Summer's over, the kids are getting back to school and I'm loath to turn the seasonal page. The music's been terrific. New discs by Spencer and the School Spirit Mafia, Grand Hotel, dilly dilly, Samuel James, and Gypsy Tailwind have highlighted the depth and breadth of our local talent and the return of shows on the pier has reminded many of us just what a great summer town this can be.
But time is running short and there are still discs sitting on the iPod I've been meaning to review. So here is a quick-and-dirty look at some releases that may have passed you by, but are worthy of a second look.
Olivia Cornell and the Precious, Filthy Things
At Geno's, in Portland | September 18 | www.myspace.com/oliviacornell
A New York transplant, Olivia Cornell has some of that punkish, Max's Kansas City sass you're just not going to find in a life-long Mainer. There is a sharp tang in her first Maine-based album, Filthy Things, from the low-end thrum of the album's opening "Back Bay" to the shrill delivery of Cornell's highest vocal track on the finishing "Black Ice." The themes are northern New England, but the sounds are wind-swept city streets.
Part of that's Jim Begley's production, capturing largely cynical and callous guitar tones; part of it's Cornell's chilly songwriting. Is she the sort of girl who wears floor-length black skirts even on the hottest summer day? "Wait until it rains," she sings in layered vocals, mixed more to the middle than you think in "Back Bay," "we'll go walking around the Back Bay/Walking instead of smoking." On "September City," the lone acoustic ballad here, "Don't spend your money on me," she advises through reverbed and glowing vocals, "hold onto it tight for winter."
But there's often a melodic lilt in her voice, whether it apes Ozzy ("Queen of the Sea") or Blondie ("Hard Drive"), and the flippant "I Hate My Job" is playful when she pokes: "Wanna bitch? you're looking at one/And I can get much meaner."
She ain't that filthy, but she can talk dirty.
Low 90, self-titled
The name might remind you of slocorists Low, but don't be fooled: There's a lot of '80s pop to be had here on Low 90's self-titled debut four-song EP. It's hard to tell if the slightly fey vocals from Jere Nickerson are ironic or just nasal, but the results work all right. It's indie rock, but it's this yacht-rock business, too, and I suspect these guys would have been comfortable in white loafers and pink shirts in 1987.
Andrew Bogner puts in good work on both the guitars and keys, chiming in with harmonics on "Undercover" or popping melodic keyboard chimes on "I Will Remember." That latter tune is positively Icehouse (you remember "Electric Blue," but maybe you don't know it was co-written by John Oates), with big drum breakdowns between strums and a slippery open.
Low 90 can be Less then Zero moody, too, as on the finish of "Undercover," or the heavy, aggressive finish to the otherwise R.E.M.-esque "Red Lights." Recorded with Jon Wyman, it holds together well and everything is in proportion, but in the end it feels insubstantial. Maybe it's perfect for a summer night, carrying in on the wind and then drifting away.