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The Shellye Valauskas Experience Spreads 'Panic,' Power Pop At Cafe Nine

Power pop — think Big Star, Cheap Trick, the Knack, the Bangles — is often appallingly short on power, says New Haven guitarist Dean Falcone.

“To me, it’s the Who’s ‘I Can’t Explain,’ ‘Anytime at All’ by the Beatles, Cheap Trick, for sure,” Falcone says. “There’s got to be a bit of bash to it. It’s really instantaneous and super hooky, and it hits you right away: ‘Hello, there we are.’”

Falcone knows. He’s been in power-pop bands — most notably the Excerpts, with Jon Brion — since the early 1980s. He runs annual Thanksgiving-centric Vomitoriums at Cafe Nine in New Haven, where he and musician friends cut loose, in public.

Falcone and singer-guitarist Shellye Valauskas started playing together in 1999. In 2008, as the Shellye Valauskas Experience, they released an EP called “Box It Up.”

A decade later, Valauskas and Falcone return with “History of Panic,” a full-length follow-up, and two release shows: at Cafe Nine (Feb. 10) and in Somerville, Mass. (Feb. 11).

At both shows, power-pop colossus Jon Auer (The Posies, Big Star), who sang and played on four “History of Panic” tracks, will back the duo on several songs, before playing a solo set (with Valauskas and Falcone backing him).

“We are going to get to play Posies songs with Jon,” says Valauskas. “My head might explode.”

The history of “History of Panic” stretches back several years; some songs are a decade old. Most have been part of the band’s live set for a while. “Leftover Mistake,” the newest track, was written five months ago.

The duo recorded sporadically, every couple of months. “It was originally supposed to be an EP, but we decided to make it longer,” Valauskas says. “We only went to the studio seven or eight times total over the course of five years, once or twice a year tops.”

“There’s never a rush to do these things anymore, which is nice,” Falcone says. “The only problem is that there’s way too much time to think.”

Power pop is about craft (simple, memorable hooks, harmonized with slyly complicated chords, in tension with standard song forms) and exuberance (spontaneity, volume, accessibility; “bash,” Falcone might say) in equal parts, neither getting in the way of the other.

Add sheets of guitars and vocals, lock down near-perfect, anti-DIY production values, and shake vigorously.

Falcone produced “History of Panic.” His approach is to try everything — “You can't let go until it's over,” he says — then rein it back in.

“It’s usually an overdub: you realize what’s on your basic track is enough. If you put something in too early, you lose the opposite potential of what could happen later: ‘That’s where the big thing is.’ Don’t pre-ejaculate that musical moment. Wait, just wait.”

When you overproduce a power-pop track, Falcone adds, “the other person will tell you for sure. The look of disappointment on their face says it all.”

“You’ve kind of exhausted all the possibilities. Leaving something alone is really difficult. … You know when you’ve gone too far. We surround ourselves with people who will tell us. … I produced the album, but [Shellye’s] brother [Ed] is always right there. He’s really good at saying, ‘You shouldn’t do that there.’”

“This one is over the top, super-well produced, in a good way,” Valauskas says. “Dean layers everything very meticulously.”

On “Leftover Mistake,” a full-out basher (whose lyrics supply the album’s title), Valauskas is cool and collected, almost polite; “I wouldn’t say you’re perfect,” she sings, “I wouldn’t even call you kind / ‘cause that would be a lie.”

Acoustic and pedal steel guitars add twang to “Take It Back.” There’s an ambient, spooky cover of “Mandocello,” from Cheap Trick’s first album. Drummer Dave Mattacks (Paul McCartney, XTC, Fairport Convention) plays on five of the album’s 10 tracks, and joins the band at the two release shows.

Falcone has worked with Auer in the past. Auer was game; one night, after a Posies show in Boston, he joined Falcone and Valauskas at Q Division Studios in Somerville, which is managed by producer/bassist Ed Valauskas (Shellye’s brother).

“I knew we weren’t going to have a lot of time the night after the show,” Falcone says. “I had vocal parts that I had written. I’d sing them, and he’d sing them back. They went so fast.”

In the studio, Auer added parts to “Do Over,” the opening track, and “Options.” Later, he contributed tracks remotely, from his home in Paris, to “Over the Top” and “Leftover Mistake,” using ProTools files Falcone shipped electronically.

“[Auer] gave us so many options,” Falcone says. “He’d add taglines. He’s a melodic genius. He had so many moves I wouldn’t think of. That’s what made the Posies great to me.”

As a teenager, Valauskas’ mother drove her to Posies shows, according to Falcone. “The Posies were her Beatles,” Falcone says.

Last March, I attended New Haven Steps Up, a benefit organized by Valauskas for the ACLU of Connecticut, with performances by Mates of State, the Shellye Valauskas Experience, Mercy Choir and others.

Power pop and politics rarely mix. “History of Panic” is based on “experiences in personal settings,” Valauskas says, not the current political climate — unlike a newer original called “Everything All At Once.”

“I’m focusing my energy on the shows coming up, but it will be interesting if that path continues,” Valauskas says.

THE SHELLYE VALAUSKAS EXPERIENCE performs at Cafe Nine in New Haven on Feb. 10 at 9 p.m., with special guest Jon Auer. Tickets are $12 to $15. cafenine.com

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