THIS WEEK'S FINDS
week of Sept. 24-30
"Wind Change" - Artisan
Crisp, rhythmic, and melodic, "Wind Change" sparkles with a not often heard sort of acoustic/electronic energy. Certainly there are any number of people out there attempting to combine these two disparate sonic camps; a sub-genre even emerged early in the '00s--"folktronica"--that sought to name at least some of these efforts. And yet achieving a bona fide blend of acoustic and electronic instruments is harder than it may seem to the dial-twiddling crowd: what we tend to get are either blurry tunes heavy in atmosphere but light in actual song-iness, or simple guitar songs with distracting effects thrown in. None of that, however, for Artisan, a British outfit which combines a Simon & Garfunkel-like sprightliness with melodies and vocal stylings that owe a lot, in a wonderful way, to Thom Yorke. The beats here are so subtle and well-conceived they often sound like little more than guitar-body percussion, which merely reinforces how central the guitar work remains, through both the complex, chord-changey verse and the simple, sing-along chorus. I've rarely for instance heard harmonic accents worked so organically into a song without drawing undue attention (listen at 1:27 to see what I mean)--just one example of the stylish musicianship on display. "Wind Change" is available as an MP3 on the band's site. It's a demo but the band tells me that at this point it's as finished as it's going to be for some time. Sounds pretty good as is.
"No Backbone" - the Lemonheads
Talk about songiness: Evan Dando at his best always specialized in songiness of just about the best kind--the power pop kind. Now first of all, turn the volume up on this one. No, louder. You want to be sure to properly absorb the guitar barrage (and hey that's the venerable J Mascis on lead, how 'bout that?). And talk about the blending of disparate sounds: what about that wall of guitars and Dando's husky-honey voice? I think the potential to combine an all-out sonic assault with sweet melody has always been the grand allure of that intractable genre known as power pop. What "No Backbone" does particularly well is sound barely contained so much of the time--not just J Mascis but also drummer Bill Stevenson (with certfied punk credentials of his own), just bashing first, asking questions later. It's a tricky balance, since a finely-wrought pop song is actually a pretty strict container, without a lot of room for loosy-goose drama. Written, as a few Lemonheads songs have been, by Tom Morgan, of the not-terribly-well-known Australian trio Smudge, "No Backbone" is a lean and shining container indeed, but the ensemble drives and pushes and keeps making it sound like implosion is but a few measures away. Until, that is, that wonderful part where things get a bit quieter, at around 2:20 (and doesn't Dando sound intensely Costello-like right there?), for maybe 15 seconds, and then, never mind, the band is back and we're kicked in the butt till someone pulls the plug at a tidy 3:09. "No Backbone" is a song from the Lemonheads' self-titled new CD, due out tomorrow on Vagrant Records. No, the Lemonheads haven't had an album for a long time (10 years); it's a whole new band this time except for Dando. The MP3 is courtesy the AOL Music Indie Blog.
"Doctor Blind" - Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton
Lead singer for the band Metric and one-time member of the ramshackle Broken Social Scene ensemble, Emily Haines strips things down here for a haunting, piano-based reverie with a pointed message. I'm immediately attracted to the time-signature challenges in the chorus, which lend a meaty flavor to an already tuneful piece--I think she abuts a measure of 5/4 to a measure of 7/4, but I could be wrong; it's beautifully articulated and engaging in any case, with Haines singing in a weary, not-quite-deadpan voice. Everything is draped in lamentation (listen to how the strings sound when they join those ghostly echo-noises in the background), which is perhaps as it should be when the subject turns, as it seems to here, to our society's sickening reliance on pharmaceutical products for our quote-unquote well-being. And actually I'm loving those echo-noises, whatever they are (unearthly guitars? distorted vocal samples?); they acquire a more prominent place in the background during the last minute or so, sounding like a chorus of alien ghosts trying to warn us, through a some sort of interdimensional doorway, about something we wouldn't understand anyway. "Doctor Blind" is a song from the CD Knives Don't Have Your Back, coming out this week on Last Gang Records. The MP3 is via Filter Magazine.