Songwriters tend to mellow as they age. They get better at their instruments, replacing energy with artistry. They have families and kids, finding new priorities, new perspectives. Sometimes, they get boring.
This week, born-twee songwriter Sufjan Stevens, who has apparently decided to be a sarcastic old man, listed this as one of his least favorite albums of 2021: “Any band that is still together after 10 years – Please. Break up. Do your solo albums. Move on. F-minus.“
But Spouse and frontman José Ayerve have already done that a couple of times, and 2022 sees them return again with a full-length album four years after “Sell the Silver,” which was seven years past “Confidence,” which was the end of what may be the best five-album run any Maine band has ever had, starting in 2000 with “Nozomi.”
Peyton Pinkerton played guitar on that record, and he’s back alongside drummer J.J. O’Connell, who was on the even-earlier “Catch-22” EP, and new collaborator Marc Seedorf on bass and guitars, for “Feel Good Everywhere.”
It drops Jan. 7 and is anything but mellow.
Unsurprisingly, the new release has “a lot to do with all these experiences that we’ve been feeling,” Ayerve said from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he has just bought a new house with his husband (relocating from Ecuador, which they have called home for the last five years or so). “It’s a little on the darker side.”
Ayerve had already embraced the “work from anywhere” lifestyle, so the pandemic lockdown’s impact only hit him slowly, building in emotional intensity as he sat inside, unable even to play tennis for half a year, watching the U.S. get vaccines first, get an economy back on track first, only to squander the opportunity.
“Coming back to the U.S.,” Ayerve said, “you think that things are going to be better there. But then you see quickly that the grass is always greener.”
This world-weary disappointment comes through in a record full of bristling guitars, cold-tuned snares and cymbals, gravelly vocals that are often mixed to the middle. While Spouse can often be bright and melodic, here the lilting phrases and sweet guitar riffs are harder to come by. This version of the band is angrier, more resigned, less winsome.
And why not? “Show on the Road” speaks for every musician who took it on the chin these past two years – the recent New Year’s Eve cancellations were a particular kick in the teeth – largely without health insurance or any sort of regular income. Through grungey folk-rock, Ayerve bemoans the fact that he “can’t afford to take you on the road … Can’t afford our records/ Can’t afford our rent.”
“We have our reputation,” he sings, before keyboards enter like a swarm of bees, “But no money. No respect.”
The pop chorus of “!5 Seconds” is probably the most classic Spouse piece of the record, but it is buffeted by a goth dirge and self-inspection: “You know I’m a good man. … I’m not a thing like you.”
And the language may change to Spanish, a staple of Spouse records, but the sentiment is undoubtedly consistent. “La Buena Suerte” is one of a few songs here that mine the surf-rock tradition, the title’s wish of “good luck” seeming particularly cynical.
The closing “Yo No Voy a Sobrevivir el Fin Del Mundo” is more straightforward: “I will not survive the end of the world.” And it opens as depressing as that sounds, extended guitar strums left to linger with a whispery vocal. Then come a tambourine and high hat, a kick drum, but then the vocals start to rise, like your hopes, and the repetition of the title phrase starts to ripple on top of itself, with backing vocals in the round, and it starts to move from a lament to a declaration before a crash cymbal is allowed to echo into the finish of the record.
But it may be the preceding “Hold Each Other” that is the record’s heart. The emotion here is so raw, with big guitar chords and a dirge-like pace: “You don’t care,” Ayerve moans, “but I remember when we used to hold each other,” and the closing repetitions of that phrase distort and bend.
This Spouse record seems to implicitly ask the question with every song: Will we hold each other again?
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at [email protected].
2 weeks, 5 songs
• Love By Num3rs, “Can’t Lie Like This” — Released over the Thanksgiving break, the new EP “Colours” has more than one song you need to hear, but this is the standout, with Dan Connor in his world-weary element, supported with delicate backing from Anna Lombard and an especially fine organ solo from Jon Roods. It’s a song you can wear like a fur coat, buried inside it, ready for hibernation.
• Cushing, “Flight Path” — Their first release since 2018, this caustic and high-dynamic single previews a new full-length, “In the Clutches Of …,” due this month. Punk with some indie-rock leanings, the low-end turn mid-song echoes the lyrics’ sentiments: “I keep touching lightning and falling through the floor/ I can’t help it.”
• Sal Johnson and the Crowded Table, “Golden” — A jaunty and jammy number featuring the floor toms, with some ’70s rock influences and alt-country elements, the opening has ironic and stilted vocals – “Let’s keep on getting high on killing time” – that give way to some prog-rock you probably didn’t see coming.
• Andrew LaVogue, “Remember When” — A repeating and cycling instrumental piece played solo on acoustic guitar, this should appeal to fans of Robbie Basho and Peter Lang, with an extra-loud bass note resonating on the two and four.
• Travis Cyr, “A Little Bit of Lemon” — From Cyr’s third full-length of 2021, this collaboration with Courtney Martin is a psychedelic throwback, where the title phrase buries its way into your psyche and the whole piece is done in a crisp duet. The contrast between the manic acoustic strum and wahhed-out electric guitar is lemony sweet.
— Sam Pfeifle