Tuesday, June 03, 2008

MP3s from the Last Shadow Puppets, the New Frontiers, and the Morning Benders--free and legal, from Fingertips

"My Mistakes Were Made For You" - the Last Shadow Puppets
     If the Decemberists were to write a James Bond theme song, they might come up with something like "My Mistakes Were Made For You." Echoingly atmospheric, with melodramatic strings, an ominous surf guitar, and melancholy horn charts, "My Mistakes Were Made For You" has at the same time a pleasantly wordy feel, which strikes me as an unexpected twist for a song with this sort of spy-movie vibe. (Songs from James Bond movies are, rather, renowned for the relentless fatuousness of their lyrics.)
     Another amiable difference here is Alex Turner's simmering vocal delivery; more well known as the front man of the Arctic Monkeys, Turner here turns from the more frenetic, ejective singing style he uses with his "other" band to a softer, almost soulful sort of approach. Turner does not lose his accent (apparently a Sheffield accent) while singing; while American me is accustomed to hearing an accent like this in a hard-rocking setting (a cliche perhaps but that's mostly what we hear of it here), I can't say I've been treated to it in quite this context before. I find it rather charming.
     The Last Shadow Puppets is a collaboration between Turner and his friend Miles Kane, who's also in a band called the Rascals. "My Mistakes Were Made For You" is from the duo's debut release, The Age of the Understatement, which came out last month on Domino Records.

"Black Lungs" - the New Frontiers
     Here's a prime example of an oft-repeated Fingertips theme: music does not have to be new to be great. A band need not blaze trails to be worthy. I think we'd have more consistently good music being played out there, in fact, if bands weren't so often trying too hard to be different.
     A quintet from Dallas, the New Frontiers do not try to be different; they try to be good. With "Black Lungs," they succeed, for reasons that are a bit difficult to pinpoint, since this appealing, well-crafted song seems to be trying not to stand out; it sounds like something we've all loved for a long time and kind of take for granted by now. But let's see: that crying, arcing guitar line that launches the song is one terrific thing; singer Nathan Pettijohn is another, with his tender-rugged voice and his refusal to leap into falsetto, even when the song threatens to go there; and then there's the chorus, which delivers a great back-door hook--which happens right around the words "back door," in fact. The hook delights me, because it sounds like we'd already heard the hook (the leap up at 0:56, around the words "everything's fine"), and then, in the second part of the chorus ("don't you kick me out the back door"), the melody slyly returns to the eighth-note pattern used in the first part of the verse and that just nails everything together. There's something old-timey and classic at work here. Close your eyes and breathe it in.
     The New Frontiers were previously known as Stellamaris, and recorded one CD in 2005 under that name. "Black Lungs" is the opening track on Mending, their first CD as the New Frontiers, which was released in April on the Militia Group.

"Boarded Doors" - the Morning Benders
     The Morning Benders return with their elusively familiar brand of sturdy yet off-kilter pop. "Boarded Doors" shuffles between a cartoony menace (that prickly guitar, that schemingly descending melody line) and a yearny sort of wistfulness, to great effect. Chris Chu sings so casually he may as well be talking, but the more I listen, the more impressed I am with his tone and tunefulness. The entire band tends to sneak up on me like that--they sound like they're just sort of rehearsing, but underneath the informal surface lies a tight little song and a lot of expertise.
     I'm fascinated by the concise, unresolved chorus, which gives us a quick shot of something that sounds like a backward guitar and perfectly placed "oo-oo" backing vocals and then vanishes before one quite realizes hey, that was the chorus. If, in fact, a song could have a verse and a bridge and no chorus (which I think is impossible by definition) then the Morning Benders have managed to write it.
     An amiable quartet from Berkeley, California (they claim to have met while all working on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disneyland), the Morning Benders released their first full-length CD last month, called Talking Through Tin Cans, on +1 Records. MP3 courtesy of Spinner.

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