Click to hear: “Blessed With a Curse”
“Catchin’ a ride from a band,
I sat in the back of the van,
They tried to make me understand.
‘Cause if I’m not in a band, don’t mean I’m square.
And if I am, well then I don’t care.”
— Mercury Rev, “Car Wash Hair”
Satellite Lot bring this lyric to mind for more reasons than one. When Mercury Rev, a group that clearly influence Satellite Lot’s sound and approach, recorded “Car Wash Hair” in the early ’90s, they weren’t a band so much as a collection of musicians who got together to make a brilliant debut.
Likewise Satellite Lot and their stellar album, Second Summer. This catchy, unpredictable pop record is one of the strongest releases any band in Portland has yet produced – assuming Satellite Lot can be called a band. Some incarnation of Satellite Lot has been kicking around town for five years or so – the last time I saw them was at Zootz – but the group seems to expand and contract, appear and disappear, pretty much randomly.
According to their Web site, where the entire album can be heard and downloaded for free, Satellite Lot is Aaron Hautala and Casey McCurry. Most of the drums are played by William Fernald, but this apparently doesn’t make them a trio.
Rather, there’s a “Satellite Lot Recording Team” that includes over a dozen musicians, most of whom drop in to contribute one part – a guitar or flute solo, some bass, some vocal harmonies, piano – to one of the 11 tracks. Hautala’s bandmates in The Funeral, formerly Extendo Ride, are among the locals who make appearances.
[News flash: Fernald, The Bollard just learned, is now a full member of the band, and will be listed as such on the album the trio will record this winter.]
Hautala and McCurry (who recorded most of the songs) use their friends’ contributions to excellent effect throughout this collection of songs. It’s hard to say what instruments the pair themselves did or didn’t play on Second Summer(it sounds like there’s half an orchestra here), but as Mercury Rev might say, who cares?
The album is full of richly textured compositions that jump genres track by track. The jangly, two-minute pop ditty that opens the record, “That Wasn’t Me,” could be on an NRBQ album. Two songs later, Hautala (at least, I think he’s the singer) is doing an indie-Springsteen impression (“Hold Your Fire”), and two songs after that he’s channeling Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters (“First Day”).
There’s a jumpy rock number, “Blessed With a Curse,” and a techno trip, “Double Yellow Lines.” But the icing on the cake are the two haunting songs that close the album, “In Protest” and “By Lantern Light.” Coming as they do after nine songs all about the love, sadness and anger in personal relationships, these last two political pieces are all the more powerful.
“I sold my gun but the fight lingers on,” Hautala (?) sings in “Protest.” “And I hate myself for what I let them do to you.”
“By Lantern Light” envisions dead soldiers returning to “haunt the men that spilled their blood on battlefields they should have won.” Sydney Bourke’s ethereal vocals give this song a beautiful resonance.
Second Summer is a finely crafted record from beginning to end – a real accomplishment and a true pleasure to hear. Here’s hoping Satellite Lot will be the kind of non-band, like Mercury Rev, that keeps releasing masterworks like this at least every few years or so.
— Chris Busby