THIS WEEK'S FINDS
week of June 25-July 1
"Ta Douleur" - Camille
Here's a song that's simultaneously really funky and really cute--and let's face it, not a whole lot of funky music over the years could also be called cute. Camille (she's from France, where it's pronounced "cam-EE") is best known in the U.S. for being one of the alluring voices on the oddly appealing Nouvelle Vague CD (the one where '80s new wave singles were reimagined as bossa-nova-tinged lounge songs); over there she quickly parlayed the success into a high-flying solo career. I love the timbre in her voice, and how willingly she stretches it in all directions--down so low the notes reduce to a dusky whisper, up high for accents sweet and sailing. And then of course there's when she abandons singing altogether for a wide range of percussive sounds, which come in an impressive range of gasps, raspberries, and unnameable ululations. Voice and hand-claps in fact make up most of the "instrumentation" here, prompting the music critic community to a) immediately compare her to Björk (because of Medulla, the Icelandic wonder's a capella album) and b) dismiss her as a simple-minded Björk knockoff (largely because Medulla is an often difficult listen while Camille's music strikes everyone as catchy and pleasant). Never mind most of these same critics at the time berated Björk for her self-absorbed difficulty. Never mind that Björk (whom I love dearly by the way) did not invent percussive a capella singing. I invite one and all, as always, to listen with ears; it's no crime to succumb to charm, and almost impossible, I think, not to during the closing half minute when a quiet bridge section turns into a wide-open, beat-crazy hoedown, complete with (I think!) trombone. "Ta Douleur" comes from the CD Le Fil, which was released in 2005 in France on Virgin France; it was released in the U.S. earlier this month on EMI's Narada label. Thanks again to Getecho for the lead.
"Kurt's Theme" - Foma
As intense and urgent as it is likewise good-natured and ramshackle, "Kurt's Theme" features a melody that I fear will lodge in your head rather too firmly after you've heard it a couple of times. With prominent strings and a profusion of minor chords, the song might veer towards melodrama were it not for a concurrent sense of playfulness that gives me the sense of its having been constructed with masking tape and styrofoam (I mean this in a good way)--the different elements jammed against each other in the hope that it all somehow holds together. Hear that portentous orchestral drive? Oops, it stops on a dime for a quiet section suddenly sung by a female vocalist, which leads into a pretty section with a plaintive violin motif, which (oh no!) runs headfirst into a peremptory blast of spastic guitar. That kind of thing. Foma is sort of a band, and sort of not a band, anchored by Edward Burch and based in the happening musical town of Albuquerque, New Mexico. "Kurt's Theme" is a song from the quirky concept CD Phobos, recorded with seven musicians and released locally this spring on Little Kiss Records, an Albuquerque-based label. The release went nationwide earlier this month. The MP3 is available via the band's site.
"Second Best Death" - Maybe Smith
So we've heard the staticky, squeaky-clackety electronics before, we've seen the one-man, laptop-generated bedroom rock thing before, and let me first say that there's nothing wrong with having heard something before. So-called "innovation" is way overvalued in our 24/7 world; we all want the newest, while overlooking the fact that a far more important value than "new" is "good" and that they are not always the same. But then the lap steel guitar comes in and okay, I've got to hand it to Colin Skrapek, the Canadian here doing musical business as Maybe Smith: that's a new one. But (remember, this is more important) it's good, too. What's even better is the entire song, with its lovely melodies, touching harmonies, and subtle hints of Elvis Costello in his songwriting heyday--in word choice, vocal tone, and musical sturdiness alike. "Second Best Death" is the title track to a seven-song EP released earlier this year on his own, Saskatoon-based Sir, Handsome Records. The MP3 is available via the Sir, Handsome web site. Much obliged to Sixeyes for the lead.