Monday, May 07, 2007

week of May 6-12

Have you entered the new contest yet? The prize this time is a full-length CD plus a 7-inch vinyl single from the band Mason Proper, a recent "This Week's Finds" featured artist. You don't have to have heard of them to win, and you never know, they might just become your new favorite band.

"Flesh and Spirits" - the Gena Rowlands Band
With a free-flowing vibe, unusual instrumentation, and a vocalist who sounds like an actual grown-up, "Flesh and Spirits" has very little in common with what we've come to think of as "indie rock," and we are all the better for it. Centered around a ruminative electric piano and some itchy, jazz-tinged drumming, "Flesh and Spirits" avoids veering off into a loungey vagueness thanks largely to Bob Massey's rich, evocative singing--there's something in his voice that adds appreciably to the music itself. Listen to the chorus in particular and how, following the violin's lead, he transforms a relatively simple ascending melody (beginning at 1:02) into something sensational and heart-opening. Like the title's dichotomy, the song seems built on twin supports of matter and essence, which keeps the piece grounded even during its more abstract moments (for instance, the edgy instrumental break that starts at 2:49, matching mournful string lines against a sputtering electronically enhanced beat). The Gena Rowlands Band--no relation to the actress of the same name--is an ensemble from Washington, D.C. that Massey assembles whenever and however he feels like it from a rotating cast of a dozen musicians; "Flesh and Spirits" is the title track to the group's third CD, which was released last month on Lujo Records. The MP3 is via the Lujo site.

"All the Same Mistakes" - Mieka Pauley
The Boston-based, Harvard-educated Pauley sings here like a tantalizing cross between Cat Power and Sarah McLachlan, with a smidgen of Suzanne Vega thrown in. The crisp, disciplined production highlights the song's canny melodic appeal, and just when you think you've heard what it has to say, things take one left turn, and then another. First, around 2:30, the song all but grinds to a halt, reborn briefly as a lilting, slow-motion waltz and then transforming again through its original setting into an unexpectedly blistering recapulation, complete with slightly phased vocals, electric guitar, and bashy drums. "All the Same Mistakes" is a song that will be found on Pauley's next CD, scheduled for release this summer. The MP3 is available via her site.

"Kid Gloves" - Voxtrot
Then again, not that there's anything wrong with what we've come to think of as indie rock (see Gena Rowlands band entry, above), as I think is clear from this casually splendid new track from the Austin quintet Voxtrot. This one has a neo-New-Romantic feeling, with its '80s-club beat and melodramatic melody. (And speaking of the so-called "New Romantics," am I being fooled by the name overlap or is there something vaguely Ultravox-like going on with these guys?) What transports this one, for me, in particular is that part of the chorus when Ramesh Srivastava sings: "I have no choice but to put you in back of me"--geez, everything about that line melodically and harmonically is just plain wonderful, from the chord underpinning the word "choice" to the satisfying way the melody inches up by whole steps then dives back down a fifth (and, as always, much better to listen than to read about it). Voxtrot may be the best-known band in the U.S. that has yet to release a full-length CD, thanks to some sizable web love over the last couple of years, but "Kid Gloves" is in fact from their forthcoming debut non-EP release, entitled simply Voxtrot, set to be out on the Playlouder label later this month. The MP3 is via Spinner, the AOL indie music blog.

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