Breakthru Artist – ASPE

A cursory Google search of “ASPE” reveals a whole lot of random acronyms: American Society of Professional Estimators, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Association for Standardized Patient Educators… even the Alliance Studying Paranormal Experiences (seriously). But none of these help explain the solo moniker of Mike Maines, head of Gainesville indie label Arkain Records. ASPE, his myspace page bluntly explains, is “an acronym for something dumb.” After hearing Maines’ latest album, The Dark, I might go ahead and suggest A Somberly Pretty Experience.

The tracklist of The Dark makes it clear this album isn’t going to be a light, upbeat journey; song titles like “Grave of Lost Hearts” and “The Last of a Ghost Town” hint at the melancholy within. Maines draws from the fairly traditional palette of guitar-based indie folk/rock, but he makes the most out of it, crafting beautifully gloomy atmospheres (“Grey Wolf”) and string-laden laments (“The Last of a Ghost Town”). Maines also makes good use of vocal harmonies, building ethereal choirs out of carefully layered voices in “Selective Rememories.”

But don’t worry: contrary to the title, this album isn’t THAT dark. The aforementioned “Selective Rememories” is jaunty and hopeful, and even ostensibly dark tracks like “Song of the Death Brigade” have a defiant energy propelling them forward. Maines keeps the tempos varied, preventing the album from sinking under its own melodramatic weight. “Golden Graves and Plastic Crowns” chugs along at a brisk pace, while late-album hidden gem “Amnesciaddict” is buoyed by a stately marching beat and lively vocals. Reminding listeners he isn’t a one-trick pony, Maines finishes off the album with a stylistic left-turn, the 7-minute instrumental piano piece “Finale Andante.” It’s an inspired move, providing this album with the cathartic closer it so evidently deserves.

Want to hear it right now? Stream the entire album, plus 256 kbps downloads of all the tracks, for free.

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– Matt Diamond


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