Click to hear: “Never Again”
For folks looking to put some great local music under the tree or in the stereo next to the menorah this holiday season, the first new release in two years from Portland’s own Satellite Lot, Sleepwalk in a Burning Building, is glad tidings, indeed.
The group, led by vocalists and multi-instrumentalists Casey McCurry and Aaron Hautala, has taken quite a departure from 2005’s Second Summer. And when I say “departure,” in this case I mean a trip back in time about 23 years from Summer’s modern mix of pop and rock.
Less than 20 seconds into the opening song, “(Up Against) The Far Right Wall,” you can tell there’s a heavy ’80s influence at play here: The Cure, Tears For Fears, Human League. That influence is just as strong on “Never Again“ (love the synthesizer and guitar on this one). “Liberation Front” takes you on a musical journey with echoes of late ’80s New Order and INXS (courtesy of some great tenor sax work by Brian Graham). McCurry’s vocals on this track are one part Trent Reznor, one part Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode). Intriguing. Engaging. Infectious.
Four minutes into “We’ve Already Tracked You Down,” the driving tempo downshifts into a mono-sounding instrumental that recalls both the 1981 Genesis hit “Abacab” and Hans Zimmer’s 1989 score to Rain Man. Other standout tracks include “Disappointed,” “Devil’s Details” (featuring the lovely Sydney Bourke on vocals, who’s since left our fair city for the confines of Chicago), and “This Is Hell,” which begins with a light, electro-pop sound reminiscent of Yaz and the aforementioned Human League. Hautala’s singing on this track sounds a bit like Tears For Fears’ Roland Orzabal meets Thomas Dolby.
As the album starts to wind down, the songs start to rock harder — see “Werewolf Wolf” and “One Day…,” which features lead vocals by new recruit Ben Landry. (Drummer Jason Ingalls, of The Baltic Sea and Seekonk fame, rounds out the core quartet that is Satellite Lot these days.) Sleepwalk’s brilliant closer is the seven-minute-plus “Rule Your Own,” which could pass for an updated, more elaborate version of the 1987 college hit “White Coats,” by New Model Army.
This has been an exceptionally strong year for Portland-based, ’80s-tinged indie rock, with stellar releases from Spouse, Hiss & Chambers, and others. Sleepwalk in a Burning Building is icing on the cake.
— Ron Raymond Jr.
Satellite Lot plays a CD release show on Fri., Dec. 14, at Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland. For more info, see space538.org.
Bollard music critic and DJ Ron Raymond Jr. hosts Stuck in the 80s, heard Sundays from 7 p.m.-9 p.m. on community radio station WMPG (90.9 and 104.1 FM; wmpg.org).