pop. Musically, it recalls the jangly college-rock soundtrack for the show that was provided by Miracle Legion in their Polaris alter-ego – a rush of genteel, melodic rock and roll drawing heavily on ‘80s-vintage kudzu rockers like R.E.M. and Let’s Active.
Lyrically, “Jimmy Had a Polaroid” recounts the ways that simple activities with childhood friends like spinning around until you collapse with dizziness or listening to records could conjure a sense of wonder, only to lose it when the friends move away. The song is full of longing for the wonders of childhood, and even the objects mentioned – Polaroids and 45s – are nostalgic relics, replaced by newer, more restless technologies that suggest unceasing forward momentum more than pauses for childish reveries.
Those are a lot of thoughts to be crammed into a deceptively simple pop song, but Math and Physics Club evoke them with ease. Like The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Math and Physics Club have mastered the craft of creating artistic Pop Rocks – they know that wrapping a bitter center in a candy shell is the best way to make sadness and melancholy palatable.
“Jimmy Had A Polaroid” is the lead track on I Shouldn’t Look As Good As I Do, released earlier this year by the erstwhile indie-pop label Matinee Recordings.