Monday, May 14, 2007

week of May 13-19

** Two quick things:
1) Monday May 14 is the deadline for the Mason Proper contest, so if you're reading this while it's still Monday, there's still time to enter if you email before the end of the day; details here. Don't be shy!
2) Fingertips was one of the sites involved in selecting nominees for what have been dubbed the Music Blog Awards. They're seeking votes in a variety of categories, so if you like doing that sort of thing go here and place your votes. Be aware that this is all related to the year 2006. Well, you know what they say: better late than really really really late.

"Kid On My Shoulders" - White Rabbits
With its familiar but not quite placeable vibe--a slithery sort of explosiveness is in the air--"Kid On My Shoulders" jumps along to a nervous piano line and scratchy guitar riffs, its half-stepping melody adding to the jittery ambiance. Apparently a love of '70s ska was among the things that drew the band mates together, and you can certainly detect a bit of that genre's twitchiness here, but only to the extent that White Rabbits are using a knowledge of ska to forge their own sound--much the way, it occurs to me, that, back in the day, Steely Dan used reggae to inform a song like "Haitian Divorce." And I'm going to take the Dan reference and run with it, since the more I listen, the more I hear a Steely-ishness around the edges here--not the sedate, groove-oriented Dan of the '00s but the musically distinctive and subversive SD of the '70s; even the vocalist here (and I'm not sure who it is as the band has two lead singers) delivers with a slightly high-pitched Fagen-esque snap (listen from 1:46 to 1:51 for a strong example). White Rabbits is a six-man band from Missouri currently doing business in Brooklyn. "Kid On My Shoulders" is a song from the band's debut CD, Fort Nightly, scheduled for release next week on Say Hey Records; the MP3 is via the Say Hey site.

"While You Were Sleeping" - Elvis Perkins
Hypnotic, cryptic, and sweetly melancholy. Also, bracingly produced: what sounds like a simple song for acoustic guitar and voice becomes over a leisurely six minutes an idiosyncratic chamber piece featuring percussion, strings, horns, and some weird, resonant, blowy sort of instrument that I can't quite place. For everything that is ultimately strummed or beaten or blown or bowed, the arrangement is more subtle than lush, instruments simultaneously playing and calling to mind the silence that exists when they're not playing. Listen, for instance, to the moment the main drum beat enters--not till 2:06--and see how it enters your gut at the same time and only then do you realize that before that, it wasn't there. This is a song I've been living with a long time, slowly but surely entranced by its meandering lyricism, waiting for the right week, the right combination of sounds to place it between, and I think its time has come. You may have already heard tell of Perkins' tragic back story, but for the record: father Anthony Perkins died an AIDS-related death in 1992, when Elvis was 17; mother Berry Berenson was on one of the two planes that were flown into the World Trade Center on September 11, just 53 at the time. Maybe we all imagine an extra layer of sorrow braiding through the music as a result but to my ears, yes, there is a sublime sort of sadness infusing both his words and his voice. "While You Were Sleeping" is from Ash Wednesday, released in February on XL Recordings. The MP3 is available via Insound.

"Take Me to the Ballroom" - Moonbabies
The ineffably charming Swedish duo Moonbabies, longtime Fingertips friends, are back with a new CD that charms in the usual Moonbabies way, which is to say elusively. With their adroit blend of crisp acoustic guitars and fuzzy electronics, these guys are hard to pin down sonically--a sense reinforced by both time-signature trickery in the verse and a distinct rhythmic shift between the verse and the chorus. Another thing that keeps the sound pleasantly off-kilter is how multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Ola Frick and keyboardist/vocalist Carina Johansson share the lead vocal duties, and here it's the male voice (Frick) which gets the dreamier vocal, in the chorus, while Johansson handles the more matter-of-fact poppiness of the verse. I could be wrong but I'm thinking that historically, when male and female voices trade like this within a song, it's the woman who gets the dreamy chorus. For added perspective, see previous Moonbabies TWF picks here and here. "Take Me to the Ballroom" is the semi-title track of the new 'Babies CD At the Ballroom, slated for release later this month on Parasol Records. The MP3 is via Parasol.

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