Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fingertips returns, with free and legal MP3s from My Brightest Diamond, and more

"Inside a Boy" - My Brightest Diamond
     Shara Worden, once again up and running as My Brightest Diamond, has the uncanny ability to create the most expansive musical landscapes within the bounds of what seems merely to be a three-minute forty-second pop song. "Inside a Boy" shimmers, boils, drives, plunges, and aches with an idiosyncratic zeal that should thrill Kate Bush fans, and appeal to anyone with curious ears and an open heart. After an ethereal opening section, featuring a twinkling electric guitar line underneath a heavenly wash of sound, the song finds its central motif--a dark, diving theme that acquires a fierce, orchestral feel as it recurs throughout the piece. Worden produces and arranges her songs, and one of her signature talents is integrating inventive string arrangements with some serious rock'n'roll drumming and, when it seems a good idea, some noisy electric guitars as well. The end result is curious and satisfying.
     For all of the musical drama unleashed, the song is more lyrically sparse than it might seem, given the inherent theatricality of Worden's elastic voice. The words, instead, arrive like poetry, and pack a metaphysical wallop: "We are clouds, we are vistas/Like fawns and shape shifters/Our ages can never be found out/No our edges keep moving further out."
     The song can be found on the CD A Thousand Shark's Teeth, an album with a number of other jewels to be discovered. It's scheduled for a June release on Asthmatic Kitty Records.

"Fire" - Alibi Tom
     Rapid-fire handclaps play off a crisp guitar lick for a series of quick measures and then--bang: I feel like I'm smack in the middle of a full-grown, fully-developed song--as if I opened a hallway door and discovered a band playing behind it. The verse presents an interesting aural contradiction: it feels very active, with a jumpy melody and the continuation of the crisp guitar line, but chord-wise, we're pretty much standing still--as far as my ear can pick out, the entire verse revolves around one chord. (And if it's not precisely one chord, the verse feels harmonically in one basic place all the way through.) The net effect is of serious anticipation, because whether we're aware of it or not, our ears, when listening to music (pop music, specifically), continually anticipate the next chord, as each chord arrived at becomes its own center on the one hand yet implies its displacement on the other. There's always another one coming, and we know it.
     This is no doubt a good part of why the chorus, when it arrives (at 0:39) seems so wondrous--it comes after 25 seconds of this paradoxical sort of itchy-standing-stillness. Also, it's a pretty great chorus, all effortless melody and breezy harmony. Now that I think about it, the idea of matching a dynamic melody to a single chord strikes me as the equal-but-opposite effect of having a one-note melody over a changing chord pattern, which is a well-established rock tradition (classic examples being "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "Pump It Up"). Note, by the way, how, after the chorus but before the next verse, the song fully incorporates the introductory section (handclaps and guitar). This speaks to attention to craft; I always like that.
     From Gothenburg, Sweden, the five-piece band Alibi Tom used to be the six-piece band Out of Clouds; as Out of Clouds, they were previously featured here on Fingertips in September 2006. "Fire" is from Scrapbook, the band's debut as Alibi Tom, slated for release in Europe next month on a new British label called Leon. MP3 via the band's site.

"Right Away" - Pattern is Movement
     Songs rarely manage to be simultaneously catchy and unusual, but the distinctive Philadelphia duo Pattern is Movement has done it with this odd amalgam of noise, cabaret, and glee. Launched off a fuzz of sound that sounds like a sustained accordion (but probably isn't), "Right Away" hooks me, um, right away--as soon as the singing starts, with the lovely, harmonized melody that becomes the backbone of this sturdy, crazy little number. The oddities are too numerous to list (don't miss the cartoony violins that arrive like meddling relatives to punctuate the lyrics), but topping them all is probably the piano solo at 1:45--just past the midpoint of the song, right where a more traditional band would put the blazing guitar solo, we get instead a muddle of notes such as might happen if you put your hands down anywhere on the keyboard and just sort of let them sit there while you drummed your fingers in place.
     Speaking of drumming, sort of, pay attention to the percussion here. Despite an overall rhythm that is nearly mechanical in its one-two-three-four-iness, Chris Ward's drum work is continually creative, utilizing all manner of pitch and accent to keep the texture interesting. Some of this has arisen out of necessity--the band used to have five people in it; down to just a drummer and a keyboard player (Andrew Thiboldeaux, who also sings), Ward has found it useful to be more ingenious. If in so doing he accentuates the duo's overall vibe of purposeful but wacky vigor, all the better.
     "Right Away" can be found on the band's third CD, All Together, which is due out next week Hometapes Records.

* News from the web site: The Fingertips Record Shop has been metamorphosed into the Fingertips Store. You'll now find there a larger assortment of CDs, both current releases and back-catalog classics, along with DVDs and books and maybe some other odds and ends over time. It's still boutiquey; the point is to offer only highly recommended items--the selection is expanded but not enough to get you lost in choice overload. To make this change possible, and a much easier thing to create and maintain at my end, the Store is now an all-Amazon affair. There is no extra cost to you at all; you'll buy things there at standard Amazon prices, and still support Fingertips in the process. Check it out when you have a chance.

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