This week, we study the Portland diaspora, and Hudson Eakin has gone to Worcester, of all places. Isn't that like all the worst parts of Maine and none of the best?
STAYING OUT Hudson Eakin.
Judging by Eakin's first solo project (he performs as The Way Out is Through and is putting a band together) after his break with Faster! Faster!, I'd say he goes in for self-flagellation. In its bipolar embrace of Elliot Smith quiet dissonance and Stiv Bators cacophonous sloppy rock, Bandages feels rapped on the knuckles, having constantly reached for a cookie jar of sounds that might spoil its dinner. The six-song (plus "Bonus" track) EP is damn-near passive-aggressive in its courtship of the listener, preceding each caress with a shove.
It opens with a moshy kick in the teeth, 20 seconds of pounding thrash, on "Endorphin," then quickly dials back into Guster-style pop, vocals breathy, delicate guitar picking out a single-note harmony. The chorus settles somewhere in between, with Eakin emoting, "Just tell me what's going on here ... I've got a right to know." Lately it has seemed like there's a contest I don't know about where bands try to create that greatest juxtaposition between the quiet of their verses and the heaviness of their choruses. Eakin scores high marks by that account and builds from the nadir to the apex in the final chorus with nice restraint.
This questioning, this avowal to the listener that we're all just sort of along for the ride, is belied by a confidence and swagger Eakin throws into "Source of Strength" and "Don't Care," strutting through them like he's David Lee Roth recording "California Girls." He might sing "I'm just a kid/Don't know where to begin," but it's clear he expects the keys to the car. He's testing, prodding, daring you to knock him back and tell him he can't do it: "Some say I need God/But I think not/What kind of dad just sits there while I fuck things up?"
And he's right. I'm a little ready to show him the back of my hand by the end of "Don't Care," but the horns he includes in its second half salvage a lot for me, throwing them in like a dose of levity, a wink, "hey, I'm just fucking around. See?"
That flows into the most charming song here, fittingly titled "My Best Shot," with a jazzy guitar opening riding just a breath of high hat. It's loungey. And since it's a Faster! Faster! break-up song, you shouldn't be surprised with the caustic guitar tone in the chorus. He's angry and defiant. "I'm done going faster," he claims. (Side note: No matter how good it might sound, a break-up song is a little like a rebound girl — do you really want to live with it forever? Or is it just a fling?) "I'll scream until my voice is numb," he assures. "I'll never tire, I'll never stop/Until I've given my best shot."
You could hear that as a promise with promise. Or, after hearing the attempt at rap on the "Bonus" track, you could hear it as a threat.
BANDAGES | Released by The Way Out is Through | at the Grind, in Worcester, Massachusetts | March 26 | www.myspace.com/thewayoutisthroughrocks
Continuing our study of the Portland diaspora, Shana Barry has gone Downeast — and out of this world, for that matter. While Barry's work singing for Seekonk may have at times seemed otherworldly, with her newest project she's actually created another universe, where the island of Fof is populated by happy little Fofers (kind of like brightly colored Ewoks). It's kids' music, yes, with requisite songs extolling diversity, peace, and going to sleep quietly, but a soothing and engaging listen for a grownup with a certain disposition.
All of the eight songs on A Pink Whale and a Very Tall Tree, Barry's Fofer origin story, are sparely arranged, just Barry and a guitar, or a ukulele, and are seductive in their simplicity and straightforwardness. "Around the Island" is literally a tour; "Great Mystery" is a creation myth. Barry's vocals are effervescent, a wisp you can't quite a get grip on, but not always perfectly pitched or full of body. If they were you'd be suspicious.
While she doesn't employ little kids like Kimya Dawson's great Alphabutt, nor go for big arrangements like the classic Free to Be... You and Me or Really Rosie, Barry does manage that most-difficult of tasks. She makes children's music that's not childish. Some of the tunes here I'd love to hear fleshed out into full indie-rock arrangements, but nothing's half-baked or dumbed-down.
The one thing I can certainly get with here is the sense of wonder Barry conveys. It's definitely true that we too often take our world's splendor for granted. Barry doesn't.
A PINK WHALE AND A VERY TALL TREE | Released by Shana Barry | www.theshaggallery.com