Think of all the things Spencer Albee has been. He’s been the big-rock sideman in Rustic Overtones. The breakaway frontman stealing the spotlight with the Popsicko. Label-signed radio rock bandleader with Rocktopus and As Fast As. An indie troubadour doing Of Monsters and Men before being a Scandinavian hipster was cool. Even the leader of a live EDM outfit in Space Vs. Speed, which had a 15-minute window where they could have been the best Portland supergroup of all time. (By the way, that’s probably Murcielago right now — and I wrote that just to make Matt Robbins annoyed.)
But has he ever been Spencer? He is now, nominally at the very least, with the release of Spencer, the result of a process that started with a Pledge campaign begun a year ago. It’s a declaration of the super-ego if there ever was one, an incorporation of every lesson learned so far into a reassessment of the Albee sound (while removing the “Albee” part from the name. No, really. Don’t search “Spencer Albee” in the iTunes store, cuz you won’t get shit).
It comes together most poignantly in “California Calling,” a song that’s been around as a single and didn’t get nearly enough attention. It’s what pangs of what could have been sound like, or maybe just the sound of sepia: “Let’s just try again some other day.” Spencer is alternately guarded and wide open, with Cartwright Thompson setting the tone with a dripping pedal steel and Spencer knifing right through it with a ghostly pump organ.
Yes, just because the album is called Spencer doesn’t mean he didn’t draw from any number of local talents, especially from fellow producers and engineers Steve Drown and Sean Morin (who actually very briefly replaced Albee in the Overtones). In fact, there are some 25 guest vocalists and yet more musicians, with Chuck Gagne most prominent on the drums.
The result is an album that can be very large, indeed. And the bigger you let it be, loud in good stereo speakers or wide open in legit headphone, the better it gets. Which also means it suffers the more compressed and MP3’d it gets. Don’t do that to it.
There is a five-piece string section on the opening “It’s Alive” and plenty elsewhere. They’re joined by a horn section on the following “Lucky,” which brings us Albee at his most cutting and practical, with a particularly crisp intro: “What makes the two of us act like lions trapped in a room?” It is blaxpoitation at times, or all three Charlie’s Angels doing something awesome at once.
And why not if you’re going to drop bombs like, “you’re not happy if you’re not angry.”
Then he goes ahead and covers a Gordon Lightfoot song. Talk about a helping hand. Hopefully you appreciate the confidence required to throw such an iconic tune on your big-deal solo record. It’s like inviting Larry Bird to your pick-up game and having him choose first as captain of the other team. Google’s second hit is a three-piece live TV performance from 1974 with three million views.
Spencer gives it a kick in the pants, with some distortion wash and repeating digital flamboyance, but he doesn’t forget to bring his acoustic guitar or layer-up the vocals for a big chorus of voices in the part where you sing along.