June 29-July 5

"Blame is a Killer" - Amy Ray
     Tough, tight, crunchy rock'n'roll from Indigo Girl Amy Ray, who for the third time now trots out her kick-ass side on a solo record. Nothing complicated to report on, just a fast, slashing guitar attack counterbalanced by some nice chords and background harmonies in the chorus.
     That said, listen to how concise a sound Ray is working with here--the song rocks hard, but there's no sloppiness, no stray sounds, no wailing or echoing guitars, no extraneous drum bashing, no casually interacting instruments; "Blame is a Killer" drives forward with the compressed vitality of a Strokes song, leading me to half expect to hear Ray's voice processed through some sort of filter or distortion. Maybe that's why the fully sung and harmonized chorus feels especially refreshing after the clipped vocal phrases utilized in the verses.
     "Blame is a Killer" is a track from Didn't It Feel Kinder, Ray's third album as a solo artist, which will be released in August on Daemon Records, a not-for-profit record label founded by Ray back in 1990.

"I'm a Fly" - Laura Marling
     Here's one young British import who a) doesn't sing with an affected "street" accent, b) understands the utility of two names, and c) is interested in more than regaling us with tales of her dysfunctional love life, thank goodness.
     Everything about this short, precise song is warm and appealing, from its harp-like, folk-infused ukulele work through its subtly effective instrumentation and Marling's clear and compelling voice, both musically and lyrically. Listen in particular to how her backing vocals (it sounds sometimes like multi-tracked humming) are used almost as part of the rhythm section, adding a wonderful, organic sort of texture to a song that accomplishes the unusual trick of sounding traditional and post-modern at the same time.
     All of 18 years old at this point, Marling released her debut album, Alas, I Cannot Swim, to much acclaim in the U.K. in February. Astralwerks will be releasing the CD in the U.S. in August. "I'm a Fly" is a newer song, not from the CD; it can be found as a b-side on an EP released in the U.K. in June. MP3 via (If the above link for "I'm a Fly" does not seem to work for you, go here and click on the words "download free MP3" next to the song title.)

"Cassandra" - Paper Rival
     The mournful fiddle melody and the crisp tom-tom beat, playing through alternating major and minor chords: what we have here is one smart and engaging introduction--and (better luck!), a song that lives up to its intro's promise.
     A mysterious reimagination of the cursed prophet of doom, "Cassandra" chugs along with a bittersweet, Shins-like sort of vibrancy, its leisurely melody lines unfolding against an unobtrusive but carefully constructed percussive backdrop. The fiddle is central to the vibe, its disconsolate strain standing in for the prophet's voice, in a tone reminiscent of the gypsy violin Scarlet Rivera brought, memorably, to Bob Dylan's Desire album back in the day.
     Paper Rival is a quintet from Nashville that did business as Keating until discovering that another band had the rights to the name; they chose their new name as a good-natured nose-thumbing to the gang that got to the Keating name first. "Cassandra" can be found on the band's debut full-length CD, Dialog, released in early June on Photo Finish Records. MP3 via Insound.

July 6-12

"History of Love" - Still Corners
     Swaying, reverb-laced, and nostalgic in a Julee Cruise/David Lynch sort of way, "History of Love" swirls with a big, chimey dreaminess enhanced by strings (both plucked and bowed) and a soaring organ that all but launches this one into some old-fashioned, Jetsons-like version of outer space.
     So, dream pop, yes. But while indie bands aiming in this direction too frequently slide into a murky mush of echo--droning guitars and mixed-down vocals working together to diminish the sense that we are in fact listening to a song--the unsigned British duo Still Corners will have none of that. They get the idea that being atmospheric does not require muddiness. I like how they continually ground their reverberant vibe in concrete sonic reality, whether it's those plucky strings, the nicely articulated bass, the cymbally drum work, or vocalist Olivia's breathy, echoey, but distinctly colored singing. Note, too, the care and idiosyncrasy displayed by the song itself--in particular, how we get that crazy-swirly blast of dreamy yearning, without lyrics, in place of an actual chorus.
     London-based Still Corners have so far released one evocatively designed six-song EP, entitled Remember Pepper?. That's where you'll find "History of Love." MP3 via and the band.

"Spirit of '95" - Murdocks
     Sunny power pop crossed with something trickier and edgier. I hesitate, however, to use the "punk pop" (or is it "pop punk"?) label, because to me that implies something (sorry to say) dumber and less nuanced that this little two-minute gem. Not that many punk pop bands write in 3/4 time, to begin with. This is no waltz, however--these guys have figured out how to make three-beated measures sound assertive and symmetrical. Punchy verses with an ascending tail alternate with an almost lilting chorus...and that's more or less the song. The lyrics basically stop less than halfway through; the song has such intriguing momentum one barely notices.
     A lot of "Spirit of '95"'s edginess is delivered via singer/guitarist Franklin Morris's no holds barred singing--he sounds perpetually on the verge of screaming, and yet comes across as warm and musical at the same time. Some of that feeling is generated specifically from the chorus, with its attractive, downward-trending, octave-spanning melody. I like by the way how he then uses a guitar break to give us a nice variation of the same line. That'll really get it stuck in your head.
     Murdocks are a trio from Austin that have been playing since 2003, although no longer with their original drummer or bass player. "Spirit of '95" is from the band's Roar! EP, which was released in April on Surprise Truck Entertainment.

"Zero" - Mark Northfield
     And now for something completely different. Mark Northfield is a British pianist, composer, arranger, and sometime singer who has here taken his classical training and focused it on the production of something almost but not quite resembling a pop song. Beginning quietly, with voice and piano, "Zero" adds guitar, strings, and, eventually, a choir-like array of backing vocals; the piece evolves gently but determinedly towards two climaxes, the first string-driven, contained, and unresolved (roughly 3:08 through 3:25), the second louder, more fervent, and choral (beginning around 5:06).
     Pay attention throughout to the string arrangements, which are expressive but never pushy; the song is half over before he puts the strings center stage, and some of the nicest work comes after their "solo," when the violins, with restraint, offer high fills between lyrical phrases.
     "Zero" is a song from the CD Ascendant, which Northfield released on his own Substantive Recordings label earlier this year. On eight of the songs, Northfield doesn't sing himself, employing an assortment of guest vocalists, but on "Zero," it's him. An important aspect of the CD is that the nine songs are presented in an uninterrupted flow--as Northfield notes on his web site, the album is "designed to be heard (in a shuffle-free world) from start to finish, with introductions to each track lifting re-arranged fragments from elsewhere on the album to create a more or less continuous soundtrack." And yet Northfield is of course not unaware of how most people listen to their music in the 21st century; he is kind enough to offer seven of the songs in so-called "chopped" mode on his web site, including "Zero." Thanks to Owen Duff, himself a Fingertips-featured artist, for the head's up.

July 13-19

"Innards Out" - Ancient Free Gardeners
     I'm attracted to the meandering feeling of this song--the way it starts as if already in the middle (note: no introduction), and unfolds in an off-kilter way--because underneath I sense a meticulous purpose and drive. Vague and precise is a compelling juxtaposition. Because of the mysterious lyrical phrases, the desultory guitar lines, the stops and starts, and the oddball chords, I'm picking up something of a Steely Dan-ish vibe, by way of the Blue Nile; nothing, in any case, seems to be happening by accident. And when the song finally delivers us to an unabashed--if still eccentric--chorus, I feel as if some sort of salvation is at hand. And yet listen to how the song pulls away from an uncomplicated resolution: when front man James Milsom sings the words "the spider and the fly," by rights the word "fly" would come accompanied with a clear, satisfying, resolving chord. No such luck, however--we are taken to the brink and then everything scoots out the side door: Milsom dismembers the last line "We are both of these, you and I," dragging out the word "are," then offering the last two phrases as a kind of quizzical afterthought.
     And when the song is over, it ends. This is entirely refreshing.
     Ancient Free Gardeners are a quartet from Melbourne that has only been up and running since 2006. They released their debut EP last year and have put out two singles since; "Innards Out" is the latest, released in May. A full-length CD is expected later this year. All their songs, by the way, are available as free and legal downloads on their web site, including this one.

"Big Star" - Haley Bonar
     Rock'n'roll history is littered with singers dreaming of hitting the big time. That fame is in fact a double-edged sword is not something people usually apprehend until after they've been there (and then it's kind of too late). Here, however, is a song that captures, in anticipation, the bittersweet repercussions of "big stardom," both lyrically and--more memorably, to me--musically. My ears are struck throughout by an insistent sense of yearning, thanks to the major-minor chord shifts, the terrific and evocative instrumentation, and something achy and knowing in Bonar's clear, sad-eyed voice.
     Pay attention to what's going on in the background throughout the song. Electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocals, and Bonar's mellotron are woven together with a complex and rather dazzling deftness, and yet remain subtle enough that often you have to think to hear them. The ridiculously experienced Tchad Blake (Elvis Costello, Pearl Jam, Peter Gabriel, Crowded House, et al) is credited at the mixing board here, and no doubt he had something to do with the mysterious yet vivid texture that transforms this from a simple singer/songwriter tune into something deeper and richer.
     Born in South Dakota, Bonar is based in Minneapolis. "Big Star" is the title track to her third CD, which was released in May on Afternoon Records. MP3 via the Afternoon web site. [FS]

"Our Last Martyr" - Dead Heart Bloom
     Brisk, friendly, and slightly quirky, "Our Last Martyr" rocks with an unapologetic reverence for classic rock of the early-to-mid-'70s British variety (think Lennon, think Bowie, think Hunter). Front man Boris Skalsky sings, alternately, with an intimate, oddly-accented purr (the verse) and a rousing Ziggy-ish flair (the chorus). Note how the verse is sung with the rhythm section only--just bass and percussion providing an itchy aural skeleton for Skalsky's distinctive baritone. For that sing-along chorus, the full band kicks in, driven by the ear-catching interplay between a crisp acoustic rhythm guitar front and center and a soaring synth line up on top. The second half of the song is something of a jam session, as guitarist Paul Wood stretches out a bit on electric lead before we're swept away by a chorus of almost hypnotic "oo-oo-oo" vocals from Skalsky, who can hit the high notes too.
     The core of NYC-based Dead Heart Bloom is singer/multi-instrumentalist Skalsky and guitarist Wood; other musicians play when the band performs lives. "Our Last Martyr" is one of five songs on the new Fall In EP, one of a series of EPs scheduled for release this year on the band's KEI Records label. The band has previously put out two full-length CDs. All songs are available on the band's web site as free and legal MP3s. Dead Heart Bloom was previously featured on Fingertips in Feb. '06, and also on the Fingertips: Unwebbed CD, when the band was still more of a solo project for Skalsky.

July 20-26

"Wild as Them" - Liz Durrett
     Liz Durrett returns to Fingertips with an immediately engaging, slightly off-kilter piece of gently chugging pop, like some lost Fleetwood Mac hit funneled through the Twilight Zone. The lyrics are elusive and strange--"I look for your bones in the woods" is surely one of the more arresting opening lines of recent days (although she may be saying "words"; and it's still odd). The music is comforting melodically--rolling along without a chorus, featuring a blues-like repetition of each opening refrain--but a touch unhinged instrumentally: guitars squeak, horns gather in increasing multitudes, and some other sounds I can't quite put my finger on fill in along the way.
     Accentuating the F-Mac-ishness is the way Durrett's mellow alto brings Christine McVie to mind, although somewhat imprecisely. McVie sings with a smoky clarity that Durrett avoids; her voice, although doubletracked, is mixed down a bit. We know she's singing but the words often elude recognition, adding to the tune's inscrutable aura.
     "Wild as Them" is a song from Durrett's forthcoming CD, Outside the Gates. The Athens, Ga.-based singer/songwriter has enlisted a spirited crew of fellow Athenians to help out on the record, including members of Olivia Tremor Control, Tin Cup Prophette, and Elf Power, along with Vic Chestnutt, who happens to be Durrett's uncle. Eric Bachmann (Crooked Fingers, Archers of Loaf) produced and arranged the album, scheduled for release in September on Warm Electronic Recordings (based in Athens too, of course). [FS]

"Parachute" - Shugo Tokumaru
     Acrobatic, lighthearted Japanese indie pop with, somehow, the breezy flair of a European art film from the '60s. I don't think any of this is in English except for the title word, which comes across, rather charmingly, as "pra-shoo." And by saying "Japanese indie pop" I really only mean that Tokumaru is from Japan--the music itself exists in a wonderful sort of trans-cultural, trans-spatial limbo that mixes influences and ambiances in that web-fed, 21st-century way that ends up sounding as new as it does familiar, and as familiar as it does new.
     While exhibiting an almost Leo Kottke-like dexterity with the acoustic guitar, Tokumaru possesses a decidedly un-Kottke-like voice: it's an airy, wide-ranging tenor that is nicely suited to the breezy, nostalgic melody. (For those who don't know, Leo Kottke is a guitar virtuoso who once, famously, described his singing voice as "geese farts on a foggy day." Born in Athens, Georgia.) The tinkly, persistent xylophone adds to the vigorous yet delicate landscape.
     "Parachute" is the opening track on Tokumaru's Exit CD, which was released in Japan last year, and is slated for a U.S. release in September on Almost Gold Records. MP3 via Pitchfork.

"Night Watchman" - Francis and the Lights
     They've done it again: Brooklyn's Francis and the Lights have woven enigmatic magic with the barest threads of their minimalist, postmodern funk. The melody is slower this time, but the beat remains the same, sustained by fidgety electronics, fat bass lines, and wonderfully controlled drumming. For this new single, front man Francis Farewell Starlite leaves behind the Prince-like falsetto in favor of his throaty, emotive lower register, once again singing a song that eschews a sense of recognizable structure. Just when you think you're getting your arms around what's going on, the thing ends, on a dime. After many listens, I find that I still can't explain exactly what's happening here. This strikes me as an appealing thing.
     By the way, if you don't tend to listen to the weekly picks here as a mini mixtape, one after the other, I suggest trying it this week. It's a spiffy set.
     Known for their stirring live performances, Francis and the Lights keep an intriguingly low web profile, although now at least we are offered up a straightforward picture of (I'm assuming) Francis himself. "Night Watchman" is available on the band's site, and will be on a CD entitled A Modern Promise, to be released at some unspecified time in the, perhaps, near future. The record label, Normative, appears to be the band's own imprint, and as such has an equally minimalist web site. MP3 via the band.

July 27-Aug. 2

"Albert" - Ed Laurie
     Wow. Warm and wondrous neo-folk from a young British singer/songwriter. Listen to the stirring tension in the verse--the song is quiet, but with a restless heartbeat--and then how it resolves in that gorgeous chorus with its shy, unexpected melody. Oh my. For me, this is goosebump material, and I don't say that lightly, or very often.
     Although he is basically a guy with a guitar, Laurie does not sound like a typical singer/songwriter, both because of his husky baritone, with its air of bygone days about it, and because the guitar he plays is nylon-stringed, like a flamenco guitar, which he plays with a gentle but urgent flow, full of intimations of far-away times and cultures. He plays, also, with an ear for his accompaniment, which is a quiet and knowing mix of acoustic instruments, including a clarinet, which in particular feels both unexpected and ideal.
     Laurie claims influences from a variety of musical traditions--born in London, he has extended family in Eastern Europe, Germany, Spain, and Brazil, and grew up listening to classical music. His press material offers comparisons to the likes of Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, and Jacques Brel, which sounds about right to me. "Albert" is from Laurie's debut EP, Meanwhile in the Park, which was previously released on iTunes only and is slated for a full U.S. release on Dangerbird Records in October. Laurie is currently working on his first full-length album, to be called Small Boat Big Sea.

"Poison My Cup" - Shannon McArdle
     Creating a world of hurt and yearning out of a repetitive two-chord riff isn't probably the easiest thing to do, but Shannon McArdle appears to have a lot of hurt to spare."Poison My Cup" not only succeeds, but when it ends, I'm not ready. The evocative vocals, sounding like a prettier-voiced Liz Phair ('90s version); the strong yet insouciant bass line; the oddly uncelebratory tambourine; the steady, intermittently forceful drumbeat--together they create a brisk, hypnotic dirge of a song, complete with mournful wailing at just the right moments. I could listen to this just about all day.
     The backstory of the hurt: McArdle joined the band the Mendoza Line in 2000, and married bandmate Timothy Bracy in 2005. Both the band and the couple both broke up within the last year; the mini-album 30 Year Low, released last August, was a searing document of the divorce.
     "Poison My Cup" suggests that McArdle is still processing the painful events of the past year or so, as does the title of the album on which you'll find the song--Summer of the Whore, which is scheduled for release next month on Bar/None Records. MP3 via Bar/None. [FS]

"Good Fight Fighting" - the Very Most
     This breezy slice of summery indie pop might've glided by my ears without quite sticking were it not for the subtle but significant fork in the road the song takes during its final third: at 1:47, the music modulates, the melody turns inside out, and the lead vocal is hijacked by the female backup vocalist, Rachel Jensen. Rachel is the sister of Jeremy Jensen, the Very Most's front man, and she used to be in the band herself before she left Boise. The Very Most is based in Boise, a fact the band itself finds a bit unlikely, so imagine how the rest of us feel. (Rachel moved to the decidedly more indie-rock-like town of Portland, Oregon, where she now can be found in the band the Parenthetical Girls.)
     But I digress. The point is that Rachel, taking over at 1:47, not only holds her own, but converts the entire song into a winner, especially in retrospect. Try it for yourself: once you see where the song ends up, you'll enjoy the opening half all the more. (Don't miss the way Rachel's melody veers from the previous melody of the verse, and be sure to note the whistling that accompanies her: that's the original melody.) All this is to take nothing whatever away from the three regulars in the band (who create just the right jingly ambiance), and most of all Jeremy Jensen, who is a delightful singer in his own right, spending time here demonstrating how much alike Brian Wilson and Stuart Murdoch (Belle and Sebastian) sound after all. And it is J. Jensen's inventive pop sensibility that presides over the whole, increasingly wonderful concoction: on top of all the nicely conceived production touches (the album claims to feature some 33 different instruments/sound sources), it was Jeremy, I assume, who knew enough to have Rachel step in exactly when and how she did in the first place.
     "Good Fight Fighting" is a song off the band's second CD, Congratulations Forever, which was self-released in April. MP3 courtesy of the band.

Aug. 3-9

"Jackson Leftfield" - Boxer the Horse
     Jaunty, nicely textured indie pop from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, of all (beautiful) places. Harmonica, acoustic guitar, synthesizer, and an intermittent electric guitar intermingle with uncanny merriment, while singer/guitarist Jeremy Gaudet exudes an amiable sort of lazy energy, sounding something like Ray Davies fronting a jam band (minus the jamming). This is music that makes you smile, as well as tap your toe.
     The harmonica brings you into the song and immediately makes me wonder: what happened to harmonicas? Outside of an earnest neo-folksinger or two, I don't think I've heard much of this handy little instrument in the 21st century. I always like when it breaks out of its blues-based box. Here I'm reminded of the late great British band the Housemartins, who not only featured a harmonica now and again but even had a song lyric reference ("Played his harmonica 'til his lips were sore," from the song "I Smell Winter").
     "Jackson Leftfield" can be found on Boxer the Horse's debut EP, The Late Show, which was released by the band this spring.

"North Adams" - Gabriel Kahane
     In another, better world, sort of like ours but also sort of not, pop songs would frequently sound like this: musical, playful, smart, tuneful, and interesting from beginning to end. Gabriel Kahane is one of a coterie of composer/performers out there--typically (in the U.S.) in New York City--blurring the lines between art and commerce, "high" and "low" art, rock and classical and jazz. He writes, he sings, he orchestrates; he performs with indie rockers and conservatory graduates and opera singers. The music defies facile labeling, but remains personable and easy to listen to, even as it is far richer musically than the unfettered marketplace ever spits up to us on its own.
     Take this snazzy, blazingly intelligent song. There are horns, there are strings, there's piano, there are vocals, tumbling together in continually unexpected ways. It's a road song at heart, and the music has a back-road velocity to it. Early, the strings veer towards traditional chamber music; later, they deconstruct almost bebop-ishly. The horns, meanwhile, start with a hint of baroque but finish with a Latin flair. There are unusual meter shifts to keep our ears open but then also a great hook of a highway-cruising 4/4 chorus. Come to think of it, this is also music that puts a smile on your face, as great music often can for mysterious reasons.
     Known in certain hipster circles for an eight-movement cycle of art songs he wrote using classified ads from Craigslist, verbatim, as lyrics (you can stream them on his home page), Kahane will be releasing his self-titled debut CD in September on his own Wasted Storefront label. MP3 via the artist.

"HYPNTZ" - Dan Black
     I know next to nothing about rap and hip-hop; I listen to bits and pieces occasionally but I just don't fathom what's going on--music without melody rarely resonates with me; when compounded by cockeyed wordplay about personally distasteful things, I pretty much check out. So needless to say I had not known of the song "Hypnotize," by the Notorious B.I.G., but it's a rap landmark--a posthumous #1 hit for Biggie, himself an industry legend at this point. He was killed in a drive-by shooting 15 days before the album containing "Hypnotize" (Life After Death) was released. The album is often considered one of the greatest rap albums of all time.
     "HYPNTZ" is a re-conception of Biggie's "Hypnotize" by a Paris-based Londoner named Dan Black and it mesmerizes me. I have no business liking this--beyond its rap foundation, it steals a relatively bland beat from a top-40 song (Rhianna's "Umbrella") and blends in samples from the soundtrack to the movie Starman (quick shout-out to fellow Karen Allen fans). I routinely run the other way from mash-ups and remixes and all that slice-and-dice stuff. And yet to my ears this thing is some weird kind of brilliant. The simple melody Black creates for those harsh, bombastic lyrics, combined with the pathos of the soundtrack sounds and the stark, repetitive beat, generates poignancy and power. A harsh slice of street braggadoccio transmogrifies into a plaintive plea of some kind. Who'd've thought.
     Not much is out there about Black at this point, but his people are working the PR channels, so he's not some entirely unaffiliated knob-twiddler. The storyline from the press release--only semi-believable--is that he had not intended for anyone to hear this. He is busy, we are told, putting together an album of original material. Because so much of "HYPNTZ" is in fact original, however much constructed of existing parts, I'm inclined to think he's got something worth hearing in the works.

Aug. 10-16

"Days Black Purple Nights" - Peppertree
     If the Montreal-based quartet Peppertree lacks to date the internet buzz of some of their French Canadian peers, it's not for lack of talent or great songs. "La Cage Appât," featured on Fingertips in 2006, was a number-one song on the Fingertips Top 10 that year; "Days Black Purple Nights" is another idiosyncratic winner--less overtly dramatic, perhaps, than its predecessor, but with a beautiful sense of development and atmosphere.
     The song starts with some sly misdirection. After a short, dreamy guitar line, we're introduced to an insistent organ, alternating between one major and one minor chord, which hammers the song's pulse into our heads. After 15 seconds of that, a lower-register guitar melody, staccato and ascending, glides in and takes over. This will prove to be the musical core of the song. Fifteen seconds later, the organ, without fanfare, disappears, having done its job. When singer Patrick Poirier enters, one minute into the song, the character of the piece has been altered. In an aching tenor that calls Thom Yorke to mind, Poirier sings over a musical clearing of sorts, acoustic guitar and crisp percussion now pushing us along, with the authority lent to it by the non-presence of the pounding organ. And here we feel the full effect of the minor chord the organ had earlier introduced us to: listen at 1:14 or so and experience the sense of loss induced by the march into the minor key. And then: pay attention to how Poirier is joined by singer Marianne Charland, who enters the song subtly--first harmonizing at the end of the un-chorus-like chorus (1:38) and then, more prominently, singing along with the wordless melody that the guitar had played in the intro. After that, she's fully on board, singing prominent harmony lines and, sometimes, countermelodies. I think the 30 seconds in the middle of the song, from 2:00 to 2:30, with Charland most audible, nails everything together here.
     "Days Black Purple Nights" is one of four songs on Peppertree's new EP, A Green Flash From the Sun. All four are available on the band's site as free and legal MP3s.

"Sure Enough" - Angela Desveaux
     Am I imagining it or does Angela Desveaux here sound like a delightful and rather precise mix between two of my all-time favorite Canadian singer/songwriters, Jane Siberry and Kathleen Edwards? (Yes, Desveaux is Canadian too; it's Canada week, it seems.) I suppose there's a chance my mind is being deceived by its own deep-seated personal preferences, but hey, I'm not arguing with it. This is irresistible stuff, to my ears.
     The music is bright and clear, the tempo upbeat, but Desveaux has something beautifully bittersweet lodged in her vocal tone, which is probably what conjures Siberry here (though Jane fans should be sure too to check out how Desveaux sings the bridge, in a speak-sing-y sort of way, from 2:46 to 3:00). And while we're talking about choruses, listen for those wonderful, down-shifting chords at the outset of the chorus, which accompany each return to the same melodic note (on the first syllable of "even," on "though," and on "know"). Note too the bittersweet metaphysics at play in the lyrics: "Even though I know I'm not sure where I'm going/But I'm going/I'm sure enough to know/It'll stay this way forever/Stay this way for everyone." The title itself in this context is nothing short of a life philosophy: no one can be sure; we can only be sure enough.
     Desveaux was born in Montreal, grew up in the Maritimes, later returning to Montreal, which remains her home base. "Sure Enough" is a song from her second album, The Mighty Ship, slated for a September release on Thrill Jockey Records. (Note that the new album was recorded by Dave Draves, who co-produced Kathleen Edwards' brilliant debut, Failer, with Edwards herself.) MP3 via Thrill Jockey. [FS]

"Buttons" - The Weeks
     This one teeters on an unexpected edge--between swagger and vulnerability--and pulls it off for no fathomable reason. I mean, the Weeks are five guys from Mississippi with an average age of 18; they have no particular business sounding so sure of themselves (without being obnoxious), never mind writing such a well-crafted song, never mind having figured out how to channel the best energy of straight-ahead classic rock'n'roll while sounding like neither a nostalgia trip nor a snore.
     Maybe the key to this song's power lies in how well the chorus works both soft and loud. The first time we hear it (1:22), it comes after a lengthy instrumental crescendo, featuring 20 straight seconds of rat-a-tat drumming, building and building apparently quiet chorus, with singer Cyle Barnes using the cracked and drowsy side of his vocal style. The chorus is then repeated, much the same way, although now the surging drumbeat returns, and then we get yet two more repetitions, at full volume--Barnes now singing an octave higher and with a barely stifled scream in his delivery. The melody and the words somehow match both moods. And what a melody it is--there's something deep and classic and surprising in it, like a power pop sheep in bar-band wolf's clothing. Barnes attacks it with gusto and pathos each time, those final words--"Take a look at what we had"--sounding more and more heartbreaking as the song unfolds.
     "Buttons" is from the band's debut CD Comeback Cadillac, released in July on the Jackson, Miss.-based label Esperanza Plantation.

Aug. 17-23

The Fingertips Home Office is in semi-shutdown mode this week. The next "This Week's Finds" update will appear, as if by magic, on or around Tuesday, August 26. In the meantime, you can catch up with some missed songs by using the player above, or browsing the list below.

Aug. 24-30

The Fingertips Home Office remains in semi-shutdown mode this week, but here are three new picks with somewhat abbreviated reviews. The next batch of "This Week's Finds" songs, to be posted on or around Tuesday, September 2, will ramble a bit more, in the usual fashion.

"The Wrong Thing" - Blue Eyed Blacks
     A sprightly piece of neatly crafted power pop, fuzzed up by some 21st-century effects. Front man Jason Moon Wilkins has an amiably droopy sort of voice and a keen knack for hooks. The way he breaks the chorus up by repeating the word "always"? Ending one musical phrase with the word, then beginning the next musical phrase with the same word? Love that.
     The Blue Eyed Blacks are a trio from Nashville not shy about utilizing the talents of their peers on the always active local music scene; Justin Townes Earle and Garrison Starr are among the many guests who sat in on the band's debut album, Black Eyed Soul, which is due for release in October on Chicken Ranch Records.

"Three More Springs" - Ghostkeeper
     Stompy, greasy, old-fashioned, and a little bit strange. Ghostkeeper is a band from the remote reaches of northern Alberta; leader Shane Ghostkeeper (apparently his real name) is a self-taught musician who grew up listening to Hank Williams, CCR, the Stones, Robert Johnson, and maybe not that much else. With Ghostkeeper co-founder Sarah Houle (a self-taught drummer), he has figured out how to channel his influences together and emerge with something that is no mere nostalgia trip. "My whole idea is just to explore how I can contribute to the evolution of old-time intentions," he has been quoted as saying.
     "Three More Springs" is from the band's debut CD, Children of the Great Northern Muskeg, released last month on the Calgary-based label Saved By Radio.

"Alexander Martin" - Kuroma
     A little bit Led Zep, a little bit Ray Davies, fed through a breezy, psychedelic filter (don't miss the freak-out instrumental break at 2:09). Kuroma is the performing name of Athens, Ga.-based Hank Sullivant, who was the Whigs' original bass player; he has also played extensively with MGMT. Do listen closely for the bass itself: Sullivant plays his instrument here more subtly and melodically than is typical in a rock setting.
      "Alexander Martin" is from Kuroma's first recording, an EP entitled Paris, which has yet to be formally released.

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