Like a wine that’s super fruity or a curry that’s extremely hot, the dominant flavor in Spencer Albee’s music — especially on his latest EP — is pop. Not pop in today’s understanding of it, which is essentially a pureed, distilled, flavorless blend of hooks. Pop in the way Paul McCartney or Harry Nilsson or Ray Davies of the Kinks understood it — rooted in stellar musicianship, shameless in its love of melody, and packed with shambolic personality. “I Don’t Know” sounds like a lost Ringo Starr single, breezily zipping through a three minute song about shrugging about the end of a relationship. Elsewhere, as on the title track, the synthy soundscapes bring to mind just a touch of ELO — that’s the Electric Light Orchestra, you heathens — or perhaps a little bit of the spacey charm of Animal Collective. Albee is one of the most purely talented songwriters to ever come out of Maine, and the “Love Is Not Enough” EP only further proves that claim.
After two albums (“The Days” and “Things Were Better”) that explored r&b and soul, Portland songwriter Zach Jones returns to his beginnings in rootsy power-pop with “Love What You Love,” his fifth album as a solo artist. Like his friend Spencer Albee, Jones is a disciple in the school of the Beatles, though Jones can’t help but let a looser, meatier groove seep into his songs, as on the propulsive “Away From You” or the bluesy “In Love.” Those songs sandwich the delicate “Song in the Sunshine,” however, which showcases one of Jones’ best attributes: his skills as a vocalist, especially when he sings in falsetto. Lovely string arrangements wind their way throughout much of the album, and production-wise, “Love What You Love” sounds fantastic. Jones is a polished, precise, accessible musician, and while nothing here is groundbreaking, that’s not really the point. Jones also loves what he loves, and it’s evident that it comes to him with great ease.
With “Because You Have Friends,” the otherwise instrumental trio of Micromasse — guitarist Max Cantlin, pianist/organist Peter Dugas and drummer Chris Sweet — blend their take on contemporary jazz and Afrobeat with some highly accessible collaborators. Namely, Sara Hallie Richardson, the crystalline-voiced chanteuse who appears to be the number one pick of Portland bands looking for some great female vocals. With the title track, Richardson’s voice takes center stage for the first half, before fading into the background to let the main players of Micromasse lock into a nasty groove, backed by a three-piece horn section. As an organist, Dugas gives the band a highly identifiable sound, reminiscent of the organ-driven jazz of the 1950s and 60s — the other side of this EP, the ten-minute long “Tout le Monde,” is a funky rave-up equally indebted to Fela Kuti and Shirley Scott (look her up). It’s an intelligent, dynamic second effort by the band, that’s among the most immediately enjoyable and well-played of Portland jazz-influenced albums of the past few years.
If the existence of the Restless Atlantic, a young, energetic Portland four-piece, proves anything, it’s that it’s damned near impossible to kill a scene like the southern Maine emo-screamo-punk-post-hardcore-whatever you want to call it-scene. The days of mega-shows featuring ten bands playing in a Knights of Columbus Hall for five bucks are pretty much over, but the music continues. The Restless Atlantic play in that tradition — “Chasm” their debut full-length album, is loud, anthemic and heartfelt, and while after nine songs it might get a little repetitive, it nevertheless showcases a hungry young band playing with conviction. The highlight tracks, like the undeniably catchy “Best Friends (Forever)” or the crunchy, fast-paced “Davey,” will sound fantastic played on a car radio, played with just a touch of pop-punk snottiness and speed.