Power pop, like post-punk or garage rock, is one of these ever-evolving terms that assumes new meanings and implications with each generation. Genre terminology responds to common usage, so the power pop of late-70s skinny-tie acts is quite different from keyboard-laden power pop of the next decade, which in turn hardly resembles Teenage Fanclub's '90s-era version. Genre names are malleable and descriptive like that, not rigid categories for a select few to define and condemn.
That said, while trends in production and instrumentation keep updating power pop's traits, enough key elements remain to keep the term useful: bright hooks, guitar, drums, and bass at the band's core, and punchy enough performances to impart power. Such is the case from the Nerves up through new acts like Cocktails, a local quartet ushering its sophomore EP into the world with a release show Thursday, Dec. 12, at the Knockout. Power pop dares bands to write saccharine melodies and somehow make them urgent, vital, and at least a little tough; Cocktails accept the challenge.
Goth rock is an especially flexible genre tag. Sometimes, it's used more like a description of bands' aesthetic choices rather than actual sound. And if goth rock is a competition to hone the gloomiest aesthetic, the impeccably named local act Crimson Scarlet wins the red velvet cupcake topped with dead rose petals. As for its sound, Crimson Scarlet sets chorus-soaked guitar leads and tuneful, sneering vocals to brooding riffs. Goth rock lends itself to murky atmospherics, ill-defined sentiments, and unfocused songwriting too often, but Crimson Scarlet is fiercely present and assertive. It's almost as if the performers just draped the black veil of chorus and sinister singing over straight-ahead punk. See the two kinds of red on Tuesday, Dec. 17, at the Knockout, with Portland's aptly named Shadowhouse topping the bill.
Big Eyes don't fit so neatly into a single genre. The Seattle rock trio is up-tempo and propulsive with anthemic vocals and searing riffs. The band's name references Cheap Trick so that I don't have to. As a trio, Big Eyes' utterly full and booming albums invite listeners to investigate how the live show compares. Then, Big Eyes' live prowess insists that viewers expect more from bands with twice the personnel. The Pacific Northwest power trio headlines over a slew of local acts like Sourpatch and Primitive Hearts on Tuesday, Dec. 17, at the Oakland Metro.