Monday, September 26, 2005

week of Sept. 25-Oct. 1

"God Is Going To Get Sick of Me" - Aberdeen City
Straddling the thin-wide line that forever separates Coldplay and Radiohead is the Boston quartet Aberdeen City, at least as they display their wares in this itchy, sharply-produced, knowingly melodic song. Lead singer Brad Parker, who also plays bass, sounds a lot like Thom Yorke and yet more solid and approachable, uninclined to take his powerful tenor towards the warbly stratosphere. As a matter of fact, the way Parker lays back in this song, allows himself to stay reined in by the hard-charging guitars that burst with creative authority in and out of the mix, sets up a transcendent moment three-quarters of the way through: the imperceptible, breath-taking glide he takes to move to the higher register between the phrases "support gets stronger" and "each time something"--well, that just nailed the whole thing down for me somehow. In addition to listening to the song, I suggest visiting the Aberdeen City web site, which features some truly arresting imagery related to the band's new CD The Freezing Atlantic: the bleak panorama offered is nearly sublime in its evocation of the ocean's terrifying day-to-day majesty, never mind the juxtaposition of the mysterious wrapped and upright bodies, some of which fade in and out of view. "God Is Going To Get Sick Of Me" is the third track on the new CD, the band's first full-length effort, scheduled for release on Dovecote Records next month.

"Pangs of Guilt" - the Bridge Gang
With the harsh but beguiling charm of an early Clash single, "Pangs of Guilt" delivers two brisk minutes of that affecting sort of rock'n'roll that's both very straightforward and oddly edgy. (Cross perhaps the Pixies and the Cars and maybe you're part of the way there, if you keep Jonathan Richman in your head as well; hm, these guys are from London but maybe they should've been from Boston?) The guitars have that "we just plugged them in and turned the amp on too loud" sound, the lead singer José (no last name to be found) yowls the sparse but engaging melody with no concern for his vocal cords, and the one-line chorus has the gut-satisfying resolution of classic garage rock. The Bridge Gang is a relatively new three-piece band with just a few recorded songs to date. "Pangs of Guilt" is a downloadable single made available via London-based Dogbox Records in the spring of this year.

"A Quoi Bon" - Delaney
There's something both fresh and comfortable-sounding in this homespun bit of trip-hoppy sing-songiness. Parisienne Christelle Delaney has a teetery pitch and a deadpan delivery that joins the beat-driven vibe with a what-the-heck sort of consonance. There's not that much to it--she basically repeats the same simple melody over and over, but the interplay of her voice, the giddily percussive acoustic guitars, and the spiffy beat is a tasty aural treat to my disaster-soaked ears. Be sure not to miss the oddball instrumental coda that starts at 2:43: first we get deliberate, off-kilter keyboard chords, then we get an increasingly assertive sort of stretchy-crunchy sound rising to the forefront, along with some random tinkles, before everything draws demurely to a close. The 33-year-old Delaney was 25 when she recorded "A Quoi Bon" for her self-titled debut CD; released in France in 1998, the disc just saw the light of day in the U.S. earlier this month, courtesy of L.A.'s introspective Pehr Records. Thanks as always to the hard-working humans at 3hive for the lead.

Monday, September 19, 2005

week of Sept. 18-24

"Love in Fear" - the Constantines
Stay with this one awhile. It starts with an uncomfortably jerky sense of time, as if the rhythm section is somehow trying to play two different songs simultaneously. For the entire first minute, the ear is given neither a firm beat nor a rooted melody to hold onto. Notice the keyboard relatively far down in the mix; its nuanced accents and jazz-inflected harmonics come to the fore a bit later. After a minute of this off-centered minimalism, the beat seems to coalesce--it remains syncopated and skeletal, but something's gathering, you can feel it, and sure enough, at 1:30, the drummer finally joins force with the bass and the guitars, and the song blossoms in a depth-laced, truly satisfying way. (Check out the chord progression in the chorus linking the phrases "What hangs above" and "when we love," it's just about worth the price of admission right there.) Everything backs off again a half-minute later for a stripped-down bridge before returning with yet greater intensity and spirit for the home stretch. The Constantines are a Toronto-based quintet founded in Guelph in 1999. "Love in Fear" comes from the band's forthcoming third CD, Tournament of Hearts, to be released next month on Sub Pop Records; the MP3 is via Insound.

"Eloquence" - Carter Tanton
Baltimore's Carter Tanton has been recording his own music since he was 15, but that doesn't come close to explaining how he projects such a strong and knowing musical presence at the still-precocious age of 23. "Eloquence" has a grand yet grounded urgency about it, which you can hear in both the assured, time-tested rhythm of the crisp acoustic guitar work and the keening timbre of Tanton's voice, which strikes me as an unexpected cross between Matthew Sweet and Richard Thompson. With the timeless vibe of a full-throttled blues stomp, "Eloquence" manages at the same time to sound very of the moment, fresh, and relevant. The song can be found on Tanton's Birds and Rain CD, released in July on Park the Van Records--which, I should note, is based in New Orleans, so let's hope they're all okay down there. The MP3 is hosted by Devil in the Woods, a small California-based label that apparently helps Park the Van sell some of their releases. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.

"Michelle" - the Homesicks
Fetchingly melodramatic (see below*), nicely-produced indie rock from Israel, the sort of song where the '80s-style hooks pile up so flagrantly, one on top of the other, that my new wave-friendly heart ends up melted in a happy little puddle. Any number of the usual suspects are mushed together here--Joy Division to Bowie to Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark to the Pixies and then some--with great good verve and awareness. At the same time, the sampled-sounding synth riff that emerges at around 2:50 sounds like something that might only emerge from a Middle Eastern band. Occasionally globalization has its charms. The Homesicks are an unsigned five-piece band based in Tel Aviv; the MP3 comes from an intriguing-looking but largely Hebrew Israeli web site called Blind Janitor that I unfortunately can't make heads or tails of. Thanks very much to visitor Moran for the lead on this one. (*Shortly after posting this today, I noticed that last week I had described the Fleeing New York MP3 as "endearingly melodramatic." Busted! I'll admit I struggle as it is not to over-use certain favorite words when writing here week after week, but that's a bit too much repetition too soon, don't you think? Let's call this one, perhaps, "almost but not quite over the top," or something to that effect. And consider it another sign of life without a copy editor.)

Monday, September 12, 2005

week of Sept. 11-17

"Bloodline" - Orenda Fink
Orenda Fink means business. One-half of the the delicate Georgia duo Azure Ray, Fink, on a new solo CD, displays a striking new musical persona: tough, propulsive, and vibrant. This is indie rock at its most inclusive--revealing, in other words, a universal, accessible heart; and in so doing revealing that at the end of the day, the most salient labels are simply "good" or "not good." "Bloodline" is very good indeed, a soaring, memorable shot of powerful pop, its chugging, fuzzy-bass-heavy verse and shimmering chorus together hinting at something both menacing and transcendent. Fink has a resilient, familiar voice, with none of the fragile breathiness of her Azure Ray partner Maria Taylor (not that there's anything wrong with fragile breathiness, mind you!). When a song comes from seemingly nowhere and cuts to the quick like this, I am assured yet again of the universality of good music, despite the efforts of too many present-day indie rock zealots (be they fans, musicians, or critics) to protect their strange, isolated turf from perceived intrusions via over-thinking and under-listening. Someone like Ms. Fink can arrive and slap us to attention: when you have something to say, labels spontaneously combust. "Bloodline" can be found on her album Invisible Ones, released last month on Saddle Creek Records. The MP3 is available through both her web site and the Saddle Creek site.

"Hollywood Bowl" - Fleeing New York
Wacky, bashy, endearingly melodramatic Brit pop disguising itself as some sort of Motor City stompdown. This song has a bit of everything: smashingly crisp guitars, group chanting, rumbly pseudo-Western verses, boy-girl lead vocalists, and a truly loopy update on the old "wall of sound" idea, aided and abetted by some unhinged slide guitar work. For a trio, the Southampton-based Fleeing New York do create quite the sonic fuss. And then there's the '65 Beatles harmonics that kick in around 2:25, at once out of the blue and perfectly obvious. "Hollywood Bowl" is the latest single from the band, which has one mini-album to its name thus far. The MP3 is available via the groovy British site Drowned in Sound.

"I Ain't Saying My Goodbyes" - Tom Vek
Hey, kids--the robots are having a dance party in the anvil factory. Cool! Against a clanging beat, the London-based multi-instrumentalist Tom Vek has constructed a disarmingly catchy bit of post-post-punk pop, or some such thing. Adding delicious layers of texture to the Gang of Four-style metallic slashing that underscores the song, Vek wins me over most of all, rather unexpectedly, with his singing. He's got a strong, dry voice, with a hint of a funky sort of roundedness to it; even as he takes us musically through some of the itchy anxiety-land settled in earlier days by David Byrne and Adrian Belew-era King Crimson, it sounds differently compelling with the 24-year-old Vek singing vague, husky lines such as "I know I'm wasting precious time" and "All these young men obssessed with death." "I Ain't Saying My Goodbyes" is a track off Vek's debut full-length CD, We Have Sound, released in the U.K. this past spring and scheduled for a U.S. release on Startime International next month. Thanks once again to the fine fellows at 3hive for the lead.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

week of Sept. 4-10

"Remember New Orleans" - Barry Thomas Goldberg
Not even the world-weary Goldberg, who already sounded like he'd seen it all before, has seen anything like what happened here in the U.S. last week. To my ears, he hits an appropriate combination of sobriety and passion on this simple, ragged, emotional tribute to a devastated city. It's mostly a subdued acoustic guitar and Goldberg's effective Waits-via-Springsteen voice, but there are some subtle instrumental homages added along the way--a quietly menacing piano below (can't have New Orleans music without piano), sad strings above (striking me as a conscious nod to Randy Newman), and even a slowed-down "City of New Orleans"-ish harmonica flourish. The song is available via Goldberg's web site. The veteran singer/songwriter has furthermore decided to contribute the profits from his three CDs to the American Red Cross, to assist the massive relief effort. Thanks again to visitor Paul for the head's up.

"Funeral" - Band of Horses
Geez maybe I'm working thematically this week. In any case, Band of Horses is a Seattle-based outfit with a firm grip on an emerging '00s sound that I think of as Neil Young meets Radiohead (so, okay, we need a better name for this): a ghostly, left-of-mainstream blend of ache and atmosphere, part acoustic and part electric, featuring keen melodies and a slightly wobbly high-pitched tenor. Songs that start out too quietly usually make me antsy, but "Funeral" redeems itself the minute vocalist Ben Bridwell opens his mouth, less for the quality of his voice (which I do like) than for the arresting melody--a melancholy line that descends with one half-step ascent before the end, a line in fact so melancholy it needs only one, final minor chord to create a suffusing minor-key aura. When the fuller band kicks in, crisply, at 1:23, supporting the same ongoing melody, the piece acquires a history-laced depth, like something from the Band's catalog (a feeling reinforced by the Rick Danko-like "oo-oos" falsetto-ing in the background). Signed to mighty Sub Pop Records, Band of Horses has yet to release a CD, but four demos (including "Funeral") are available via the band's site. Thanks to the good folks at 3hive for the lead.

"Weather" - Annie Hayden
At least a happier-sounding song, even as the theme remains. And the happier sound is largely due to the karmic lift afforded by Annie Hayden's cheerfully crystal-clear voice (the lyrics, however, are not particularly upbeat, from what I can tell). "Weather" begins with a coy Hayden singing off the beat established by the piano, then moves briskly into a tune at once sweet and driving, steel guitar accents and sustained harmonies adding a rolling-field openness to the proceedings. Hayden's background is as indie as it gets (she spent the mid-'90s in a New Jersey-based band called Spent), but I applaud the polish she brings to the song; to my ears there's a lot to be said for musical prowess, at both the instrumental and production level. (Listen for instance to the masterful subtlety with which the plucked notes are articulated during the guitar break in the middle of the song.) Not that "Weather" doesn't have a fetching quirk or two--such as the charming way the song hesitates just past the minute mark, how that short burst of drumbeat drops us briefly into near-nothingness before she catches us and brings us back to the steady, yearning groove. "Weather" is a song from Hayden's long-awaited second solo CD, to be released next week on Merge Records. Hat's off to Alan at Sixeyes for noticing this among Largehearted Boy's ongoing torrent of music-related information a few weeks back.