MAINSTREAM Punk has been looking more than a little exhausted, and "pop" has to be the least effective descriptive term in the cultural lexicon. Despite the circumstances though, the Exploding Hearts' new record, Guitar Romantic (Dirtnap Records), is both exceedingly punk-poppy and hooky-addictive--like an unlimited wealth of lite cigarettes.

The first impression the record gives is a nostalgic recognition of former pop and punk acts. You'll hear the Clash, a bit of the Ramones, the Bay City Rollers--even the Beatles. Staccato guitar chords and choked-out, brassy lyrics (the subjects of which are inevitably girls and grass) immediately register alongside associations of Bubble Yum, leathers, and high-tops. Still, Guitar Romantic is less time capsule than it is classic, in the sense that it's written and designed to please. It's not difficult or challenging, and it doesn't require multiple revolutions to settle into. It's an aurally satisfying distillation of likable influences, pulled together immaculately yet somehow preserving an anxious freshness. (You can also tell it's contemporary by the lyrical deployment of "retard.")

So fresh, in fact, are Portland's Hearts that they're preening up for the shiny magazines--and holy white-framed sunglasses, do these guys preen. Every last one of them is a goddamn fashion punk, meticulous as a mod, while the band's signature color is hot pink. You almost have to talk about the clothes when discussing this band. If a blazer with rock buttons could sing, it'd be serenading a studded cuff with songs just like "I'm a Pretender" (which beats you about the head with anthemic charm) and "Rumours in Town."

Basically, this record is like eating an assload of cheese or jumping on the bed; it's gleefully, guiltlessly easy to enjoy. In fact, the band's appeal is so well aimed that it sometimes seems too easy. You might find yourself playing mercy with this album, but eventually folding to the stress-free fun of it and admitting that you still love power-pop after all, especially when it sounds all shiny and tight. Just save yourself the trouble, lighten the fuck up, and go splash some bleach on your denim.