Dominic and the Lucid: Season of the Sun

We had joy, we had fun

Dominic and the Lucid release Season of the Sun

It’s hardly rare for bands to borrow local talents to add flare here and there to a record, but Dominic and the Lucid — essentially a three- or four-piece band — have gone above and beyond the usual guest spots. Fifteen musicians play on Season of the Sun, their 11-song follow-up to 2006’s break-through release [this originally ran in fall, 2008], Waging the Wage, and backing vocals are provided by an 18-strong chorus that recorded with engineer Jack Murray in USM’s Corthell Concert Hall.

I mean, there are three different trombone players listed here: John Maclain, Eric Ambrose, and Dave Noyes.

That kind of talent convergence can be hard to harness, but the new disc sounds cohesive and manages to be dense and interesting without making the listener feel claustrophobic. As he did with Wage, frontman and songwriter Dominic Lavoie shows a great feel for pacing the record, mixing in love-song pop, bouncy rock, and languid string-filled ballads to create a throwback album that’s not quite a “concept,” but certainly demands that you listen to it from front to back.

There are times, though, when I wonder whether Lavoie didn’t gorge himself at the musician and talent trough, adding in backing vocals (the screamed piece mixed to the back of “Simpleton’s Hymn” at the finish) or percussion (the recurring ratchet in “Cement”) because he could and not necessarily because the song demanded it. Some of the bouncy pop numbers, like “Come out and Play,” come off a tad manic.

That said, Lavoie also makes some inspired decisions with the guest players, as with the pairing of pedal steel player Cartwright Thompson and Kallie Ciechomski’s viola on “Covered in Colors,” producing a sublime and liquid dream-state behind vocals that positively glow. Long-time drummer Chuck Gagne is great here, too, completely restrained and using his cymbals especially well to punctuate each note of the melody.

In a way, Lavoie seems to have evolved into Portland’s John Lennon (a step up from Portland’s Chris Martin, which is where I had him pegged previously): a guy who can manage to make peace, love, and harmony seem cool without devolving into sentimentality and cheese. Like Lennon’s “Imagine” or “Give Peace a Chance,” Lavoie is able to create whole songs out of very simple themes and repeated phrases while remaining artful and interesting (U2’s “Peace on Earth,” from All that You Can’t Leave Behind comes to mind, too). “Be in Love” is bouncy and upbeat with some great phrasings, centered around the idea that “I’ve been around the world once or twice before/ But the answer isn’t found in starting wars/ I promise you this/ A treaty can’t touch the peace within a kiss.” So where is the answer to be found? “The answer’s in love/ Be in love, being loved, be loved, be in love.”

So, it shouldn’t surprise you to hear in “Simpleton’s Hymn” that “all the little boys and girls/ Need love, need love, they need love.”

Appropriately, this talk of love makes up the heart of the album, with the first three and last three songs providing the rib cage. Themes from the opening “Dog,” gray skies above a dog chained by the side of the road made musical by Nate Cyr’s thrumming bass beside a swirling organ, are revisited in the penultimate (and longest) “Swiveling Moon, All Temptations, All without Fearing,” where “Oh, God, chained dog/ You’re life’s the same as mine,” made slightly Zappa. In the ninth tune, “Song for Us to Sing,” we hear echoes of the third, “Cease to Exist,” when Lavoie revisits the “Cease” bridge: “I mean every word that I say/ When tomorrow comes, better to fade away.”

Finally, there is “Of the Sun,” where piano and strings leave us uplifted, Lavoie’s voice (stronger on every recording thus far) cracks just enough to emphasize his vulnerability, and it’s more than clear that “I’m in a dream/ Where everything shines.” It’s a fitting finish to what ultimately feels like a psychedelic return to the Summer of Love, an aesthetic that’s easy to embrace, all the more so because as popular as “Imagine” might be as a song to sing on American Idol, it doesn’t seem enough people have really gotten the message yet.

As Fast As: Destroy the Plastique Man

Seek and Destroy

As Fast As pull out their Plastique

It’s an unpredictable world we live in. The Red Sox keep winning the World Series, a Canadian dollar is now worth more than our pathetic greenback [this originally ran in 2008, height of the financial crisis], and that hack from American Idol, Daughtry, is among the best-selling rock acts in the world. Now I find there isn’t a single giant pop-rock singalong on the new As Fast As album.

What is the world coming to?

Well, it turns out Spencer Albeee and company have traded in their standard McCartney-Wings pop for a ’70s style more informed by the Bay City Rollers, the Bee Gees, and Yes, in the process knocking out something of a concept album. Destroy the Plastique Man is the band’s first since parting ways with Octone/A&M Records, with which the band released only 2006’s Open Letter to the Damned, an update of the band’s local debut by the same name in 2004. However, combined with Albee projects the Popsicko (self-titled, 2001) and Rocktopus (I Love You! Good Morning!, 2002; Something Fierce, 2003), which featured pieces of the current AFA lineup, there is a five-album track record of big, singalong choruses, cheery piano parts, and loud guitars that might lead one to expect more of the same.

As Fast As prove here, though, that history is a poor predictor of future performance. Penned by Albee, the tunes here still largely conform to pop songwriting convention, with verse-chorus-bridge construction, but the chords are less than bright, virtually every instrument sports a digital buzz, and the time signatures aren’t always 4/4. Albee has shown an inclination for the dark before — this is, after all, the guy who wrote: “Maybe you love me/ Maybe I’m a monkey/ Maybe you’re just bored with a belly full of drinks, so you want to take me home and fuck me” — but he never before seemed so interested in making you uncomfortable, poking you in the ribs with contrapuntal notes instead of rubbing your belly with major-chord melody.

As for that concept, the album basically details the psychedelic wanderings of Albee alter-ego Aaron (it’s his middle name, and the middle name of guitarist Zach Jones and bassist Pat “Hache Horchatta” Hodgkins, as well), who wakes up to crickets and loons in the 30-second opener and seems to be the Plastique Man of the title track, wondering: “Can I finally learn to love myself?” You want to talk ’70s? The opening of that title track apes Frampton’s whole talking-through-the-guitar thing, but actually makes it a melodic and workable chorus, “I don’t know what the meaning of tomorrow is/ But I know what it is to take the fall,” juxtaposed with Albee’s normal-voiced narrative verses: “He’ll destroy the plastique man/ Then he’ll learn to love again.”

I’ll leave the psychoanalysis for you armchair types out there, but I’ll tell you the digital laser beams that shoot through the song, paired with chords that punch like a Brahms string section and the ghost of a violin, build tension here in all the right ways (guest spots here include Stu Mahan, John Maclaine, Dominic Lavoie, DJ Moore, Aren Sprinkle, Jay Villani, Holly Nunan, Angela Doxsey, Dave Noyes, Emily Dix Thomas, and Garry Bowcott — I’m not going to parse them all).

This is definitely a headphones album. A rocket launch races around the channels in “Homewrecker,” where Aaron “can be good/ I can be pure/ I can convince you if you’re not sure.” Then an electric guitar builds late over sampled shouts and yelling, before Albee upgrades the chorus with a yelled high harmony and some trumpet or trombone. This is Pet Sounds pop, with doubled and tripled vocals, but devoid of the syrup that infuses Smile.

Digital loops, sometimes seeming aimless, often pop up in the left channel without warning. Basses are always fuzzed and thrumming. Keyboard solos sometimes are so affected it’s hard to perceive the tone. Pair those with handclaps for percussion, lush vocal harmonies, and beautifully crafted rhyming verses, and it can be sometimes difficult to find your bearings, but Albee’s doing that on purpose and it’s a good thing.

“Sleighjacking” is a deliciously odd Christmas tune, with a Latin beat tied to a Kingston Trio delivery. “Your Lips to G-d’s Ears” is like a heavy rock tune without the guitars and a lyrical device where Albee repeats the last couple words of each line: “I got hot dripped juices on my chin, on my chin/ I see slap-shot pretty shaking in, shaking in/ I shake my head, cuz bitch trashed mommy, shakin in, shakin in.” And then the chorus is so sweetly delivered, “I know just what you’re going through,” a move from indifference to empathy.

“Somebody’s Fool” is where things run disco, full on glitter ball, like what you’d hear on the new Taylor McFerrin (yep, Bobby’s son) album.

Finally, there is the “single,” which is greatly matured and nuanced compared to “The Single,” that triumphantly graced the Popsicko album. “Dancing a Murderous Tango,” gracing the airwaves on WCYY, opens with scritchy fiddles, then a chugging guitar line paired with the bass. The “c’mon” that finishes each line of the verse recalls (Albee’s other band, maybe you’ve heard of it) Rustic Overtones’ “C’Mon” off Viva Nueva, and the back-and-forth in the verse perfectly mimics the lock-step of the tango: “You think it’s sad/ I think it’s funny … you say death/ I say destruction … You say purpose/ I say function.”

Then there’s the big, expansive chorus, where Albee lets loose with all his chords will give him: “We’re dancing a murderous tango/ I’ll take your word/ Take me for everything.” He’s opened himself up laid himself bare. Take it and do with it what you will.