Quick, what’s the most valuable quality to have as a songwriter in the mystery zone of 2010, assuming a ground-level competence with the craft?

Some might value lyrics over virtuosity, others might go for political courage. But in a scene as amorphous as ours, an artist needs to be a little odd to stand out. Look at the Flaming Lips, Lady Gaga, Dangermouse and all the freak flags fluttering over America’s pop murk.

You can’t be shy about it either; if you’re a milquetoast oddity, your records will go up on the shelves and never come down, and your rooms will empty as you murmur half-hearted sentiments into the ether.

Luckily for Evan Casas, neither his smorgasbord debut, “Surround Yourself,” nor the stunning follow-up, “Welcome,” bear any signs of hesitation or shyness.

“Welcome” explodes on the scene with a toothy guitar snarl in the title track, all sturm und drang, coupled with a relatively laid-back vocal, and it’s obvious Casas bolstered his layered arsenal. This is music with Tony Montana cajones, exotically risky and purposefully eccentric.

The purpose is what makes the follow-up stand out. “Surround Yourself” walked the fine line between cross-genre expertise and messy clutter. Casas spent the ensuing months cleaning up his shop.

 “The Right Time” follows, with Depeche Mode organs and a trusty touch of a backbeat tambourine to make the track more human. For his smart, patient drum breaks, Casas should be crowned Portland’s Beck.

Can the guy overreach? Sure. “Real Estate” pushes sloppy and over-indulgent. Sometimes, the vocals can slip into affected silliness, and it’s too bad. There’s a difference between making witty music and trying to be funny in a song. The latter, if that’s really the goal, is usually a disaster.

But consider that “Welcome” was written around the same time as the debut, and that Casas has simply been whittling away at his original sound.

There seems to be a lot more than a couple of months of added maturity in the production value.

On “Creeper,” Casas flirts with Trent Reznor, and because he’s already all over the place, it serves as a cranky foil to the sweet circular ballads such as “My Days.”

“Welcome” closes with an acoustic progression, but overlayed on top of a jittery, double-time kit pattern. As on much of the record,

Casas makes the most of the space that a slow tempo allows. “It’s possible/ I’m inside it,” he sings in a strong lower range.

Nobody’s making pop like this in Maine, maybe anywhere.

What else can we expect from this mad scientist when he’s not slinging bagels at Scratch?

Mike Olcott is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.