THIS WEEK'S FINDS
MAY - JUNE 2007
THIS WEEK'S FINDS
week of Apr. 29 - May 5
"Everybody's Got Their Own Part to Play" - Shannon Wright
There's a distinct early '70s vibe in the air here, from the head-bobbing piano chords to the sing-song-y melody, but most of all, as I listen, what brings me back to that bygone time are the subtle John Lennon references I'm hearing in the music, the lyrics ("Nobody knows what the truth is"), and even in the echoey way her voice is slightly buried in the mix. As Wright is nothing if not a simmering vocalist, it's actually kind of fun to have to listen more closely than usual for the emotion--powerful singers grow more powerful, I believe, when they learn to present with subtlety. This compact song features an unusual structure--there are basically four different paired melodic segments, three of which we hear twice, one of which we hear only once, and that unrepeated segment appears to be the chorus. In any case, the whole thing whips right by us (total time: 2:43) before we've quite gotten our arms around it; I suggest allowing a few listens for its various charms to emerge most clearly. "Everybody's Got Their Own Part to Play" is the closing song on Wright's new CD, Let In The Light, which is scheduled for release next week on Quarterstick Records.
"TV Reality (The New Plague)" - Contramano
If David Byrne had been an Argentinian cellist rather than a geeky Ontario- and Maryland-raised art school dropout, Talking Heads might have sounded something like this. Contramano centers around Pablo Cubarle's spiky cello playing, homely singing, and joyfully unexpected sense of melody. The jagged rhythms of the introductory cello riff lead us into an extended, unsettled opening section--the band has our attention but it's unclear what they're going to do with it, as the chords hover without resolution and Cubarle's accented English renders understanding minimal. Then, as Cubarle sings, "But it's not a special day," something begins to shift, we are suddenly in a bridge to somewhere else, and that somewhere else becomes a crazy-great chorus, a very Talking Heads-like bit of infectious simplicity, enlivened by crystal-clear bass arpeggios and a lively drum kit. Cubarle is particularly difficult to understand right here; to add to your enjoyment, you should know that what he's singing is: "It's the new plague/The new invasion/Click on, screw your life, screw your life." And maybe reality TV presents an easy target but if so, not nearly enough people are taking it on. "TV Reality" is a song from Contramano's second CD, Unsatisfecho, which the band will release themselves next week. The MP3 is via the band's site.
"First Blood" - the Chrysler
An insistent, minor-key lament with engaging atmospherics and a sustained sense of woe. While an acoustic guitar strumming a simple E minor chord remains at the center of the sonic space, nice touches persist around the periphery, most involving a range of electric guitar sounds--shimmering sustained notes, controlled feedback, echoey chords, an occasional twang. I'm getting a feeling of the archetypal American West in this one, which may seem strange in that the Chrysler is a folk-pop quintet from smalltown Sweden; on the other hand, they are considered a "country" act there, so maybe that accounts for the mysterious, tragedy-prone landscape their music evokes. The song unfolds at a leisurely pace, and doesn't travel too far, yet somehow keeps the ear occupied through its five-plus minutes. "First Blood" is from the band's second CD, Cold War Classic, which was released in mid-April in the U.S. on Parasol Records. The MP3 is via the Parasol site.
THIS WEEK'S FINDS
week of May 6-12
Have you entered the new contest yet? The prize this time is a full-length CD plus a 7-inch vinyl single from the band Mason Proper, a recent "This Week's Finds" featured artist. You don't have to have heard of them to win, and you never know, they might just become your new favorite band.
"Flesh and Spirits" - the Gena Rowlands Band
With a free-flowing vibe, unusual instrumentation, and a vocalist who sounds like an actual grown-up, "Flesh and Spirits" has very little in common with what we've come to think of as "indie rock," and we are all the better for it. Centered around a ruminative electric piano and some itchy, jazz-tinged drumming, "Flesh and Spirits" avoids veering off into a loungey vagueness thanks largely to Bob Massey's rich, evocative singing--there's something in his voice that adds appreciably to the music itself. Listen to the chorus in particular and how, following the violin's lead, he transforms a relatively simple ascending melody (beginning at 1:02) into something sensational and heart-opening. Like the title's dichotomy, the song seems built on twin supports of matter and essence, which keeps the piece grounded even during its more abstract moments (for instance, the edgy instrumental break that starts at 2:49, matching mournful string lines against a sputtering electronically enhanced beat). The Gena Rowlands Band--no relation to the actress of the same name--is an ensemble from Washington, D.C. that Massey assembles whenever and however he feels like it from a rotating cast of a dozen musicians; "Flesh and Spirits" is the title track to the group's third CD, which was released last month on Lujo Records. The MP3 is via the Lujo site.
"All the Same Mistakes" - Mieka Pauley
The Boston-based, Harvard-educated Pauley sings here like a tantalizing cross between Cat Power and Sarah McLachlan, with a smidgen of Suzanne Vega thrown in. The crisp, disciplined production highlights the song's canny melodic appeal, and just when you think you've heard what it has to say, things take one left turn, and then another. First, around 2:30, the song all but grinds to a halt, reborn briefly as a lilting, slow-motion waltz and then transforming again through its original setting into an unexpectedly blistering recapulation, complete with slightly phased vocals, electric guitar, and bashy drums. "All the Same Mistakes" is a song that will be found on Pauley's next CD, scheduled for release this summer. The MP3 is available via her site.
"Kid Gloves" - Voxtrot
Then again, not that there's anything wrong with what we've come to think of as indie rock (see Gena Rowlands band entry, above), as I think is clear from this casually splendid new track from the Austin quintet Voxtrot. This one has a neo-New-Romantic feeling, with its '80s-club beat and melodramatic melody. (And speaking of the so-called "New Romantics," am I being fooled by the name overlap or is there something vaguely Ultravox-like going on with these guys?) What transports this one, for me, in particular is that part of the chorus when Ramesh Srivastava sings: "I have no choice but to put you in back of me"--geez, everything about that line melodically and harmonically is just plain wonderful, from the chord underpinning the word "choice" to the satisfying way the melody inches up by whole steps then dives back down a fifth (and, as always, much better to listen than to read about it). Voxtrot may be the best-known band in the U.S. that has yet to release a full-length CD, thanks to some sizable web love over the last couple of years, but "Kid Gloves" is in fact from their forthcoming debut non-EP release, entitled simply Voxtrot, set to be out on the Playlouder label later this month. The MP3 is via Spinner, the AOL indie music blog.
THIS WEEK'S FINDS
week of May 13-19
Two quick things:
1) Monday May 14 is the deadline for the Mason Proper contest, so if you're reading this while it's still Monday, there's still time to enter if you email before the end of the day; details here. Don't be shy!
2) Fingertips was one of the sites involved in selecting nominees for what have been dubbed the Music Blog Awards. They're seeking votes in a variety of categories, so if you like doing that sort of thing go here and place your votes. Be aware that this is all related to the year 2006. Well, you know what they say: better late than really really really late.
"Kid On My Shoulders" - White Rabbits
With its familiar but not quite placeable vibe--a slithery sort of explosiveness is in the air--"Kid On My Shoulders" jumps along to a nervous piano line and scratchy guitar riffs, its half-stepping melody adding to the jittery ambiance. Apparently a love of '70s ska was among the things that drew the band mates together, and you can certainly detect a bit of that genre's twitchiness here, but only to the extent that White Rabbits are using a knowledge of ska to forge their own sound--much the way, it occurs to me, that, back in the day, Steely Dan used reggae to inform a song like "Haitian Divorce." And I'm going to take the Dan reference and run with it, since the more I listen, the more I hear a Steely-ishness around the edges here--not the sedate, groove-oriented Dan of the '00s but the musically distinctive and subversive SD of the '70s; even the vocalist here (and I'm not sure who it is as the band has two lead singers) delivers with a slightly high-pitched Fagen-esque snap (listen from 1:46 to 1:51 for a strong example). White Rabbits is a six-man band from Missouri currently doing business in Brooklyn. "Kid On My Shoulders" is a song from the band's debut CD, Fort Nightly, scheduled for release next week on Say Hey Records; the MP3 is via the Say Hey site.
"While You Were Sleeping" - Elvis Perkins
Hypnotic, cryptic, and sweetly melancholy. Also, bracingly produced: what sounds like a simple song for acoustic guitar and voice becomes over a leisurely six minutes an idiosyncratic chamber piece featuring percussion, strings, horns, and some weird, resonant, blowy sort of instrument that I can't quite place. For everything that is ultimately strummed or beaten or blown or bowed, the arrangement is more subtle than lush, instruments simultaneously playing and calling to mind the silence that exists when they're not playing. Listen, for instance, to the moment the main drum beat enters--not till 2:06--and see how it enters your gut at the same time and only then do you realize that before that, it wasn't there. This is a song I've been living with a long time, slowly but surely entranced by its meandering lyricism, waiting for the right week, the right combination of sounds to place it between, and I think its time has come. You may have already heard tell of Perkins' tragic back story, but for the record: father Anthony Perkins died an AIDS-related death in 1992, when Elvis was 17; mother Berry Berenson was on one of the two planes that were flown into the World Trade Center on September 11, just 53 at the time. Maybe we all imagine an extra layer of sorrow braiding through the music as a result but to my ears, yes, there is a sublime sort of sadness infusing both his words and his voice. "While You Were Sleeping" is from Ash Wednesday, released in February on XL Recordings. The MP3 is available via Insound.
"Take Me to the Ballroom" - Moonbabies
The ineffably charming Swedish duo Moonbabies, longtime Fingertips friends, are back with a new CD that charms in the usual Moonbabies way, which is to say elusively. With their adroit blend of crisp acoustic guitars and fuzzy electronics, these guys are hard to pin down sonically--a sense reinforced by both time-signature trickery in the verse and a distinct rhythmic shift between the verse and the chorus. Another thing that keeps the sound pleasantly off-kilter is how multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Ola Frick and keyboardist/vocalist Carina Johansson share the lead vocal duties, and here it's the male voice (Frick) which gets the dreamier vocal, in the chorus, while Johansson handles the more matter-of-fact poppiness of the verse. I could be wrong but I'm thinking that historically, when male and female voices trade like this within a song, it's the woman who gets the dreamy chorus. For added perspective, see previous Moonbabies TWF picks here and here. "Take Me to the Ballroom" is the semi-title track of the new 'Babies CD At the Ballroom, slated for release later this month on Parasol Records. The MP3 is via Parasol.
THIS WEEK'S FINDS
week of May 20-26
Note that next week's update will appear on Tuesday May 29, because of the Memorial Day holiday here in the U.S.
"Lost Again!" - Morningbell
Pop songs tend not to be amenable to significant changes happening within them. In the interest of putting one basic idea across in just three or four minutes, they normally stick to one tempo, one key, one time signature, one vocalist, one type of feeling. This is also why melody lines are inclined to be short, often no more than four measures long, sometimes just two--concise melodies that repeat often being easier for the ear to grasp in a relatively brief span of time (not to mention easier for less-than-inspired songwriters to write). Fortunately for pop aficionados everywhere, however, there are always bands that come along and toss concerns like this out the window. And so we have "Lost Again!," which begins as a crisp acoustic shuffle, acquiring a quick shot or two of Queen or maybe ELO-like harmonies as the verse sneaks a 16-measure melody into an spiffy, upbeat framework--except of course for that time signature change and slowdown at the end. This slowdown leads, after the second verse, into a chorus in which tempo and feel are completely transformed--the pace slows, the harmonies change character, and the chords transmute from being predominantly minor to predominantly major. (Note one common element: an extended melody again, this time just about 12 measures long.) And then maybe best of all, the instrumental break that begins innocuously
enough at 1:20 steps out into a thoughtful and full-fledged guitar showcase, the likes of which bring (oh no, them again!) Steely Dan to mind more than standard-issue indie rock. "Lost Again!" is from Morningbell's third CD, Through the Belly of the Sea, which is slated for a June release on Orange Records. And as yet another sign of the band's freewheeling ethos, the CD is billed as rock's first "Choose Your Own Adventure" album--a different story unfolds depending upon which order you choose to listen to the tracks.
"Brotherhood of Man" - the Innocence Mission
The combination of Karen Peris's voice and the melodies she writes for her voice to sing kindles unspeakable poignancy with its stark beauty. This is music that might pass you by if it's playing in the background as you're fumbling to pay for your takeout coffee but it is music that rewards keen attention with its rich, ageless sense and sensibility. Peris's distinctive, breathy-yearny voice renders profound the melodic simplicity, aided by husband Don's ringingly well-chosen guitar lines and subtle organ flourishes. This is also, I would argue, the sound of a small group of experienced musicians (Mike Bitts is in there on bass as well, but you have to listen closely) who are in it for the love of the music--and, in the case of Karen and Don, love of each other. Which sounds corny but the rarity of two people getting along so beautifully in both song and deed for this long--the band has been recording since 1986--transcends corny to all-out awe-inspiring. "Brotherhood of Man" is the opening track from the CD We Walked in Song, released in March on Badman Recording Company. The MP3 is via Insound.
"Dear Confessor" - Immaculate Machine
Friendly and welcoming, "Dear Confessor" launches off a vintage Elvis Costello beat and doesn't look back. It's that note that singer/guitarist Brooke Gallupe hits on the second syllable of the word "relax" that does it for me--that's where I sink in and let them take me where they're going to take me. There's an inexplicably comfy vibe permeating the music this Vancouver trio generates that I couldn't put my finger on until, reading about the band on their web site, I discover that Gallupe and singer/keyboardist Kathryn Calder "have lived down the street from each other since elementary school." It all begins to make sense. Another victory for a long-term relationship (and another example of how abnormal they actually are, and impossible to manufacture simply because we're told we're supposed to want one; and okay end of soapbox!). "Dear Confessor" will be found on the CD Immaculate Machine's Fables, scheduled for release next month on Mint Records. This will be their third full-length release. (Bonus fact: Kathryn Calder is also a member, since 2005, of the expansive, beloved Canadian ensemble the New Pornographers.)
THIS WEEK'S FINDS
week of May 27-June 2
"Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe" - Okkervil River
This sort of anxious, cinematic indie rock is bound to remind many of us here in 2007 of the Arcade Fire, and yet let's note right away that this Austin-based quintet has been around since 1998, so do the math, as they say. From its wonderful if off-kilter title to its highly disciplined if slightly unglued sense of both song and production, "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe" strikes me as pretty brilliant from beginning to end. Front man Wil Sheff is a wordy sort of guy (he's spent some time writing music criticism for a living, as I recall), but rather than do as other wordy sorts of guys do and cram too many syllables into lyrics ("look at all my words!"), Sheff's a savvy enough songwriter to have figured out how to manipulate triplets and time signatures to embrace the extra syllables (you'll hear this for the first time at 0:22, when he sings--I think--"When the love that you locked in the suite says there's no crying"). So he's a wordy guy who makes room for the music, which makes sense when you've got a crack outfit around you like this. Me, I'm especially enjoying the drumwork: listen throughout to how Travis Nelsen uses all of his drums, from snares to toms to bass drum, with great energy and sensitivity. Part of me keeps waiting for Okkervil River to break through in at least an Arcade Fire-ish sort of way, but part of me keeps suspecting that this band may be too literate/inscrutable for mass consumption. I mean, take a look at what Scheff has written about the concept of downloading music (hint: he relates it to a Borges short story) and you'll see how literate I mean. (Also read it because it's interesting.) "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe" will be the lead track on Okkervil's River upcoming CD, The Stage Names, which is slated for an August release on Jagjaguwar Records. The MP3 is via the Jagjaguwar site.
"My Rights Versus Yours" - the New Pornographers
Last week we heard from Kathryn Calder's lesser-known band (Immaculate Machine); this week her more well-known group steps to the forefront (and she steps a bit to the rear, as the fabulous Neko Case happens to be the senior female vocalist in the band). Carl Newman's affinity for late '60s and early '70s pop is yet again on full display, from the Brian Wilson-y beginning to the feel-good shuffliness of the rhythm section, once the rhythm section gets going (hang with it, it takes a while). Cross Bob Welch-era Fleetwood Mac with the Monkees and you're almost here. The twist is that this Canadian ensemble is clearly up to something serious ("My Rights Versus Your Rights": not a classic pop song title) while setting their observations to music so breezy you can bob your head to it while reading your trashy novel on the beach with your iPod on and no one's the wiser. (Just don't tell Will Sheff.) "My Rights Versus Yours" is an advance MP3 from the band's upcoming Challengers CD, due in August on Matador Records. This one I also heard about via Pitchfork, which had for the longest time previously been yielding little of interest to me. Go figure.
"Cage in a Cave" - Rasputina
A different sort of '60s vibe is in the air here--something quirkier and more psychedelic. And then something also having nothing to do with the '60s at all, as there were not, to my knowledge, any groups with two cellos and a drummer doing business during the Summer of Love. This idea belongs exclusively to Melora Creager, the founder and leader of Rasputina, whose goal in starting the band back in 1992 was to "make funny, depressing music with nothing more than cellos, singing and electricity." (In fact, when Rasputina started up, there were six cellos in all.) As "Cage in a Cave" illustrates, Creager captures a unique, full-bodied instrumental energy with her cello-based rock music, avoiding the frilly feeling one often hears when strings are an afterthought. A big part of the overall appeal is Creager's strong, irresistible voice and her capacity to write real melodies, as too often, to my ears, those inclined to noodle with odd instruments forget that we still need a true and sturdy melody to hang onto. Classically trained and an art school student to boot, Creager is an authentic character, obsessed with historical events and elaborate, vaguely Victorian costumes. And yet on Rasputina's upcoming CD, Oh Perilous World, Creager has partially let go of the historical content because, according to her press material, she decided that current events have become more bizarre than anything she could dig up from the past. Although the past still intrudes here and there, as in the lead track ("1816, The Year Without a Summer") and for that matter "Cage in a Cave," which seems to deal at least in part with Fletcher Christian, the man who was the leader of the mutineers on the Bounty back in 1789. The CD will be released in June on Creager's Filthy Bonnet Recording Company.
THIS WEEK'S FINDS
week of June 3-9
"We Are Waves" - Dirk Darmstaedter
Crisp, polished, and incisive in a Neil Finn-ish sort of way, "We Are Waves" alternates itchy, restrained verses with a gorgeous, crashing-to-the-shore sort of chorus. And yet--if I may stretch the metaphor to the breaking point, as it were--much the way a crashing wave is simultaneously composed of the water being pulled back to sea, so do I hear in the chorus an engaging sort of counter-movement that gives the song extra depth and presence. What I'm talking about in particular is the way the chorus leads with a straightforward A major chord but then, even as the melody takes that engaging leap up, from the fourth to the seventh note (0:56), the chords retreat from the plain power chords one might expect into something more complex (perhaps suspended?; listen at 0:58, on the words "open sea"); listen further to how the chords take two more unexpected steps before finding A major again. The chorus might have been blandly catchier without the subtle complications, but it's richer and more gratifying with them. Darmstaedter, by the way, is an interesting dude--he split his childhood years between Hamburg, Germany, where he was born, and northern New Jersey, where he lived with his family from ages 5 to 11. After spending a few teenaged years busking through Europe on his own, he returned to NJ by himself to finish high school with his old friends, and eventually found himself back in Germany in the late '80s with a band (the Jeremy Days) and a hit single. After the band dissolved in 1995, Darmstaedter began recording solo albums. In 2002, he co-founded Tapete Records and has recorded a few CDs there, the latest being Our Favorite City, which came out in March. That's where you'll find "We Are Waves"; the MP3 is courtesy of Dirk and Tapete.
"But Will Our Tears" - Soy Un Caballo
Handmade semi-electronic EU pop from a French-singing Belgium duo with a Spanish name (which translates to "I am a horse") and at least one English-titled song. When it comes to this sort of semi-lo-fi-ish duo music, it can be a fine line for me between something bright and alluring and something simply bubble-headed, but I think this one crosses onto the right side of that boundary for a few reasons. I like the peppy yet melancholy guitar line that opens the song, and provides an undercurrent for the electronics that follow--it grounds the song in something human and three-dimensional. I like that the electronics that follow help characterize the song but never dominate it; there are stretches where you're hearing just guitar and drum and voice here, and when some sort of keyboard joins in, I feel as if the actual concrete keys themselves are present in the soundscape somehow. Speaking of the drum, note how the electronic beat is supplemented--and quite often replaced--by an actual drumkit (listen around 0:32, when it's first noticeable), played with a wonderful carefree touch. And I like Aurélie Muller's upfront, deadpan voice and how well it wraps itself around the unadorned melody--back and forth on a third interval and then, oops, a delightful jump from the one to the five note. (Funny how striking it always sounds in a pop setting for a singer to leap beyond a standard third interval.) "But Will Our Tears" can be found on the band's debut CD, Les heures de raison ("The hours of reason"), which was released last month on the Belgian label Matamore. The MP3 is via the band's site. Thanks to the ever-reliable Hedvika at Getecho for the lead.
"Clue" - the Contrast
Funny thing about this elastic, elusive thing called power pop. Sometimes we (i.e. power pop fans) want almost slavish devotion to form (even though none of us know exactly what the hell the form actually is), other times a new twist helps render the form all the more heart-rending and addictive. The Contrast, a band from Peterborough, Cambridgeshire (the UK, don't you know), gives us a few prominent power pop earmarks--notably the guitar sound, an ineffable combination of the crunchy and the jangly, on display in a prominent riff, and the punchy (maybe compressed?) drumming. But then they deliver a couple of twists. First and foremost, a vocal twist: while classic power pop singers usually deliver in one sort of sweet tenor or another (think Alex Chilton, Matthew Sweet, Carl Newman of the New Pornographers), singer David Reid sings in a throaty, emphatic baritone. If Richard Thompson wanted to make a power pop record, it might sound a bit like this. Second, at 1:54: it's a piano. Like a regular sounding piano. Not your everyday power pop instrument, but it's not here for long, and then again, listen to how it pounds out those percussive chords--piano as percussion makes some sense in power pop, which is often (but not always! there are no rules, remember) characterized by an insistent (though often subtle) beat. "Clue" is from the Contrast's fifth album, Underground Ghosts, which came out in mid-May on Rainbow Quartz Records. The MP3 is via Insound (and note: Insound MP3s are not at this point readable by the Streampad player, sorry to say).
THIS WEEK'S FINDS
"Speech Marks" - God Love You For a Liar
A continually engaging, skillfully constructed song from an unknown, unsigned UK band. Nice chords, indecipherable time twists, hardy melodies, intriguing lyrics, multiple hooks--"Speech Marks" packs it all into four and a half minutes, while adding a bit of goofy 10cc-like pop drama for good measure (I'm referring to the "phone conversation" segment, beginning at 2:26; and don't miss the answer given to "Do you believe in God?"). Vocalist Gareth Moss has a pliable tenor that suits the shifty music well, sometimes veering towards David Byrne-like rubberiness, sometimes doing a bit of crooning, but not for long, since he's not afraid to leap back and forth into his falsetto. I'll admit my eye was caught by this band before my ear was--they describe themselves as "owing as much to Kate Bush as they do to The Smiths," a claim that does my heart good in a "maybe the world isn't going to hell in a handbasket" sort of way (I mean, four guys in a rock band calling Kate Bush a major influence? Only in the 21st century.) The band by the way exchanged a '90s-style name (Plastik) for the much '00s-ier God Love You For a Liar within the last year, when they expanded from a trio to a quartet. "Speech Marks" is a song from their first CD, How Much Is Enough? that is not only available for free online at their web site but is genuinely good.
"The Underdog" - Spoon
So check out the handclaps (0:58) in this one: probably the most difficult-to-clap-along-with handclaps in the history of rock'n'roll. Knowing how meticulous Britt Daniels, Jim Eno and company are, this can't be an accident, so it strikes me as a good-natured if inscrutable joke in the middle of a good-natured if inscrutable (not to mention crisp and punchy) song. Launching off a relentlessly strummed, one-chord acoustic guitar riff, "The Underdog" features Spoon's characteristic sense of instrumental restraint--however many or (more often) few sounds are combined at any given point, one can always hear all of them distinctly--and yet delivers it in an easy-going, shuffly musical setting. This creates a wily tension throughout; even when the horns arrive, they don't cut loose but keep their distance, never overpowering either the acoustic guitar or Eno's precise percussion (he refuses to hit or shake too many things at once). The one excessive thing you'll hear--also no accident, I assume--is that repeating guitar chord (G major, if I'm not mistaken), not only in the beginning but in the middle (where it extends for 10 measures, blatantly two measures "too long") and then at the end, where it persists an almost excrutiating 18 measures before it sounds like someone has shot the guitar (or the guitarist). If you like this song even a little, I encourage checking it out within the context of the whole CD, in which it sounds mysteriously irresistible. The album--entitled Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (yet another good-natured if inscrutable joke?)--is the band's sixth; it's scheduled for release next month on Merge Records.
"Perdu" - Watoo Watoo
As breezy and refreshing as a mojito in the shade by the beach on a hot day, "Perdu" disappears as quickly, too: the song's just a hair over two minutes long. With its melt-in-your-ears keyboard and brisk, semi-boss-nova-y groove, the song might fall into the "pleasant but generic" rut but for its immediately captivating melody, thirst-quenching chord changes, and the pure, breathy voice of Pascale, the singer. The French lyrics add measurably to the allure. Watoo Watoo is a husband-wife duo who live in Bordeaux and go by first names only (his is Michaël). They've recorded in an off and on sort of way since 1997. "Perdu" is from their new CD, La Fuite, which was released today on Letterbox Records. I'm pretty sure that this song will sound all but perfect on almost any mix you feel like putting together for yourself for the warm weather to come. Remember to thank Letterbox for the MP3.
THIS WEEK'S FINDS
"Elusive" - Scott Matthews
Tense, fragile, emotional, and intelligent. Listen to how the verse develops over an intriguingly minimal guitar accompaniment--he plays not chords, not a standard finger-picking pattern, but something more resembling a bass line. Vague keyboard washes add deep atmosphere, particularly as we get to the chorus. While not sounding specifically like Jeff Buckley--Matthews' tenor seems more constricted, and pretty much lacks Buckley's famous vibrato--there's still something Buckley-like in the air here in the strong yet delicate melody and the sense of dramatic vulnerability suffusing the song. Matthews is a British singer/songwriter and this song has already been a big sensation in the UK, from an album called Passing Stranger that was released there in October 2006. "Elusive" recently won a major UK songwriting prize, the Igor Novello Award; Passing Stranger is now being readied for U.S. release on Universal Republic, probably in the early fall.
"Always on the Telephone" - the Ladybug Transistor
Evocative minor-key 21st-century folk rock, with saxophone. Although here, for sure, is a band with its roots deep in the 1990s--associated with the storied Elephant Six Collective, the Ladybug Transistor in fact released its first CD back in '95. The personnel has changed over the years and it's a bit of a loosey-goosey outfit to begin with; it taxes me beyond my breaking point to determine, via all available press materials, who precisely is in the band at this point. (I do know that the band, tragically, lost their original drummer, San Fadyl, in April, to a fatal aesthma attack.) Through the years and the lineup shiftings, the band's sound remains ever centered around Gary Olson's sensitive baritone and his lovely capacity to convert something vaguely '60s-like into something vaguely contemporary. I'm taken this time by the unexpected entrance of the saxophone (only, um, now I guess you'll expect it) at 1:47--a sharp, lonely sax it is, its achy street-corner wail unlike anything one normally encounters in '00s indie rock. "Always on the Telephone" is the lead track from the band's new CD Can't Wait Another Day, which was released on Merge Records earlier this month. The MP3 is via Spin. Veteran Fingertips visitors, do you remember the band's previous TWF pick, in December '03? Refresh your memory.
"Rain" - Bishop Allen
Punchy, precise pop from the punchy and precise Bishop Allen, the Brooklyn-based band best known, in the web world, for releasing 12 separate EPs last year--one each month, each named for the month, each with four new songs (except for August, which had 14 live tracks). A band this productive has probably mastered the art of writing songs about more or less anything; this one appears to be, rather simply, about a rainy day. Between the snappy-clappy beat, the spirited, uncomplicated melody, and Justin Rice's high-pitched yet appealing voice, "Rain" is charming from beginning to end. I like how the lead guitar enters about halfway through (1:38) with a squawk or two, as if it was literally waking up, just in time for a recalcitrant sort of anti-solo. "Rain" is a track from the forthcoming Bishop Allen CD, The Broken String, slated for release next month on the Dead Oceans label. The MP3 is via the band's site. Bishop Allen is another band with a previous TWF appearance in the semi-distant past; unfortunately, the song selected back in March '04 is no longer available. With this new song, I'm happy to take the boys off the Artists Formerly Listed on the Master Artist List List.
THIS WEEK'S FINDS
"Kidstuff" - Tenderhooks
This song wallops me with its late-'70s new wave vibe but I can't put my finger exactly on why. Put early Elvis Costello, the 1977-79 Kinks, Television, and the Undertones in a blender and this song maybe pours out, with its ringing guitar line, observational wordplay, and solid pop melody. The production quality has a strong whiff of past glory about it thanks to those driving dual guitars and the enveloping rhythm section but again the sensation is vague rather than specific. The closest correlation I hear is with singer Jake Winstrom, whose high, sandy-warbly voice brings the legendary Undertones singer Feargal Sharkey to mind. But what of that unglued guitar break, beginning at 1:55 but becoming deviant by around 2:10? There's nothing late-'70s about that at all; while some may call it "shredding" (a term for the superfast playing style that arose out of heavy metal and prog rock), I hear something more aural than pyrotechnic about it--as if guitarist Ben Oyler is trying to make a cool sound rather than merely to sound cool. Like a good band in any era, this Knoxville quartet--often billed as alt-country but this song has nothing obvious to do with that genre--appear to be adept students and willful experimenters, so that in the end, the pieces of the past you hear become part of a vivid and present experience. "Kidstuff" is from the band's Vidalia CD, which is slated for release this week on Rock Snob Records.
"Trouble" - Over the Rhine
As the noisy part of today's music scene is dominated almost fascistically by those obsessed with what is bright and shiny and new, there fortunately remain many musicians to listen to who are not simply brand new, thank goodness. To think of the depth and richness we would lose if we really were only listening to the latest MySpace and Pitchfork sensations--but no worries, we're not, and never will. Because some of the best new bands will stick around and hone their art in fruitful and unanticipated ways over the years, just as some of today's most wonderful not-new-anymore bands themselves once gleamed with the newcomer's glow. Long-time Fingertips favorites Over the Rhine are a categorical example of how impressive musicians can become as they have the chance to mature and write and perform together. Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist have had a particularly enriching path as a married couple making music together; the connection apparent in their performance is a wonder to behold. Sly, engaging, and timeless-sounding, "Trouble" is a crisp and catchy tune that is one part cabaret, one part tango, one part orchestral pop, and all parts Bergquist, whose voice is as sultry and idiosyncratically alluring as ever. "Trouble" is a song from the band's forthcoming CD, entitled The Trumpet Child, to be released in August on the band's Great Speckled Dog label. [RS]
"Move = Move" - Wheat
And this one oozes the ramshackle charm of 1967-or-so Rolling Stones (the melody to my ears partially echoes "Sing This All Together Now"), without any of the silly bad-boy posturing. And yet "Move = Move" likewise feels rooted right here in the indie-rock-saturated '00s, with its sculpted sound and stray electronic lagniappes. There's a real looseness on display that I find totally wonderful in such an otherwise brisk and focused tune, epitomized by the almost haphazard way the harmony vocals weave in and out of both awareness and alignment. Wheat is a thoughtful duo from Massachusetts that began life in the late '90s as an art project; "Move = Move" is a song from the band's loquaciously titled CD Everyday I Said a Prayer for Kathy and Made a One-Inch Square, their fourth, which was released last month on Empyrean Records. The MP3 is courtesy of Spin.
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