Kyle Gervais

Kyle Gervais

Edwards and friends: Folk veteran receives assist with Tomorrow's Child

My introduction to Jonathan Edwards came courtesy of Paul Westerberg thanks to a cover of the former’s classic, “Sunshine,” on the soundtrack to the hit television series, Friends. Like most 10-year-olds hanging out in northern Maine, I was listening to the cassettes that I had in my possession from front to back, seeking out the hidden gems buried within that were unlikely to make it to radio. Westerberg’s version of “Sunshine” sounded familiar (likely due to it being a cover of a song I had unknowingly heard before) as well as having an undeniable melodic hook and tuneful appeal within its rocking arrangement. The writing, and energy apparent, made this song successful regardless of who was performing it.

Edwards’ latest record, Tomorrow’s Child, is a much more chilled out affair in all respects but the high quality of songwriting is still certainly on display. Produced by songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott, the album is a mix of originals and covers that acknowledge Edwards’ musical roots (the traditional “Mole in The Ground” and “Hard Times”) as well as his history both professionally (revisiting his own “Girl from The Canyon”) and personally.

The record opens with a version of Malcolm Holcombe’s “Down in the Woods” and features a clean arrangement filled with solid players and a group of background singers that help establish an inclusive vibe. It reminds me of Warren Zevon’s The Wind without the overwhelming attention to the subject of mortality. Edwards voice, slightly aged but still full of passion, is smooth and easy to listen to, placed firmly in the front and center of each mix.

With the selection of covers, as with previous albums, Edwards continues to show a knack for picking the right songs: tracks that he can comfortably make sound like they were meant for him to sing all along. The rendition of the title track, originally by Marcus Hummon, lifts the song to its full potential, thanks in no small part to the harmonies provided by Alison Krauss. Edwards' voice already carries the song, offering emotionally apt delivery of the lyrics as the accompaniment drops slightly in the prechoruses, but when Krauss enters it’s obvious why she was called upon. The two voices blend marvelously and provide one of the biggest highlights of the album.

“Girl from The Canyon” originally appeared on Edwards’ 1977 album Sailboat but the version here slows the tempo down, keeps instrumentation sparse and adds Vince Gill on harmonies for good measure. Gill also shows up on “Sandy Girl,” one of the album’s more upbeat and carefree numbers. Along with he and Krauss, Edwards is joined at various points on Tomorrow’s Child by Jerry Douglas, Shawn Colvin, his own daughter Grace Young and Portland’s own Joe Walsh, but never does it feel like the guest spots outshine the material. These are top-notch players and singers who were called upon for their skills, not their names.

The record closes with “Jonny’s Come Home,” a song dealing with the heavy subject of Edwards’ own adoption. It also details how he similarly had to give up his own daughter. I always dread songs with serious messages/dealing with personal subjects as they usually come across as hokey or heavy-handed but this track does a good job at telling its story while also providing an interesting composition. The words are extremely straightforward – “I never knew just who I was much less where I came from / I guess that’s just the way it is when you’re adopted young” are the opening lines – but there’s an unconventional strum build-up of a less-than-obvious chord during the choruses that adds an unsettling feeling to a song that otherwise faces its issues head-on in a hopeful manner. It’s a unique choice but also makes the song stand out that much more.

While there are jumps in mood between tracks throughout the album, this is a folk record and the proceedings are fairly low-key. There’s no wild energy on display or crazy left turns in style that will surprise listeners. These are skilled players putting satisfactory performances onto well-written songs. There is also an understanding of sequencing that helps keep a general level of interest up – “Mole in The Ground” is familiar and fun to sing-along to, “This Old Guitar” is custom built for toe-tapping, the mostly acapella “Hard Times” shifts gears, “Ain’t Got Time” offers an upbeat groove and cheerful chorus in the album’s final stretch.

Edwards and company have put together an impressive album featuring a team of stellar singers and players that will satisfy fans of the artist, fans of country/folk, and should appeal to a number of open-minded music fans in general. Tomorrow’s Child is the work of a singer/songwriter who knows exactly what he’s doing and has been around long enough to know how to get that across.

 

Jonathan Edwards plays the Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield on Friday, May 27 at 8:00pm.

 

Revelations from Dominic and The Lucid: FERRET explores countless avenues

It has been five years since the last Dominic and The Lucid LP.

 

In the time between The Lucid and their new record, FERRET, singer/guitarist/songwriter/leader Dominic Lavoie got married and welcomed a daughter. He also recorded a solo album and became the ringleader for a seven-piece band, both called ShaShaSha. Meanwhile, D&TL put out just one song, 2014’s moody “Late Night at The Circus”. As Exposé once sang, “Seasons change / People change,” and based purely on the difference in tone with each successive record – the eagerness of Waging the Wage (2006), the elation of Season of the Sun (2008), the confusion of The Lucid (2011) – as well as the time passed, I don’t think anybody would have been surprised if the band never put out another.

 

Yet here they are with FERRET, a dozen tracks that travel countless creative avenues in just over half an hour. The songs are split between playing to the band’s strengths (strong vocals, memorable lyrics that are smarter than they appear, a locked-in rhythm section) and stretching out further than ever before in regards to instrumentation, recording styles and personal vulnerability.

 

The opening track, “Apex Predator”, tricks you into thinking the band may be on the same trip they were when we last left them – floating through a spacey psychedelic zone where urgency is rarely spoken of. All of a sudden, a guitar begins to feedback and huge booming drums and synth bass groove while a gross solo rips on top. It’s a definite shift to what we have known of D&TL up to this point a great introduction to the record.

 

“Catnip Curious” and “Stoned in The Suburbs” follow and are the most typically “Lucid” tracks here. While the former has a bounce not present since Season, the latter keeps the feel of The Lucid and exchanges that album’s abundance of songwriting puzzles for straightforward simplicity. Though the comfort and familiarity will be a benefit to some listeners, it is actually the next two songs that define FERRET.

 

“11 Week Heartbeat” is the best thing Lavoie has ever written. Built around a beat provided by an ultrasound at the titular time, it is heartfelt and personal, touching upon family history, religion, sacrifice, and the extreme joy and anxiety associated with welcoming a life to this world that you are responsible for. It may be due to the mindset of preparing for my own child, but this song just rips me apart. I am not exaggerating when I say that I find myself in tears every time it finishes. The instrumental cues are perfectly placed, the song so simple yet universal. While “Be in Love” may be the most well-known of Lavoie's compositions, this song is the one he should be remembered for. It is a classic songwriting success on all levels.

 

In a sequencing move that suggests a great sense of humor, the next song – “Solid Gold Julian” – is the most ridiculous the group has recorded. Over BTO-friendly chords, a high falsetto sings about how, “You say you wanna go for a spin,” and it is so awesome that it transcends goofy and arrives at great. It is unafraid of being fun and/or stupid, and this coming after a song discussing serious aspects of life. There are elements of Prince and the Rolling Stones, but it feels like one fronting the other at a roller disco.

 

On the strength of the first half alone (or, since the album was made with the intention of vinyl listening, Side 1), this record is necessary listening. Highlights of Side 2 include: a trip to the French countryside with bridge harmonies courtesy of Steely Dan on “The Boy from Avignon”, the heavier than heavy descending riff and doo-wop breakdown of “You Can Sing”, the arcade-like dream circus of “Commodore SnakeVision” and the Winwood by way of Springsteen (or vice versa) “Madawaska”.

 

While recorded by the band, FERRET is expertly mixed by Jonathan Wyman. One can just imagine Wyman listening through the individual tracks, curiously opening each different file wondering “What could this be?!” Even if you’re not all that into the songs, it’s hard to deny how sonically pleasing the sounds of this record are.

 

Though I have intentionally focused on Lavoie, drummer Charles Gagne is unbelievably solid and delivers great backing harmonies throughout, guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Scott Mohler provides tasty guitar leads and interesting keyboard and synth tones, and Nathan Cyr brings his signature complex melodic basslines. But for the first time in quite a while, or at least the first ShaShaSha record, Lavoie’s hands are firmly on the steering wheel and there is a reason the name has changed back to Dominic and The Lucid.

 

FERRET is the best record of the band’s career and, thus far, easily the best record to come out of Maine in 2016.

 

Dominic and The Lucid play All Roads Festival in Belfast, ME on May 21, Portland House of Music on June 17.FERRET is available for pre-order at dominicandthelucid.com

Into an uncertain future with Old Etc.: Biddeford-based band releases tantalizing album

Bands break up all the time. Local and regional acts tend to do so more often and less ceremoniously. Rarely does an unsigned group, still making their rounds at bars, clubs and DIY shows, get the chance to know that the end is coming with enough of an advance to send themselves off properly.

Old Etc., a Biddeford-based rock quartet, have, in under two years, gone from playing their first live shows to becoming a solid draw in Southern Maine. It says as much about their ambition and enthusiasm as it does the lack of bands attempting to appeal to more than just their core fans or a particular genre. Old Etc. shoot bigger than that. They want to make you cry, sing, feel something and it doesn’t matter if there’s a chance that it could be seen as lame or trying too hard – this is how they feel, goddamn it.

With lead singer/guitarist Elizabeth Taillon headed to Montana later this year, the band pondered their inevitable fate and decided to do as much as possible before calling it quits. Playing show upon show not as an attempt to build their audience but to have a reason to perform with each other while they still could. Making more T-shirts and playing out-of-character tribute shows because why not? And most importantly, going into the studio to record a final album before going their separate ways.

Forever, the full-length they’ve ended up with, is a great document for anybody who’s already been won over by the band as well as a massive introduction for new listeners. Over 11 tracks, the band offer their patient brand of majestic rock, mixing four re-recorded songs from their self-titled EP with adventurous new material to create a sizable portrait of themselves before moving on into the future.

While the record is framed by an effect-filled intro and outro, the first official track, “False Dawn,” is one of the band’s most accessible songs. The chorus – “If it is here, if it is now / I don’t believe that I can’t do without” – is built to sing along with, Taillon’s powerful, lower voice anchoring the melody while guitarist Brandon Lamontagne dances around her with a beautiful harmony. The song is a perfect three-and-a-half-minute single but rather than end there, a quiet verse continues before cruising towards a cathartic instrumental ending. “Dizzy Swallow” is gorgeous and loud, thanks to Michael Sajecki’s relentlessly powerful drumming, and also features a bridge/solo section eerily reminiscent of Third Eye Blind’s “Thanks A Lot” (I mean this as a positive and totally think, were the band not playing their last show next week, that they should do a mash-up of the two songs).

The Old Etc. formula is not all that complicated, but it is unique enough to keep you listening. Taillon’s voice is front and center, keeping her lyrical imagery focused and melodic hooks as clear as possible. Sajecki’s drums are almost overwhelmingly strong but work as a great foil for Taillon, offering a consistent drive rather than letting the songs cross over into singer-songwriter territory. Taillon and Lamontagne’s guitar work is utterly complimentary, creating nice thick chords where you’re at times unsure as to who’s playing what. Within all of this, bassist Dylan Palme adds nice figures and unique notes to keep things moving or change where the guitars seem to end up (the final portion of the labyrinthine “Aziscohos” being a great example). And while the band tends to stretch their sound and song structures quite often, they prove capable of keeping it under three minutes on the grooved-out, Local Natives-vibing, “Empty Can’t Give.”

But being completely honest, is it perfect? No. Are some of the performances and vocal takes a little off? Yes. Are the guitars as big as they should be having heard a number of these tracks performed live? Not to my ears. But I don’t think any of that matters. This is a snapshot of Old Etc. at this particular point in time. They don’t have the ability to make a perfect, overly-sweated over record and why would they want to? They’ve created something that mirrors their current core selves, more realized versions of the songs they’ve been playing since the beginning as well as what they’ve been able to create leading up to the end.

Most significantly: Forever sounds like a band. And by that I mean there are points where you forget that there are four people doing specific jobs to create what you’re hearing. It sounds natural. Greater than the individual pieces. There’s no ego. There’s no spotlight on one person. These are songs and melodies created with feeling, emotion, and connection, that rely on each member to exist. This is Old Etc. and they are in control of the legacy they’ve decided to leave behind.

Old Etc. forever.

 

Old Etc’s ForeverFest takes place at Empire, May 19 at 8:00pm, with Badfellows, The Dead Elect, Mirth and Wait.

Deep end of the pool: Purse dives into layers of sound in adventurous outing

Put It In The Pool, the latest release from the Ginette Labonville-fronted trio, Purse, is a noisy, sludgy, idea-stuffed affair that makes the best use of its production decisions, sequencing and area travelled within each track. Though technical errors exist throughout (some by choice), something has been captured in these performances, and the way they have been layered, that goes beyond getting it “right.”

“Hot Swap” kicks things off with a tinny-sounding band playing a fairly standard '90s rock groove. Listening in the car for the first time, I admittedly had to unplug and replug my auxiliary cable, adjusting the volume on my phone and the speakers for the first 30 seconds because there could be no way that this was how it was supposed to sound. Luckily, the bass started coming through and the depth of sound increased to a level that made more sense. The shift in audio quality is accompanied by the feel changing to a waltz, the vocals joining in shortly afterwards, doubled and buried in a haze, barely comprehensible but completely appropriate for the atmosphere being created. This sound continues to grow, the guitar droning out on a few notes while the bass and drums build in intensity until everything has to let loose, culminating in a cohesive melodic line played just after the four-minute mark and only repeated once before cooling out with a final verse.

The track is adventurous in its simplicity and is a solid primer for where the rest of the record will go. A primary groove tends to be the foundation for most of these songs, held down by Noah Defilippis’ aggressive bass playing and Bob Smyth’s playfully heavy drumming. When these two hit on something gross and loud, it’s as gross and loud, and low, as a rhythm section can get. The band is also antsy enough that feel and time changes are present in a number of tracks.

“Diamonds” is probably the most immediately accessible song here, leading with a cool, Sonic Youth-y intro, a fun bassline that contains all the perfect wrong notes, vocals you can actually decipher and a curveball of a bridge that leads into a kinetic outro. If there were any issue to be had with this track, it would be that the instrumental choruses don’t have quite the same oomph as the other sections. Based on previous sets I’ve seen, I’m positive that this would not be the case live.

“Static Stars” builds from beachy, complimentary guitar and bass lines under floaty vocals to something much darker with lyrics delivered like some sort of mantra. The release/outro of this section also features an odd guitar part that rhythmically seems like the last place to go but works extremely well. There are a lot of moments in these songs where you get an ominous feeling, things are not right, and its decisions such as these, where it’s how certain parts are played or where they’ve been placed in the mix, that accomplish this, not necessarily anything blatantly sung.

The scuzziest track would have to be “Up All Night,” which has a guitar tone that makes most of the notes into an unidentifiable mess. The fuzz gets increased during the choruses which add more distortion on top of already distorted bass and some effected male vocals for good measure. It’s not a very melodic track, just big and fuzzy, which makes “Heart of Stone” as a follow-up all the more satisfying; in doing what’s expected, it’s actually more shocking than some of the more oddball decisions here.

Based around a bluesy riff that hits hard, the intro to “Heart of Stone” would offer many a funk listener major stinkface. About a minute in, the chorus begins and essentially just takes a slight variation on the riff that’s already been introduced and doubles the vocal melody. It isn’t anything crazy but in focusing on one melody and making it come across crystal clear with all of the power that they’ve shown to be capable of, it ends up sounding unique when in fact it’s probably the most conventionally obvious choice they could make. The identity they’ve established for themselves on previous recordings, and on the first half of this record, doesn’t add up to being this straightforward and therefore makes the track work, plus it’s a bonus when the bridge buildup gets extra heavy.

The remainder of the record continues to offer surprises and rewards for those that stick with it. It’s the type of album that while the traditional ingredients are all present, they aren’t necessarily used in the ways that are most familiar. Digging through how they’ve decided to arrange these elements, hunting for little melodic gems that have been hidden between uglier, messier sections, that’s just part of the fun.

Put It In The Pool is available to stream and order at purse22.bandcamp.com

An Evening With challenges, confounds with hook-heavy outing

Arriving almost eight years after their last release, Lovers and Losers, the new self-titled record by An Evening With is a satisfying and confounding listen. A warmer, fuller sound with less obvious country leanings make up most of this album’s tracklist, which also includes some giant left turns with surprising payoffs.

Though singer/guitarist Jeremy Alexander’s vocal range is limited, his delivery of smart lyrics fits these songs and their sonically pleasing arrangements. Tom Rogers’ drumming is tastefully busy, always doing something so that even the slower-paced tracks have a drive to them. Jesse and Aaron Huatala fill out the rest with appropriate keyboard tones (“Softly”), melodic guitar lines (“Torn Up Clouds”) and deliciously complimentary bass parts (“The Hits”). The record may have been in the works for four years but there are plenty of moments that make all this time worth it, the precision in both the playing and composition successfully drawing out the desired emotional responses.

The record opens with “Torn Up Clouds,” possibly the strongest and most immediate track, filled with chiming guitars scoring dreamy verses, a strong chorus and a smart end section that doesn’t return to either. The song is so good, in fact, that it almost overshadows how interesting the surf-twang of “Fighting Air” is. The same issue occurs later in the record with the creeping waltz of “Widow.” It’s not that these songs are bad, it’s just that their placement does them no favors. Taken on their own, each have their own charms but when the freaky, Liars-esque “God” is so successful in bringing you into this bizarre other world, it’s almost impossible for “Widow,” and the record, not to lose a little momentum.

“God” begins with alternating tom hits and the repeated lines, “God was in this movie / God was all around me,” before opening up with a dirty, sharp guitar that mirrors the sung melody. This is followed by something that sounds like a distorted orchestra before abruptly cutting and going full bonkers with high bass notes being strummed under the previously introduced melody, making it sound completely different. These end and we are left with horn sounds that have been manipulated to sound like animal groans, or vice versa, or a mix of the two. Doesn’t matter, it’s awesome.

Centerpiece “Love Takers” ties together shuffling verses, a soaring chorus and a half-time post-chorus section that is debatably the biggest hook of the album, spreads it across about seven minutes and makes it work. “The Hits” takes an already strong song and blasts into a stunning instrumental bridge section with a gorgeous solo and accompanying bell tones. The piano-driven “Westbound” is majestic and hazy, riding what can only be described as satisfying tension before resolving with an outro reminiscent of Aimee Mann’s “Deathly.”

Based on these reference points, you’d expect An Evening With to be all over the place, but despite a few random detours the record is quite cohesive. These guys are smart enough, and independent-minded enough in creating their own music, to frame these (possibly unintentional) influences to fit what they’re doing and not the other way around. There’s also a specific energy that is consistent throughout the album even when things do get a little weird.

Which is what makes the inclusion of “Birthday Party” all the more bizarre. Four tracks into the album, a track begins that is made up solely of repeated, slightly voice-modulated exclamations and crashing sounds followed by what can only be sweeping up broken glass. Maybe it’s an attempt to include a sense of humor among these fairly serious-sounding tracks, maybe it’s an inside joke that really makes these guys giggle, but it is so out of character from the surrounding recorded output. There is another track here, “Cricket Opera,” that also functions as an interlude or palate cleanser and is far more effective, and consistent, given the overall vibe. I still don’t quite “get it,” but it's harmless and in keeping with the cloudy sounds of the entire album. “Birthday Party” sounds like a joke, something that would normally be included, if at all, as a hidden track, buried at the end, not something given its own track in the first third of the record.

But there is too much intelligence and skill on display here to let it be tarnished by one minute of goofing. The quartet will be joined by a number of guests on Saturday in order to effectively recreate the content here and it will be fun to see how these translate considering the layered, studio nature of most of these songs. It has also been very successful for me as a solitary listener, I’m now interested to see how it works in a club full of people.

An Evening With performs at Empire on Saturday, April 30 with Purse and Record High. 9:30pm, $6, 21+.

Power and push: Bully Mammoth challenges listeners, perfects brutal sound

It would only make sense that next week’s Secret Show at Central Gallery in Bangor, a spot frequented by more and more Portland acts (and for good reason), would feature one of our city’s best-kept secrets. Since their live debut at the Damnationland Soundtrack Release Party late last year, Bully Mammoth has been aggravating and pummeling confused audience members with their utterly unsympathetic brand of noise and distress. Their music is not nice nor catchy nor therapeutic. They are the type of band that you find yourself watching with gritted teeth, all tension and little release. They are also easily one of the best heavy bands currently operating, period.

That being said, you are unlikely to understand how great what they’re doing actually is until really digging into their material, which you are unlikely to do because they are sure to turn you off before you give them a chance. I do not mean this as an insult. This is specifically antagonistic music with lyrics that sound mean when they aren’t incomprehensible, relentlessly powerful drums and fuzzy bass and guitar that very rarely come close to playing anything sounding major.

Simply put, Bully Mammoth do not care about you, which is a huge part of what makes them so great.

Visit their Bandcamp page and you can start to understand how little playing the game matters to this trio and how much creating, and having an outlet to record and release, actually does. They have not one, not two, but four Eps, nine singles and a full-length, Late Start, to stream for free. I would implore everybody who goes to heavier shows or has an interest in challenging, well-performed music to get familiar with Late Start in advance of the band’s next performance. These are not the types of songs that you can hear once and “get,” these are tracks to dig into, pick apart and question what you know about what works.

Made up of bassist Sam Rich and guitarist Kevin McPhee (who share vocal duties) as well as drummer Derek Geirhan — the anchor for every single one of these songs, doing something either far more complicated than, or just as complicated as, the parts sound — there is a chemistry and trust between the members that is all too rare. Nothing suggests that this is one person’s vision, or that somebody is playing for the benefit of somebody else. There is an equal respect heard in the playing and writing, and seen on stage, that lets you know that these guys are working together to make the most brutally amazing music that they can, which, if they’re lucky, will happen to meet their insanely high, self-inflicted standards.

If you can make it through opener “No Mistakes,” you’ll get the idea. False endings, bizarre delivery and advanced, unique guitar-work if you’re able to pick it out amongst all the humming distortion and testosterone. “Well Put” pays off with more immediacy rhythmically and less comprehension from a mixing standpoint; still, it’s hard to deny that these dudes know what they want to be creating — beautiful, jaw-dropping moments shoulder-to-shoulder with gross dissonant chords and grunted vocalizations. “Circle the Block” tries on a comparatively straight-forward Constantines vibe, further exemplifying the point that this has nothing to do with the listener and everything to do with the creative whim the trio happen to be on.

“Lifer” and “Throwing Cans at the TV” hit hard with their aggression but each also features hooks that are difficult, if not impossible, not to sing along to. Finally, two-thirds of the way through the record, you reach “Get Paid,” which is as close as you can get to an affirmation that what you are listening to is really as dynamite as promised. The beat is off the wall, the vocals are a whole lot of atonal screaming, but there is an undeniable melody and power crawling through it. When the beat flips for almost 30 seconds halfway through, it is mind-melting, that is, if you can even start to wrap your head around what you’re hearing.

There are bands that will give you want you want, there are bands that will entertain you and make you feel like you got your money’s worth, and there are bands who don’t give a flying fuck about you and create the music that they want to because it doesn’t exist yet. Bully Mammoth are the latter and rather than being subjected to these weirdos whom you are likely to misunderstand, dig in, get acquainted, and look forward to checking them out the next time you get a chance. You won’t regret it. Or, you will, but, you should?

Bully Mammoth play Central Gallery, Bangor on April 30 w/ Flooding Panama, Superorder and two other acts.

Fenimore's inscrutable debut: James Paul Cooper confounds, dazzles with instrumental outing

どこかで空間と時間の間 :: 我々はすべての落下します, the debut record from Fenimore, the latest project from James Paul Cooper (Conjjjecture), is a spacy instrumental affair with a surprising amount of human presence for an electronic work. The cover art for the record is a fittingly garish, clip-art concoction featuring stars, a hand offering up a palm tree and Japanese text. The title (which translates to Somewhere Between Time and Space, We All Fall Down) and song names are also mostly written in Japanese, leading to a field day with an online translator as well as contributing to the world-building being attempted aurally.

Aside from the unintelligible crooning in “QUASAR :: 六番目 ლ(ಠ_ಠ ლ)” and the effectively buried singing in closer “[愛の痛み.DMG] (-‸ლ),” Somewhere is a vocal-less affair which makes it both easy to get lost in and tough to differentiate between tracks, at least initially. Cooper explains that the album is something like “a score to a movie, that does not yet exist” and while it can be heard this way, I’ve had a different take every time I’ve listened. Sometimes I hear the potential for adding some solid rap verses, sometimes I can imagine it as the perfect backdrop for a soulful, androgynous voice like Anohni or Milosh of Rhye, sometimes I just pay attention to the odd horn tone in “私は、暗い森の中に自分自身を発見しました” and the stuttering haze of “ラリー J ! [OST]” and I don’t need anything more.

There is also a feeling that some of these tracks are a bit more composed while others are the result of messing around with different elements and ending up with some happy accident that just works. A little over halfway through the opening track, a synth starts rising up that compliments every sound that has already been introduced and, even if it was, it doesn’t sound planned. It’s like being lifted up, or clouds breaking and sun shining through, and it sounds totally natural, unintentional and is extremely effective. Additionally, one of the best tracks here, the almost 9-minute “水っぽい月の貞淑なビーム,” has a percussive keyboard tone that sounds off time-wise. As more and more waves of sound and trap snare rolls are added and subtracted, you lose track of how seemingly awkward the playing of this keyboard tone was until it returns to the forefront in the final stretch. Essentially, everything that went on in between was so complimentary, and carried you through as a listener so masterfully, that this potential issue was actually just a piece of the puzzle, albeit a bizarrely shaped one.

Not everything is as immune to critique, though. The drums throughout are not nearly as powerful as they could be, or should be. If this is a conscious decision, I don’t understand it because the kits aren’t cheesy enough to be cheesy and fall just short of matching the sonic levels of the other synths and tones employed. This could simply be a mixing issue but it’s still noticeable. There are also a few tracks that get lost in the tracklisting, perhaps due to the lack of a “look at me” ingredient or just being camouflaged in the general vibe, they just aren’t as recognizable or familiar on repeat listens as some of their neighbors.

I must commend Cooper on attempting to take a different route regarding promotional strategies as well as creating something that is very much built for social network-aided listening (I’m not sure how I, a non-Japanese speaking listener, would otherwise be able to recommend this record to a friend aside from copy/pasting a link).

Somewhere was intended for a later release but was pushed up to last week after the untimely passing of friend and collaborator Evan Joseph Richard. Proceeds from the record will be used to help in compiling Richard’s art into a collection. Cooper had reached out to me initially to see if I had any interest in reviewing the record in conjunction with a show he was playing, the record being released at midnight during the show and the potential review coming out about the same time. It was a creative and ambitious idea. Due to the unfortunate circumstances, he felt it right to release the album early as a tribute to Richard. I hope, that on whatever level, it helps him, and anybody close to the situation, cope with their loss.

Fenimore plays The Bearded Lady’s Jewel Box, April 21 at 8:00pm with Brightboy. Album and more information available at fenimore.bandcamp.com

Sit-down crowd favorites: Max Ater & The Marshalls burst onto the adult-alt scene

A fairly new trio from the Bath area, Max Ater & The Marshalls have successfully started to make waves in their hometown and are hoping to extend their reach with a few shows in Portland in the coming weeks and festival gigs throughout the summer. Having just recently won the Young & Free Maine Sound Off Competition, they’ve also scored a spot for the Old Port Festival as well as some recording time in Bangor. Additionally, their single, “Naturally,” will be WCLZ’s Free Download of the Week starting April 18.

For a band that has only been playing together over six months, it sure looks like these guys are on the right track to getting their music to the largest audience possible as soon as they can.

Their home-recorded, self-titled EP is a nice introduction to the band while also illuminating how much room there is to grow. Ater is a strong songwriter in an adult-alternative vein as well as being a fine piano player, bringing to mind artists like The Fray and Marc Cohn, the latter whom they have already covered. His voice is pleasantly gruff; the type you would hear fade in on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy but in a positive way – the sort of voice you might Shazam in that particular situation. The rhythm section is made up of Dave and Alex Marshall who provide appropriate accompaniment with lighter, jazzy basslines and drums. There’s a nice playful element to their playing that will be great to hear with higher production values.

Perhaps because they were tracked this way or due to the homemade factor, the recordings have a live feel to them. Though the writing in “Naturally” comes across, it does feel like the performances are a little rushed as well as some room noise being present. If the band’s sound wasn’t so polished, this wouldn’t be as noticeable, or matter as much, but the arrangements demand a bit more gloss. “One With You” finds a nice groove and would benefit from an extra punch in the form of some synth or strings once the chorus kicks in. It’s likely these guys are already thinking about this stuff but if they’re not, the songs are asking for it, little flourishes that will really drive the emotion home. “Paper Planes” and “Soldier On” both offer some impressive vocal moments but aside from “Naturally” and the jump in “She Knows,” there is a tendency to hang around the same tempo and feel which makes the middle selection of songs blend together and the need for differentiation that much greater. The writing and performances are good enough that this will suffice as an example of what Ater and company are capable of, but these recordings act more like a demo (which is probably what this EP is intended as) rather than a final, finished product.

Which isn’t to say that they should get lost in schmaltzy details and accoutrements. The genre they are dabbling in can sound extremely cloying when done the wrong way – or to some, when done at all. But there is a sincerity to the five songs here that make me believe that the band is just that. This is the kind of music they want to be making and probably listen to on their own time. There is a welcome vulnerability to their sound that is at odds with a majority of active bands and makes me wonder how they’ll be accepted with more cynical Portland audiences. I can’t imagine these guys playing the bar scene and connecting with the usual loud talkers or arm crossers that attend. Having played to a packed crowd at the Opera House at Boothbay Harbor in February, I’m under the impression they’re shooting for more of the sit-down, clap politely and stay attentive type.

There is an audience for Max Ater & The Marshalls, though, and they’ve already got 3,000-plus Facebook likes to prove it. A few weeks ago, the trio performed at a Sofar Sounds event with Amy Allen and that’s the sort of match-up that makes sense for them at this point. While there may not be anything edgy or groundbreaking going on, there’s some solid playing, solid songwriting, it sounds good, and sometimes that’s all some people want. I’m hoping that Ater is able to hone in on a more defined personality on record, something that really sets him apart as the guy behind these songs beyond having an extremely pleasant voice and good piano skills. I’m also looking forward to seeing what sort of energy the Marshalls have in a live setting, if there’s more life that they have to offer beyond what’s exhibited in these recordings. There’s some real promise here so it will be interesting to see what sort of trajectory these three gentlemen take.

Max Ater & The Marshalls perform as part of The Patio Presents, April 10 at Blue with Logan Burns and Ben Wilson.

Beam me up? Jeff Beam defies labels

Is it possible that Jeff Beam is an alien? Or perhaps a time traveler? It doesn’t seem to make sense that in the 21st century there could be somebody who operates without an ounce of concern as to what is going on in any current musical environment.

The man has his musical touchstones, and his beliefs, and he creates, and has been creating, for years. He is an artist with no apologies, staying true to his vision regardless of what sort of impact, or lack thereof, his work may have. He is also smart enough to use Portland’s desire to hear, and attend, cover shows to his advantage, paying tribute to Neil Young, David Bowie and Spoon (one of the only current artists it seems Beam associates with but also a timeless conundrum themselves) among others because they help to frame the original material he is creating.

Is Believed to Have Been, his latest full-length, was recorded over a span of two and a half years by Beam himself using a mobile recording unit. All instruments and vocals were performed by Beam except a few string, horn, keyboard and vocal parts (full disclosure: I performed one of these vocal parts). So it is a marvel that this record (1) came together and (2) sounds phenomenal. Kudos to mix engineer Eric Maier of Burlington, VT who must have had a field day working with an abundance of raw material and turning it into an audio dream.

There is an immediacy to this album that has only been apparent here and there on Beam’s previous work (most vividly: “Congratulations on Your Latest Achievement”) which helps increase the willingness to take a ride to another place, another time. Lyrically, I have no idea what Beam is saying with vague, hazy lines about “Everyone at the same time” and “It’s all in your mind.” Here words are less important than vibe and the feel of the delivery. In fact, though lyrics are available on Bandcamp (where you can also stream the album), I would actually prefer to not know exactly what is being said for risk of adding concrete definition to such a pleasurably free-floating element.

The record starts with “Human Clouds” which marches along, adding different instumental elements until the drums kick in around the two-minute mark, establishing a beat to hang the other pieces on but still evolving and playing with feel until riding out on plucked strings? Xylophone? Who cares, it’s cool.

“Clairvoyance” follows and if a song exists that could soundtrack driving in spring, opening your window to let the cool air in while the bright light of the sun shines on you, this is it. Where other tracks on the record have motorik drum beats pumping along while guitars and synth float in a haze, this track is held down by a persistent bass line, circling guitar figure and sense of unease. If you have not checked out the trippy animated, Yellow Submarine-nodding video for this track, I suggest YouTubing it now.

Even wordless cuts like “Revival Song” and stretched out pieces like “Cherryfield” have an energy to them to keep listeners engaged as well as dynamic shifts throughout the tracklist that keep the record constantly moving, shifting, growing. There is also an inherent sense of joy present in these recordings, a feeling that Beam has been set free of any pressure to satisfy anybody other than himself which therefore makes it that much more satisfying to everybody else. It’s also a complete experience – I don’t know if I would revisit many tracks here without revisiting the entire album.

If this sounds like nothing but praise, it is. I honestly believe that this is the best work that Beam has completed thus far and an easy entry point for more casual listeners who don’t really know where to start. The only issue that I take with this record is when it was released: December 18th, 2015. While this end-of-year timeframe may work for massive artists like Beyonce or D’angelo, or returning locals like Zach Jones who can book shows at every club in town for the last three weeks of the year and then disappear until next time, for an artist like Beam, it is essentially asking for the record to be forgotten. The end of the year is always filled with so much commotion, and the new year a need/want for renewal, that a dense, psychedelic (though extremely listenable) record is bound to be lost, and kind of has been, which is a pity due to how good it is.

It appears that Beam has realized this himself, playing a recent string of shows highlighting the material available here. One can only hope that it renews interest in Is Believed to Have Been as he and album deserve it.

Jeff Beam plays with Leveret and Madaila on April 1 at Empire

An assist for Reis and Lady Essence: Rap duo could use stronger beats to anchor collaborations

Though released late last year, Not the Same, Shane Reis and Lady Essence’s collaborative record with Providence-based producer ClarkWork, recently had an official release party at Asylum. While each rapper has released records of their own, there is a unique chemistry between the two that makes it seem like a future of operating as a duo, at least to some degree, isn’t out of the question.
“Nuervision” starts the album with a sample of Essence rapping over a beat that starts to build, drops less than a minute in and completely changes before Reis can make his introduction. Probably the weakest track on the album, beaten just slightly by “From Here” due to a dynamite verse from Essence, it’s interesting that this was the track chosen to kick things off. Perhaps the decision had to do with the false start which could have been cool if it didn’t just end up sounding like trying out ideas in real time, especially when compared to the fully-formed one-two punch of “Blah Blah” and “The Check Up.”
The lyrics almost uniformly deal with relationships, drinking, self-confidence, weed and staying true to yourself through your work. Aside from one line about “snowmobiling or going fishing” and another about “Spose inside my head,” there is nothing about the content that attaches this project to any geographical area. Where most rappers tend to identify where they’re from and provide details of their location, the lack of specificity actually works for Not the Same, helping it have more of a universal appeal.
In a majority of these tracks, Reis is given the thankless job of setting Essence up to knock a verse out of the park. He’ll drop the first verse, the hook, and then she shows up and brings it home. But it works both ways, as evidenced in “We Can,” where Essence starts the track and Reis’ verse sounds that much more exciting for being the new ingredient in an already established environment. The two play off one another so well in fact, that the beats occasionally don’t do enough for them.
The music is not bad by any means, and there are some unique instruments and tones utilized, but it seems so straightforward, especially when you can hear the risks willing to be taken by each rapper. There is a point about halfway through “On Screech” where the beat drops down to just drums as Essence begins her verse and you can feel the magic of a simple risk, nothing crazy but still a bit of effective adventurousness that is not nearly as present elsewhere. The song also ends as soon as another hook and verse from Reis could blast it into the stratosphere.
The title track is another highlight with a great hook, sparse beat and solid rhymes but hints at the reason for the lack of fully realized moments: A voicemail of Reis plays as the beat rides out explaining how he’s going to send the verses he and Sarah (Essence) recorded, how they should touch base after each mix, how they’re not going to be able to get back to the same studio so they’ll just have to work with what they have. I can only imagine that the intention of including this was to say, “Look, we didn’t have to work on this forever, we did what we could with our resources and check out how awesome it turned out,” and that’s cool, except the end result is not mind-blowing or world changing, it’s merely good.
This may also be due to the chemistry of Reis and Essence overshadowing any sort of chemistry between the rappers and the producer. I have no clue of the relationship or background between them, but if it starts and ends with mutual respect, it would be no surprise. There is a feeling that beats were provided, rhymes were written, the pieces were put together and these are the results. I can’t hear much collaboration or back and forth regarding the arrangements but who knows, maybe there was and this is still the end product.
Don’t get me wrong, Not the Same is a strong record and nothing to be ashamed of, but it does make clear how important it is for the material to equal, or be complementary to, the performances. There is so much unrealized energy provided by Reis and Essence that it makes me wonder if they are satisfied with the end result. Did they reach out to ClarkWork? Are they under the impression that this is the best accompaniment for their words?
It’s not, they deserve better, or more, beats and compositions that they can really sink their teeth into and will move with them, not merely provide a backdrop. Regardless, whatever they decide to do next, separate or together, Shane Reis and Lady Essence are sure to keep bringing their A-game.


Lady Essence performs at Come Together II, Friday, March 25 at Portland House of Music and Events; Shane Reis and Lady Essence are featured at Jay-Zeaster, Saturday, March 26 at Empire.

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