Bands to Watch #258: E.M. Spencer

By on Wednesday, 10th October 2012 at 12:00 pm

Legend has it that Steve Lamacq was handed a Bloc Party demo in the toilet during a Franz Ferdinand gig in 2003. We all know what happened to them. While I have no illusions of having anywhere near the influence of dear ol’ Lammo, when a similar thing happened to me this summer, the Bloc Party story was fresh on my mind. These days, Baltimore, Maryland is most synonymous with the likes of Animal Collective and Beach House, but maybe it will soon be known for another band.

At the Keane gig in June, I was handed two CDs by Baltimore quartet E.M. Spencer. Baltimore’s WNST radio presenter Nestor Aparicio has been quoted as saying, “they sound like R.E.M. before they sucked!” Whether you like Michael Stipe and co.’s music or not, I think a band that warrants any public comparison to the revered indie band deserves further notice. Like many of the bands you’ve come to know and love through our writers’ discovery and subsequent obsession with them, E.M. Spencer has existed in different incarnations over the last 10 years before arriving to their current line-up, featuring Allen McCallum on bass, Greg Silver on keys, Kurt Shriner on guitar and Jerry Fields, the relative newcomer, on drums. Sounds like a usual setup for a rock band, yeah? But this isn’t any ordinary rock band.

Let us for a moment recall the Fab Four, who 50 years ago this week released their first single, ‘Love Me Do’. Until about 2/3rd the way into their all too short career together, the Beatles pretty much only had two principal songwriters: the legendary partnership of Lennon-McCartney. It is still pretty uncommon these days, some 5 decades later, to encounter a band that has more than one very good principal songwriter. In E.M. Spencer, you have three, and their styles are quite disparate. (Maybe this accounts for these “several previous incarnations” as described on their press sheets…)

On their current album ‘Breathe’, McCallum’s song ‘Countermeasures’ opening the album is a happier Lemonheads with marimba, whereas Shriner’s angle is more of a Byrds one, as shown in ‘Patience’ and ‘Summertime’. McCallum and Shriner’s styles overlap in ‘It Seems to Me’ and ‘Natalie’, which will remind listeners of Ben Folds Five. In contrast, Silver prefers a more growly, garage sound, like a non-threatening Stooges in ‘Irony’. The album also includes songs written by a late friend, whose sister allowed them to interpret them for recording on this release; these are the expansive ‘Vertigo Beach’ and title track ‘Breathe’, the latter of which you can read more about here.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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