Monday, March 28, 2005

week of Mar. 27-Apr. 2

"Hey Now Now" - the Cloud Room
Cross the Strokes with New Order and they might come out sounding like this, if the lead singer were Richard Butler's first cousin (Butler being the lead singer of the Psychedelic Furs). Whether the titular nod to OutKast's monster "Hey Ya" is intentional, there's something of that song's relentless infectiousness at play here, funneled through a downtown NYC sound, all rumbly drumbeats, Farfisa-like keyboards, and prickly, surf-style guitars. I imagine if you were to hear this song live in a club you wouldn't stop bouncing around for a good few days, and I'm tempted to think we could all use that sort of vibe right about now. Not to be confused with the wonderful Laura Veirs song of the same name, the Cloud Room is a New York-based foursome featuring a guy named J on vocals and guitar, just so you know. "Hey Now Now" will be found on the band's self-titled debut CD, scheduled for release on Gigantic Music on April 19th. The MP3 is available via Pop Matters.

"A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left" - Andrew Bird
I'm not sure when I've heard such a diverse, unexpected, and yet disconcertingly organic 20 seconds of music as can be found towards the end of the introductory section of this curiously titled song from the idiosyncratic Mr. Bird. After an echoey electronic burst, the song begins with voice and acoustic guitar, the singer providing a clear if rather wacky introduction to the subject at hand, and then, around 45 seconds into it, comes this marvelous 20-second stretch: a violin takes over, changes key at least twice without playing many notes, then (somehow) hands it off seamlessly to an electric guitar; said guitar issues an assured couple of strums before giving way to what sounds like a ghostly synthesizer, accompanied by some Beatle-like string punctuations. But hold on, this "synthesizer" is Bird himself, whistling. He's an expert whistler, it seems, in addition to being a classically trained violinist. This song is so hard to describe and yet so craftily put together that I seem only to be able to talk about short stretches of it. Another great one happens at around 1:45, at the end of the verse; here, Bird breaks off, nearly a capella, and modulates himself through a captivating series of chord changes, leading into the chorus, from whence cometh the title. I have a feeling many listens are required to have this all coalesce meaningfully, and I have no doubt that those listens will be rewarded. This song can be found on Bird's latest CD, The Mysterious Production of Eggs, which was released in February on Righteous Babe Records. The MP3 can be found on Bird's web site

"So Begins Our Alabee" - Of Montreal
This is another unusually put together song, but in quite a different way than "Nervous Tic." Opening like the Beach Boys on Ecstasy, "So Begins Our Alabee" flits through a number of different electronic and guitar sounds in its extended introduction before settling on a driving beat that sets up a very simple but undeniably catchy vocal section. Singer/guitarist Kevin Barnes bears a happy aural resemblance to Aztec Camera's Roddy Frame, and sings with the same elastic bounce in his throat; even though he ends up repeating the same melody line over and over in lieu of any real chorus or verse structure, he does so with such engaging energy, surrounds himself with gleeful harmonies, and leaves off with a memorable lyric ("Girl I never want to be your little friendly abject failure") that it all seems to work somehow. Of Montreal is actually not; rather than being another cool band from Canada, they are another cool band from Athens, Georgia, emerging in 1997 out of the so-called Elephant 6 collective--and no, I can never quite get my arms around what a "collective" actually is, but no doubt it's a generational difficulty on my part; at some point in the '90s bands started having this loose, shape-shift-y way of "emerging" from "collectives." I do know that "So Begins Our Alabee" is a song from the band's new CD, The Sunlandic Twins, to be released on Polyvinyl Records on April 12th. The MP3 is on the Polyvinyl web site.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

week of Mar. 20-26

"Speech With Animals" - Palaxy Tracks

I find the beginning of this song has been popping in my head randomly and repeatedly for the past couple of weeks, ever since I first listened to it. The only explanation I can offer is that this is one incredibly, indelibly gorgeous song; even before I had fully absorbed it, my brain was singing it back to me. After a laid-back but authoritative drumbeat, shuffly and welcoming, we hear a guitar describing a simple third that descends and ascends, just that, plainly and without hurry. Then comes the central melody, aching and beautiful, accentuated by lead singer Brandon Durham's tender but resilient voice. The guy sounds like he's sitting on a lot of hurt, but refuses to get maudlin about it; everything here is about understatement--that this is a song without a chorus seems only fitting somehow. The lyrics are elusively about a relationship on the brink of ruin, and arrive at an emotional brink themselves as a swelling sort of controlled noise rises in the background but never quite takes over. "Speech With Animals" will be the lead track on the band's new CD, Twelve Rooms, due out in April. The MP3 comes from

"Cold Cold Water" - Mirah
A strangely hypnotic sort of indie-folk-rock epic, complete with orchestral flourishes and dramatic gestures, "Cold Cold Water" is held together first and foremost by Mirah's immediately endearing voice. Picture Edie Brickell crossed with Liz Phair and you might get close to Mirah's matter-of-fact sweetness; add a sprinkle (just a sprinkle) of Kate Bush for an underlying sense of drama and here you are, in a place you've probably never been before. "Cold Cold Water" develops instrumentally in an almost indescribable way--much of the time, Mirah sings against a sparse but evocative background; intermittently things explode in various ways; nothing happens quite the same way twice; all sorts of interesting accompaniments (listen for strings and percussion in particular) are encountered along the way. I can't think of that many songs that pull off the feat of being truly innovative and truly engaging simultaneously but this does it for me. A road warrior and full-fledged free spirit (apparently born on a kitchen table, she grew up in an artistic, hippie, macrobiotic household), Mirah (full name: Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn) has aquired a devoted left-of-center following over the past four or five years, and while not to be confused with the band Marah, both are in fact from Philadelphia. "Cold Cold Water" can be found on Mirah's 2002 CD, Advisory Committee, released by K Records. The MP3 is available on the K Records web site.

"Don't Push" - the Exit
Here's a New York City trio that answers the burning question: what would the Police have sounded like if Thom Yorke had been the lead singer? I for one find the Police influence refreshing; and I'm talking the early, reggae-inflected, percussive singles like "Roxanne" and "Can't Stand Losing You." For all that Sting has become, for better or worse, over the years, it's nice to take a breath and remember the raw vivid energy the Police hit the ground with in the late '70s, and nice to see a new band drawing upon that sound for some 21st-century-style inspiration. "Don't Push" may not be a truly great song but it sounds great coming out of the speakers, all sharp-edged, rumbly, and assured. Maybe it's just me reliving a moment of actual awe (I swear I can still picture where I was and who I was with when we threw the "Roxanne" 45--yeah it was an actual 45 back then--on the turntable and sat there slackjawed at what we heard), but what the heck. Yet another MP3 from the incredible repository, this song is from The Exit's 2004 CD Home For an Island, released on Some Records.

Monday, March 14, 2005

week of Mar. 13-19

"I Predict a Riot" - the Kaiser Chiefs
In both sound and sheer exuberant panache, this song more than any I've heard in the last few years recalls one of rock history's greatest of time/places--Great Britain in the late '70s. Urgent, vibrant, crazy-catchy singles poured overseas from the U.K. during that high-spirited time when punk transmuted into new wave. There was no separation between pop and credibility back then, perhaps because back then pop music could have (for lack of a more elegant word) balls--not to be confused with simple vulgarity, by the way. From the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Jam through the Stiff Records gang (Elvis Costello among them), the Buzzcocks, the Undertones, and many others, the years 1977 through 1979 gave birth to a flood of roiling, vivid singles, each sporting a terrific melody--even if the singer (as often was the case) sneered his way through the song. "I Predict a Riot" gives us simple, memorable melodies in all three sections of the song (verse, bridge, chorus), which sounds like a straightforward feat until you realize how few songs bother to achieve it. Like many of the Jam singles in particular (check that band out please if you've never heard them!), this song adds a thread of minor-key and lyrical menace to the cheery fabric; the vague sensation that maybe you've heard this all before only heightens the engagement. The song, a sensation in England, will be available in the U.S. on Employment, the band's debut CD, set for a major-label release here this week on Universal. The MP3 can be found on Thanks again to Thomas at Salon for the head's up.

"Axons and Dendrites" - Shipping News
Perhaps it's only fitting that a song called "Axons and Dendrites" have so much depth and tension, so much implied mysteriously below the surface. As far as I can tell, this piece is built largely upon a recurring two-chord progression (the two nerve processes of the title?), but the chords are so spacious and so good--the second so completely satisfying and yet continually unexpected-sounding an arrival point--that a fully textured adventure results. Shipping News affects a lot through juxtaposition, the most prominent one being the matching of a rapid, tribal-like drumbeat against the slow unfolding of the two chords; listen as well to the way the ringing guitar that offers the signature chords plays against an undercurrent of muddy-fuzzy guitar noise, and to how the bass flits in and out of awareness, sometimes offering high-register melody, other times sinking down into the primal groove driving the song ever forward. A four-piece band with roots in Louisville, Kentucky, these guys have been around since 1996 and the experience shows. "Axons and Dendrites" is the opening track on their third CD, Flies the Field, to be released next week on Quarterstick Records. The MP3 is available through Pop Matters.

"Oh Heart" - Jill Barber
An old-timey tune sung by a young Canadian singer/songwriter with an old-timey voice, "Oh Heart" is not the sort of song that screamed "Pick me! Pick me!," waving its hands and jumping out of its chair to get here. But there was something in its insinuating melody and well-crafted homespun-iness that has worked to charm me as I've listened repeatedly over the last couple of weeks. (Note that it did keep calling for repeated listens.) Fans of Kate and Anna McGarrigle will feel an immediate affinity to Barber's tremulous alto and back-porch arrangements; I hear hints of the great Ron Sexsmith (another Canadian) in the way this song mixes fragile beauty with rock-solid songwriting. Barber is the younger sister of Matthew Barber, who is himself far more well-known up North than he is here in the U.S. "Oh Heart" comes from a six-song EP Barber released last year by Dependent Music. The MP3 comes (where else?) from

NOTE: The Fingertips home office will be shut down for most of next week (i.e. the week of March 20-26); next week's "This Week's Finds" will be posted early (by Saturday March 19) as a result. There will be no other site updates for that week. Everything will be back to what passes for normal around here by Monday March 28. Thanks for your patience, understanding, and all around level-headedness.

Monday, March 07, 2005

week of Mar. 6-12

"The Engine Driver" - the Decemberists
With crisp, minor-chord rhythm guitar, spacious yet intimate percussion, and an unusually effective melodica, the Decemberists deliver a haunting take on the time-honored train song--whether metaphorical or actual, the train conjured here both lyrically and musically feels lost even as it chugs by necessity along its predestined tracks. While not as obviously a historical tale as many this unique band has told, there's yet something in the graceful fabric that suggests history (and history's handmaiden, loss)--something that has much to do with the distinctive, nasal urgings of singer/songwriter Colin Meloy's voice and his singular syntax and vocabulary. "The Engine Driver" will be found on the band's new Picaresque CD, due out on the Kill Rock Stars label on March 22. The MP3 comes to us via Filter Magazine.

"Turtle and the Flightless Bird" - Devin Davis
Chicago bedroom rocker Devin Davis opens his mouth and Ray Davies all but tumbles out. This is a fine thing in and of itself, as I am kindly disposed to anyone properly inspired by the Kinks. But Davis (and isn't come to think of it "Davies" pronounced "Davis" in the U.K.?), to my ears, has much more going for him than a Kinks fixation, a fact made clearest by his achievement as a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/arranger/engineer/producer. Technology has made it easy enough to be a one-person band in your own home studio, but rarely will you hear a bedroom rocker who sounds as loose and unfettered as Davis does. Think of it: to do all this yourself requires incredible precision and repetition; how do you then produce something that sounds so loose and alive? Playing the part here of a crestfallen turtle who appears to have lost his true, inter-species love, Davis delivers a song buzzing with spirit and life. From the quiet, bouncy-sad electric piano intro through to the heart-opening chorus, with its stirring melody and ramshackle feel, he not only transcends his influences, he transcends his technology. "Turtle and the Flightless Bird" comes from Davis's debut CD, Lonely People of the World, Unite!, set for release on (of course) his own Mousse Records imprint next week. The MP3 is available on his web site.

"The Swish" - the Hold Steady
Cross early Bruce Springsteen with mid-career Iggy Pop and you get a harsh, riveting slash of wordy, sardonic rock'n'roll that at the same time offers a bracing, Dada-ist antidote to the retro-'80s love-fest dominating the indie rock scene here in the mid'-00s. (As singer/guitarist Craig Finn directly notes in this song: "I've survived the 80s one time already/And I don't recall them all that fondly.") This song isn't pretty; there's no real chorus; the band isn't trying to get you to like them. The Hold Steady throw a lot of electricity into their particular rock'n'roll stew and the end result may not be beautiful but to me it sounds not only compelling but maybe even original, which is saying a lot at this particular point in the rock timeline. "The Swish" comes from The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me, the band's first CD, released last year on French Kiss Records. A new CD is due out in May. The MP3 is available on the band's web site.