When Lemon Pitch were putting together plans for their big debut release, “Flat Black Sea,” on the brand-new Repeating Cloud label, in March of 2020, they likely didn’t account for society’s total shutdown. Celebrations were understandably muted, despite amped-up indie rock highlighted by straight burners like “The Kind of Band that Wears Hats,” which is among the best punk pieces Portland’s managed to produce.
It didn’t deter them, though, from having another go and refining the formula. Their follow-up, “Threat of Weather,” dropped last week in vinyl format with a gig at the Apohadian, with digital release to follow Feb. 24, and its 12 songs offer vibrant and off-kilter rock that demands repeated listens.
It takes a few, for sure, to make an attempt at grokking what they’re trying to say. While the band feature three distinct veteran songwriters and lead vocalists in Brock Ginther (Midwestern Medicine), Alex Merrill (Heaven’s Cameras, Cuss), and Galen Richmond (Computer at Sea, Agian Trobot — and who runs Repeating Cloud), Lemon Pitch have settled into an increasingly cohesive sound and approach, marked by short, blistering songs and dense, absurdist lyrics.
It’s the kind of record, for sure, that works best in the headphones or other environs where you’ve got both volume and clarity. Recorded at Big Nice Studio in Rhode Island, the mix is true and leans toward a live sound, but that can make the vocals blend into the background laptop speakers or some tinny bluetooth nonsense in the background.
Consume this with your full attention.
The first single, “California Commando,” is a Ginther number and the best access point, with a catchy melody and some of the strongest vocal work, where other songs can feature some warbling where it’s not always clear whether it’s on purpose. You might find yourself singing along to the chorus and thinking, “‘muscles always pull’? Is that a rumination on the frailty of the human body or just syllables that sound good together?”
It’s unclear. And new drummer Jeff Hamm’s crashing cymbals help to obscure things. But we’re told the commando is “a comfortable contact / With a reliable life force,” so you can be confident he’ll persevere as he’s “fiddleheadin’ to find out / The name of someone who died more.”
Points to anyone who can identify another use of “fiddlehead” as an intransitive verb outside of a foraging how-to.
They own and revel in the surreality, though. As Richmond notes in the grungy “Turbulent Jets,” “the word choices are perfect, but the content isn’t right … we’re mangling the metaphors tonight.” Like a guilty conscience, the gang vocals respond: “Get it right!”
Their consistent playfulness, while sometimes wrapped in irony or cynicism, is infectious and particularly fueled by their reluctance to push a song much past two minutes. Richmond’s tunes, in particular, have a way of only giving you the chorus twice, then just bailing on the song, refusing to truly set the hook. It lends an urgency and scarcity to each listen, like there’s something you’ll miss if you don’t listen closely.
Merrill’s pieces are particularly dense. Sometimes he can’t quite get all of the syllables packed into the measures he’s allotted for them. His “Valentine” opens with a looping bassline he cuts off at the knees when the guitars come charging in, the harsh reality of “a colorectal valentine / A grim suppository truth … with a fistful of prescriptions / Mixing fentanyl and wine.”
Is it all a metaphor for the dating scene? Or just a memory of that time a special occasion was interrupted by gastrointestinal distress? Why not both?
He’s a bit more straightforward in “Married to the Muse,” mining the retro rock that Kurt Baker likes to travel in, if more over the top. The piano in the open is bouncy like kids music, but the vamp is a dead serious look at life as a career creative: “all credit cards cranked to the limit.”
Brock’s late-album “Puzzled” is a welcome change of pace in its slow down, like a Lucinda Willams song played by the Magnetic Fields. Its seeming acknowledgement that it’s okay not to know what anyone’s talking about — the “Monty Python curtains” reference — is a nice touch. Stretching out to 3:34, it feels weighty and features dynamics the other tunes here don’t have time to explore.
Its last 30 seconds are a warm devolution, from crashing volume to a wisp of electric guitar that trails off like a thought interrupted. But no worries: This is a band that will always have another bright idea to fill the silence.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at [email protected].
2 Weeks, 5 Songs
Say ZuZu – “Waking Up” | For fans of a certain middle age (raises hand), this first release from these old-school alt-country types in 20 years is downright exciting, even if the mood is world-weary and nostalgic. Look for a full-length in March. Yessir.
Rigometrics – “Share the Fortune” | Maine’s hottest rock band is back with a new single that doubles down on what they’re doing well: theatrical vocals, classic rock songwriting, and dynamics that move from moody guitar to rapid-fire piano chords to grimy guitar solo.
Libby Thompson – “What Did This Love Cost?” | Released in December, Thompson here delivers a slow burn with impressive vocal work that mines a huge spectrum of tones and tight production. At some point, she’s going to really pop.
Whitney Walker – “Heather from Here” | With a video full of debauchery and domestic dispute, Walker here wends a monotone throughline as chaos erupts around him.
Tom Blackwell – “Further Down the Road” | Just as the year turned, long-time Maine drummer (he played on the original “Alligator in the Elevator,” 40 years ago) and producer/engineer Tom Blackwell died. On that occasion, friend Michael McInnis posted this 19-track album full of odds and ends Blackwell had recorded over the years, largely outsider funk and prog rock, and some really out-there stuff, as part of his end-of-life requests. Give it a listen and raise a pint.
— Sam Pfeifle