Rory Strong and the Standard Candles
Untitled, Easter ’19
Portland quartet Rory Strong and the Standard Candles released a live album this past Easter. It appears to be a set recorded last March 31st in Portland, at Maine Standard Biofuels. That’s not a hip name for a club; it’s a refinery. The band (which includes Quinn Farwell and Simi Kunin of the fun-punk act Amiright?) makes no remark about the unconventional venue, on tape or in the liner notes. It just makes music: eleven unadorned, lyrics-forward folk-punk tunes. As Strong earnestly delivers the piles of syllables that populate their verses, I’m reminded of early Conor Oberst demos, where extreme sincerity and a lack of polish were features, not flaws. To quote Strong when one of their mics shorts out, “We deal with the cards we’re dealt.” After which the singer/songwriter launches into a solo performance of “Shelley Duvall,” a ballad about moving away that empathizes with a trio of ’70s Hollywood scream queens, pairing a gorgeous finger-picked guitar with visions of Wendy Torrance driving a snowcat to freedom. It’s a powerhouse of a song, delivered in a straightforward way that makes its feelings relatable. At other times during the set, Strong struggles to hit the notes, perhaps because they couldn’t hear themself on that makeshift stage. But after hearing them sound just a little bit lost, that perfectly executed song about escape hits even harder.