Sept. 2-8

There's still a wee bit of time to enter the latest Fingertips Contest; the deadline for entry is midnight EDT but truth be told if you get your email in by tomorrow morning that'll be fine also. Three winners will each receive a copy of a new compilation CD entitled This Is Next, featuring 15 songs from a variety of well-regarded non-major-label artists, including Neko Case, the Shins, and Spoon.

"To the Dogs or Whoever" - Josh Ritter
A ramshackle folk rock tall tale overrun by breakneck lyrics and underscored by colorful keyboards. The literate Ritter--who designed his own major in American History through Narrative Folk Music, at Oberlin--cuts loose a bit here, singing with an off-the-cuff charm that unites generations of gonzo lyricists, from Greenwich Village beatniks to punk-rock snarlers clear through to late 20th-century hip hop rhyme masters. (And okay, also that guy from Minnesota, but I was trying to give Ritter a break and write about him without mentioning that particular influence.) I like the way he appends a vaguely boozy, sing-along style chorus to the rapid-fire verses, which adds to the good-natured vibe. I get the idea that Ritter wants us right away to remember (this song opens his new CD) that he's not the overly earnest singer/songwriter he's often portrayed as in the glowing reviews he's been receiving since the beginning of this decade. The album title is another hint: The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, and if the words don't reveal a tongue planted firmly in cheek, the cover, featuring one red-crested Roman soldier's helmet and an early-'60s album cover font, should do the trick. The CD was released a couple of weeks ago on Sony/BMG. The MP3 is via Ritter's site, where you can also by the way stream the whole album. [RS]

"Belgian Beer and Catholic Girls" - Siberian
With its ringing wall of guitars and croony lead vocalist, the Seattle quartet Siberian reminds me how much a good chunk of the music identified online as shoegaze owes to early U2; but U2 of course isn't cool anymore so they are rarely mentioned except in a disparaging way by the shoegaze-friendly but snark-infested blogosphere. Meanwhile, Finn Parnell, Siberian's aforementioned crooner, reminds me how much Thom Yorke sounded like Bono sometimes on The Bends, for what it's worth. In any case, what we have here is a song with a chiming, bittersweet power to it, due primarily, I think, to its unusual, three-sectioned structure. In place of the standard verse-chorus framework (one or two verses followed by a chorus, followed by another verse or two and another chorus, etc.), "Belgian Beer and Catholic Girls" is divided into three distinct and relatively equal sections, each a melody that's repeated. At the heart of this structure is the arresting second section (beginning at 1:01 the first time), featuring a mournful melody that is simply a sixth interval going back and forth, back and forth, over chords that alternate between minor and major. This then yields to a third section that aims at a heart-rending sort of resolution before pulling up short in the song's center (1:48) and starting over. When the promised resolution at last arrives, after the song cycles back through its three sections, the song literally stops right on that long-awaited note. Nicely done. "Belgian Beer and Catholic Girls" will be found on Siberian's debut full-length CD, With Me, scheduled for release next month on Sonic Boom Recordings.

"Nothing Burns Like Bridges" - Penny Century
Penny Century vocalist Julia Hanberg sings with a breathless vigor that helps transform this attractive bit of fleet, late-summery pop into something that strikes me as substantive and lasting. There's an air of some earlier era floating around in the cheery mix of keyboards and what sounds like a trumpet; the chorus's infectious, speeded-up echoing of the old Linda Ronstadt nugget "Different Drum" adds to the ineffable nostalgia, as does the brief bit of boy-girl dueting halfway through. That said there's something entirely of the here and now in the band's sound--in particular its gleeful blend of the homespun and the precise; I keep thinking that a lot of this sounds sort of sloppy except that it actually isn't at all. The song flies across one's field of awareness in a zippy 2:07 and the first thing I'm tempted to do when it's over is hit the play button again. Penny Century is a sextet from the village of Östersund, in northern Sweden. "Nothing Burns Like Bridges" is a song from the band's debut CD, Between a Hundred Lies, which was released two weeks ago on Letterbox Records. The MP3 is via the Letterbox site.

Sept. 9-15

"Diamond Heart" - Marissa Nadler
Hang with this one for just a little while. Nadler sings with a distinctive sort of warble, and the song starts with her in full warble. (Nadler is often grouped with the so-called "New Weird America" and/or psych-folk movements, with the likes of Devendra Banhart and Johanna Newsom, in which unusual vocal stylings are de rigueur.) She also seems to be singing from the end of an echoey hallway; her guitar, meanwhile, vibrates with an unearthly, harp-like throb. Lyrical substance is difficult to decipher but odd prominent phrases emerge at the outset--"jezebel crown," "reliquary eyes." And yet somehow, quickly, the song gathers a deep, resonant beauty, like something unearthed from an ancient time with only a few scratches; even the echoey hallway ultimately adds a mysterious aural texture to what is a heart-breakingly gorgeous song. And this is folk-song gorgeous not pop ballad gorgeous (not that there's anything wrong with that), meaning we get the unfolding gravity of timeless melody rather than a burst of hooks. By the time she reaches for the climactic words of the chorus--"Oh my lonely diamond heart"--with a sigh at-once world-weary and angelic, all thoughts of weird warbling have vanished in the presence of sheer musical wonder. "Diamond Heart" is the opening track on Nadler's CD Songs III: Bird on the Water, which was released in the U.S. last month on Kemado Records (it had been released in the U.K. earlier in the year, on Peacefrog Records). The MP3 is courtesy of Insound. [RS]

"Radio Nowhere" - Bruce Springsteen
Hang with this one a bit also. It's not complicated, it's got a grinding, muddy sort of sonic sensibility, and yeah okay he's done any number of better songs (he's Bruce Springsteen, for crying out loud). But this song is a creeper, sticking in the head and heart after a few listens. What I like right away is that, independent of the thick rocking ambiance, this doesn't really sound much like a Bruce Springsteen song--the melody and chord progression may be plain but they do not specifically call to mind any of the Boss's big anthemic blasters of the past; this one even has a touch of power pop about it that strikes my ears as unexpected. I like too that it's just three minutes seventeen seconds, as Bruce has not been known for economy of statement in recent years (or maybe ever). I love the subject matter, as the song laments the abject soullessness of satellite radio: "I was trying to find my way home/But all I heard was a drone/Bouncing off a satellite/Crushing the last lone American night." And yes I like the music too--simple and direct it may be, but vivid and driven as well, thanks in part to his estimable compadres in the E Street Band. All in all "Radio Nowhere" feels like a reassuring rallying cry from one of our mightiest living rock legends, a guy who I might add has attempted to be a decent human being (no mean feat!) despite nearly being crushed by the "star-maker machinery" back in the '70s and '80s. The song comes from Springsteen's forthcoming CD, Magic, slated for release on Columbia Records in early October (although the vinyl is coming out, actually, at the end of this month). MP3 via Spinner.

"When I Say Go" - the 1900s
Guided by a jaunty piano and sung with a Carole King-like forthrightness by Jeanine O'Toole, "When I Say Go" is a potent piece of midwestern indie pop that rewards careful listening with its inventive sense of arrangement. To begin with, this Chicago septet features three vocalists and here utilizes two of them: O'Toole is the Kingly one, singing the verses, while Caroline Donovan handles the choruses; they sound almost the same but kind of not, also. Listen as well for the careful use of strings, which intermittently lend the song a very parlor-like sensibility, other times adding the air of, almost, a hoedown. Sometimes a small touch means a lot, like the way the piano, after pounding out basic major and minor chords until then, releases, abruptly, into a somewhat thornier arpeggio (at around 1:18; sounds like maybe a major 7 chord). This may not be something you consciously note but it alters the mood on the spot, all the more so because of its subtlety. On the other hand, not subtly at all, the song breaks in the middle (starting at 1:38) for a bracing guitar solo, a scant 10 seconds of expert, squonky deconstruction that is not to be missed. "When I Say Go" is a song from the band's debut full-length CD, Cold & Kind, slated for release early next month on Parasol Records. The MP3 is courtesy of the band's site. [RS]

Sept. 16-22

* Be on the lookout for a new section on Fingertips entitled "The Record Shop": a page of links taking you directly to where you can buy some of the albums mentioned here week to week (and support Fingertips in the process). This should be up by week's end, if all goes well.

* Likewise be on the lookout for a new contest, to be posted later in the week. The prize this time: Canon, the nicely-packaged two-disc Ani DiFranco retrospective.

"Slow Years" - Men Among Animals
An irrepressible air of the madcap permeates this sly and slightly manic piece of pure pop from the Danish quartet Men Among Animals. One of the many fun things about "Slow Years" is how misleadingly it begins: I'm not sure what sort of song is being signalled by the throbbing bass line and portentous guitar noodles of the intro, but I don't think it's the gleeful hookfest that follows when Lasse Nielsen opens his mouth at 0:12. Nielsen sings with a yelpy but agreeable doubletracked tenor (a voice that makes "most bluebirds quiver and almost all librarians faint," according to the band's MySpace page); check out the likable way he takes those upward sidesteps in the verse, away from the notes you think he's going to hit. This is fun in its own way but all the more so for how it sets up the chorus, which has the simple, unstraying melody of a lost classic. I like too how the band augments the proceedings with some flavorful work of their own, including an extended instrumental break that begins at 1:16 with a previously heard guitar riff and stretches way out from there, first with a glissando-crazy haunted-house organ, then (my favorite part) a guitar solo that consists pretty much of one note, bent and strained for 15 seconds or so. Don't miss it. "Slow Years" comes from the CD Bad Times, All Gone, which was released last week in Europe by the small but tasteful German label Tapete Records, which is run by Dirk Darmstaedter. The MP3 is via the Tapete site.

"Million Dollars Bail" - Peter Case
Before he was frontman for the little-known (but influential) power pop band the Nerves and the better-known Plimsouls, Peter Case eked out a living playing guitar in coffeehouses and busking on the San Francisco streets. After the Plimsouls had their 15 minutes of new wave fame in the early '80s, Case revisited his roots, re-emerging as a road-toughened troubadour in the later part of the decade, and recording a couple of fine albums in the process. In the years since, Case has all the more convincingly grown into the role; nowadays he sings his finger-picked songs about hard-luck characters with the deep, rough-hewn authenticity of the folk and blues balladeers he admired as a teenager. "Million Dollars Bail" is an old-fashioned protest song--guitar, voice, and indignant lyrics. And yet notice the lack of vitriol, the palpable dignity of the stark yet nuanced performance--he sounds too centered to have to convince us he's right, and too right to have to point fingers and yell. He's singing about our two-tiered justice system (John Edwards may want to contact him for a campaign song), but he's not ranting and demanding changes--he lets the story tell itself, and lets us know, in the end, what's really at stake: "But there's a sentence passed on every soul, someday we all must die/When the question's not who pulled the switch, it's how you lived and why." You'll find "Million Dollars Bail" on the CD Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John, which was released last month on Yep Roc Records. The MP3 is courtesy of [RS]

"Salvador" - Jamie T
"Salvador" takes full advantage of its three and a half minutes, filling both the time and space it has with an enticing, cross-genre stew of sounds and rhythms. After a slow intro featuring oddly ancient-sounding electric guitars, the song takes off with a ska-infused beat, at once propulsive and snaky, and atmospheric, often sinister guitar accents. Just as we adjust to this unexpectedly captivating soundscape, the young Briton introduces an unhurried rap verse, which slides into the churning musical terrain quite nicely. As do the threatening "hoo! hah!" background vocals a bit later, somehow. His working-class singing accent has caused a bit of a row in England, as it turns out 21-year-old Jamie T (née Treays) is from well-to-do Wimbledon, and attended a posh school, but all I'm thinking we should care about is does the song work? I say it does. (And would point out that Joe Strummer, the son of a diplomat, was hardly a hooligan either.) "Salvador" is from Jamie T's debut CD Panic Prevention, which was released in the U.S. at the end of August on Caroline Records. (The record came out in the U.K. back in January and is one of the 12 nominees for this year's Mercury Prize.) The MP3 is via Insound.

Sept. 23-29

"That's That" - Cass McCombs
With its rolling, ringing, nostalgic sheen, "That's That" glows with an almost breathtaking sort of pure pop grace. This is one beautiful piece of work, rendered palpably touching by the self-control that characterizes the song from start to finish. For even with its crisp, head-bobbing rhythm, "That's That" offers us a lesson in sonic restraint: guitars that withhold as much as they play, silvery melodies that ache off the swing of the beat, and subtlest but maybe best of all, that warm, rounded, tom-tom sound that keeps a hurried pulse in the background, forever implying a crashing release that never arrives. McCombs, furthermore, has a voice that sounds on the surface sweeter than it actually is--listen carefully and you'll hear a homely, vaguely adenoidal tinge to his tone that sounds oddly enough like a benefit, offering a bit of an edge to the silky melody line, and underscoring the awkwardness of the young man/older woman affair recounted here. "That's That" is from McCombs' forthcoming CD, Dropping the Writ, due out next month on Domino Records. MP3 via Pitchfork. (Oh and if you still haven't heard "Sacred Heart," a 2005 Cass McCombs song that's been ensconced in the Fingertips All-Time Top 10 for quite a while, visit the chart and check it out.) [RS]

"Everwise Muskellunge" - Rats With Wings
The Brooklyn-based band Rats With Wings has a predilection for synthesizer sounds most bands prefer to avoid: rubbery flugelhorny ones, chimey squeaky ones, cheesy tromboney ones. Let me quickly say that I might normally prefer to avoid such sounds also. And yet let me quickly also say that through some combination of vibrancy and laptop-infused invention, the whole here becomes far more than the sum of its strange, synthesized parts. With its solidly constructed melody, spacious sense of structure (note how many different chords the tune seems to feel comfortable resting on), and inscrutable lyrics, "Everwise Muskellunge" grows increasingly comfortable and engaging--but no less odd--with each listen. (A muskellunge by the way is a large fish, in the pike family; here it is apparently stuffed and mounted on the wall, from which vantage point it stares at the narrator, who both talks to it and imbues it with an unearthly sort of perspicacity.) At the heart of the band is the duo Brendan Fitzpatrick and David Hurtgen, who have played together in various guises for 15 years; they got the name for this latest incarnation from Woody Allen's memorable description of pigeons in the movie Stardust Memories. "Everwise Muskellunge" is a song from the band's self-released Tiny Guns EP, which came out last month, and includes a seriously striking version of Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf." MP3 courtesy of the band.

"Summer's Ending" - Steve Goldberg and the Arch Enemies
Well okay summer has actually already ended, but just barely, and in any case the indelible complexion of late summer/early fall is delightfully embodied in the words, the music, and the spirit of this charming song. The bittersweet cello that leads into the first verse--with its singular way of sounding upbeat and sad at the same time--is just a hint of the tuneful orchestral treat the Pittsburgh-based Goldberg has in store for us, with its nicely incorporated string, woodwind, and brass parts. I like how, even so, the guitar and drums--the only "normal" rock instruments on display--are still given their due; the guitar plays an important textural role, and the drums are woven into a larger percussive sound with a nifty sort of homespun finesse. And boy was this homespun: the self-titled album from which this comes was recorded over eight months as Goldberg's senior project as a music student at Carnegie Mellon University; all the musicians on the album (a total of 22 instruments employed) were CMU students as well. Goldberg even sang into a microphone that was custom-built by an electrical engineering student. And perhaps it took an actual college student to so evocatively capture summer's end, with its looming, double-edged departure scenes ("I couldn't wait to leave/But now I want to stay"). Kind of gets you right in the stomach. The CD is available via Goldberg's web site, as is the MP3.

Sept. 30-Oct. 6

* There's still time to enter the Ani DiFranco contest, but don't delay. The grand prize is Canon, the nicely-packaged, hand-picked two-disc DiFranco retrospective. Two runners-up will receive a copy of Fingertips: Unwebbed, which will disappear from the shelves here at year's end. There are also five prints of Ani DiFranco artwork available both for the grand prize winner, the runners-up, and two others. So five winners in all! Deadline for entry is Tuesday, October 2.

* The Record Shop is now open for business: a page of links taking you directly to where you can buy some of the albums mentioned here week to week (and support Fingertips in the process).

"Adrenaline" - Emma Pollock
Emma Pollock has this heart-rending way of singing happy songs with a sad voice. "This adrenaline rush is keeping me high/Keep it coming around": sure sounds happy. (Sounds like a Phillies fan, I might add.) No doubt the bright piano chords sound happy as well. But her voice has too rich a texture for simple happiness--there's a subtle and soulful abrasion in it, and its substance seems fueled by breath, if that makes any sense. Cross a drawl-free Lucinda Williams with Harriet Wheeler of the Sundays and you're pretty close. In any case, scratch below the surface of the chipper accompaniment and inspirational lyrical snippets and you may both sense and hear that "Adrenaline" is more about life than happiness: there are wonders to be had, but only if you work to get out of your own way, and understand that they often come wrapped in unpredictable packages. "Adrenaline" can be found on Watch the Fireworks, the long-awaited solo debut by the former Delgados singer and guitarist, released in mid-September on 4AD Records. For more information about Pollock, (and to hear another great song of hers) check out the TWF review of "Limbs," released long before the CD arrived, from this past February. The "Adrenaline" MP3 comes via Insound. [RS]

"He Keeps Me Alive" - Sally Shapiro
Crystalline neo-italo disco from an enigmatic Swede who protects her privacy by forswearing face-to-face interviews and live performances, and by singing under an English-sounding pseudonym. (She is also more the voice than the creative force; Johan Agebjörn is the writer and producer of "Sally Shapiro" music.) And let me quickly add that whatever your preconceived notions about dance music may be (rock'n'roll has always had a testy relationship with dance music, even though rock itself more or less began as dance music), I suggest giving this one a fair shot and actively seeking out its various charms, which include, most prominently: Shapiro's icy-warm, doubletracked delivery; the pristine sonic atmosphere (this song is the musical equivalent of a meticulously cleaned and dusted room, all silver and white, with blonde woods, in the winter sun); and the sweeping and yet controlled melodrama of the chorus, both musically and lyrically. For the heck of it, check out also the piano-like keyboard that comes in around 1:55, a startling bit of organic-seeming sound in a cascade of beats and synthesizers. Shapiro may be on the verge of having a blog-rock cultural moment, though it could also be that the moment, because it's about to be here, has actually already passed. You know how it goes. "He Keeps Me Alive" is a song from Shapiro's CD Disco Romance, which was out last year in Europe, and will be released in North America this month by Paper Bag Records. MP3 via Paper Bag.

"Anna Leigh" - the Sadies
And the perfect counter-balance to neo-italo-disco is probably something gritty and bluegrassy like this--although note that the boys in the band start this one off kinda smooth-like, with pretty harmonies (note, too, however, the wavery organ sound: all is not necessarily well). Soon enough, in any case, the finger-picking beat kicks in and we're all minor-key and traditional-sounding in pursuit of a forboding tale about a lover who dreams of her lover's demise and is trying to get him not to go on the trip he's about to take. Maybe it's just me but now that I'm thinking about it, I like this stark, fiddle-free approach to bluegrass, which to my ears accentuates the stalwart melody and gripping narrative. The Sadies are a quartet from Toronto who have been recording since 1998. They are perhaps best known these days as having been Neko Case's backup band, but it would seem they deserve a bit of their own spotlight as well. "Anna Leigh" is a song off their latest CD, New Seasons, which comes out this week on Yep Roc Records. [RS]

Oct. 7-13

* The Record Shop is up and running: a page of links taking you directly to where you can buy some of the albums mentioned here week to week, and support Fingertips in the process. Look for the not-too-distracting (I hope!) [RS] at the bottom of reviews to indicate when a song's album is available via the Record Shop.

"For Emma" - Bon Iver
"For Emma" has the steady, wistful ambiance of a determined trudge through the snow on a bright winter's day to fetch something you know in your heart isn't going to be there. Electric guitar lines bend languidly around crisp acoustic guitar chords, sleepy horns offer echoey punctuations in the background, and then, steadiest and wistful-iest of all, there's Justin Vernon--doing musical business as Bon Iver--with his mournful yet adamant falsetto telling some difficult to pin down tale of past love gone (probably) wrong. It's a song at once engaging and elusive: search past the meaty chorus and nicely textured atmosphere and listen for what's there (listen, for one, to how the electric guitar and the horns intertwine sonically) and then also what's not there. Beyond the chorus, and a brief wordless section near the end, Vernon opens his mouth only to sing two lyrical lines separated by a measure of music, and we hear them just twice. Which is to say the song marches along pretty much without any real verses. No wonder it sounds wistful. Vernon recorded this album holed up by himself in a cabin in the woods in the Wisconsin winter, in the wake of the dissolution of his former band, DeYarmond Edison. (No wonder he sounds wistful.) The haunted falsetto is new for this project, which gets its name from the French greeting "Good winter," although Vernon chose to leave off the silent "h" from hiver. "For Emma" is the semi-title track from the first Bon Iver CD, For Emma, Forever Ago, which was self-released in July.

"Quit While You're Ahead" - Southeast Engine
This one has a satisfying bottom-heaviness to it, due to a few different things I'm hearing: first, what sounds like a snare-free drum kit; second, the band's refreshing emphasis of the electric guitar's lower register; and then also the minor key in which the song is set. Southeast Engine is a six-man band but at their core they are led by guitartist/singer Adam Remnant (apparently an out of work middle school teacher) and drummer/percussionist Leo DeLuca, and I think the drum and guitar really drive the sound more than in most larger outfits--both of them play with a loose intensity that doesn't mistake muscle for bashing or rhythm for uniformity. The verses are dominated by the pulsing tom-tom, and some atmospheric guitar work, while Remnant, singing, withholds a bit, a tremulous edge to his voice. At the chorus, the song opens out dramatically, with its one-note lyrical lines enhanced by a phalanx of vocal harmonies, which sound both shouted and turned down at the same time, and its ominous message about the poisoning of our public sphere with lies and deception. Southeast Engine is from Athens--Ohio, not Georgia--but like its more well-known counterpart, also a college town with a spirited music scene. "Quit While You're Ahead" is a song from the band's new CD, A Wheel Within a Wheel, their third full-length, due out next week on Misra Records. The MP3 is via Misra.

"Pluto" - Clare & the Reasons
Check out the earnest-goofy orchestral setting this one leaps from the starting gates with: all twittering pizzicatos, like some misplaced radio advertisement from the 1940s--pretty hard, I think, not to be charmed. (One of the things that rock'n'roll has yet to learn from classical music is that music can, in fact, instrumentally, be funny, can bring a smile to the face.) And then when Clare Muldaur Manchon starts cooing those earnest-goofy lyrics directly to the icy, undersized, woebegone, no-longer-a-planet, well, this one's a slam dunk, to my ears. "Pluto, I have some frightful news, dear," she begins--and lord, how about that blissful glide from the major to the minor chord as she eases from "news" to "dear," beginning at 0:22; be still my heart! And it's not just Manchon who's charming us--she's got a coterie of able musicians along for this retro-groovy space ride, including backup singers who deliver jazzy accents and nifty three- (I think) part harmonies, an economical but vivid piano player, and a drummer offering some lovely muted drumming, all the while accompanied by those strings, who pluck and bow as required by the inventive arrangements. Manchon is the daughter of '60s music stalwart Geoff Muldaur; her husband, Olivier, is one of the seven members of the ensemble (he plays violin, piano, and saw). "Pluto" is the lead track on the band's debut CD, The Movie, released on Frog Stand Records, a label started by Manchon and a friend of hers from her Berklee School of Music days. Thanks to 3hive for this one.

Oct. 14-20

* The latest Fingertips Contest is offering as a grand prize the new 3CD Bob Dylan compilation, entitled, simply enough, Dylan. Details here. The record company is also releasing a single-disc version of this; three of those are available to three runners-up. Deadline for entry is Tuesday October 30. And hey, whether you're a contest entering sort of person or not, if you happen to be a Dylan person, or perhaps would like to be, be sure to check out the iMix I've created featuring 15 Bob Dylan songs that have not once been collected on any of the many different greatest hits and best of compilations that his record label has seen fit to release over the years.

"Make a Plan" - Saturday Looks Good to Me
Deftly built with riffs and sounds and cheery vocals, "Make a Plan" is infused with a charming sort of handmade vibe, like something modeled unexpectedly yet expertly with masking tape and cardboard. The introduction is an immediate example of the odd but sturdy construction I'm talking about--first we get the buoyant acoustic strum, straight out of a Harry Belafonte record or some such thing, then a thin slice of vague and fuzzy electric guitar, which together are capped by a low, fat, echoey line of four descending notes from a different guitar finished off with that comic book-y flanging. The net effect is simultaneously solid and odd. Then comes the kind of kooky melody, a long downward trip of doubled notes, sung with unhurried flair by SLGTM multi-instrumentalist and mastermind Fred Thomas. And how much like Ray Davies is Thomas sounding here? A lot, says me, especially for a guy from Detroit, and more especially when the song hits full Kinks mode during the bridge, from 2:05 through 2:30. I like how a piano suddenly appears at this point too, as if someone had just rolled one into the room so, okay, might as well play it. Saturday Looks Good to Me is an ensemble with a revolving lineup; Thomas has apparently worked with more than 75 people towards the end of putting SLGTM records together since 2000. "Make a Plan" is from the outfit's fourth full-length CD, Fill Up the Room, slated for release next week on K Records. The MP3 is courtesy of K.

"Headrush" - Hot Springs
Grinding, spunky rock'n'roll from yet another intriguing band from Montreal. This quartet's distinctive sound is immediately dominated by the throaty, quavery voice of singer/guitarist Giselle Webber, who is in full command of what she's doing. After studying the voices of classic jazz singers, Webber found a new way to use hers. "You can contort and find these extra pockets of air in your sinuses and deep down in your gut," she told a Montreal newspaper a couple of years ago, "and eventually I learned that you can sculpt your voice in these crazy ways by fucking up sound inside your throat. That's my favorite way to sing." To be honest, I can't claim that it's my favorite voice to listen to, but the way Webber interacts with this stop-start-y, bottom-heavy music does have a sneaky appeal, combining a comfortable classic-rock drive with something fiercer and untamed. I like the chorus in particular, with its mixture of rushed triplets and dragged-out quarter notes, skipped drumbeats, and jumbled-together words (which are hard to decipher; the first line is "These glasses have been empty for too damn long"). Often I praise lyrics that scan impeccably with the music but for the sake of vehemence there is room in rock for songs in which the drive of the music requires the words to bend to its will. This kind of thing, I think, only works when the singer has a bit of "force of nature" about him or her; from what I'm hearing, I'd say Webber qualifies. "Headrush" is from the debut Hot Springs CD, Volcano (see? force of nature), released last month, in Canada, by the band's Quire Records imprint, via the big label DKD. The MP3 is found on the band's site.

"See These Bones" - Nada Surf
If this song sounds like a sharp, pristine relic from some disconcertingly long-ago day when songs were songs and bands were bands, one good reason for this is that Nada Surf has been around pretty much since those days--this Brooklyn-based trio formed back in 1992. Or, as they note on their MySpace page, "Nada Surf has been a band 10 years longer than most of their living peers have been out of a car seat." Straightforward and memorable, "See These Bones" is given an assist out of the gate by a good opening line--"Everyone's right and no one is sorry/That's the start and the end of the story"--that in a nutshell describes the sociopolitical impasse in which we find ourselves. The heart of this one is clearly the glowing chorus, featuring one of those classic-sounding, power-pop-affiliated melodies that seems clearly to recall some other song or two (or five) and yet eludes specific identification. The lovely, pining voice of Matthew Caws is, as ever, the ideal vehicle for the soaring bittersweetness on display. "See These Bones" is a way-early peak at the band's next CD, which will be called Lucky and is not scheduled for release on Barsuk Records until February '08. The MP3 is via Barsuk.

Oct. 21-27

* The Dylan contest is in full swing. Check it out if you haven't; deadline for entry is Tuesday October 30.

"Dead Sound" - the Raveonettes
Simple and dense, loud and whispery, retro-y and up-to-date, "Dead Sound" continues this Danish duo's studied--and catchy--deconstruction of American rock'n'roll music from the late '50s and early '60s. What you hear here is what they do: take chords and melodies and guitar sounds that feel old-fashioned and familiar and mash them onto a wacked-out Phil Spector meets My Bloody Valentine assault of difficult-to-pin-down noise. These guys are sticklers for detail and like to constrain themselves (their first album, Whip it On, featured eight songs all in B-flat minor; their second album, Chain Gang of Love, was recorded, on the other hand, almost entirely in the key of B-flat major), which tells me that for better or worse no sonic detail is an accident. Here, I'm especially enjoying the guitar's narrative. It starts as a lonely echo in the background, with a simple remark or two (around 0:44)--kind of like a surf guitar looking for the beach. Next we hear it all but drowning in a buzzy vat of undifferentiated din (around 1:18), later to emerge in the spotlight with a reverb-drenched, Springsteen-y solo (beginning at 1:53) and soon to find its true place with a climactic bit of staccato surf-iness (from 2:20 through 2:32) before melting into the final swirl of noise, a lot of which at that point sounds like a harsh electronic wind. All in three and a half minutes, with appealing boy-girl harmonies. "Dead Sound" is from the Raveonettes' forthcoming album, Lust Lust Lust, scheduled for release next month (internationally; the band is currently without a U.S. label) on London-based Fierce Panda Records.

"Sweet Love" - Melou
Not the Anita Baker song but its own sort of sleek and sultry. This "Sweet Love" is a slow and seductive cross between mainstream R&B, jazz, dub, and pop. Singer Annie Goodchild has a voice one must inescapably describe as "soulful," for perpetual lack of an effective voice-description vocabulary; her bandmates offer her an appealingly minimalist background texture in which the guitar, sax, bass, and percussion restrain themselves both individually and collectively; when any one of them feels like offering a languid lick or flourish, there's always plenty of aural space in which it can move, and no one abuses the privilege. (The final two minutes, all instrumental, take this skeletal approach through its interesting if maybe overlong denouement.) To me the song is anchored mightily by its juicy chorus, which in its hook illustrates yet again the latent power of three simple notes. Melou is a quintet with a globetrotting biography: Goodchild is from Boston, guitarist and songwriter Maarten Reijnierse is from the Netherlands, and they first got together in Guatemala; now rounded out by an additional mix of American and Dutch players, the quintet recorded its debut album, Communication, in Barcelona. "Sweet Love" is the third track on the album, which was released by Barcelona-based Whatabout Music in June.

"Halfway to Hollywood" - Dick Prall
A good-natured minor-key shuffle with a few thoughtful touches along the way. Prall's voice occasionally brings Joe Walsh to mind, and of how many 21st-century rockers can we say the same thing? Come to think of it, there's something of Walsh's self-effacing goofiness in the air here as well, for reasons I can't immediately identify. The aforementioned thoughtful touches are a bit easier to pinpoint: the violin that joins surreptitiously at 0:46 and stays to lend a jaunty, '30s-ish style to the melody; the rumbly syncopated thud of tom-toms added to the verse the second time around, beginning at 1:22; and those yodelly yelps with which he finishes the lines at the very end, as he sings, "Say what they want." How does he manage to finish the word "want" with a yodelly "oooo"? Hm, so maybe I can after all identify some of the goofiness too. For good measure I like the way the song quite literally ends: we used to call that a "sting" back in radioland--the last note is banged out and it's over, abruptly. It seems to me that just about everything fades out these days. "Halfway to Hollywood" is from Prall's CD Weightless, released in September on Authentic Records, and the Chicago-based singer/songwriter's fourth. The MP3 is via Prall's site.

Oct. 28-Nov. 3

* Time's almost up for getting in on the latest Fingertips contest; the prize is the 3CD Dylan greatest hits package. Three runners-up will receive the single-disc version. Details are here. Deadline for entry is Tuesday October 30.

"Be Unhappy" - Maritime
I like how the basic, wet-blanket lyrical twist here--"Even if you find the love of your life/You could be unhappy for weeks at a time"--is mirrored in the music: at the heart of this peppy, summer-sunny tune are recurring suspended chords that block our sense of simple fulfillment (they're laid out right in the intro, at :03 and :06), like persistent clouds on a beach day. And listen to the guitar that plays these chords--a smooth, old-fashioned-sounding thing that wouldn't seem out of place offering insouciant licks in a jazz bar, and yet somehow, too, commingles successfully with the much itchier, vaguely punky second guitar. My ear even finds singer-guitarist Davey von Bohlen himself embodying the same aesthetic conflict, his high, graceful voice subtly contradicted by a raspiness just below the surface. That the music conveys us eventually to a bunch of "doo-doo-doo-doo"s is the culminating musical oxymoron in a song that so prettily seems to be assuring us that life isn't always pretty. You'll find this one on Maritime's new CD, Heresy and the Hotel Choir, the third album from this accomplished Milwaukee quartet, which was released this month on Flameshovel Records. [RS]

"Ex-Guru" - the Fiery Furnaces
The Fiery Furnaces are fully a product of the 21st century: a brother-sister duo from suburban Chicago trafficking in oblique, experimental songwriting featuring intermittent snatches of backward-looking pop-rock, with lots of stylistic leaps, sonic mayhem, and lyrical perplexities along the way. Founded officially in Brooklyn in 2000, the Furnaces tend to elicit extreme reactions--some claim Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger as Captain Beefheart-style geniuses, others urge people to throw money out windows rather than pay for what the Fiery Furnaces have recorded. Me, I'm thinking that it's a vast knowledge of and appreciation for the music of the past that fuels their experimentation, which means, if they put their minds to it, they're fully capable of sounding quote-unquote normal too (as, for instance, they did on "Benton Harbor Blues," a previous TWF pick). "Ex-Guru" gives us, this time, a brisk, ironic/nostalgic piece of rock such as Beck might concoct, delivered with a blasé sort of gusto by Eleanor, who must here know that the recurring lyric "She means nothing to me now" accentuates the aural illusion that a man is singing. (The lyrics, rather plainly about, indeed, an ex-guru, are funny and also I think a little sad.) Be sure to hang around past the Stevie Wonder keyboards to see where else this one wants to go: we get, first, a heavy burst of guitar and synthesizer (1:25) that sounds like the B-52s doing Led Zeppelin, which leads somehow into a baroque-y flute, horn, and harpsichord-like keyboard trio that helps finish things off. "Ex-Guru" is from Widow City, the band's fifth full-length, released earlier this month on Thrill Jockey Records. MP3 courtesy of Paper Thin Walls.

"Imaginary Girl" - the Silver Seas
Easy-going, super-likeable neo-mellow rock. Singer/songwriter Daniel Tashian sounds like a cross between James Taylor and Jackson Browne, with maybe a dash of young Billy Joel thrown in, and the music he crafts with producer/keyboardist Jason Lehning is a lovingly updated version of the kind of thing that was in the air back when JT and JB and BJ were plying their 1974-ish wares--we get something of JT's soulful swing, a bit of JB's star-crossed ache, and an agreeable interplay between the gentle but lively piano (a la Joel), with its cascading arpeggios, and some snappy acoustic guitar work. Tashian and Lehning were until recently doing business, in Nashville, as the Bees (U.S.); when they signed with Cheap Lullaby Records, they changed their name to rid themselves once and for all of the conflict with the British band the Bees. Tashian, by the way, is the son of Barry Tashian, front man for the Remains, the legendary '60s garage rock band from Boston (best known for the single "Don't Look Back," a highlight off the landmark Nuggets collection). "Imaginary Girl" is from the CD High Society, originally self-released in 2006, when the band was still the Bees; it's slated for a national re-release on Cheap Lullaby next month. MP3 courtesy of Cheap Lullaby.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

for all other months see

© copyright 2008 Fingertip Productions