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On Dominic Lavoie’s ‘Flux,’ the journey is the destination

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The human element plays a key role in the music of Dominic Lavoie. His seventh full-length LP, “Flux” is an alluring and remarkably varied set of original songs full of human moments created by Lavoie over a five-month period while toiling away in his “Shabby Load” recording studio in Portland.

Lavoie’s music encompasses multiple genres but is rooted in the real sounds that have always inspired him. The songs on “Flux” encompass psychedelia, pop, rock and folk, and play out like a dream that you don’t want to end. It’s a galaxy away from technical perfection and a better record for it. These songs, and songs within songs, are full of cool sounds and textures captured the old-fashioned way with analog tape.

Technology’s quantum leap in the digital age has made it possible for musicians to create sonically flawless music without limits but “Flux” doesn’t fit that approach. Lavoie probably could have recorded these songs faster and cheaper using Pro Tools or an equivalent digital audio workstation, but what he might have saved in time and expense would have been lost in feeling.

“It’s not a perfect science,” Lavoie says of his preferred recording method. “It still has little glitches, but I think those glitches add to the flavor of the whole thing.”

Lavoie’s previous studio album “Wave With a Broken Arm” was produced by Steve Berlin of the band Los Lobos and released about six months after the pandemic started. Lavoie’s intention was to record an album that could be effectively reproduced live on stage.

When Lavoie started recording the self-produced “Flux” on his birthday in January 2021, live shows weren’t possible which in a way freed him to take a different approach.

“That’s fun because then you can just say ‘How about a saxophone here?’” Lavoie offered. “I didn’t know when the pandemic would end when I started recording this thing so I just kind of threw the kitchen sink at these songs.”

Lavoie recruited a dozen of his favorite coconspirators during the recording process, including drummer Mike Chasse, keyboardist Justin Wiley, bassist Pete Genova and guitarist John Nels. Hamilton Belk plays pedal steel, Emma Stanley plays trumpet and flugelhorn, Ryan Zoidis plays sax, Dan Boyden plays bongos and Frank Hopkins plays the flute.

“Time Machine” opens with the sound of a tape calibration tone and a strummed acoustic guitar as Lavoie sings of his wish to create such a machine to find some answers. An enchanting melody anchors the song with a bed of guitars, drums and bass while other unknown sounds and echoing voices drift in and out.

“Canopy,” a song about life at the top of the trees offers a concept analogous to societal hierarchy but the guy in the song finds that life at the top with the other winners sometimes comes at a cost. The song opens with Indian tablas, acoustic guitar and a snatch of Lavoie’s vocal lifted from the song’s second verse and spun in reverse.

“Back Where I Belong” opens with a Tex-Mex sound of flamenco guitar and accordion in a vignette sung from the perspective of a guy on the run.

The rocker “River to the Wheel” is a marvel of experimental sounds and shifting rhythm on a song Lavoie says was sparked by the passing in recent years of several influential artists.

Lavoie says most of his lyrics come from a subconscious place and tend to make more sense to him retrospectively.

The infectiously poppy “Reset” presents a clear message that offers a simple solution to a divided world: Let’s reset the species and all get along. “The lyrics are a little morbid, but they’re wrapped in a fun package,” Lavoie says with a laugh.

“Universal,” the longest track on “Flux”,” opens with the tinkling notes of a barroom piano followed by a tape tone and Lavoie’s response at hearing it full blast through his headphones. He plucks rhythmic notes from an acoustic guitar and sings the opening line, holding a note for 17 seconds. Like a door was kicked open, the track then shifts to widescreen with a symphony of electric guitars, horns, bass, drums, and even a quick time check from the US Naval Observatory master clock.

Lavoie says he stuck with his original plan of utilizing only the 16 tracks available to him on the tape and resisted the temptation to make room for overdubs by bouncing multiple stem tracks down to one.

Punching in each instrument at a time on analog tape is a trial-and-error process. Lavoie says there’s a moment on “Universal” when he was a hair late hitting the stop button while punching in a horn track which inadvertently wiped part of a guitar track. Bonus points to you if you can find it.

Lavoie composed the lyrics for the songs on “Flux” prior to recording with the exception of the beautiful “Remembering the Roses” which developed as it was recorded. The song is partially about how most of us are wired to remember the good moments and why it’s best to let the dark memories fade.

When you produce yourself, how do you know when you’re finished? Lavoie says he has an internal sensor that lets him know when it’s time to stop.

“There’s also the fact that I start running out of room because I’m limited to 16 tracks which gets consumed pretty fast,” Lavoie says. “With digital, I could have kept adding instruments to make it a bigger sound but sometimes adding more guitars just make it sound smaller.”

That might be another of way of saying less is more but what’s remarkable about “Flux” is that you never get a sense that it’s less of anything. It’s a rich and rewarding collection of very human songs with sounds known and unknown from the heart and mind of one of Maine’s most gifted creators.

Last modified on Wednesday, 18 May 2022 07:54

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