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.

Micromassé: Because You Have Friends

Party like it’s 1986

Micromassé bring their Friends to the party

Twelve songs and 45 minutes: So over! The single reigns supreme.

No wonder instrumental trio Micromassé chose to follow-up their debut self-titled full-length with a two-song maxi-single of sorts. How very contemporary [this was written in late 2014].

Except that they printed it up on a CD and gave it a proper title, Because You Have Friends. With a “Side A” and a “Side B,” even if they’re only one long song each. How very 1986.

That was the year, of course, that Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush released “Don’t Give Up,” which Micromassé cover as their opening track, with Sara Hallie Richardson donating her skills to cover both the verse and chorus parts and Lucas Desmond, Joe Parra and Dave Noyes lending horn talents (hence the album title: the lyric from the song and all the guest types).

Heard the full album version of “Don’t Give Up” lately? Off So? It’s actually pretty funky, with two distinct movements and a touch of afrobeat, stretching out past six minutes (of the numerous cover versions, I’ll take Willie Nelson and Sinead O’Connor). Micromassé get that all out of the way in about 3:25. Richardson sings the verses in feverish double time, then takes a few beats to hit the Bush falsetto in the chorus, and it turns the song inside out, making “the trees had burned down to the ground” sound like an upbeat Irish reel.

By the “we’re proud of who you are” finishing lyrics, she’s in full-voice vibrato, more aggressive than you’ve heard her, dialing up the song’s intensity. Still, though, the track’s only halfway done.

Then it’s time for the funk (in a non-cheesy way), Max Cantlin laying down a hopping bass and Pete Dugas firing in organ chords before a three-piece horn section turns it into a rave-up, with Richardson just languidly dripping in takes on the title phrase. Two takes on the same song, one rock-pop, the other open jazz, back to back, one track. And a lot of fun.

“Tout Le Monde,” the side B written by Dugas, is much more Herbie Hancock. Parra’s baritone sax is a fat bleat in the opening riffs and the first great break comes from Chris Sweet on the conga/percussion break, which is joined by Dugas with unique percussive organ work.

Later, at six minutes or so, the percussion drops away to nothing but handclaps and we get a series of riffs from Noyes on the trombone and Desmond on the alto sax, with Cantlin laying down a wicka-wicka behind them that’s only in the right channel. The contrast with the intense opening track is striking – this is laid back, messing around, seeing what happens. It’s hard not to get a kick out of the interplay and choreography.

By the time everyone comes back in for the full-band sound, they’re just rolling, with a big band sound like one of those New Orleans stages full of family friends.

But we’re referencing 1986 here, remember, so you’d better be expecting the digital interruption that comes in late, like someone changed the channel to the digital input so they could resume a game of Frogger (watch out for the random fast cars!). It rips you right out of the pocket.

Not to worry, though. It’s only 20 seconds worth, and then it’s right back to the jam, horns swelling and jabbing, organ in lock step, drums conjuring up dreams of Cuba in a sweaty close out that finally stretches past 10 minutes.

Really, Micromassé as a trio works just fine, a jazz outfit rolled in future dust with a great album of smart instrumentals, but these friends are difference makers that create a funkier complement to some of the great R&B outfits Portland has put together (Inside Straight, Model Airplane, etc.). It’s likely a one-off, but that’s more than fine if Micromassé has a few more ideas for creative expression up their sleeves.