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Reviews of new local releases

“Horn Hill”
by Tiger Saw
Burst and Bloom Records
File Under: indie, slow-core, basement soul
Sounds like: Low, Songs: Ohia, The Microphones

While Maine’s Monhegan Island has always been known as a thriving artist colony and summer destination, during the earliest months of 2015, its desolate landscape was perfectly suited for recording Tiger Saw’s beautifully stark sixth album. The ever-evolving indie collective has included over 70 artists in its 16 years, but is anchored in the work of coastal nomad Dylan Metrano. For their first recording in five years, he’s joined forces with a distinguished cast including Guy Capecelatro III, Djim Reynolds, and Gregg Porter, along with a handful of Monhegan residents who braved winter on the island.

On “Horn Hill,” Tiger Saw channels the island through the ’60s, with songs drenched in reverb and echoes. Further dissecting the already slow-core sound that began on 2010’s “Nightingales,” “Horn Hill” is even more sparse, relying almost entirely on haunting organs and steady bass lines rather than the minimalist guitars and percussive notes that hide in the shadows of the woodstove. Metrano has made a career of utilizing simple, clever melodies and anthems, and again, his trademark harmonies are center stage, even in the darkest of places. In the tradition of “Ghost Tropic”-era Songs: Ohia, the weight of this record, and its success, lies in the feeling of isolation amidst community. On the pensive ballad “Endlessly,” when Metrano sings “Closer still, I want you here alongside me. Here endlessly,” it’s with both appreciation and longing.

The opener, “Horizon Lights,” sets the tone, as Metrano’s hushed voice tiptoes over a lonely bass line — always one step ahead of the meandering backing vocals until the island’s children chime in with a supernatural chorus of notes.  In a testament to Capecelatro’s distinct songwriting, “Fading Light” is immediately recognizable, buoyed by cross-stick snare notes and guitar reverb. The album’s standout psych-dirges “Illuminated heart” and “Let Me Ride” are contagious gems that recall troubadours Shin Jung Hyun and the Men. The rapt “Horn Hill” is proof that, even in Tiger Saw’s third decade as a band, where other acts might add needlessly, slowing down and simplifying can be most effective.

“Dawn Chorus”
by Martin England and the Reconstructed
Ghost Mill Recordings
File Under: Americana, heartland rock, folk
Sounds like: Calexico, Ryan Adams, Delta Spirit

Martin England has paid his dues and then some. Since the Americana rocker cut his teeth as the frontman for local roots-rock icons Pondering Judd, he’s become a tireless performer who’s penned hundreds of songs and graced Seacoast stages for more than 20 years. When the Reconstructed emerged from the rotating cast of musicians that performed on his first solo record, they began a collective songwriting process that would make England a band member again. Courtney Brocks, Jesse Dold, Sean Daniels, and Andrew Russell have played in Thanks to Gravity, The Molenes, and The Farewell Drugs, and are award-winning songwriters, world travelers, and recording engineers. There’s talent enough here for five acts, and it’s used to great effect.

While “Dawn Chorus” is the debut for the Reconstructed, it’s really the collective culmination of dozens of albums and years of musicianship. And it shows. The songwriting is earnest and complex, weaving together influences in surprisingly long compositions that never overstay their welcome. From murder ballads and odes to fantastic folk tales, England’s withered baritone is the emotive lynchpin, while Dold’s incredible electric guitar work provides the musical punch.  The record’s gigantic sound, courtesy of Dold (he’s also the recording engineer), is consistently punctuated with extended solos and sonic explorations that create an experience suitable for a stadium.

Showcasing his strengths immediately, England channels the vocal stylings of Calexico’s Joey Burns on “Unloaded” over driving, down-picked guitars and airy Southwestern leads. With equal purpose and pace, the redemptive standout track “Stronger in the Morning” is sure to be a rallying cry for insomniacs everywhere. In a towering payoff, Dold’s distorted chords ring out briefly before the chorus, like a train, comes crashing through. On “Caspian,” when Brocks’ voice finally breaks out on the triumphant prog-rock fable, we realize the Reconstructed’s potential. “Dawn Chorus” is a powerful opus — if this record is about how we’ll be saved again by morning, then we should be thankful for a sleepless night.

“Music for the Flat Earth”
by Elroy
File Under: roots rock, R&B, adult contemporary
Sounds like: Wilco, Rolling Stones, Huey Lewis and the News

For Marc McElroy and like-minded recording purists, the use of “real instruments” played through tube amplifiers into microphones and vintage recording equipment are the calling card of authentic rock ’n’ roll that’s lost on modern producers and listeners. As Elroy’s founder, songwriter, and producer McElroy carries on the traditions of a bygone era, valuing more nuanced analog sounds over the sanitized synchronicity of click tracks and digital equipment. Practically every musician on the Seacoast knows his stance well — his shared studio, the Electric Cave, has produced hundreds of their records, from doom metal to hip-hop and everything in between. McElroy is never far from the spotlight, but this fall, Elroy’s original lineup returned to remind everyone of their keen ability to rekindle the sounds of yesteryear through songwriting.

“Music for the Flat Earth,” Elroy’s first full-length in 10 years, is as close as a Seacoast album can get to achieving universal appreciation. Along with Brian Coleman, Charlie Kickham, Adam Doiron, and a host of contributors, its lush recording and diverse songwriting contain something for any listener nostalgic for 20th-century radio. Since 2001, McElroy has replaced the more raucous garage rock sounds of Elroy’s debut with an appreciation for detail, balance, and tried and true pop know-how. Every component of the record is meticulously crafted, but Elroy is still at their best when they let loose, and there are plenty of rich vintage notes and hooks to go around.

An early example of McElroy’s pop capabilities is “Bounceback,” a syrupy radio hit in waiting, as uplifting as it is catchy. “Guilt” is the perfect ’80s movie soundtrack motivator, steeped in regret but driving nonetheless to the finish line. Joe Rillo’s soulful baritone sax soars on “The Wrong Time,” as McElroy nails the perfect guitar tone and organ reverb. Mara Flynn lends her sultry vocals to “Miss Fortune” for a duet that evokes “Islands in the Stream” but serves as a post-breakup epilogue. On the adult contemporary ender, “Tonight,” Juliet Nelson’s cello lays a beautiful foundation for Woody Allen’s impassioned tenor sax solos. McElroy makes other musicians’ dreams come true in his studio; now, on “Music for the Flat Earth,” he’s provided the soundtrack for his process.