Saturday, January 31, 2004

Okay, I think I've got an RSS feed going now. It'll be updated each week as I post "This Week's Finds" here on the Fingertips blog. I'll keep my fingers crossed that this works.

Monday, January 26, 2004

week of Jan. 25-31

"Song in Space" - the Church
Call me nostalgic, but I can't seem to get enough of '80s bands that regroup and take up right where they left off, as if the '90s never really happened. There's something reassuring about the effort somehow. The Church is even more reassuring because they never actually broke up in the first place. So here are Australia's redoubtable purveyors of spaced-out guitar pop, back with their 17th (!) album, the just-released Forget Yourself. "Song in Space" is an extended drone that takes you right back to something like "2000 Light Years From Home," Marty Willson-Piper's iridescent guitar shining as ever off Steve Kilbey's sleepy but reverberant vocals. Not a classic but with its own subtle charms.

"Terrified" - Norfolk and Western
If Yo La Tengo added a banjo, I might expect them to sound more than a little like this. Norfolk and Western is a project headed by a whisper-voiced Portland-based musician named Adam Selzer and sharing the talents of drummer and vocalist Rachel Blumberg (also in the band the Decemberists), among others. At first this sounded to me like it was going to veer uncomfortably off the twee scale, but the steady beat gives it body and the varied instrumentation--including a welcome touch of distorted guitar--gives it depth. The band is named after a defunct railroad line and plays music that, while not necessarily "traditional" or "folk," displays a care and tenderness one might associate with songs dating back to the heyday of the Norfolk & Western itself. "Terrified" comes from the band's most recent CD, Dusk in Cold Parlours, released in 2003 on Hush Records.

"Volcano" - Damien Rice
If I'm not mistaken, some industrious segment of the music industry seems bent on turning the phrase "emerging artist" into a marketable term, much the way "alternative rock" was transformed some years ago. Keep an eye on this; as with "alternative rock," there may be something contradictory in trying to build a saleable category of music called "emerging artists," not to mention something formula-inducing. In any case, Ireland's Damien Rice is certainly the guy most often associated here in the U.S. with that irritating phrase in recent months. Not that he isn't a singer/songwriter of merit--and apparently not an "emerging artist" at all in his home country, but a full-fledged star. "Volcano" is a spare and rhythmic effort, with a repetitive hook that I'll admit I'm kind of tired of because I hear it too often on the local singer/songwriter-oriented radio station. But approached with what in yoga they call "beginner's mind," I think this song holds up pretty nicely. Rice's widely-acclaimed debut album is called O and came out last year.

Monday, January 19, 2004

week of Jan. 18-24

"Stay Where You Are" - Ambulance LTD
This one you have to hang with a while. It begins with a long stretch of moody noodlings. I don't usually have a lot of patience for moody noodlings. But there was something in these particular noodlings that made me at least listen until something else happened. Maybe it was the backwards-guitar effect that kicked in after a while. So anyway about two minutes into the song, lo and behold, the clouds lift, the noodling shifts, a guitar chimes in over an engaging beat, and by the time the vocals start (themselves recalling the early to mid '80s; the Go-Betweens maybe?), I'm thinking, "Hey. I kinda like this." Unabashedly guitar-oriented, with a riff that just won't quit, the song among other things is very nearly pretty. Who'd have thought. The band is young, they're from New York City, and they don't have a full-length album out yet, just an EP, from which this comes, on TVT Records.

"Annan Waters" - Kate Rusby
I just need this song right now--the purity of it, the ancient vibe, the heart-deep chord changes, the connection it suggests to earth and nature, and, yes, the simple catharsis of sung tragedy. Don't mind me, I'm just a little gloomy, but there are worse ways to vent one's gloom than to listen to Rusby's lovely take on an old tragic ballad. To find this MP3 on, first enter your email address in the box and then go to the "Americana/Traditional" category. The song comes off her sparkling 1998 debut, Hourglass.

"Coma Girl" - Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros
One more from the last Strummer CD, this one with a gratifying mixture of ska-revival itchiness and pure pop know-how. I can almost imagine this song fitting into the Clash oeuvre, although with the Mescaleros songs emerged with more nuance and less muscle as a rule. So anyway, after a week spent combing through a lot of mid-level material from obscure if well-meaning bands, I found myself drawn to this for its sure-footed facility and unforced charm. It's not all that easy, after all, to make a good song, but the good ones never make it sound hard.

Monday, January 12, 2004

week of Jan. 11-17

"Carry Me Ohio" - Sun Kil Moon
At once gentle and intense, "Carry Me Ohio" casts a spell, its recycling melody urged on and on by Mark Kozelek's haunting, weary tenor. Kozelek is something of an indie-rock legend, gathering a devoted (if limited) following as the beguiling leader of the introspective (if not downright languid) '90s band Red House Painters. This song, comfortably reminiscent of his old band's sound, can be found on the CD Ghosts of the Great Highway, released in November. Yeah, it's a long one--more than six and a half minutes--but by Red House Painters' standards actually medium-lengthed.

"Underdog" - Lisa Loeb
Lisa Loeb is the only musician ever to have a number-one hit as an unsigned artist--it was that song "Stay," recorded for the Reality Bites soundtrack, in 1994. And she may well have been single-handedly responsible for the retro eyewear look that remains with us to this day. But musically she has slipped off the radar screen since then, even as she continues to write literate, well-crafted songs and perform them with engaging flair. "Underdog" comes from her 2002 CD, Hello Lisa, which was a tweaked re-release of the CD Cake and Pie. That one was released earlier that same year but sunk with no support from A&M, her previous record company. So she packed her bags, fiddled with the album a bit, and put it out again on Artemis Records. I hope persistence will pay off, but me, I think there are larger forces at work here. I mean, "Stay" was a decent song, but was it worthy of its historic achievement? Or could it be that her sound has now lost its pop-music place in as out-of-proportion a way as it had once found it? Just a theory. But heck, she doesn't even get a break these days from the so-called "adult alternative" stations that should be loving this stuff. They champion the likes of Aimee Mann while inexplicably ignoring Loeb. Underdog, indeed...

"Wrecking Ball" - Mark Cutler
No, it's not the Emmylou Harris-covered Neil Young song; instead it's a better Tom Petty song than Petty himself has recorded since maybe the 1980s, only it's not Petty at all but a Providence-based singer/songwriter named Mark Cutler. Cutler headed the Raindogs in the '90s and currently fronts an outfit called the Dino Club. This song comes from a 2000 CD he recorded as Mark Cutler and the Lexington 1-2-5 and it's a brisk, insinuating piece of pitch-perfect guitar pop, recalling Petty at his zenith with a bit of Graham Parker around the edges. Providence has long had a vibrant music scene, even as relatively few bands from the area have broken out nationally; this MP3 arrives courtesy of the Providence Journal's online collection of local music--a worthy resource blighted by a registration process requiring way too much personal information. But once found, the MP3s are downloadable directly, so you can grab this one through the link above without (I hope) difficulty.

Monday, January 05, 2004

week of Jan. 4-10

"Amorino" - Isobel Campbell
Full of tasteful and often unexpected orchestral flourishes, "Amorino" finds former Belle & Sebastian cellist Campbell in fetching form. Less a song than an instrumentally rich development of a riff, "Amorino" features Campbell's light and breathy voice singing one simple refrain a few times, followed by a series of answering echoes from the veritable orchestra she has working with her. A '60s vibe permeates the effort, thanks in part to the spy-movie reverb effect on the main riff and the "Strawberry Fields"-like flutes that float along in the background. The song is the title track from her first post-B&S CD, which was released in October on Instinct Records.

"Never Leave a Job Half Done" - Pedro the Lion
Very satisfying rocker from the one-man band Pedro the Lion. The unresolved chords of the urgent introduction grab me right away, and the combination of melody and drive keep me interested through to the charming "bah-bah-da-bah-bah"s at the end. Band mastermind David Bazan bears a comfortable vocal resemblance to Adam Durwitz of the Counting Crows, with something of the Blue Nile's Paul Buchanan thrown in. You'll find this song and five others from Pedro the Lion on's MP3 page, in the "Indie Rock/Emo" category. As usual there, you'll have to enter your email address to gain access. "Never Leave a Job Half Done" comes from Pedro the Lion's 2000 CD, Winners Never Quit.

"Lily-A-Passion" - Grant Lee Phillips (STREAM)
There is something deep and arresting about this guy's voice, and an indelible, timeless quality to his music. "Lily-A-Passion" is a song from Phillips' not-yet-released CD, Virginia Creeper. It's only a stream (sorry!), but here's the interesting thing: the one-time leader of the band Grant Lee Buffalo is releasing a stream a week from this new CD leading up to its release in February. This is the third song now available on his web site; click on the song title to hear the stream. Check out the first track on the CD, "Mona Lisa," as well, it's quite good also.