To err is human, but you’d never know it by today’s pop records.
They often now contain no sounds made by physical instruments, auto-tuned both subtly and not, locked on digital click tracks and essentially flawless.
And even when the instruments are played by physical people, most producers and engineers can’t help but yank that note up in mixing or mastering, eliminate mouth noise, and punch in the missing beat.
By comparison, Dominic Lavoie said, his new record is “sloppy.”
Such is the trade-off when you set yourself to recording an album using nothing but a reel-to-reel 16-track recorder, all by yourself.
“You can punch in parts a little with the vocals,” he allowed, “but with the guitar, I need my hands to play and I can’t push the buttons at the right time.” So you mostly have to play the whole song through and get it right – and you can’t save takes, because you record over yourself each time.
“There are diminishing returns,” Lavoie said. “When I record take 14, take 13 is gone. That took some getting used to.”
• Dominic Lavoie and the Junction Butte Pack, with Juneverse, play May 12 at Sun Tiki Studios, in Portland.
For fans of Lavoie’s body of work – this is his seventh full-length, with a couple of EPs peppered in, over the last 16 years – the brand-new “Flux” shouldn’t take much getting used to at all. It is comfortably Lavoie, full of the sounds of ’60s psychedelia and ’70s rock, and a laid-back disposition that always promises to lower your blood pressure a bit.
If anything, the lack of computers and the analog vibe feel like Lavoie has found his natural habitat, where nothing is so important it can’t be a little rough around the edges. Which is not to say his last record, “Wave with a Broken Arm” in 2020, recorded with a well-rehearsed band and producer Steve Berlin, wasn’t a crisp and dynamic triumph. It’s just that an organic approach seems to suit him.
Like many others, Lavoie lost some momentum during the pandemic, holding onto “Broken Arm” with the hope society would bounce back, releasing the album with no shows to support it when it became clear society wouldn’t. “Flux,” recorded in solitude after the kids were in bed in the dark winter nights of early 2021, could easily have been a dreary or angry affair.
Instead, it is remarkably sanguine and thoughtfully realistic. Nostalgia and regret might seep in, but only because they sound so damn good.
The opening “Time Machine” is appropriately Brechtian, letting us hear him settle after hitting the record button, his hands fretting the chord, and then launching into acoustic guitar strums like the open to Phish’s “Sample in a Jar.” And there is a Phish-like willingness here to try anything, just like the Beatles in the studio boiling down four tracks of tape to one so they could get away with recording 16 different sounds.
There are echoing guitars, swirling keyboard sounds, a tom-heavy drum kit, and layers of vocals, sometimes all in stereo, sometimes only in the left or right channel: “Build me a time machine to see where this all leads.”
Then it ends completely abruptly and gives way to the Middle Eastern “Canopy,” a trippy piece with a resounding bass vocal that perfectly apes the distorted bass guitar melody and a similar sense of wonder: “We’ll never wanna find out more than we know.”
There is a concertina and Spanish guitar and maybe a ukulele in “Back Where I Belong,” a piano like the United Airlines jingle in “Universal,” before a ripping and frenetic guitar jam supported by popping horn parts. Even the sultry combination of McKay Belk’s pedal steel and Ryan Zoidis’ sax in the elastic “Did You Go Blind,” where “some clown in a box chatters on.”
You could certainly be forgiven for believing many of the nine tracks were recorded live to tape by a band (although maybe a few of the band members would always just be playing tambourine or shaker).
By the penultimate “Reset,” Lavoie has laid so much groundwork that “let’s reset the species and move it along” somehow sounds downright optimistic, with its dainty little keyboard line and off-rhythm congas that dance around the four-on-the-floor kick drum.
But the closing “Remembering the Roses” is the album’s heart, built on Lavoie’s most naked vocals and piano filled with reverb. It’s a love song made of life’s inanities, especially the kind of absurdist days full of nothingness created by a pandemic and winter and young children and having nowhere to go and nothing to do.
“The words I think, they always come out wrong,” Lavoie sings. “There’s power in the process of leaving well and well enough alone.”
Sometimes you don’t need another take. It’s fine just the way it is.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at [email protected].
2 weeks, 5 songs
• Dave Gutter, “1974” — The first single from what will be a second visual album from Gutter, this is full of shagadelic rock and homages to the year of Gutter’s birth. Make sure you play it loud in the 8-track of your muscle car while you rifle through a pack of smokes.
• Mel Stone, “Easy Friend” — Just one of many great rock tracks on the new “Princess, Part 2,” this has swagger like Pat Benatar and drive like early John Cougar. With vocals that rattle with effort turned to 11, it’s impossible not to pine alongside the desperate passion of “I don’t need to know the next time you get me high” and “I wouldn’t hate if you screamed my name.”
• Spouse, “Love Won’t Always Love You Back” — Hot off January’s full-length “Feel Good Everywhere,” Spouse are back with a new single centered around the impossibly catchy title phrase and impossible questions like, “When we kiss, could we make it stronger/ Last a little longer/ So we can keep it up?”
• Sunset Hearts, “Think (Let Tomorrow Bee)” — Part of Totally Real Records’ 50-track tribute to Sebadoh, with all sales going to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Sunset Heart here make Sebadoh into a slick ’80s keyboard band. This early Duran Duran take is an improvement, for my money.
• Palomino Motel, “Make This Easy” — The first release from the new duo of Natalie Mishell and Spencer Albee, the latter a Portland mainstay and the former a relatively new transplant from California/New York, this piece traffics in warm guitars and Americana: “I don’t have money, but I feel rich when I’m with you.”
— Sam Pfeifle