Indie in Summer
An 8-Track of Maine’s Grooviest New Music
by Chris Busby
For last summer’s big local music feature, musician and critic Peet Chamberlain and I put together a 90-minute “cassette mixtape” of songs by Maine acts who’d released recordings within the previous year. This year, I’m pushing the retro-hipster conceit a step further, to an even more outdated format.
That’s right: We’re bringin’ back the 8-track.
Developed by the Lear Jet Corporation in the early 1960s, 8-track players were introduced to the public as an optional feature in Ford’s 1966 Mustangs, Thunderbirds and Lincolns. Prior to the fall of ’65, motorists had only two ways to listen to music on the road: AM radio or holding a harmonica out the window. So 8-tracks were not only a cool gadget, they made it possible to be cool in ways that were previously unimaginable.
Eight-track players for home stereo systems were introduced shortly after they showed up in cars, but they were never considered superior to vinyl records, either in terms of sound quality or convenience. The tapes divided the two sides of an album into four programs of up to 20 minutes each. The original sequence of the album’s tracks usually had to be rearranged so all the songs would fit into four programs of roughly equal length. It was common for a song to appear twice on the 8-track version, just to fill time at the end of a program. And if a song was too long to fit, it would be interrupted by a brief silence and the click of the cartridge changing programs. Many a buzz was senselessly crushed by these interruptions. Prog-rock and jazz-fusion fans suffered the most.
You can’t fast-forward to the next song on an 8-track — the best you can do is skip to the next program — and rewind is not an option whatsoever. So if your favorite song was at the end of a program, it was impossible to hear it without first enduring all those that precede it on that program.
After about a decade of this madness, cassette tapes overtook 8-tracks in the portable-music market, and order was (literally) restored. By the early ’80s, most record stores had ditched the format, though mail-order companies, like Columbia House, continued to peddle them in magazine ads — offering deals like 11 titles for a penny — for a few more years.
Eight-tracks are pretty rare these days, though you can score some at two places in downtown Portland that I know of. At Electric Buddhas, on Oak Street, proprietor Mike Breton said he recently sold an 8-track of King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King to a visitor from Canada. European tourists are especially fond of the format, he said. At Strange Maine, on Congress Street, owner Brendan Evans told me that Glenn Danzig stopped in last fall and picked up a whole stack of 8-tracks, including an Abba album. The punk-metal icon said one can learn a lot about songwriting by listening to the Swedish pop group’s compositions. And I dare anyone to make fun of him for it.
True to the format, this feature presents the songs on our virtual 8-track in four programs of less than 20 minutes each. You can hear the tracks at thebollard.com and, in some cases, on the websites cited after each review. Rock onward!
Trust Us (We’re Lunch Cult)
The young indie-rock-meets-free-jazz trio Lunch Cult’s latest album, a self-titled affair released late last year (on CD and cassette), is a mix of new material and updated recordings of songs that appeared on earlier efforts, like 2014’s impressive Living Legends Mixtape. The updated versions generally benefit from cleaner production, though tracks like “Teenager” and “On Time” lost some of their spontaneous charm in the process.
Anyway, it’s the newer stuff that really knocks you out, like “Dwayne,” a delightfully demented pop ditty that tumbles headlong into ’70s cock-rock and Zappa-esque whimsy; and the opener, “Trust Us (We’re Lunch Cult),” which also opens this comp. The track bristles with the nervy energy unique to young fellas fresh out of high school, trying to navigate college life with a fake ID and a dog-eared copy of a Lou Reed biography. The chorus, a train wreck of half-intelligible shouts and guitar abuse, slays pretty much everything I’ve heard in the past six months. Trust me: I have seen the future of Maine rock, and it is Lunch Cult.
Lunch Cult is touring the Midwest and invading the Confederacy this summer; their music can be heard at lunchcult.bandcamp.com.
More Amateur Home Recordings
The follow-up to 2015’s fantastic 2 Hearted Horse is this EP of equally catchy indie pop and punk from Fur, the threesome that survived the dissolution of The RattleSnakes. Mr. and Mrs. Brian Cohen — singing and playing guitar and drums, respectively — deliver the low-fi treats you need on tracks like “Good Enough,” “Tsong” and “Spring.” Bassist Greg Bazinet takes the mic on the Hüsker Dü–inspired “Tree Lined,” and nails it. But I’m picking “Switchblade,” a slab of feedback-laced rock on which Brian and Tara share vocals. The way the overdrive on Brian’s guitar keeps dropping out for a measure and then bursting back into the mix … not sure I’ll ever get tired of hearing that.
Fur is on hiatus while the Cohens spawn. Hear their music at fursounds.bandcamp.com.
In the Shade
Endless Jags, the indie-rock bastard child of Gully and Foam Castles, released a series of five singles between last fall and late winter of this year. With the exception of the last one, a surreal slurry called “Supernatural Pet Separation,” the singles are all the kind of insistent, roughed-up rock songs we’ve come to love and expect from singer/guitarist Oscar Romero. None of them reached out and grabbed me the way tracks like “Sound Drivers,” from the Jags’ eponymous 2012 EP, or “Boxcutter,” from 2014’s Sell the Banquet, did on first listen. And the sextet usually has three guitars sending signals to the board, which can overcrowd the mix (Who the hell do they think they are, The Outlaws?) and bury Romero’s lyrics. But there’s still a lot to like. “In the Shade” is probably the best of the bunch. Though released in the dead of winter, it feels summery, with enough of co-singer/guitarist Tyler Jackson’s psych-pop influence to leaven Romero’s angst.
Endless Jags is around. For more, visit endlessjags.com.
Put It in the Pool
The new full-length from noise-rock trio Purse, Put It in the Pool, reminds me in some ways of Sister, the album Sonic Youth released in 1987, right before they made Daydream Nation and became immortal. Like Sister, Pool can be alternately abrasive and alluring, but it demands, and deserves, more listens. This release sounds a bit muddier and more claustrophobic than Purse’s 2014 EP Indiana, due in part to the industrial-grade electronics bassist Noah Defilippis slathered atop the tracks, most of which were recorded in his “lair.” Singer/guitarist Ginette Labonville’s vocals struggle to cut through the murk on killer tracks like “Twin Peaks,” though Bob Smyth’s inventive drumming (recorded at a local studio) is clearer in the mix.
“Diamonds” is the most ear-friendly song here. Defilippis lays down a hooky bass line and Labonville deigns to sound almost pop-pretty. Can Purse’s Daydream breakthrough be far behind?
Purse’s music can be heard at purse22.bandcamp.com.
01 What Do You Want
Bind Us Anew
Starcrossed Losers is the new project by Kyle Morgan, formerly of the old-time Americana trio Tumbling Bones. In 2013, Morgan released a solo album called Starcrossed Losers that proved this highly accomplished roots musician can also rip through rock songs and craft Beatlesque pop. On Bind Us Anew, Starcrossed Losers the group hammers that point home.
Morgan could’ve been a second-string utility player for the Traveling Wilburys. He sings in Jeff Lynne’s high tenor with a pinch of Tom Petty’s nasality, and could undoubtedly pull off a decent Dylan impersonation, as he kind of does on the first half of the epic murder ballad “Don’t Do This Thing (Bind Us Anew).” No one can touch Roy Orbison’s sainted voice, but Morgan approaches those holy heights on the lovely ballad “Don’t Tell Me,” and makes it a good way up the slope.
The tune I picked to start Program 2 also begins Bind Us Anew. “What Do You Want” is a mini masterpiece of early ’70s-era pop songcraft. Keyboard whiz Jimmy Dority (of Lovers of Fiction fame) had a hand in this project, as did members of the bluegrass band Tricky Britches. Other high points include the rustic psychedelia of “Breathe In, Breathe Out” and the rock rave-up “Close Your Eyes.”
Starcrossed Losers plays a CD release party at Blue on June 7. More action at starcrossedlosers.com.
An Evening With
Torn Up Clouds
An Evening With
Christ, has it really been eight years since An Evening With released an album? Lovers & Losers was one of the more remarkable local records of the previous decade. Singer-songwriter Jeremy Alexander assembled an all-star cast of players from Portland’s indie-rock, metal and experimental music circles to produce a collection of impeccably crafted and executed alt-country songs “frequently embellished with elements of rock and pop, with some good ol’ fashioned weirdness thrown in,” I wrote at the time.
Now Alexander’s back, supported this time by indie-pop brothers Jesse and Aaron Hautala on guitars and keys, and drummer Tom Rogers, formerly of the art-rock ensemble Cerberus Shoal. Once again, the playing and production are impeccable. And once again, things get weird (see “God,” “Cricket Opera”). But Alexander grounds the rest of these songs with his likeable everyman’s voice and acoustic guitar. “Torn Up Clouds,” which opens the album, is a prime example of the group’s fine art. Fans of rarified alt-country craftsmen like the Nashville band Lambchop will like spending time with An Evening With.
You can hear An Evening With’s new album at thesharedfateofallmankind.bandcamp.com.
Mr. & Mrs. Garrett Soucy
Living Conformists And Dead Troublemakers
Mr. and Mrs. Garrett Soucy are the titular guy and his wife, Siiri, who first attained fame in Maine and beyond as the core of the modern folk group Tree By Life. Not being a big folk fan, I was more drawn to Garrett’s collaboration with oddball indie genius Anny Luckless (née Andrew Radford), Sunlight in Architecture, which resulted in an excellent eponymous LP in 2008. Wayword is a more traditional folk record, but only musically. Lyrically, it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before. It’s a concept album that fuses the influential ideas of philosopher Marshall McLuhan, once called the “leading prophet of the electronic age,” with the Christian beliefs Garrett preaches as pastor at a church in Belfast — beliefs that reject the enticements and distractions of our digitized lifestyle as so many false idols.
“I ain’t happy that the price of gas has fallen / I ain’t heartbroke over whoever lost the game,” Garrett sings on the song I’ve selected for this mix, “Living Conformists and Dead Troublemakers,” as Siiri softly echoes him. “I ain’t buying clothes from anyone whose album won a Grammy / I ain’t a hater of the player, just the play.”
Need I mention that Garrett Soucy can write lyrics like freakin’ Shakespeare and sing ’em like Garth Brooks? “Man was not meant to live at the speed of light,” he states on “Anachronistic Progress.” “If it wins it can be beat / If it works it’s obsolete/ If it takes away the pain / Then the message goes away.” Add to this the tasteful musicianship on Wayword and you have a truly exceptional folk record. Amen to that.
Mr. and Mrs. Garrett Soucy play One Longfellow Square on June 3. More at mrandmrsgarrettsoucy.com.
Start Me Up
In the Heart of the City
Snaex is the duo of Chris Teret (Company) and Chriss Sutherland (Olas, Fire on Fire, Cerberus Shoal). Their 2014 album The 10,000 Things got a shout-out last summer when we were compiling the “cassette mixtape,” but I left them off that comp because their music is too deep and dark to serve as the soundtrack for a day at the beach.
Snaex’ latest release, In the Heart of the City, ain’t no picnic either. “To live in this world is to be a sufferer,” Teret sings on “To Live in This World.” On “Guilty,” Sutherland asks, “And what is the difference, really / Between those foreign homes and our very own families? … when I place my awareness on the greed of the people, then I feel guilty.” Who wants another hot dog after that? The devastating “Florida Guy” — like “Daddy,” from The 10000 Things — is about Sutherland’s father, and the raw emotion in his ragged voice approaches the rare catharsis of songs like John Lennon’s “Mother.”
But then there’s the last track, Snaex’ cover of the Stones’ “Start Me Up.” No, I’m not joking, and yes, your life will remain incomplete until you hear it. Unplugged and slowed to a druggy crawl, this nearly six-minute version gives the familiar stadium rocker new dimensions and meanings, not unlike the way Johnny Cash’s late-career covers of rock hits did. “You make a grown man cry,” indeed.
Snaex plays Blue on June 16. It’s easy to find ’em on Facebook and Bandcamp.
Make Things Right
Muddy Ruckus is the duo of singer/guitarist Ryan Flaherty and drummer Erika Stahl, who also contributes backing vocals. They play the ol’ country-blues spiked with shots of rockabilly, ragtime and rock, and they do it well. Flaherty’s a rousing guitarist with a strong, scratchy voice, and Stahl’s no slouch on the skins. The electric numbers, like “Make Things Right” and “Die for You,” crackle through the beat-up speaker of a well-travelled amp. The acoustic ones don’t suck. This album pairs well with cheap booze, back porches, broken hearts, and tobacco.
Muddy Ruckus plays Gardiner’s Waterfront Park on June 17 and Portland House of Music on June 25, among other Maine tour dates you can find at muddyruckus.com.
Dixon Pendejo Trash
Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs
Five Cents Each
This CD arrived in the mail a couple months ago with no information other than the band name and album name and song titles printed on the back of the cardboard sleeve. The mystery surrounding Five Cents Each is, to me, its most appealing aspect. The six songs here are interspersed with four tracks of backward acoustic guitar and CB radio gibberish, which is annoying, but intriguing. The music is a mix of art-damaged electric slop-rock and the kind of junkie acoustic balladry you hear on the street corners of the Old Port every summer.
One of those acoustic cuts is this unexpectedly lovely song, “Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs.” “I left some skin on the highway / And I gave some blood to the horse,” the singer creakily begins. “Nobody would accuse me of being perfect / Except God, of course.” That line got my attention while I listened in the car, wondering who was singing it.
I looked the band up on (where else?) Facebook when I got back to the office, so I now know who the members are and the general circumstances that led to this recording. No offense to anyone in Dixon Pendejo Trash, but I kinda wish this EP had remained a mystery, an anonymous artifact from Portland’s seedy underbelly. You can look up the details yourself, if you like. I won’t spoil the fun.
The Wicked Woods
Let It Be Known
The Wicked Woods are a new quartet of three guitarists and a drummer, all of whom sing and write songs. The four tracks on their debut EP blend folk and metal with prog-rock. That’s a dangerously unstable combination, and sure enough, the material that results is hit or miss. The most successful song is the last one, “Street Rat,” with its buzz-saw riffs and sinewy guitar soloing. You also might enjoy the upbeat opener, “What’s Your Name,” but I warn that you wander into the middle of this EP at your peril.
The Wicked Woods plays Empire on June 18.
The Renovators are a veteran blues band led by singer/guitarist Bob Rasero. Their new album, Three Cords, lays it out right inside the gatefold: “Nine songs. Three chords each.” There’s nothing alternative or arty about it, but this is an indie album, in that it was independently released by Rasero and his crew (bassist Kent Allyn, drummer Jeff Davison and keyboardist Robin Worthley) without record-label support. This despite the fact it was mastered by Bob Ludwig himself and features sax, flute and horn arrangements by “Blue” Lou Marini of the original Blues Brothers band.
The nine tracks provide a good sampling of styles, from the lounge-y “Must Be Love” to the uptown jump of “Gimmie the Truth” to New Orleans (“Goodbye Blue”). There’s even a kitschy tip to what could be called Halloween blues (“The Creeps”). My favorite’s the funk number included here, a politically savvy song that may be the first in the genre to cite fracking as a cause of the blues.
The Renovators play a CD release show at One Longfellow Square on June 5 and open for Marcia Ball at Portland House of Music on June 11. More at therenovatorsmusic.com.
John Hughes Radio
As their name implies, the new Portland sextet John Hughes Radio plays rock inspired by the kind of ’80s pop the titular director favored in his films of the period. The first track, “Stars,” launches off the pad propelled by a combination of soaring keys and gritty guitar reminiscent of the intro to INXS’ classic “Don’t Change,” from 1982. Frontman Sean Slaughter (Clubber Lang, etc.) has the pipes and the confidence to make this material work. Backed by a rhythm section, two guitars and keys, he keeps the songs rocky yet danceable Other highlights include the first single, “Fade Out,” and “Apathy,” which brings to mind The Psychedelic Furs’ sound circa Mirror Moves.
John Hughes Radio plays a CD release show at Bayside Bowl on June 11.
The Bangor-based duo When Particles Collide is back with a new EP, Ecotone, that marks yet another step in their steady growth from back-to-basics rock to more diverse, complex and original compositions. For this four-song release, singer/guitarist Sasha Alcott and drummer Chris Viner collaborated with members of bands they’ve met on the road. The results still sound like a WPC album, but with intriguing new elements, like the doo-wop breaks in the song I’ve chosen for this collection, “Fight,” which they developed in tandem with Jen de la Osa and Henry Beguiristain of the Boston band Aloud. I don’t want to jinx Alcott and Viner, but if they’ve made a bad song in the past five years, I’ve yet to hear it.
The Second Tribute to Dan Knudsen
Portland folk troubadour Dan Knudsen has been playing open-mic nights around town for nearly 20 years at this point. Along the way, he’s amassed a small but loyal following of “DanFans” — many, if not most of whom are fellow musicians. Their love of Knudsen’s music has now inspired two tribute albums, the most recent of which came out last winter.
As with the first one, The Second Tribute to Dan Knudsen contains tracks by players working in a wide spectrum of genres, as well as a couple originals by Dan the Man himself. The ferocious punk band Mouth Washington defies expectations by turning in an acoustic version of “The Emperor Lucifer,” from 2008’s Outer Space, that’s more unsettling than an electric rendition would be. Power Lines’ hip-hop take on “Can’t Stop the Cops,” an original Dan put on the first tribute album, is highly entertaining (I especially dig their decision to sample Dan’s original vocal). But my favorite is Geoff Zimmerman’s trippy odd-pop interpretation of the title track from Outer Space. Here’s hoping Dan sticks with music long enough for at least two more tribute albums.
The trio Micromassé lives on the jazz side of the Great Groove Divide separating funk and jazz music, but they’re not far from the base of the mountain and often trudge up to peek over the peak. Latin and African elements also enter the mix (see “Ranglin” and the brilliantly titled “Mali Hatchet,” respectively). Their new full-length, Anthropocene, works on several levels. It’s great background music if you’re busy doing something, like drinking beer on a bar patio, but also rewards close listening. Keyboardist Pete Dugas is the driving creative force in the group — he wrote most of the songs and his organ defines their sound — but guitarist Max Cantlin and drummer Chris Sweet have effectively mind-melded with him to create a three-headed chimera capable of acting with one musical will. To wit: the threesome recorded all 15 tracks here in a single day last year at Halo Studios, in Windham.
The last track, aptly titled “Chimera,” was a tempting choice to end this comp. It slowly builds from a chill, almost sleepy vibe into a torrential solo by Cantlin around the four-minute mark. But I’ve opted instead for the title track, a funkier exercise with a memorable melody and another outstanding Cantlin solo. After all, unlike vinyl records and tapes, 8-tracks never actually end — they simply switch back to the first program and play again.
Micromassé plays a CD release show at One Longfellow Square on July 7. See micromasse.com for more.