Now Hear This

Reviews of new local releases

“Cape Snow,” by Cape Snow
Burst and Bloom Records
File Under: Dream pop, indie rock, Americana
Sounds Like: Beth Orton, Neko Case, Aimee Mann, Mazzy Star

The physical distance between the many members of Cape Snow averages 3,000 miles at any given time, but on their delectable, self-titled debut, you’d think they often occupied a space in each other’s heads. When Dylan Metrano (editor’s note: Metrano is a contributor to The Sound) and Bree Scanlon met almost 15 years ago, they created a long-distance musical correspondence and began writing music by phone. Having moved to Los Angeles, Scanlon would send melodies and song fragments that Metrano, and eventually Guy Capecelatro III and Marc McElroy, would craft into song. Together with a host of talented contributors from around the country, the transcontinental collaboration is that much more impressive considering they’ve never actually been in the same room before.

“Cape Snow” combines the atmosphere of vintage rhythm and blues with ’90s-era dream pop and a hint of Americana. The guitars, drenched in reverb, meld with various keyboards, vibraphone, xylophone, cello, horns, and harmony vocals contributed by Mara Flynn and members of Songs: Ohia, Tiger Saw, and Small Sur. Together they create a shimmering, cloud-like atmosphere that’s perfect for showcasing Scanlon’s sultry, haunting voice and impressive range. The album’s sound quality and mesmerizing songwriting is indicative of Cape Snow’s all-star collection of talent and experience.

On the first single, “One More Time,” Scanlon is perfectly mired in regret over a lost love. When she says “I’d give anything to say hello, one more time,” her voice lifts and flutters like a lace handkerchief in the wind of jazz-influenced drums. “Flesh and Blood” plays on the tension between two lovers caught between contradictory world views, and Scanlon channels Hope Sandoval’s seductive power. “Swoon” is another dynamic waltz with a powerful but deceptively optimistic chorus: “Like moths we swoon, longing for the moon.” The moths won’t make it, but for Cape Snow, there are no limits.

“Montreal,” by Brook, Bear and the Elephant
75 or Less Records
File Under: Rock and roll, indie rock, alternative
Sounds Like: The Jayhawks, Wilco, Queens of the Stone Age

Merging the distinct styles and personalities of songwriters on record can be a difficult endeavor. The musical camaraderie of Eric Ott, Nate Laban, and Sean Yadisernia is a testament to this process and its potential. Their collective experience in music spans decades and includes well-known Seacoast acts Mercuryhat, Eric and the Anxiety, and Laban’s solo incarnations. They’ve earned several nominations for various Spotlight Awards, including one this year for best rock act as Thrift Store Ransom, and Ott has taken home two awards for his songwriting.

“Montreal,” their first full-length album under the name Brook, Bear and the Elephant, is an ideal balance of two seemingly competing styles. Ott’s contributions are rooted in folk, pop-Americana, and alt-country, while Laban’s have evolved out of an eclectic, but decidedly heavier, punky sound that, even when unplugged, always produce considerable power.

“Tired Moon Eyes” exemplifies the lyrical and musical intersection of their respective styles. Here, Ott’s Bob Dylan-influenced folk has been energized, now channeling Jeff Tweedy over Laban’s driving, palm-muted riffs that recall Tom Petty rather than Fugazi. The upbeat song culminates in a chorus that’s cheerfully laden with poppy “ba ba ba bahs,” but masks a darker meditation on mortality.

From the Wilco-inspired “Crushing Cloud” and Ott’s signature folk sound on “Strung Photographs,” to the humorous and choppy punk n’ roll of Laban’s “5 Inch Knife,” the record remains cohesive despite its diversity. On the standout track “Death of a Salesman,” Laban’s infectious melodies bounce on a powerfully simple two-chord structure. “I could never kill myself, trying to be like someone else,” he repeats. Having benefitted from each other’s influence, Ott and Laban aren’t trying to be like anyone else — they’re reaping the rewards of evolution.

“Labor of Love,” by The Connection
Rum Bar Records
File Under: Garage rock, ’60s power pop, pop punk
Sounds Like: Flamin’ Groovies, Rolling Stones, The Kinks

Four years in and with a handful of successful records to their name, The Connection has forged a reputation for blistering throwback guitar riffs and a heralded live presence. They’re regulars on Little Steven Van Zandt’s “Underground Garage” radio show and have played the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On their new album, “Labor of Love,” producer Andy Chernoff of The Dictators has stripped away some of the gloss from previous recordings, exposing the band’s harder-edged roots and making room for some more eclectic additions.

Where as “Let It Rock” was a mostly innocuous record, full of good-time rock ‘n’ roll, “Labor of Love” has a darker, angrier edge to it. The times are still good for listeners — the pop hooks and tight riffs are firmly in place. The stylistic departures work well too, particularly in the Kinks-inspired “Pathetic Kind of Man” and the slower, Stones-influenced “Let the Jukebox Take Me.” And yet, for everything the record has going for it, at times, its lyrical content detracts from its achievements.

When the lyrics unnecessarily stray from the personal to the political in the song “Red White and Blue,” The Connection bucks their own trend of creating music for everyone. In a song that repeatedly asks, “What’s going wrong in the world?,” this line stands out: “All-American kind of guy, works his fingers down to the bone. Illegal immigrants keep coming, there’s millions of them fresh off the boat. The world is spinning round and round, I feel like the roof is falling down.” The band admits they don’t keep track of their lyrics, and they’re not printed, but for listeners who pay attention, xenophobic statements like this can be polarizing.

On “Treat You So Bad,” it’s difficult to sing along with a first-person narrative in which the protagonist flippantly details his emotionally abusive treatment of his girlfriend. After stating how he makes her cry, he lists the reasons why he screams and rages at her, including the Red Sox losing and her attempts to hold his hand. He adds that she shouldn’t take it personally and not to let it ruin their date. Musicians are free to write what they wish, and we’re glad they do. But now that the whole world is listening, it might be time for The Connection to be more conscious of what they have to say.