week of July 6-12

"Once Around the Block" - Badly Drawn Boy
If you don't yet know this song, from Badly Drawn Boy's debut CD, The Hour of Bewilderbeast, you are in for a big treat. The effortless, swinging confidence of this timeless-sounding tune slays me every time I hear it. I just found it as a free and legal download, and needed to let you know. This also serves to remind me to go ahead and buy BDB's latest CD already. I've been putting it off but it's a worthy purchase.

"Fairlee" - Matt Pond PA
This Pennsylvania band is grouped in with the so-called "chamber pop" movement; I'm not sure I like the genre name (okay, so they like to use strings), but I love Matt Pond PA's keen sense of melody and structure, and their ability to sound both old and new at the same time. Whenever I fear that music has no future in a tone-deaf pop culture, I am heartened by these lesser-known young bands, plying their craft and continuing to make music, not just rhythms and noise. Note that the link is no longer direct, but you'll see right away how to download the song when you get to the page.

"Mr. Kennedy" - the Soft Boys  NO LONGER AVAILABLE   [buy MP3 via Amazon]
Robyn Hitchcock is back with his old band mates and here's a great example of their continued ability to produce worthwhile music. (Not all reuniting bands are able to make this same claim!) From their 2002 CD Nextdoorland, "Mr. Kennedy" is a long but involving song, with a feeling to it not unlike that created by the band Television, but filtered through the Soft Boys' wonderful sort of spacey folk-rock.

week of July 13-19

"Dream" - Jenifer Jackson  NO LONGER AVAILABLE
Jenifer (one "n") Jackson writes and sings with such alluring deft, confidence, and implicit passion that I melt in the presence of it. Both her voice and her effortless sense of sophistication remind me unexpectedly of Kirsty MacColl, which is powerful praise indeed in my book. The NYC-based Jackson works in a setting that I'd be tempted to describe as "mellow" except for the horrific implications that word has acquired over the years. There's something vaguely jazzy-sounding in her voice, but she's not Norah Jones; the overall impression is at once stylish and earthy, and her music is loaded with songwriting goodies--little melodic twists and instrumentation touches that keep you engaged, and returning for more.

"Fourth of July" - X  NO LONGER AVAILABLE
Okay, I'm a little late here, but I just found this wonderful old song up on the Rhino Records site. (Rhino has apparently reissued a number of X's albums from the '80s over the last few years.) Rhino uses a 30-day license on its downloads, which apparently means your computer won't play them any more after 30 days, but in the meantime, you can listen. This song is from 1987, but the energy and poignancy of the performance sound as fresh as ever.

week of July 20-26

"Parallel World" - Glenn Tilbrook
Twenty years past the band Squeeze's commercial prime, the group's lead singer and co-principal songwriter sounds like an old friend on this song from his overlooked solo CD from 2001, "The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook." He's not breaking new ground here but he doesn't have to--his agreeable voice and effortless sense of melody work in his favor, as they did all those years with Squeeze.

"There Is No Message" - Pete Townshend (STREAM)  NO LONGER AVAILABLE
Hm, it looks like old rockers' week here at Fingertips. It turns out that the Who's guitarist has quite a store of streams up on his site, including 20 songs that he apparently contemplated releasing as a CD called "Twenty" but never did. A lot have a demo-like feel to them, but this one is a viable throwback to "Let My Love Open the Door" era Townshend--catchy, sharp, and rendered better than it should be by his evocative, yearning vocals. (Then again, I'm someone who always thought the best Who songs were the ones he sang; I could never stomach Daltrey's bombast.)

"L'Accord Parfait" - Autour De Lucie
Okay, to avoid the look and feel of a classic rock station, here's something rather different. I'm a complete sucker for this sort of thing: it's airy, it's got ringing guitars, an irresistible power-pop chorus, a woman singing in French, and it's 3 minutes and 33 seconds: classic single time. What's not to love? Apparently this band gained a bit of an audience when it played the Lilith Fair back in 1997, but I never heard of them until I stumbled upon them online. This song is from their first, eponymous (there! I can be a music writer--I've used the word "eponymous") CD, released in 1996.

week of July 27-August 2

"Songline" - Tim Finn  NO LONGER AVAILABLE  [buy MP3 via Amazon]
Tim Finn may not have quite the unerring melodic sense and brilliant pop voice of his brother Neil, but he is no slouch on his own. This song is simple yet wonderfully effective, with hooks more off to the side than in the center; they hook you nonetheless. The song comes from his 2001 CD, Feeding the Gods. He's put out a good bit of solid material on his own yet seems largely to be ignored as a solo act; to date his biggest successes have been when hooked up with Neil, first in the '70s and '80s band Split Enz, and then briefly with Crowded House in the early '90s.

"Between the Bars" - Elliott Smith  NO LONGER AVAILABLE  [buy MP3 via Amazon]
Turns out that Elliott Smith was doing his tremulous, fragile-voiced act long before director Gus Van Sant "discovered" him and featured his music in the hit movie "Good Will Hunting." This number, from the 1997 CD "Either/Or," predates "Good Will Hunting"; it also presaged the widely heard, impossibly alluring "Waltz No. 2," which came out in 1998 on his "XO" CD.

week of August 3-9

"My Kind of Soldier" - Guided By Voices  NO LONGER AVAILABLE  [buy MP3 via Amazon]
Guided By Voices, a quirky Ohio garage band led by the disconcertingly prolific Robert Pollard, has put out at least 15 CDs over the last 15 years, not counting live recordings and re-releases. This has seriously confused me. Even as the band appears to specialize in the sorts of melodic but offbeat guitar rock I tend to like, I've never been able to jump in and follow them because they always seem to have a new CD out before I've checked out the last one. But maybe not this time. To be sure, a band with a tendency to record this much is definitely not to be judged on the merits of one song. But something about "My Kind of Soldier" sticks with me and makes me want to hear more. There are plenty of ringing guitars for us ringing guitar fans; there are pleasingly elusive lyrics; it's catchy in a rumpled sort of way; and, on top of all that, the thing is blessedly short: just two minutes, thirty-seven seconds. There are not enough short songs out there anymore.

"That Great Love Sound" - The Raveonettes  NO LONGER AVAILABLE
Dumb but cool. This is the kind of song that, it seems, the British music press just loves every few years (or is that weeks?). This young Danish band does the neo-garage thing with an almost Spector-like "Wall of Sound" and the simplest of choruses but hey, why mess with a winning chord progression? At worst, "That Great Love Sound" will be forgotten in another month; at best, the Raveonettes themselves will be forgotten over time but the song will forevermore call up something ineffably profound yet fleeting about the Summer of '03. (This song can be downloaded, but cannot be burned, because of technological barriers.)

"California Style" - Steve Wynn  NO LONGER AVAILABLE  [buy MP3 via Amazon]
Wynn is somebody I like more in theory than in reality, but he's so well-regarded by people who know what they're talking about that I'm assuming I'm just missing something, so I'm going to keep listening. (He is also, I should add, well-regarded by people who don't, necessarily, know what they're talking about: a rave review on praises this song's "killer chorus," and yet, as you'll hear, it doesn't even have a chorus! If you really want a killer chorus, try "That Great Love Sound" [see above].) In any case, this song strikes me as reasonably good summery fun, so tune in yourself and see what you make of his deadpan voice and offbeat sense of rhyme. This one is from his new CD, Static Transmission.

week of August 10-30*

* FINGERTIPS will be on vacation from August 17 through 30, so this week's "This Week's Finds" will  cover three weeks. There's an extra tune in the mix this time for good measure. Stay cool, and things'll be back to normal here for the week of August 31.

"Me and My 424" - John Vanderslice
So it begins with this jaunty little piano line, the kind of vampy thing that most guys would work for at least eight measures, maybe even 12. Not Vanderslice; this talented indie rocker doesn't even fully repeat the line once before he brings in an tweaky sort of electric guitar tone as a one-note counterpoint; and then, on the next repeat, in comes an unexpected, mournful string melody descending on top. Geez, the song grips you before he's even opened his mouth. And when he does, he hooks you all the more with his reedy, early-'70s-Bowie-but-American voice. And don't get me started on the queer but compelling way he breaks the title melodically so it sounds more like "And my 424, me/And my 424..." The song comes near the beginning of a concept album Vanderslice released last year called The Life and Death of an American Fourtracker, which is all about a young man rather too fond of home recording. (The 424 in question is a Tascam 424, a multitrack cassette recorder commonly used by musicians with home studios, at least before digital recording began to take over.)

"All the Time in the World" - Maybe Baby
This is Jennifer Kimball's current band; Kimball used to be one-half of The Story, with Jonatha Brooke. You'll hear a lot of Jonatha in this, or maybe we've been hearing Jennifer in her all these years since the Story broke up. In any case, this slow and subtle tune is a good, old-fashioned pretty song, filled with sophisticated restraint and articulate lyrics. Maybe Baby is based in Boston; this song comes from its debut CD, What Matters, which came out in 2002.

"Naive" - The Jealous Sound  NO LONGER AVAILABLE  [buy MP3 via Amazon]
Anyone miss the '80s band Big Country? Okay, maybe not. But I hear that late, lamented Scottish band around the edges of this unabashedly guitar-driven group from Southern California. It's not easy or straightforward to sound this earnest, melodic, and loud. Me, I'm cheered just to know there are new bands out there that still want to sound like this. "Naive" comes from the band's reasonably new CD, Kill Them With Kindness.

"Quick, Painless and Easy" - Ivy  NO LONGER AVAILABLE  [buy MP3 via Amazon]
Ever so suave and Euro-hip-sounding, Ivy is actually an American band fronted by a French-born singer. This song from the band's well-regarded Apartment Life disc will make a cool addition to any mix CD, although I suspect a whole album's worth of this might get a bit soporific.

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