THIS WEEK'S FINDS
week of Feb. 26-Mar. 4
(Sorry for the delay this week here on the blog. I had a heck of a time accessing Blogger yesterday, for no apparent reason.)
"Munich" - Editors
All siren-like guitars and deep drive, "Munich" is an engaging puzzle. With a full-bodied bravado owing much to British forebears such as Ian McCulloch (Echo & the Bunnymen), vocalist Tom Smith repeats a limited number of minimalist phrases, sketching the sketchiest of stories, at the center of which is a terrific chorus that breaks one of my personal cardinal rules of songwriting: never force the singer to accent the wrong syllable for the sake of the music. And yet here's Smith singing "People are fragile things, you should know by now/Be careful what you put them through," the music forcing him to sing "fragile" unintelligibly, with equal accents on both syllables. But: so much for cardinal rules. Because of the song's resplendent atmosphere, because of Smith's engaging delivery, and, maybe most of all, because of the poignancy of the remark itself, it works. In fact I find myself half believing that the offbeat enunciation was purposeful, that to more effectively make the point he did not allow himself the vulnerability required to say what he's saying clearly. In any case, "Munich" strikes me as a sharp new take on the sort of sound some British bands (Joy Division and Ultravox too, along with Echo) were exploring back in the early '80s. Sure, you can ask: "Munich? Huh?" But to ask is to miss the point of a mystery rendered strong and true by the chiming guitars, the driving beat, the resonant lyrical fragments, and (my favorite touch) the ghostly minor seventh traced by what sounds like a synthesizer through the heart of the chorus. "Munich" is a song off the band's debut CD, The Back Room, to be released in the U.S. in March on the Fader Label (it came out in the U.K. last year). The MP3 is one of the many new ones recently made available via the SXSW web site. (Lots of browsing left to do there to be sure.)
"Tales From the Sea" - Shoot the Moon
The rollicking charm of this homespun adventure is apparent from the get-go: the open-ocean piano/guitar vamp of the introduction, and then that immediate "hey, cool!" part when the phrase "captain of the ship" is ever so slightly delayed before the word "ship," in a way that sounds like a wave breaking across the bow. While the loose-limbed, orchestral feel makes comparisons to Montreal's more well-known export, the Arcade Fire, semi-inevitable, Shoot the Moon doesn't ooze that band's edgy anxiety even as there's a certain sort of tumbly similarity to the sound. I'm finding it hard to follow exactly what's going on (there are hints of all sorts of high-seas drama unfolding), but it's all backdrop to the engaging music, with its oceanic ebbs and flows. Ever the sucker for octave harmonies, I particularly like the ones I'm hearing in what may be the chorus (the whole song is pretty loose-limbed, come to think of it) because it sounds, unusually, like female vocals on top (the band's lead singer is actually Nadia Bashalani, but she takes a backseat on this song). Shoot the Moon is a three-man, three-woman band with one self-released CD under its belt--an eight-song EP called Where Stangers Live, which came out last year. The MP3 is available via their MySpace page.
"Camellia" - Buried Beds
The sparse, clunky-ish drumbeat that opens "Camellia" gives you no idea at all of the sultry, yearning song that follows. But a soft keyboard enters, and the hint of a slide guitar, and then Eliza Hardy opens her mouth. Ahh: she sings close in your ear, with a beautiful tone, but torn up just a bit. Really nice. Another way she engages me at the outset is the four-measure melody she starts with--it leads into the verse, and is heard only once more, at the very end. That's an unusual touch; at the beginning it lengthens the melodic line almost mysteriously; at the end it provides an aching sort of closure. As alluring as Hardy's voice is, she sounds maybe even better when joined in harmony by her original bandmate Brandon Beaver in the chorus (Buried Beds began as a duo, expanding since then to a quintet); of course this may also be because the chorus itself is gorgeous, with all the low-key assurance of a lost pop standard. Featuring an unusal array of instruments (including mandolin and viola), Buried Beds is a Philadelphia band that arose from something called the New Planet Art Collective, a community of writers, artists, and musicians not far from the University of Pennsylvania; "Camellia" is a song off the group's debut CD, Empty Rooms, which has been available at band gigs since last year but has been more officially released last week. The MP3 is available via the band's web site.