The Portland band Johnny Cremains is one of those bands that only plays a handful of gigs each year, and everyone in the band is in like three or four other bands, and you kind of have to know someone that knows them to know much about the band in the first place. Which is a shame, really, because more people should hear Johnny Cremains’ new album, the long-in-the-works “Hollywoodland,” released earlier in September of this year after a very long wait. The album is a highly entertaining pastiche of punk, classic 1990s alternative rock, lounge music and just a touch of histrionic prog rock to add to the high drama at play.
Lead vocalist Sean Libby pulls out just about every trick in the rock singer book, from a full-throated belt on “Sahara Nightmare” to a pained wail like Jeffrey Lee Pierce from The Gun Club if he’d secretly loved Freddie Mercury (maybe he did?) like on “The Howling Is For You.” The spooky organ courtesy of Erik Winter adds delicious atmosphere to much of the proceedings, like “Weeping Eyes of Fire,” a track that you should probably play at your Halloween party this year. If anything, Johnny Cremains sounds like the band Sparks — mandatory listening in the Burnham household — most especially on the “Oswaltz (Dance of the Patsy),” with its theatrical build. Still versatile and all over the place stylistically; less spastic. They sound like no one else in Maine, and that is a very good thing.
You know who else sounds nothing like anyone else in Maine? The weirdos at Sweet Pizza Records in Belfast, who keep putting out oddball albums like “Velvet Lake,” which is mostly the work of Hunter Finden, one-third of punk band Jim Dandy. It’s Finden’s second solo album in a year, though recording as Velvet Lake it’s a distinctly different project as Finden’s first album, recorded under his own name. Where “My (Untitled) So Far Experience” tread that yacht rock-indie rock line that Mac DeMarco treads so well, “Velvet Lake” is explicitly an homage to the 1980s — despite the fact that Finden was born in 1990s (yikes!). It’s almost entirely comprised of synths, programmed drums and other digital bleeps and bloops. I don’t think I heard a single acoustic or even electric instrument anywhere on the album — except Finden’s vocals, sung in an earnest-but-ironic baritone. In a way, there’s something akin to the idiosyncratic sweetness of Jonathan Richman on many of the songs here, though “Minion Fair” definitely veers into They Might Be Giants territory. I can honestly say this is one of the strangest — and yet, somehow, most endearing — albums I’ve heard come out of Maine in a long time.