Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sept. 2-8

There's still a wee bit of time to enter the latest Fingertips Contest; the deadline for entry is midnight EDT but truth be told if you get your email in by tomorrow morning that'll be fine also. Three winners will each receive a copy of a new compilation CD entitled This Is Next, featuring 15 songs from a variety of well-regarded non-major-label artists, including Neko Case, the Shins, and Spoon.

"To the Dogs or Whoever" - Josh Ritter
A ramshackle folk rock tall tale overrun by breakneck lyrics and underscored by colorful keyboards. The literate Ritter--who designed his own major in American History through Narrative Folk Music, at Oberlin--cuts loose a bit here, singing with an off-the-cuff charm that unites generations of gonzo lyricists, from Greenwich Village beatniks to punk-rock snarlers clear through to late 20th-century hip hop rhyme masters. (And okay, also that guy from Minnesota, but I was trying to give Ritter a break and write about him without mentioning that particular influence.) I like the way he appends a vaguely boozy, sing-along style chorus to the rapid-fire verses, which adds to the good-natured vibe. I get the idea that Ritter wants us right away to remember (this song opens his new CD) that he's not the overly earnest singer/songwriter he's often portrayed as in the glowing reviews he's been receiving since the beginning of this decade. The album title is another hint: The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, and if the words don't reveal a tongue planted firmly in cheek, the cover, featuring one red-crested Roman soldier's helmet and an early-'60s album cover font, should do the trick. The CD was released a couple of weeks ago on Sony/BMG. The MP3 is via
Ritter's site, where you can also by the way stream the whole album.

"Belgian Beer and Catholic Girls" - Siberian
With its ringing wall of guitars and croony lead vocalist, the Seattle quartet Siberian reminds me how much a good chunk of the music identified online as shoegaze owes to early U2; but U2 of course isn't cool anymore so they are rarely mentioned except in a disparaging way by the shoegaze-friendly but snark-infested blogosphere. Meanwhile, Finn Parnell, Siberian's aforementioned crooner, reminds me how much Thom Yorke sounded like Bono sometimes on The Bends, for what it's worth. In any case, what we have here is a song with a chiming, bittersweet power to it, due primarily, I think, to its unusual, three-sectioned structure. In place of the standard verse-chorus framework (one or two verses followed by a chorus, followed by another verse or two and another chorus, etc.), "Belgian Beer and Catholic Girls" is divided into three distinct and relatively equal sections, each a melody that's repeated. At the heart of this structure is the arresting second section (beginning at 1:01 the first time), featuring a mournful melody that is simply a sixth interval going back and forth, back and forth, over chords that alternate between minor and major. This then yields to a third section that aims at a heart-rending sort of resolution before pulling up short in the song's center (1:48) and starting over. When the promised resolution at last arrives, after the song cycles back through its three sections, the song literally stops right on that long-awaited note. Nicely done. "Belgian Beer and Catholic Girls" will be found on Siberian's debut full-length CD, With Me, scheduled for release next month on
Sonic Boom Recordings.

"Nothing Burns Like Bridges" - Penny Century
Penny Century vocalist Julia Hanberg sings with a breathless vigor that helps transform this attractive bit of fleet, late-summery pop into something that strikes me as substantive and lasting. There's an air of some earlier era floating around in the cheery mix of keyboards and what sounds like a trumpet; the chorus's infectious, speeded-up echoing of the old Linda Ronstadt nugget "Different Drum" adds to the ineffable nostalgia, as does the brief bit of boy-girl dueting halfway through. That said there's something entirely of the here and now in the band's sound--in particular its gleeful blend of the homespun and the precise; I keep thinking that a lot of this sounds sort of sloppy except that it actually isn't at all. The song flies across one's field of awareness in a zippy 2:07 and the first thing I'm tempted to do when it's over is hit the play button again. Penny Century is a sextet from the village of Östersund, in northern Sweden. "Nothing Burns Like Bridges" is a song from the band's debut CD, Between a Hundred Lies, which was released two weeks ago on
Letterbox Records. The MP3 is via the Letterbox site.

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