Monday, January 30, 2006

week of Jan. 29-Feb. 4

"Star Witness" - Neko Case
A mysterious, echoey, and rewarding waltz from the highly-regarded Case, itinerant singer/songwriter and member of the indie "supergroup" the New Pornographers. What depths she hits here all across the board: her voice at once lithe and husky, the subtly indelible melodies, the expert arrangements, and (I always love this) the array of extra touches that round the music out so fetchingly--the amusement-park howl at the beginning, the reverby guitar that accompanies, the organic drum sound, the vivid but elusive lyrics. Case sketches a story I can't quite follow but it doesn't seem to end happily. Don't miss the yodeling leap she takes so unexpectedly and perfectly at around 3:42--just another touch that keeps you both engaged and mystified. There's something in the whole thing, from her vocal presence to the unearthly vibe, that puts me in the mind of the great Syd Straw, from another era of indie/alternative rock--so if any of you know and love Straw I'm pretty sure this is going to be a big winner for you as well. "Star Witness" is a song from Case's forthcoming CD, the intriguingly titled Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, scheduled for release in early March on Anti Records. The MP3 is available via the Anti web site.

"Meet Me Here" - Loveninjas
Every now and then a bit of lo-fi sneaks through the usually lo-fi-resistant gates here. But how could I resist a chorus like this? I couldn't. So perhaps we can all forgive the thin, filtered vocals and tinny electronic percussion that the decidedly offbeat Swedish trio Loveninjas employs on this track to glory in the pop-heavenly melodies. As undeveloped an aural landscape as we've got here, these guys give us the full three-part hook: two different ones in the verse, and then the glory of that killer chorus. Apparently this quirky Swedish outfit specializes in goofy/naughty English lyrics, but this song seems genuinely sweet (although it probably isn't). Apparently, too: "Loveninjas is not really a band. It’s a concept." So says the web site; it continues: "I was playing with a small electronic piano in the autumn of 2004 when a nice melody evolved. 'Sweet Geisha Love' was about the dilemma of a young, female assassin; to kill or to make love. Now that I had a song I figured I might as well start a fake band. I decided on writing about death, sex and Japanese girls only. It’s a good way stimulate creativity." It's signed by a guy named Tor; the three who went on to perform the songs live wear costumes, including ninja-style masks. Sweden is an interesting place. "Meet Me Here" is available via the Loveninjas web site; it's difficult to tell if it's been released on a CD at this point but I'm guessing not.

"Chinese Rug" - Wes McDonald
There's something refreshingly old-fashioned enlivening this low-key but still hard-driving number. Except for some recurring film noir-ish/femme-fatale whispering, nothing unusual goes on here at all: the song just rocks, McDonald pushing it forward with an assured sort of throaty, snarly growl that's one part Steve Earle, one part Graham Parker, one part balding-guy-with-scaggly-hair-in-jeans-who-maybe-looks-like-a-plumber. Seems to me McDonald has Earle's natural ear for a quick melodic hook as well--look how effortlessly the chorus kicks some seriously catchy butt. A refugee from one of the U.S.'s original hotbeds of alternative rock (Athens, Georgia), McDonald lives now in the hotbed of not very much (Birmingham, Alabama). After a stint in a very Athensy "jangle-rock" band called the Ohms, he went on to record three solo CDs without acquiring too wide a following. This time around he's enlisted the help of Ken Coomer, ex- of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo, who helped out with the production, also acquiring a bit of a PR help along the way. Not that there's anything wrong with that: we've gotta hear about this stuff somehow. "Chinese Rug" is a song from the forthcoming CD 1:50 In The Furnace, scheduled for release in April on Skybucket Records.

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