According to local legend, deep in the heart of Marquette, Michigan, there lies a particularly skilled blacksmith. Hardworking and humble, this blacksmith is perhaps most celebrated for one specialty: hooks. He makes the finest hooks in the north, so sharp you’d cut yourself by merely glancing in the direction of one. Walk into Liquid Mike’s shop, and you’re guaranteed to get caught.
In reality, Liquid Mike’s primary songwriter Mike Maple isn’t a blacksmith, but a mailman who writes songs in between deliveries (John Prine would like a word). His hooks, though, are indeed as sharp as any blacksmith could manage on this earthly plane; it’s why last year’s S/T suddenly took off in certain power-pop-loving online circles. As prolific as he is skilled, Maple and his band are quickly capitalizing on their buzzy DIY notoriety with a brand new record, Paul Bunyan’s Slingshot.
The album is no great left turn, no grand reinvention. Instead, it’s another step towards Maple’s goal of achieving power-pop perfection, a goal he’s been chipping away at since before the Liquid Mike moniker ever existed. The songs of Paul Bunyan’s Slingshot pull from the same toolbox as S/T or even 2021’s Stuntman — upbeat tempos, loud guitars, killer melodies, and a strict three minute cap when it comes to song length. What sets the new effort apart isn’t necessarily higher-end production or fancy new sounds, it’s simply that Liquid Mike has gotten even better at being Liquid Mike.
The most overt point of comparison is “USPS,” a reworking of a song that originally landed on 2021’s You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth. The tune is, effectively, the same, but the intensity of the performances and subtle compositional differences (like saving the Cars-esque synth line for the backend of the track) make a world of difference. They’re small but important changes, ones that prove Maple and company’s aim is getting more and more accurate.
Alternatively, take the trio of singles “Mouse Trap,” “K2,” and “American Caveman,” as each presents a slightly different flavor of Liquid Mike’s power-pop. “K2” rips out of the gate with charging guitars before giving way to a closing refrain powerful enough to level a 40-story building, while “American Caveman” finds fist-pumping success through slightly twinkly riffs and dynamic shifts. “Mouse Trap,” with its one-two guitar stabs, almost comes across like if Weezer’s “Beverly Hills” was actually good. Instead of Rivers Cuomo’s romanticization of living the California life, however, Maple pens a tongue-in-cheek ode to small-town, midwestern America. “Given what you know/ The American Dream is a Michigan hoax.”