Leveret, “Action at a Distance” (Portland, electronic rock)

Ed. note: Starting this week, Culture Shock’s weekly Maine music columns will change a little bit; I’ll be running a record review weekly, instead of a longer feature. Every two months I’ll run a touring show roundup and I’ll also intermittently run a review of singles (not full albums) released by Maine bands. Basically, I want to devote more time to writing about the music specifically — to focus on new albums and new work from Maine artists both up and coming and established. Cool, right? Thanks for reading! 

leveret action

Leveret: Action at a Distance

It might be a bit premature to call Jesse Gertz, who with Cormac Brown and Penn Chan leads the Portland synth-rock trio Leveret, a prodigy. Even though the literal definition of prodigy is a “young person having extraordinary talent or ability,” and Gertz, at 23, already has a back catalog of songs and recordings that musicians ten or more years his senior would envy. No, it’s premature because with “Action at a Distance,” the second proper Leveret album, Gertz has come into his own as a songwriter and a producer — nothing else he’s released into the world has the mixture of technical skill, sensitivity paired with aggression, and dynamic flair.

“Action at a Distance” begins with the bracing sound of a dial-up modem on, “Let’s Communicate,” a sly pun that sets the tone for much of the album — the black humor in some of the lyrics through the album’s ten tracks brings to mind an artist Gertz likely appreciates — Al Jourgensen, of Ministry and other assorted projects — though that alternates with a heavy dose of existential angst a certain Mr. Reznor circa 1997 might recognize. Anyway, “Let’s Communicate” aggressively sets the stage for “Action” as an album that melds indie rock with a wide swath of electronic influences, from industrial music to ambient soundscapes, from experimental strangeness to Moog-loving prog rock. The fabulously retro synths on “Let’s Communicate” crash hard into a hip-hop breakbeat, until eventually vocals find their way into the track and an array of intriguing samples are introduced — Gertz clearly loves sound, and finds music in both instruments and in musique concrete-type elements. It’s an invigorating statement that informs every other track on the album.

Despite all the polarizing musical dynamics throughout “Action,” there’s an accessibility present on nearly every track — right off the bat, the one-two punch of “Oscillator” and “Unclothing” weave pop melodies into the buzzing, simmering musical landscape, not unlike fellow electronic composer and pop songwriter Caribou. Gertz has no interest in maintaining a certain sound throughout the album, however — he’s not afraid to get slow and get weird, as on “Nefariously,” and he’s not afraid to write a sweet, acoustic-based love song, like “Little Dream Song.” The glammy posturing of “Grandfather’s Axe” steers the ship right back into rock waters, with Gertz unleashing a rock n’ roll howl more akin to Ian Hunter or Marc Bolan.

Nowhere else is the stylistic diversity of “Action” better on display than “Swallow,” which starts out as a swaggering, funky rock song, with synth sirens firing in the background, before seamlessly transitioning into a psychedelic rave up — yes, a rave up, in the grand tradition of the Dead, or like more contemporary psych bands like Akron/Family. It’s as bold a statement as any Maine band has made in years. It’s thrilling.

Leveret will play with Mr. Neet at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 10 at One Longfellow Square in Portland. 

Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, UMaine graduate, proud Bangorian and a writer and editor for Bangor Metro Magazine, the Weekly and the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food to all the cool things going on in the Greater Bangor area. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra. She's interested in everything that happens in Maine. Albums for review are accepted digitally only; please no CDs.