“Asleep In The Forest,” the eighth release overall from Portland-based indie folk band If and It, is lyrical, intelligent, and at times both delicate and tough — emotionally raw but unafraid to lay it all out there. It’s also by far If and It’s strongest release, building upon nearly five years of careful, sensitive songwriting and arranging from the now four-piece, now consisting of lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Evan Parker, drummer Chris DiBiasio, bassist Tim Allen Walker and newly-added guitarist McKay Belk. Where past releases were often as quiet and slow-paced as the arrival of spring, “Asleep” is remarkably upbeat, and Parker allows a sneaky pop element to infiltrate a few songs, amid the Will Oldham-esque slowly-shuffling bummer. For instance, there’s the one-two punch of tracks two and three, “Realign” and “Crazy,” both clocking in at a higher tempo than nearly anything off the band’s previous album “Raccoon,” and both of which feature Belk’s gorgeous slide guitar, which evokes both the ghostly post-indie of The xx and lonesome country music. There’s several seven minute-plus songs, like the opening song “Defeat Me” and the elegantly sad “Space Suite 2000,” both of which feature Parker’s lyrics front and center, presumably working through some thorny emotional issues. Parker and company recorded and mixed the album themselves, which clearly makes them skilled producers, as well as musicians and songwriter — few self-produced albums in Maine sound as clean and crisp as “Asleep” does.
The most prominent thing about Bangor band Feather Lungs’ debut LP is that lead singer Laura England Wood’s vocals are front and center — this is a band with a very strong front person, and most of the album is structured around her vocal melodies, whether her bandmates follow her along or break away for some often very interesting rhythmic counterpoint. Album opener “Subtraction” shows their influences straight away. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ strident brand of indie rock — heavier on the rock — permeates the track, from guitarist David Young’s angular riffs to Wood’s singing, which varies in dynamic frequently. Elsewhere, a sense of Cure-esque moodiness surfaces, as on the dramatic “Daydream” — the enjoyable blend of upbeat pop and dark lyrics is usually a winning combination, at least in my opinion. Young is a skilled guitarist, and it’s a shame that his strong work is not more prominently featured in the mix. The production quality on “Arrival” could be much better. The material is there — and live, they’re a very fun band to see perform — but a bit more effort paid to the mix and to the quality of the sound would have made “Arrival” sound more like the strong first statement the band was clearly hoping for, instead of a good quality demo.
This new release from Mike Clouds, a producer that’s a part of the long-running Portland indie hip hop collective Milled Pavement, is a hip hop album, yes, but one that’s far from contemporary trends and tastes. “Apollo’s Stamina” is one of those rare Maine albums that’s entirely instrumental. Hardly a lyric to be found, save for one-word auto-tuned commands to move or the repeated refrain that “we’re out paper chasin’” from track two, “Same Hustle.” The bouncy, deep bass and skittering drum machines throughout reference Clouds’ continuing engagement with southern hip hop and trap music, though there are plenty of spooky, ambient passages that bring to mind fellow hip hop/electronic voyagers like Flying Lotus — as on “Silverback,” which veers between a thick, club-ready beat and waves of synth. There’s a darkness to the album, though, that’s in keeping with many of the albums and artists of Milled Pavement, which has always flirted with a kind of gothic infatuation with bleak, black soundscapes, and has skirted a line between hip hop and electronica. “Apollo’s Stamina” rides those varied influences like a wave.