Album cover art of “Wave With A Broken Arm.” Design by Dominic Lavoie

On the morning after Election Day, I woke up just after 6 a.m. with about three hours of sleep under my belt. I had scheduled a vacation day, but after an hour of watching the news, I retreated to the corner of the living room where my work desk is and realized that my deadline for this column was closing in, so I may as well mute the news for a few hours and at least figure out what to write about.

That’s when I felt a jolt of happiness, because I remembered that Portland musician Dominic Lavoie had released his latest album, “Wave With A Broken Arm” on Oct. 23, and I had yet to give it a proper listen. Coffee coursing through my fragile veins, I pressed play and settled in for the 38-minute listening session. Then I listened to it again the next morning on a walk, while ballots continued to be counted.

Meanwhile, it’s the 50th anniversary of the release of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” album, and being a gigantic Bowie fan, I’ve been revisiting the album over the past couple of weeks. So is it fair to say I’ve had Bowie on the brain lately? Absolutely.  And while I’m not usually one to make comparisons, I did feel some Bowie vibes in Lavoie’s album, and from more than just the “Man” album. “Golden One” called to mind the title track of Bowie’s final masterpiece, “Blackstar.”

But let me be clear, Lavoie has never been a Bowie knock-off. He’s been creating his original sound of dense, intelligent, psychedelic rock for about 20 years.

“Wave With A Broken Arm” was produced by Steve Berlin from the band Los Lobos. Lavoie met him backstage when he opened for Los Lobos at the Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor in 2017. Berlin’s jaw-dropping list of credits as a session musician and producer is miles long, and includes playing sax and other instruments on several Neko Case albums and producing albums for Rickie Lee Jones, The Tragically Hip, Susan Tedeschi, Buckwheat Zydeco and Crash Test Dummies. Berlin even played horns on R.E.M.’s “Document” and  The Go-Go’s “Vacation” albums. Color me wildly impressed.

Lavoie said that Steve Berlin came to Portland on two occasions for the sessions, and the 11-day effort captured “post-apocalyptic flavors of ’90s grunge and ’70s psych-rock,” which were then mixed by Charlie Kramsky and mastered by Gavin Lurssen at Lurssen Mastering in Burbank, Califonia. Lavoie handled the album’s engineering himself.

Dominic Lavoie.  Photo by Lauryn Hottinger

Now for a “Wave” roll call: Lavoie’s on guitar and vocals, Justin Wiley’s on keys, John Nels plays guitar, Pete Genova’s on bass, the drummer is Mike Chasse, Dan Boyden plays bongos and Jesse Brooke plays percussion. Additionally, Katie Matzell and Kyle Gervais contributed vocals to the track “Sky With Too Many Suns.” Speaking of which, that’s the album’s second track, and it’s a pulsating tune with the opening lines “Panic on my Twitter feed/Lights out on every city street/Moon’s up but it just can’t compete/In a sky with too many suns.”

Lavoie told me he wrote the album’s songs between November 2018 and March of last year. The recording session lasted 11 days during April of 2019 at Lavoie’s Shabbey Load, his warehouse studio space on Warren Avenue in Portland, and some of the tracks were recorded on analog tape.

“Wave” opens with “On My Phone (All Day),” and it’s a trippy, tempo-shifting tune that calls to mind a ’70s landline, rather than a modern smartphone. “Trillion Dollar Man” is a heavier one with vicious guitar and Lavoie’s drawn out, potent vocals. “Merry Go Round” is a hallucinatory dreamscape.

Lavoie and his band sink their teeth into every song, sometimes barely breaking skin, other times reaching bone. “Skeletons At The Feast” might be my favorite as I’ve known it for about a year because Lavoie released it as a single. The refrain, “Peace and I’ll feel ready/Holding on make me feel steady/Peace and I’ll be ready,” feels very of the moment.

Then there’s the closing title track, an acoustic-electric song that’s a freaky sonic voyage. “Melting mountains, worshipping your moves/Held by Gaia, timing titans, cradled by giants,” sings Lavoie. What’s it all mean? I haven’t the slightest idea, but it sure makes for a sublime bookend to a Lavoie’s prodigious album.

“Wave With A Broken Arm” is available on streaming platforms, and you can pick up a physical copy at Bull Moose. You’ll find Lavoie’s online store at churchofthecrystallight.com.

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