Hopefully, you’ve got the new Spoon record by now. It’s spectacular, with less of the over-considered gimcrackery that characterized Transference. It’s maybe ironic that just as Spoon have decided to leave Merge records they’ve returned to the slashing indie riffs that helped them fit right in on that indie label that turned 25 this summer.
It’s a sound that people used to feel defined Portland, back in the heyday of Phantom Buffalo, A Giant Robot, Harpswell Sound, and the Extendo-Ride All Stars, before hip hop got its claws around the town’s neck and all the string bands were buoyed by those Mumford chaps.
And it’s a sound that’s been embraced by First in Maths, who would slot perfectly amongst the Merge types and who’ve got themselves a tidy little EP in I Discovered a Planet, full of quirky and warbling vocals from Chris Hart, dueling guitars that aren’t afraid of an extended solo now and again, and a bouncier low-end than you might be expecting.
Really, it’s no surprise, if you happened to catch their self-titled, three-song introduction from last year, featuring the particularly good “Stupid Stuff.” It’s methodical in the verses, detailing a Maine they love to hate, where “every town’s got the same street names / And you can never get away,” but you still manage to feel like you could live there all your life. Then the chorus is just crazy catchy: “I bring a little swagger to a check-out bagger.” Don’t miss “Your Electric Car” on that record, either—a great use of up-stroke in an indie-rock piece.
The new set of six tracks picks right up where that left off. “The Sheaver” is bright and sunshiney in the guitars, dripping with reverb, building through a poppy verse-chorus combo before hitting a bridge that’s classic back-and-forth guitar bouncing, string to string. It extends into a guitar solo that’s well-measured and tasteful and eventually splits into two guitars, moving from one channel to the other in a call and response. It’s catchy without being straight pop, mostly thanks to Hart’s off-center vocals (“He said he was 20 / He’d been to rehab / Handsome, reticent / With long curly locks”), which are somewhere between one-time Merge resident Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel) and Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo.
In fact, there’s a hook in “Nevermind the Mission” that’ll get you thinking of that sweater song Weezer hit it big with. This tune is faster-paced, though, and without as many nods to the Ramones. Doug Sisko drives it with his bass, walking up into the turnaround and defining the melody, and Hart gets off plenty of good lines that finish by turning Neil Young’s thoughts on burning out and fading away about 90 degrees: “Dreams can screw you so hard / And break your little heart...Better to quit than never start.”
Jon York gets off another nice guitar solo here, too, but he’s even better on “Local Loser,” the tune here that will be stuck in your head for a week afterward, thanks to its repetitive phrasing, playing on the idea that those of us who care about local music are mostly just suckers. York’s angry peals drive a huge “ahhh-ahhh” bridge that crescendos into a final chorus: “I care too much.”