Monday, August 06, 2007

Aug. 5-11

"Crown Victoria" - Robbers on High Street
An unmistakeable Kinks-iness animates this boppy little nugget--the opening clearly echoes "A Well Respected Man"--but that's just the beginning of "Crown Victoria"'s charms. Working with noted Italian film composer Daniele Luppi, who had previously never worked as a producer on a rock album, the NYC-based trio Robbers on High Street have found their British Invasion-y '60s sound enhanced with a Spaghetti Western-y '60s sound, and damn if it doesn't work rather well, if only because in retrospect all those sounds kind of blend together historically anyway. So, the slowly-strummed chord that starts the song happens not on an acoustic guitar (as per the Kinks) but on a twangy, throbbing guitar straight out of Ennio Morricone. (An acoustic guitar soon joins in, however.) The piercing organ that chimes in around 0:38? Spaghetti time again. All this insider homage-ing will get us only so far, however. To me, the song takes off when we get to the chorus, which has a swingy, winning melody, deftly enhanced when the organ begins to add some swoopy, ascending lines below. Keep an ear open for the bass next, which plays some acrobatic lines itself when the second verse comes along. And stay tuned for the wacky (but still somehow retro-y) duck-like sounds (maybe they're just vocals? hard to say) in the instrumental coda. "Crown Victoria" is from the CD Grand Animals, released in July on New Line Records. The MP3 is courtesy of New Line.

"Throwin' Shapes" - Minus the Bear
Bright, brisk, and determined, this song is in the mix this week not just because I like it but because it sounds exactly right between its two TWF-mates. And I can't say why that is, at all. I do know that I particularly enjoy the interplay between Jake Snider's yearning vocal style and the painterly guitar licks brushed around him by the gifted David Knudson. I am also captivated by the comfortable but unplaceable soundscape here--although the opening recalls Haircut One Hundred (I kid you not), there's something in the blend of beat and arrangement that sounds neither like typical '00s indie rock nor like the music of any particular past era. It's easy enough to do that if you're just trying to be weird, but this Seattle quintet manages to sound at once fresh and familiar. "Throwin' Shapes" is a song off the band's Planet of Ice CD, scheduled for release later this month on Suicide Squeeze Records. The MP3 is via Suicide Squeeze.

"Escape City Scrapers" - Mono in VCF
Another quintet from Washington State; very different music. The sublime mystery of this song is how something that threatens at first to be syrupy and too retro for its own good ends up, rather quickly, sounding so pure and vibrant. Clearly a lot of credit here belongs to singer Kim Miller (such a substantive and alluring voice!), but let's pay attention as well to the grand aural structure that supports her reverb-laced vocals, which is nothing less than a creamy orchestral souffle that knowingly marries Phil Spector-ish majesty with darker James Bond-ian swank. Either way, yes, we're back in the '60s, inspiration-wise. At the same time, this is no slavish tribute. Mono in VCF understands its influences (the band's name is a nod towards Spector, who recorded in mono; VCF stands for voltage-controlled filter, which is a Moog synthesizer gizmo) but transcends them through a willingness to be creative on its own terms as well. Although the echoey strings and occasional drum bashes help build a sort of "wall of sound" (Spector's famous production effect), the band here steers clear of both the "Phil Spector beat" (think "Be My Baby") and any girl-group-style pop tune; what we get instead is a snakey, spy-movie melody, some wonderful piano interjections, and grand washes of synthesizers that sound maybe like something Portishead might have done if someone took their sampler away. All in all, a sweeping and memorable bit of work from this unsigned (but probably not for long) Tacoma band with but one four-song EP to its name so far. (The debut album is expected either late this year or early next.) The MP3 is via the band's site; thanks again to the 3hive gang for the head's up.

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