The newest album from the Toughcats hews once again to the rejuvenated brand of acoustic folk-pop they played on the last album, “Woodenball.” But after ten years and four albums as a band, the North Haven-bred Toughcats are at a creative peak, tight as a tick and incredibly comfortable as songwriters. “Rough Ones” finds the band improving, somehow, on the already very good pop songwriting. Most of the twelve tracks zip along at a not-quite-breakneck speed, generally clocking in at under two minutes and 30 seconds, propelled by Jake Greenlaw’s big, expressive drumming and Colin Gulley’s beautiful banjo playing. A lot of the banjo you might hear in today’s popular indie folk is not plucked, and is rather bashed upon as if it was a piece of heavy machinery — Mumford & Sons, I’m looking at you — but Gulley is able to both play his instrument properly and still make it rock. Listen to his playing on the instrumental “Angry Fossil” and you’ll understand what I’m saying. Songs like album opener “Call My Love” or the aptly titled instrumental “Charge!” race along as if in a 5k, whereas more introspective (and longer) songs like the title track or “In The Sun” showcase just how thoughtful a band they can be — especially Joe Nelson’s raspy, sweet vocals and understated resonator guitar playing. The band recorded the album with South Portland studio guru Ron Harrity in just two days, and had their friend Greg Saunier from the band Deerhoof master it. If they’re not at the top of their game right now, they’ll reach that point very soon.
Toughcats will perform next on Saturday, July 26 at Calderwood Hall in North Haven.
John Burlock is a singer-songwriter who was born and raised in Bangor. He wrote a ton of songs and played a bunch of shows throughout high school and college, and even recorded a full-length album, “Picture Perfect,” in 2007. He printed a handful of copies of the album in 2008, and then that, essentially, was the end of it. Aside from a few gigs over the past five years, Burlock’s hardly performed a show, written a song or recorded anything since 2009. Until now, that is: Burlock has started writing and performing again, and he’s re-released “Picture Perfect,” that original 2007 that showcases his pop-friendly vocal hooks and tough-but-tender lyrical edge. It’s someone reminiscent of an edgier John Mayer, or a less mopey Damien Rice, or a more earnest Ed Sheeran. Album opener “Little City,” named after the Bangor neighborhood, rushes along on the strength of Burlock’s muscular guitar playing, while the spare, heart-on-your-sleeve “Little Bit of Nothing” would not find itself out of place on pop radio. It’s a shame Burlock sat on this album for six years, because it’s well-produced and written and performed with a maturity that belied the fact that he was in his early 20s when these songs were created. It’s nice to hear them out in the open today.
This dark, succinct, four-song EP from Portland duo Purse is 20 minutes of note-perfect indie punk — the kind you might have heard in the late 1990s or early 2000s on labels like Kill Rock Stars or Dischord. Drummer Bob Smyth and guitarist-vocalist Ginette Labonville have been making highly structured noise together for nearly ten years, and “Indiana,” produced by Noah Defillipis, who also plays bass on the album, capitalizes on their lock-tight musical relationship. The cascading finger-picked riffs Labonville lays on are reminiscent of bands like Unwound or Slint, though when the pair launch into something a bit more distorted there’s definitely a metal element that creeps through, as on the heavier second half of “Trading Places,” the album’s centerpiece. “Indiana,” the title track, closes the EP’s four songs out, and it showcases Labonville’s vocals — it’s clear she’s a student of classic rock singing styles, but with plenty of dirty, lo-fi, we’re-playing-in-a-basement grit. As an aside, “Indiana” also has some of the coolest album art of any band from Maine this year, designed by drummer Smyth. Weird, cool and heavy. Much like Purse themselves.
Purse will perform next with Eastern Spell and Dead By Now on Thursday, July 31 at Empire in Portland.