(as featured on This Week's Finds, Jan. 6-12)
"On the Chin" - Grey Race
I'll start the new year with a couple of songs that are not really new at all--a reminder that a song is always new if you haven't heard it yet. "On the Chin" begins with a straightforward eighth-note riff linked by an amplified acoustic guitar-neck sound, which emerges after the riff is heard the second time. If it's gratuitous, movement-wise (the guitarist doesn't really need to run his fingers up and down the neck like that), percussively, it's at the center of the riff, quietly threading through the song and tacitly foreshadowing the later emergence of actual stringed instruments in the mix. And, what the heck, because I'm a foreshadowing fan, I hear in that slidy sound, additionally, a hint of the vocal intervals that singer Jon Darling will soon be leaping with his pliable tenor--intervals topped by notes he has no business hitting with such glee.
The string players who enter during the bridge (at around 2:07) and step briefly but incisively to center stage for the subsequent return of the chorus (2:39) probably have no business in the song either but the thing is so judiciously assembled it makes perfect sonic sense at that precise moment.
"On the Chin" has been floating around the blogosphere--just barely--since June, when the Brooklyn-based trio's first EP was released; the subsequent Grey Race album containing the song, entitled Give It Love, was released in September on Unfiltered Records.
"Une Américaine à Paris" - Rupa and the April Fishes
Born in the Bay Area to Indian immigrant parents, Rupa Marya spent a good amount of her childhood in both Northern India and France, which at least partially accounts for the zesty, gypsy-inflected sound she coaxes out of the April Fishes, an ensemble featuring a guitar, a cello, a trumpet, drums, upright bass, and accordion. Singing in fetching French, Marya mixes musical cultures in a way that may sound pastiche-like to purists but sounds vibrant and beguiling to me, thanks in large part to the song's simultaneously energetic and intimate vibe. (That's a more unusual combination than it may initially appear.) Marya herself strikes me as a preternaturally charming vocalist; listen to how musical she sounds when she's trying not to sing so prettily (that speak-singing section beginning at 1:38) and see if you are charmed as well.
Note that if you are at all insecure about your accomplishments to date on the planet Earth, you may not want to know that Marya, singer/songwriter, guitarist, and driving force behind Rupa and the April Fishes, is a musician at night and an honest-to-goodness M.D. doctor during the day, currently on the medical faculty part-time at the University of California at San Francisco. She has also worked as an independent radio producer, in between medical school and going to work as a physician. But remember that this is not a competition; admiration is the proper response to someone this talented and driven. "Une Américaine à Paris" is from the debut Rupa and the April Fishes CD, Extraordinary Rendition, originally self-released on Bateau Rouge Records last January and scheduled for an international release in April on world music label Cumbancha Records.
"The Silence Between Us" - Bob Mould
A bracing shot of earnest, subtly melodic rock'n'roll, "The Silence Between Us" ranks up there with the best of Mould's solo output. Lionized for his role as Hüsker Dü lead man, Mould has been an inveterate blogger but spotty solo artist, recording infrequently and often steering clear of the guitar-based blitz of his first group and its more commercially-capable successor, Sugar.
There is no reason to expect again from Mould anything resembling the gut-deep fury of Hüsker Dü; so while I'm not hearing the volume or speed associated with that seminal band, what I am connecting to across the years is Mould's willingness after a good long while to put some meaningful electric guitar back into his songs, while at the same time maintaining a precision in songwriting characteristic of his best work (and often, I think, missing when the volume gets cranked too high, particularly in his post-HD material). This one does nothing fancy, but some well-timed melodic intervals and chord detours lend "The Silence Between Us" an almost noble sort of stature. The guitar solo that begins at 2:20 is worth the download alone, offering a succinct balance of brain and brawn, complete with a nifty electronic coda.
"The Silence Between Us" will be found on Mould's forthcoming CD, District Line, slated for release early next month on Anti Records. MP3 courtesy of Spinner.