Twelve Shining Musical Moments of 2018

Amiright?, Crystal Canyon, Lunch Cult, Dead Gowns and more!

Amiright?

Amiright?: “The Onion Song”

“Maybe I’m just foolish / Cause I do not seem to care about what you think,” sings Noah Grenier-Farwell on “The Onion Song.” It could be the mission statement of this Portland duo— Grenier-Farwell and his cousin, Quinn Farwell, have created a two-suite guitar-and-drum epic that slowly builds to a frantic chorus of “Do you want to pet my onion?” This wasn’t made with our approval in mind. Which, ironically, is what makes it so easy to love.

— Joe Sweeney

Crystal Canyon: “Sometimes Summertime”

Is there a more self-loathing genre title than “shoegaze”? Take one listen to how the Portland band Crystal Canyon closed out its self-titled debut, and the last thing you’ll be doing is staring at the floor. “Sometimes Summertime” is a fuzzed-out panorama of an alt-rock ballad, the sound of artists tilting their muses from portrait to landscape. “Stargaze” is more like it.

— J.S.

Gatsby Gambino: “Lil Africa”

Using the toolkit of Atlanta trap — chittering hi-hats, ethereal synths, deliriously catchy Auto-Tune vocals — Gatsby Gambino has created something profoundly local. “Lil Africa” is an ode to Maine’s burgeoning community of African immigrants. Including shout outs to our Somalian, Rwandan, Sudanese, Burundian and Congolese neighbors, the track celebrates their strength, underlines their struggles, and calls out their enemies (including a certain racist ex-governor). What a thrilling piece of evidence that our state has more to offer than lobster rolls and Don McLean.

— J.S.

Micromassé

Micromassé: “Truth and Beauty (Part 2)”

I’ll never forget the first time I actually listened to the Booker T. classic “Green Onions.” I’d technically heard it a million times in movies and commercials and Time-Life compilations. But when it unexpectedly popped up on the Get Shorty soundtrack I was reviewing, it floored me. This cut from Portland organ-jazz trio Micromassé brought me back to that moment. The way the clipped funk guitar intertwines with the cheerful organ runs, creating a rhythm and a personality all its own? I think it gave me my first-ever frission flashback.

— J.S.

Nice Life: “Feel Good Comedy”

Cory McWilliams is a singer and guitarist, but he’s so damn good at the latter that he doesn’t have to do the former. On this two-minute instrumental, for example, McWilliams’ riff tiptoes like a spy, then blossoms into a technicolor Afropop groove, then settles down into sprightly power-pop shredding. All the narrative beats are there. Words would probably ruin it.

— J.S.

OKChree feat. THT, Wooly Mhon Griot & Wazo Daveed: “Trouble in the West”

In this rap-group-starved age, a well-made posse cut resonates even more. And Portland producer OKChree did just that with “Trouble in the West,” inviting a trio of local rappers to explore all the nooks and crannies of his mesmerizing, Antonio Carlos Jobim-sampling groove. THT kicks it off by reacting to the smoothness of the beat with metaphysical precision: “When my body clocks out / My mind times in.” He’s followed by inspired verses from Wooly Mhon Griot and Wazo Daveed, all three embracing syllabic constructions that undulate in, out and around the gentle samba rhythm. If weed wasn’t legal, I’d prescribe this for stress.

— J.S.

When Particles Collide: “Bell Jar”

“We can let the breeze come and whisper / All that we never got to be” sounds like the kind of lyric Nick Drake would croon over a tenderly picked acoustic arrangement. When Particles Collide thought otherwise. Bolstered by her own thunderous guitar riff, Sasha Alcott absolutely bellows these words, their inherent admission of regret at least temporarily washed away in a maelstrom of distortion. Chris Viner, the other half of the Bangor duo, makes each drum sound like an omen. The effect is exhilarating. Yes, this song is called “Bell Jar.” But for me at least, the takeaway is a hopeful one: If you’re feeling depressed, get out and make some noise.

— J.S.

Lunch Cult

Lunch Cult: “Sure Does”

I’d initially opinedthat the song on this six-track release that “takes” the proverbial “cake” is “Trachtatus,” with its irresistible chorus and references to Wittgenstein’s philosophy. Upon further reflection, I now declare the cake-taker to be “Sure Does,” by virtue of its ingeniously disjointed Beefheartian boogie and the delightful lyrical incongruities that work on both the meta and lyrical levels. To wit: singer/keyboardist Jake Lichter eschews the expected rhyme of “Spain” with “Maine,” detouring instead to “Tivoli, New York,” from whence the narrator goes to Woodstock only to realize he’s “46 years late” and “on the wrong farm.” If he did indeed write this song for his “frat bros,” I hope at least one can appreciate the cleverness at play here.

— Chris Busby

Dead Gowns: “Bad Movie” 

Fuckin’ Spence. Here I thought I was the insider who had the honor of hipping local music fans to Geneviève Beaudoin of Dead Gowns, the most stunningly talented singer to emerge from the Maine scene in a decade. But no, Spencer Albee beat me to it, featuring Beaudoin and the Gowns at a taping of his variety show, The Elephant in the Room, weeks before our review hit the stands, and then giving her a guest spot during his annual Beatles tribute shows at the State Theatre, where thousands of attendees must’ve walked away thinking, Boy, that Spencer Albee sure has an ear for talent! Spence also would have recognized that the most impressive vocal run on this enchanting alt-country track is not Beaudoin’s five-note pronunciation of the word “here,” as I inferred, but rather the way she rides the word “loose” the second time around like it’s a coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Curses — foiled again!

— C.B.

Allagash Black Sabbath: “Supernaut”

The annual Battle of the Brewery Bands at Portland House of Music (part of Portland Beer Week last November) included excellent sets by ad hoc cover groups from SoMe Brewing, Rising Tide, and Banded Brewing (whose version of Dio’s “Holy Diver” was the most righteous surprise of the night). But the Sabbath cover band from Allagash was so good that I actually sold them my soul. Granted, they had a ringer, Jeff Olson, drummer and co-founder of the pioneering doom-metal band Trouble (among other impressive musical accomplishments), playing percussion and channeling Ozzy. But they also had the good sense to rip into this “deep track” from Vol. 4, complete with a blistering drum solo by Olson that sent the already frenzied crowd straight to the moon. I know cover bands are frowned upon, but these guys should be gigging on the regular.

— C.B.

Golden Rules the Thumb: “Another Detail” 

Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, about a quarter after three in the afternoon. I’ve got the car stereo tuned, as always, to WMPG for David Pence’s show, “Radio Junk Drawer.” A hauntingly beautiful instrumental track that I later learn was “Sun Song,” by The Earl Hennessy Trio, gracefully segues into another gorgeous song that I only vaguely recognize at first. Then it hits me like an epiphany: it’s “Another Detail,” the last track on the debut albumby Golden Rules the Thumb, the new project by Tyler Jackson and Jonas Eule (of Endless Jags). It’s wonderful how local radio can make local bands seem and sound like they’ve hit the big time (whatever that is anymore). So, so wonderful, and yet so damn rare.

— C.B.

Sean Mencher live at Lenny’s. photo/Matt Robbins

Sean Mencher: Live at Lenny’s

True to his generous and self-effacing nature, virtuosic roots guitarist Sean Mencher, at the release show for his new album, Plays Guitar, last fall at Lenny’s Pub, in Westbrook, gave his musical friends more combined stage time than he took for himself, including a nearly show-stealing turn by young hotshot blues guitarist Darren Thiboutot (of Memphis Lightning) and an impromptu mini-set by rockabilly royals King Memphis. Mencher’s good friend and mentor, the late, legendary bluegrass player and producer Al Hawkes, was in attendance that evening, and Sean’s daughter surprised him by flying up from Texas to sing a few songs. Of course the performances were superb, but this show was an example of music’s other great power: the ability to create community. As Sean remarked at the start of his set, we truly were “blessed” to be there together.

— C.B.