Indie-rock features a lot of major Velvet Underground fans, but few have grasped VU's overall feel the way Jason Quever does with his DIY collective Papercuts. The songs on Papercuts' second album, Can't Go Back, pull from a variety of late-'60s influences, from Bob Dylan's twinkly folk confessionals to The Mamas & The Papas' sunshine pop, but the core of each is simple: softly pounding drums, chiming guitars, and Quever's boyish whine. Songs like Can't Go Back's "John Brown" evoke melancholy American myths, and while Quever favors a basically chipper, airy sound, he also brings the same worldly heft that Lou Reed and John Cale provided even to trifles like "There She Goes Again." Quever adds Sergio Leone-like cinematic scope to songs like "Found Bird," and he has a gift for the kind of effortlessly gorgeous folk-pop ballads that are just a strong vocal away from being radio-ready. But with a band like Papercuts, mainstream success would probably kill the mood. It's harder to be whispery and sad in a room decorated with gold records.
That underdog spirit also explains the enduring appeal of Dean Wareham. From Galaxie 500 to Luna to his partnership with his wife Britta Phillips as Dean & Britta, Wareham has explored the lower-boil, more primal side of pop and rock, drawing on The Velvet Underground and scores of lesser-known '60s idols. On Back Numbers, Dean & Britta's second album, the duo—with producer Tony Visconti—add electronics, strings, and a kind of deconstructed gospel sway to Wareham's standard crystalline guitar, always keeping the kind of deadpan remove that Reed and Cale made fashionable. Songs like "Wait For Me" ripple gently and erratically like sheets on a clothesline, while "Say Goodnight" rides distant slide guitar and piano to create the haziness of a half-remembered dream. Throughout Back Numbers, Wareham and Phillips push small emotions over big. Like Papercuts, Dean & Britta try to design brighter shades of gray.