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. 

Christmas Grab-bag, 2012

Will it fit?

Giving local music for the holidays

I always give local music for Christmas [this was 2012, back when people still had CD players and stuff. I don’t do this anymore, which sorta makes me sad, but all the music lovers I know just have spotify now, so what’s the point?]. It’s like giving twice: Once to the gift receiver, and once to the band who get a little revenue for the holidays. Sis used to be an underground hip-hop kid, so she generally gets something recent from the Milled Pavement catalog. The three musically inclined brothers-in-law get a hand-made CD-R out of Strange Maine, the latest Sidecar EP, and whatever Chris Moulton’s latest project is, respectively.

Hmmm, might have to get creative this year for those last two.

If you’re feeling like you need to get creative this year, I’ve pulled out a bunch of stocking stuffers that I didn’t get around to reviewing this past year, but which will likely be a great fit for your special someone:

For anyone who hit the Avett Brothers, Old Crow, and Mumford shows in the past year: You’ll definitely want to grab them North, the debut EP from the Ghost of Paul Revere. A talented group of acoustic pickers with old souls and a nice feel for multi-part harmony, this is a band that can get touchy-feely (“Kodiak”) right before they blast right through a barn-burner (“Wolves”), and the closing “Spirit” has a real thump to it before an a capella finish that will keep you guessing.

For your uncle, who recently showed up wearing a leather jacket and a sarong: Make sure to pick up Philip Carlo Paratore’s Bronx to Bali, a record for adventurers. Tracked over six years, it’s got big rock elements, Latin swing, Caribbean rhythm, Pacific Rim melodies, and a vocal delivery that’s somewhere between Zappa and Transylvania 6-5000. There can be a simple seductiveness to instrumentals like “Kembali,” and the waterfalls of chiming digital bells might be just right for the holidays.

For the cousin to whom you gave a William Gaddis novel last year: For dense, smart, lyrical songs that you can consume for days, give Post Provost’s Ancient Open Allegory Oratorio, album that uses 14 musicians to create 11 tracks. One of the best albums released locally this year, it’s full of beautiful surprises, like “The Walking Cadaver,” a jazzy tune full of brushed snare, a walking bass from Johnny Venom and a close-out that includes a dire piano from Michael McInnis.  “Tall and Strong” has a “Girl from Ipanema” thing going on that’s hard not to like a lot and “Ping Pong Dash” is a delicious gypsy polka.

For your little sister, who just started at UVM: Sure, you could get her that Bob Marley box set, but think how cool she’ll seem to the kids in the dorm when they get a load of Maine reggae, thanks to Royal Hammer’s My Bubble. Fronted by Michael Taylor and with local lions all over the place – David Noyes, Jerusha Robinson, Gary Gemiti, Tyler Quist, Lucas Desmond, Ryan Zoidis, Stu Mahan – these guys have been at it long enough now that they’re super tight and locked in on the easy vibe that makes for great reggae. Add in the closing track, where they put a reggae cover on Micah Blue Smaldone’s “Mule,” and this is probably the best-every locally released album of this ilk.

For your aunt, just up from Memphis: You gotta make a gal feel at home, right? Well, for decent blues in this town, turn first to Bob Rasero (of Renovators fame). His latest, Not Gonna Worry, sees him turning in his electric for a mean acoustic guitar that lets him get more breathy with the vocals and more subtle with his delivery. The recording, done down in Bronxville, N.Y., at the Loft, is mint – the solos are so crisp you can hear every hammer-on and slide and it feels like Rasero is right across the room from you. My favorite is “Who’s to Blame,” with a solo that spits right in your eye even as it fades out, but there’s plenty for everyone here, even a Christmas tune.

For your friends with kids: Maybe they’re not hip to Laurie Berkner and they’re playing Wiggles drivel? Hand them Rob Duquette’s Love Is Contagious, a charming EP of five songs targeted at a decidedly younger audience (although I think “Brush Everyday” is solid advice at any age). Unless you’ve got an aversion to xylophone, songs like “Friends Forever” and the title track are very listenable, which is pretty crucial for parents who enjoy their sanity.

For anyone who’s been around a little bit: An underappreciated album by a local supergroup that came and went awfully quickly, Army of Squirrels’ Pirates Vs. Temperature is a sneering, sarcastic, hard-driving rock album that pokes fun and revels in our local scene, from “Break up the Band” to the closing “The Skinny,” which sadly might not even resonate much with people nowadays. “Your Life is Like an Emo Song” is worth the cover charge, and contributions from Brian Chaloux, Nick Lamberto, Walt Craven, and Neil Collins are easy to hear. Great stuff.