Before we get to a summer of big and important releases, it’s a good idea to take time to digest a few things on the Fourth. There’s no better holiday for throwing back a few cold ones and listening to tunes on the dock, boat, front lawn, or backyard, and there are plenty of discs I’ve been meaning to make people aware of. So, without further ado, here’s a six-pack of local discs for all of your holiday parties:
Jeff Kral, This Road
The former bassist for Goud’s Thumb, like his old bandmate Dan Connor, returns to the Portland music scene with lighter fare, perfect for an afternoon game of wiffleball and throwing veggie burgers on the grill. From the light psychedelia of “Castles in the Sky” (“Painting rainbows with a smile/Picking daisies for a while”) to the catchy chorus of “Better Days” (“Paid to kill a stranger/Don’t believe in danger/We believe in anger”) there’s a pop-rock vibe here that recalls the Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox Twenty, along with a weary grit that might remind of Everlast. True, there’s some introspection and tales of woe that might feel like a cloud across the sun, but the bright guitar hooks are plenty and it’s fun to sit back and listen to the way Kral constructed these tunes, playing all parts but the drum programming, which was handled by Jon Wyman.
Portland’s newest supergroup apparently borrowed from all of its members’ influences in creating their debut disc, so the people at your party better be an open-minded group if you’re going to throw this on (note that iTunes has it categorized as “New Age”). There’s everything here: art-rock, acoustic Americana, soul, metal. Frontman and principal songwriter Todd Dadaleares (of MRC, most notably, and a number of other projects in Portland) sounds best on some of the relaxed stuff, like the excellent fiddle-soul number “Grudge” or the disco-lite “Binger Gaper.” When he goes operatic for some of the more metallic tunes, it can sound a bit dated, but that vocal style is making something of a comeback, so maybe it’s actually progressive. Neil Collins (Twisted Roots, Lincolnville, Eldemur Krimm) handles the electric guitars with alternating force and grace, and Jason Stewart (Twitchboy, 6gig, Sidecar Radio) does everything Dadaleares asks of him and more.
Absence of the Sun, A Symphony of Unheard Words
Thinking of a mosh pit for the Fourth? Grab this disc. Following in the steps of tight, instrumentally proficient growl-rockers like Dead Season and Nobis, Absence of the Sun have released an eight-song disc with a pair of short instrumentals (one prog-metal, the other an airy flute piece) and plenty of smashmouth in the middle. Ned handles all the vocals, but can seem like a few different people, with an actual range of death growls. There’s definitely Metallica in the guitars and harmonic bridge that picks up the title track, but the album mostly sounds contemporary, drawing off bands like Hatebreed and Lamb of God. The drums that open “Fire from Within” nearly rattled the headphones off my head.
Bread, Joe Love Freedom
The Fourth of July? Sorry, Bread’s been so far underground he’s only dimly aware what month it is. This follow-up to 2005’s Peasant is perfect for a rainy day when you don’t really feel like hittin’ the party. Handling nearly all the production and vocal duties here, Bread continues his legacy of hyper-dense hip-hop, continuing to eschew the obvious chorus and the catchy hook, moving forward unrelentingly through three-minute songs with hundreds of lyrical body blows. Some of them are intelligible. Some of them aren’t. Have a problem with that? “Burn the fucking garbage out your ears.” Bread distorts his vocals, moves them to the back, intentionally obscures them with digital drones, so that they are as much atmosphere as they are content. “High beamin’ me? I’m high-beamin’ back/Both get blind in the process.” Old kNOw Complex friends Sontiago and Moshe make appearances, as does Syn the Shaman.
Denny Breau, Havin’ a Ball + Dave Rowe Trio, Three’s a Charm
For the perfect family backyard barbecue, with four generations of Maine natives running around and instruments always handy, you can’t go wrong with these two releases from Outer Green Records, both by second-generation Maine musicians (and maybe third- or fourth-generation, for all I know). Breau covers mostly the traditional country and blues canon with 12 originals that show off his clean vocals, crisp guitar playing, and a number of guest musicians. Breau even covers his pop, Harold Breau, a/k/a Hal Lone Pine, with “Prince Edward Island,” a quick waltz with a melody driven by fiddler Ed Howe. The very same Howe who’s a third of the Dave Rowe Trio, naturally. You’re much more likely to hear him showing off on the excellent live album the band have released, ripping through Celtic/Cape Breton numbers like “The Mary Ellen Carter” and bluegrass tunes like the Dave Rowe original “Gonna Miss You” (which also features a stellar guitar break from Rowe). The three put out a ton of sound for a three-piece, and they have great taste in selections that add to Rowe’s tunes. All in all, it’d be hard to find a song you can’t hoist a beer to on either of these discs.