For a band that’s been together less than two years, Tall Horse’s debut EP, “Glue,” is remarkably self-assured. The trio of lead singer/songwriter Nick Poulin, bassist Dominic Grosso (Forget, Forget) and drummer Devin Ivy (Lisa/Liza) is a relatively new ensemble, yes, but “Glue” is a strong, melodically powerful release from a band that’s quickly found their sound and developed it. Poulin, a late bloomer as a musician, wears his influences on his sleeve, though the album never feels derivative. Vocally, Poulin possesses a wounded yelp reminiscent of Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, and flashes of searing guitar courtesy of guest musician Dustin Saucier are equal parts post-punk and pop-punk. The anthemic choruses (try not to get the hook of “Insane” stuck in your head) and confessional lyrics would ten years ago have made Tall Horse right at home on the Saddle Creek record label — especially in the few but notable flashes of alt-country stylings, as on the melancholic “Old Gun Shot.” Poulin is a bit of a miserablist, but he’s not maudlin: his succinct lyrics deal with anger and sadness, though those big emotions are as often pointed at himself as they are a romantic partner. Poulin and Grosso, with their partner Jayson Whitmore of Penumbra Recordings, could make a good run of producing other people’s albums; on “Glue” they achieve a fullness of sound and crispness of tone that’s all too rare in other self-produced albums.
If you’re going to be in a duo band, you’d better both be excellent musicians. There’s no hiding. If your guitar licks aren’t hot, your drumming isn’t tight and your communication isn’t crystal clear, everybody will know it. Arcane Lore, the Portland-based blues metal duo of guitarist Katie Gilchrest and Brandye Devine, has that all figured out. “Goldfish,” their second album, came out earlier this month and was a bit of a surprise — no one had heard much from the two of them this year. Recorded as if in some sort of cool rock n’ roll cathedral by Jonathan Wyman, “Goldfish” is heavy without being brutal, funky without being boring, and excellently performed without being show-offy. Most of the songs are short and sweet, not letting Gilchrest’s hypnotic guitar grooves last too long — “Aliens,” at just two minutes, is an enticing slice of raw rock n’ roll realness, while the longest song on the album, the four-minute “Return of the Sun,” borders on the psychedelic, and the slow burning “Dinosaur Bones” plies some majorly bluesy vocals. Even “Money Cloud,” the only song on the album that could perhaps be called a ‘ballad,’ floats amid a hazy cloud of guitar effects before flipping into some more epic, harder-edged riffing. Gilchrest is an inventive, skilled guitarist, blending Jack White-style starkness with metal virtuosity. Paired with Devine, they’re an unstoppable force.
Most of the time, Hunter Finden is the guitarist for Jim Dandy, the loud, chaotic, freaky punk band from Belfast. On his first solo album, however, Finden couldn’t be more different. On “My (Untitled) So Far Experience,” he casts himself as a jangly, pop-obsessed romantic, more in line with the solo works of Jonathan Richman, the Violent Femmes or contemporary lo-fi pop instigator Mac DeMarco. There’s something disarmingly candid and endearing about the ten-odd songs on Finden’s album, self-produced and completely performed and written by Finden, and released on Sweet Pizza, the label he and his bandmates in Jim Dandy started. Most of the songs are about cuddling, making out, missing your girlfriend and being 21 years old and in love. You’d have to be the biggest cynic on the planet or an uptight jerk to not smile when you hear a song like album opener “Sundress,” a bouncy, sincere ode to boys, girls and love in the summertime. If you’re looking for intellectual depth or anything other than some sweet love songs, you should listen to something else — though there is something slightly warped about the proceedings, like when Ween writes a love song. There’s something weird going on underneath, just like there’s definitely something weird going on with Finden and his cohorts with Jim Dandy and Sweet Pizza.