Twisted Roots: Volume 1

Pump up the Volume

A Twisted Roots retrospective (with five new songs)

Nowadays, it’s hard to remember that Twisted Roots ever broke up in the first place. Or that they’d been playing for a decade before the break-up even happened. With 2004’s self-released The Seed, last year’s Rat Pak record 12 Skies, Fire and the Black, and a steady stream of shows throughout the state, TFR (the “F” stands for “fucking,” but you knew that) have reestablished themselves at the head of Maine’s heavy music scene [this originally ran in fall of 2008].

You know, the scene that seems to produce more show attendees and record buyers than any other in the state?

But it bears remembering that just about now Twisted Roots are celebrating 20 years as a band, and their label commemorate the fact with Volume 1, a collection of 16 songs that are variously from their two Cherrydisc albums, Turn to Stone and Communication, and their last disc before the break-up, Body in the Trunk, Brick on the Gas, plus an unreleased live take, two brand-new songs recorded with Jon Wyman, some remixes, and three unreleased recordings from the somewhat distant past.

Don’t overthink it. Unless you’re a serious local-music collector, you have basically none of this material. Body in the Trunk is widely held, yes, so maybe you’ve got five of these songs, but both Communication and Stone have been out of print for more than a decade, and were available for sale before even an old man like me was out of college.

So, experience it all again for the first time. The mastering is such that you’d never know the difference from a tune recorded in 1992 and 2008, and the material holds up remarkably well. Twisted Roots’ brand of melodic heavy rock has never really lost its fanbase, moving from the grunge era to alternative rock radio to the sort of metal we hear today played by Dead Season, Loki, Civil Disturbance, and any number of other bands that combine driving, distorted guitars; an active, down-tuned bass; floor-tom- and cymbal-heavy drums; and soaring melodic vocals.

A note from Twisted Roots’ Adam Powers: “When Twisted Roots formed in 1989 there was only one venue in town that would play all-original hard rock or punk rock music: Geno’s … It took us over a year to convince Kris Clark to give us a show at Zootz on a Wednesday night. There was the Tree playing mostly early alt-country and national underground music, but pretty much everywhere else was covers.” [Editor’s note: This ran as part of the “Sibilance” notes column I used to write to accompany full reviews. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess.]

“Tracks” is one of the tunes that got the band noticed, with what became a trademarked vocal-oriented open, with just an acoustic-guitar backing: “She wept/ And the sound of seven guns drummed in her head.” Back when Stone came out, Neil Collins was playing bass, before he went on to play with Lincolnville and Eldemur Krimm. His playing drives this track, pushing forward what is a great radio-friendly singalong.

The brand-new “Counter on the Hill”—with the current line-up of frontman Pete Giordano, lead guitarist Adam Powers, drummer Sonny Robinson, and bassist Mark Lennon—is a two-minute “Tracks” homage. The opening vocals are a little more naked, and there’s a nod to a lower-fi aesthetic, but “I heard about the gun you held.”

But it doesn’t really matter which songs were recorded when, since much of the band’s new audience didn’t even have access to Twisted Roots when the songs were first released. As in: The Internet and the MP3 wasn’t invented yet (that’s an exaggeration, but you get my point). Nowadays, the appetite for American heavy rock in Germany, Russia, Scandinavia, etc., can’t be overstated. And Internet radio stations are happy to sate their appetites with heavy riffage from the Roots. 

The manic, huge sound of Trunk’s “Voices,” with a thunderous pounding following the first chorus, is every bit as attractive as the heart-racing drum push that drives 2008’s “Hollow Earth.” And the rock-ballad style of 1996’s “Seven Days,” with its pretty little guitar opening and its moody organ, never goes out of style.

Of course, local archivists will be pleased with a couple of gems here, too. “Waking Up,” a furious live recording with a cycling breakdown after the first chorus that leads into an epic guitar solo, seems to be an unreleased bit from the same State Theatre (it hurts just to type that) show that produced 1994’s live album, Bad Blood/Blown Motor. “Blackbirds” offers a relatively rare extended acoustic piece, with a spacey effect to accompany some psychedelic lyrics: “Apple pie filled with black birds/ What do they symbolize?”

What do they symbolize? I’m going to go with: The festering and continuing decay of the American dream. See, I told you some things never go out of style.

Space versus Speed: Self-titled

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.