Out of this world
The digital delight of Space versus Speed
Since 2000, we’ve had the Popsicko, Rocktopus, As Fast As (three albums), Spencer and the School Spirit Mafia, and now Space versus Speed. All with Spencer Albee as principle songwriter and frontman. Seven full-length records [this was first released in late 2010].
It seems like a lot until you consider Eric Clapton was with the Yardbirds, the Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith (for my money the best classic rock album of all time), Delaney and Bonnie, Derek and the Dominoes, and then fronted a solo record all between 1963 and 1970. Makes Albee look downright focused.
I don’t give a shit if he has a different band name every other Friday. I’ve never been disappointed, and I still listen to at least a few songs off every record he’s ever made. Every band has had its signature sound, filtered through a Beatles-pop lens Albee loves to apply. The most recent School Spirit Mafia was almost folksy, with lots of acoustic guitars and backing harmonies. It felt very super ego. Rational. Space versus Speed might be the record that is the most Spencer. The id. He used to like to throw these spacey keyboard lines into Rustic tunes, or tracks that were basically fine with just normal guitar-bass-drums voicing with As Fast As, because, well, he’s a keyboard player. But this album is keyboard centric, as though he finally realized that he didn’t need to front this band with a guitar. It’s all spacey keyboards, and guitars that sound like spacey keyboards, and bass that sounds like spacey keyboard. It’s a digital celebration.
It’s down, dirty, and probably the most fun thing he’s every done, too. It all started with the “iRok” single back in August. It was though Albee impressed himself with the melody line that runs through it, like he fell in love with it. I’m glad he did. Coming seventh on this 11-song disc, it is the album’s heart. A blast. And you can’t even really tell Albee sings on it. Saiyid Brent’s rap is certainly the song’s identity. But it’s the energy that matters. It’s undeniable.
Albee’s got other help, too. Horn player from the Mafia Jamie Colpoys (Fogcutters Big Band) gets a writing credit on “iRok,” and she’s now part of the band. As is Nate Nadeau (Conifer) on drums, Neil Collins (Lincolnville, Twisted Roots, Eldemur Krimm) on bass, and Walt Craven (Goud’s Thumb, 6gig, Lost on Liftoff) on guitar. That’s some serious talent and experience.
All but Collins get songwriting credits on the second single from the album, “Tea and Cocaine,” which opens with a melody line that sounds like a “power-up” in a Mario video game, and Albee vocals so distorted and mirrored by a robot voice that you could again hardly know it was him. But the song structure and melody are all Albee. There are few who write a catchier chorus, and this one delivers in full. Which makes the contrast with the video game stuff all the more jarring, like an ice cube on the back of the neck on a summer day. Bracing, but good. A little bit exhilarating.
“Indispensable,” the chorus of which is repurposed for Spose’s “Into Spose,” was cowritten by the Lucid’s Dominic Lavoie, and is a bit psychedelic like that. The chorus is “Florida Sunshine” good, as is Tim Emery’s lead guitar bit between the last two choruses. Lights out.
“Set It Off” has a wicked na-na-na vocal line. Wicked.
There is a line of heaviness that Albee edges across every once in a while that sounds somewhat forced – “Red Line Cannibal,” “AC15” – but Albee is pushing the envelope and a songwriter isn’t trying hard enough if some things don’t work 100 percent of the time.
He comes full-circle by the finish, with the song most like his oeuvre, “By Land As By Sea,” a straight pop-rock tune infused with a tinge of melancholy and no co-writers: “I’ve failed them, as captain/ How could I let this happen?/ And now I’m living with this.”
Failed? Not hardly.