Pretty Purgatory, the Portland-based record label run by Peter McLaughlin, has had a good run in the past few months, releasing several albums in keeping with the sort of left-of-center folk, electronic and indie rock, mostly from Maine, it has already become associated with, just 16 months since it was founded.
This week, “In the Heart of the City,” the new album from Snaex – a Portland duo comprised of Chriss Sutherland and Chris Teret – is out on Pretty Purgatory. It is a stripped down affair, rooted in simple voices and guitar; plaintive, slow and lovely. Sutherland, a longtime Portland musician who has played with Cerberus Shoal, Fire on Fire and Olas, and Teret, a songwriter Baltimore native now living in Portland, make a formidable musical pair. Teret’s plainspoken, unassuming tenor contrasts with Sutherland’s raspy yelp, the scratchy side of the velcro to the soft. When the songs are not entirely acoustic, as on opening tracks “Razor Blade” and “Guilty,” they are backed by spare, ghostly drums and feedback, like the noisy climax of the title track. “To Live in this World” is one of the saddest songs I’ve heard from a Maine band, a reflective, wistful reckoning with the sorrows of life, at once reminiscent of the Grateful Dead and of Sufjan Stevens. The album closes with a bummed out cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up,” which I’m not quite sure what to make of – is it ironic, or is it trying to wrest real emotion from a song about double entendres? Either way, “In the Heart of the City” is a singular, meditative, often beautiful album that deserves multiple listens, and Snaex is one of the more interesting indie folk acts in Maine.
Late last year, another Pretty Purgatory release, Jared Fairfield’s “Worldless,” also came out. Fairfield, known for his work with Afraid, the spooky electronic rock band now based in San Francisco, has struck out on his own with an album of woozy, synth-driven EDM. It’s very pretty, dreamy music, often glacially paced and decorated in frilly, 80s-inspired keyboard sounds, like the crystalline “Cloudbedded” or the floaty “Heaven Peach.” The vocals are heavily cloaked in voice effects, and a number of the tracks here take their sweet time to warm up, opting for the slow burn, rather than the big build and release. There isn’t really a dance floor filler or head banger anywhere on here, but that’s not really the point: “Worldless” is one of those electronic albums that delights in the soundscapes and the atmosphere, not in the way it makes your body move.