Game Theory: Real Nighttime (1985)
The late Scott Miller was a sort of pop wunderkind, blending the retro-psychedelic-tinged 60s pop of his peers in the Paisley Underground with Big Star's melodic power pop and R.E.M.'s Byrdsy jangles, as well as strains of post-new wave experimentation.
Real Nighttime was my introduction to the band (they'd had some prior, slightly more synth-infused releases) and their college radio breakthrough; to this day it remains my favorite, though I'd say its follow-up, 1986's Big Shot Chronicles, is equally worthy (particularly on the strength of that one's brilliant "Erica's Word").
After a brief bit of noise, Nighttime opens with the killer single "24," perhaps their finest moment, a bittersweet ode to passing youth, with pop hooks that will sink into your skull for... well, going on 35 years now. Miller's gentle vocals meld perfectly with the semi-acoustic jangle and intermittent harmonies and... well, damn, c'mon, it's just a perfect song.
It's followed by "Waltz The Halls Always," an upbeat, off-kilter pop song that still brings the hooks, weaving in the toy keyboard sound of early works with some more rocking guitars. "I Mean It This Time" is also wonderful, some lovely traded vocals between Miller and keyboardist Nancy Becker really shining. Later on, you've got the intriguing hooks (and Miller's reliably clever wordsmithery) of "She'll Be A Verb," and a pretty faithful cover of Big Star's "You Can't Have Me," Miller ably capturing Alex Chilton's pained inner conflicts.
The album is produced by Mitch Easter (best known for his work on early R.E.M. records), giving it that nice, light mid-80s college radio tone. It was recently reissued with a slew of live bonus tracks.
Here's an audio rip of "24":
Here's a live take on "24," audio a bit hissy but nice: