Blue Cheer: Georgie James melds upbeat pop and melancholy lyrics.

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Georgie James’ sublime pop smarts emerge triumphant on their debut album, Places—apparently to the chagrin of many. A record full of gorgeous, indelible hooks shouldn’t be a controversial thing, but the D.C. duo has gotten grief from some locals for writing delectable pop tunes. A touring slot with Camera Obscura and signing with the Bright Eyesnaffiliated label Saddle Creek may have infuriated the jealous naysayers. But surely the biggest crime that co-founder John Davis committed is abandoning the experimental pretensions of his former band—D.C. dance-punk outfit Q and Not U—in favor of fluffier, mainstream-ready tunes. Still, his pairing with singer-songwriter Laura Burhenn, whom he met shortly before Q and Not U’s demise, has paid big dividends—and the complainers neglect the fact that most of the songs on Places focus on relationship tension. The two share a vision of pairing melancholy songwriting with hippie-era-style singalongs, an attitude that recalls the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Jayhawks. She plunks the piano and Wurlitzer, he plays the guitar, bass, and drums, and they both sing. It’s that easy—to listen to, anyway. Not to make. The album’s opener, “Look Me Up,” is a deceptively cheery tale of misspent emotion and jealousy: “Do your thinking all alone with each other/Your eyes are blinking slow to make sure they’re covered/So while you’re under there, come back with a lover/You’ll thank me,” Davis sings. He forsakes further criticism in the final verse, favoring a strangely appropriate string of pa-pa-pa-pa-da-da-da-da-da-das. Uptempo guitar chords and/or simple piano progressions anchor the best songs, which collapse confessional lyrics and cheery pop: The closing “Only ’Cause You’re Young,” features a hand-clapped intro that then shifts into a tale of disconnection: “Drinking iced tea on the roof/Isn’t this the way that we break down?/Isn’t this the way to the truth?/Well, you can make it violent, you can make it silent/Only ’cause you’re young, you know.” Pairing pretty tunes with caustic lyrics never gets old, and neither does Davis’ voice, which manages to sound chipper and melancholy at the same time. Burhenn lacks the same skill, unfortunately. Her vocals tend to reek of irony or nostalgia, and her verses don’t go down as smoothly. But that hardly inhibits Places. One wonders why Georgie James didn’t get into this wrenchingly delicious business a long time ago.