A Severe Joy – by day the longtime Portland area musician Jose Ayerve, by night the mysterious masked one-man band ASJ – manages to hit all the sweet spots in his recordings. On “Cinematesque Part 1,” Averve’s second full-length album under the ASJ moniker, he does all the things he did with his first album: more irresistibly catchy electro-pop songs, written and recorded by Ayerve himself and performed as a one-man show, complete with flashing hand-held lights, costumes and, sometimes, backup dancers. “Cinematesque” collects the singles Ayerve has released over the past year – from the wistful plea “(Meet Me In Your) Helicopter” to the blatant come-on of “Boyfriend.” Ayerve wears his heart on his sleeves, lyrically, which adds a level of intimacy to his songs that dance music doesn’t always attain. “Dejame Tocar,” sung in Spanish, has a wavering guitar line woven through the song, while “Love in the Summertime” feels like a lost New Order single. Music to sing loudly along to, whether it’s alone in your car or on the dance floor.
Phantom Buffalo have been making winsome indie pop in Maine for more than a decade now, and “Tadaloora,” their first album in nearly three years, is right in line with their previous efforts – except, perhaps, even more so. The jingle-janglin’ guitar riffs and psychedelic harmonies that have long been the hallmark of the band remain firmly in place, buoyed by ever-stronger songwriting and a flair for the experimental. “Wedding Day Massacre” is a lovely piece of swaying folk-pop, while “Oldest Man” hits on a nice guitar groove and is fleshed out by a judiciously placed flute line. There’s a bit of everything in there – R.E.M., Olivia Tremor Control, Fairport Convention, the Beach Boys – and “Tadaloora” itself has a vaguely medieval story line running through all 13 songs. You can tell that Phantom Buffalo feels very comfortable in the studio, and like several of those aforementioned bands, they use the studio as another instrument.
Portland-based two-woman duo Arcane Lore make rock n’ roll music. What else is there you need to know? OK, well, sure, there’s more to it than that. Singer-guitarist Katie Gilchrest and drummer Brandye Devine have a lock-step groove together, and manage to make their duo sound full and heavy, with plenty of bass end – something that a guitar-drum two piece can often have a hard time doing. There’s certainly a stoner rock, sludge-y metal thing going on with “Change of Mind,” their full-length debut, bringing to mind Motorhead or Kyuss or Black Sabbath, and with song names like “Widowmaker” and “Necromancer” they’re the right kind of band to headbang to. It’s exceptionally fun music, and I’d imagine it’s even better live.
Trisha Mason’s been putting in her dues playing bars and clubs in eastern Maine – not a weekend goes by she’s not playing with her band somewhere in between Bar Harbor and Augusta. “Worse or Better,” her debut, will hopefully grant her more occasion to play her own songs. Mason’s strongest point – live or in the studio – is her voice, a big soprano that can rise above loud crowds and even louder guitars. On songs like the rocker “Forbidden,” the sweet piano ditty “Love, Love, Love” or the ballad “The Tide” she shows her range, moving between bright and upbeat and moody and thoughtful, and between playing piano and guitar, both of which she does with ease. Though Mason’s got some room to grow – next time, she could invest in a producer to make some slightly better quality recordings – “Worse or Better” is a great showcase for an up and coming songwriter.
You wouldn’t know it, but Captain Hollow – comprised of Bangor area lifelong friends Patric Cunningham, Ryan Higgins, Kyle Mallory-MacDonald and Jakob Battick – have been making music in Bangor for several years now. They just don’t play very many shows. “Greatest Hits,” their first full-length album, produced by Orono indie rock producing ninja Tony Bitetti, proves to me that they should play more shows, because it’s very, very good. It’s indie rock, yes, noisy and full of heavy, complex riffage, but with a barely concealed classic emo heart (think Cursive, not Dashboard). “Big Eyes,” the third track on the album, or following song “The Bitter Tea of General Yen,” are everything I like about this band – melodic, but surging with a youthful rock energy, with that kind of sweaty, fist-pumping attitude that belongs at a basement rock show, crammed full of kids all singing along.