Monday, May 22, 2006

week of May 21-27

In honor of Memorial Day here in the U.S., and honoring too a personal need to take some space and regroup a bit, there will be no weekly update next week (the week of May 28-June 3). The site will be up and running as of May 29 but I will use the week to tend to many things that need tending, taking the week off from the three-song update. The next "This Week's Finds" update will appear on Sunday, June 4. Be sure to keep visiting for other updates and news!

"Lovers Who Uncover" - the Little Ones
The introduction is all I need with this one: the ascending, slightly distorted ringing guitar doing that fast alternating one-two rhythm thing--well, just forget the description, I've already mutilated the pop beauty of it all. And, sure, it's simple stuff at its core, three adjacent notes, just me-fa-sol in disguise, but they ring out an eternal truth, and if you're a high-quality pop junkie you know transcendence when you hear it. So okay yeah then there's more to the song than the introduction of course, and the next thing I love to death are the vocals. I don't really know who's doing what, the Little Ones being an L.A. band that doesn't relinquish a lot of personal information, but whoever is singing has that keening high-register voice that sounds full of substance, like a lower voice, rather than airy and irresolute, like many falsettos do. And what, class, is the most unusual thing going on in this shiny happy little number? There's no chorus to speak of. Go figure: power pop with a killer verse, not a killer chorus. Who'd have thought? "Lovers Who Uncover" is a song from the band's self-released debut EP; the MP3 is available via the band's site. Thanks to Bruce at Some Velvet Blog for the lead.

"With My Eyes" - Our Lady of Bells
Another great intro, this one beginning with an acoustic guitar picking out alternately major and minor chords in three-quarter time, soon to be joined by what sounds like both an electric guitar and a bass, each plucking incomplete phrases in musical proximity, setting a subtly tense stage for a really nice lead guitar line, chiming out its syncopated theme with bittersweet majesty. Guitarist and songwriter Jules Gimbrone sings with an air of regret and entirely without pretense, letting the strength of the timeless, sea-charged melody pull us along, rough spots in her singing voice be damned. Her singing is but a part of an air of unpolishedness that hard-nosed lo-fi folks may actually see as a positive; I tend not to in general, but the material is compelling enough to keep me with it--the song acquires a weary and quite beautiful momentum as it rolls along. I suspect the group has much to offer moving forward. Based in Northampton, Massachusetts, Our Lady of Bells began in 2004 as a duo and has added three members along the way. "With My Eyes" can be found on the band's first full-length CD, Forgetting the Way Home, released earlier this month. The MP3 is via the band's site.

"Mountain" - 1888
So it's cool introduction week, it seems. Check this one out: all beats and twitches, but as I listen it manages to sound, somehow, like electronica done by hand, with organic instruments. (It may not be, but the itchy, clicky vibe has a particularly hand-hewn quality.) We are thereby led into a song that presents, to my ears, one of the most intriguing uses I've heard of electronica-style beats and/or samples in a song that really doesn't sound like electronica at all. On top of a precise blend of well-placed tweets and twiddles and buzzings is crafted something else entirely, although I'm not exactly sure what this something else is. The ultimate impression is the kind of sonic deconstruction that brings Wilco to mind, even though this doesn't really sound much like Wilco either. Check out that lugubrious organ coloring the deep end; and as for singer/songwriter Brad Rosenberg, there's nothing remotely techno about him--he sounds like a guy from a rock band who doesn't understand something that happened to him (like many guys in rock bands). Hailing from Norfolk, Virginia, 1888 was almost a collective rather than a band in its early days (late '90s), with a rotating series of players coming and going as required, as the spirit moved, to record in the studio. Solidifying as a quartet to hit the road as a live act, the band now plans to release its first full-length CD later this year; "Mountain" is originally from an EP released in 2003 called Panda. The MP3 is up on the band's site.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

week of May 14-20

"The Gate" - Sam Roberts Band
There's something expansively old-fashioned about the Sam Roberts Band--five scruffy Canadian guys with long hair and any number of beards, they seem to be doing rock'n'roll like it used to be done (this is not a jam band, thank you very much), without sounding quite exactly like any classic rock outfit you can put your finger on. "The Gate" opens slowly, building from an organ sustain, a psychedelic bass line, and a glistening guitar that approaches steadily with spidery noodlings. Around 1:10 it bangs into place, driving forward with a late-'60s/early'-70s vibe; Roberts himself has something of David Gilmour's haunting vocal depth, lending a Floyd-like oomph to the semi-Steve Miller-y proceedings (listen especially to the vocals in the quiet bridge section that starts at around 3:12). "The Gate" is the lead track from the band's new CD, Chemical City, being released in the U.S. this week under the Secret Brain/Fontana imprint, which I can't figure out at all. The MP3 is available via Filter Magazine.

"Malherido" - Juana Molina
The wondrously subtle, subtly magical Molina was one of the very first artists featured on Fingertips back in 2003; arrival of new music from this acclaimed Argentinian is big news here. I think you have to slow down a bit to sink into her soundscapes; throw too many things in the multi-task pile while you're listening and the song--all rubbery synths, skittery boops, whispery vocals, and stray animal noises--might not register at all. The breathy but sturdy character in her voice is one hand-hold into her world: she sounds rather scarily like two of my top five all-time female singers put together (that'd be Jane Siberry and Kirsty MacColl), and there's a whole lot in the musical if not vocal vibe that reminds me of another (Björk). "Malherido" is a song from Molina's upcoming CD, her third; it's called Son (in Spanish: "They Are") and will be released in early June on Domino Records. The MP3 comes via the Domino web site.

"Too Much Space To Walk Away" - Avocadoclub
As smooth, catchy, and vaguely disaffected as an old Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark single. This has all the earmarks of a great floaty synth-pop hit but the really cool thing is they're not really using a heck of a lot of synthesizers; the acoustic guitars are actually more prominent. Most of the effect, I think, is coming from the layered majesty of Bendrik Muhs' vocals, and the use of a New Order-style lower-register lead guitar line. Muhs has the ability to sound both pretty and weary, like Ben Gibbard doing a Lou Reed impression; his aching delivery of the sweeping chorus is big-time pop heaven. Avocadoclub is an English-language band from Berlin; there appear to be two guys at the heart of it, but they've fleshed out into a five-piece band for the debut CD. "Too Much Space to Walk Away" was the title track on the band's second EP, released in 2002; it has shown up as well on the debut full-length, entitled Everybody's Wrong, which was released in March on Firestation Records. Thanks much, yet again, to Getecho for the lead.

Monday, May 08, 2006

week of May 7-13

"Thursday" - Asobi Seksu
Gorgeous gorgeous high-volume rock'n'roll--play it loud and feel your heart burst with pleasure and wonder. Yeah it's pretty much that good (and be sure to go back after you're done and re-listen to the quiet beginning; it's there for a reason). While this talented NYC quartet owes some of its sonic foundation to Blondie's indelible, pioneering sound, Asobi Seksu seem at the same time to have found something deep and moving within a place Debby Harry and company sought, mostly, irony and distance (not that there was anything wrong with that!). Lead vocalist Yuki sings with warmth and a sneaky range, moving seamlessly into a yearning, substantive falsetto for that great major-to-minor melody shift in the chorus. Her able bandmates both mirror and amplify her dynamic range--together, they're not just loud, not just soft, not just pretty, not just noisy, but instead create a thoroughly engaging and skillful blend of different sounds, textures, and ideas. And while we may all yet get tired of the reverb-laced sound characterizing a lot of the best rock'n'roll of our new century, right now it keeps seeming to work, in this case contributing to a wash of heavenly sound out of which unfolds a gem that feels at once very familiar and, in its own way, pioneering. "Thursday" is a track from the band's long-awaited (by me, at least!) second CD, Citrus, scheduled for release at the end of the month on Friendly Fire Recordings. The MP3 is available via Insound.

"So I" - Tobias Fröberg
While "Simon & Garfunkel meets Ron Sexsmith" might be a fast and reasonably valid way of summing up this song, I hesitate to offer it because I have heard a few too many bands or singer/songwriters over the past few years who have prompted comparisons to Simon & Garfunkel, typically based on the presence of delicate acoustic guitar picking and whispery harmonies. Too often however these musicians lack a crucial part of the S&G sound, which is (easier said than done, I know!) having memorable songs. To compare anyone to Simon & Garfunkel (or Ron Sexsmith, for that matter) who is singing a well-intentioned but (let's be honest) boring song renders the comparison pretty much pointless. No worries here, however, as Fröberg manages first of all to be singing a memorable song--courtesy of its simple but appealing double-descending melody and a gratifying amount of subtle movement. I like too that Fröberg and collaborator Linus Larsson add some cool stuff of their own, like the forthright electric guitar used throughout as a sort of color commentator to the underlying drive of the acoustic picking. "So I" is a song from Fröberg's CD For Elisabeth Wherever She Is (note S&G-related title!), released on Silence Records in Sweden late in 2004, and a winner of a national award for best singer/songwriter album in 2005. A new CD entitled Somewhere in the City will be released shortly in Scandanavia; apparently he has just been signed to Cheap Lullaby Records in the U.S., so we'll see if that increases his profile here a bit as the year unfolds. Thanks to Hedvika at the recently renamed Getecho blog for the lead.

"Adventure" - Be Your Own Pet
Channeling Bow Wow Wow with great, vibrant, new-century spirit comes a group of teenagers from Nashville with the kind of glorious, in-the-moment song that proves absolutely nothing about their long-term talent or viability, nor should it. (Bow Wow Wow's Annabella Lwin was herself 14 when that band broke; she's 40 now, which is weird, but I digress.) Singer Jemina (yeah, -na) Pearl sings with the same sort of un-self-conscious abandon as Lwin back in the day, and apparently this song is reasonably tame for her. Not sure I'll care much for the wilder, unrepressed punk-ish side of what these guys do, but in this case (am I repeating myself yet?) I'm hearing a really strong song underneath the okay-I-can-scream-and-curse bravado--an unexpectedly full and satisfying less-than-two-and-a-half-minute tornado of rhythmic hooks and gleefully slashing guitars. Beware, by the way, the dark energy of the hype/backlash cycle when it comes to Be Your Own Pet, which seems already to have swirled around and back if you spend too much time in the blogosphere (hint: don't spend too much time in the blogosphere!); some part of their story has something to do with parents in the music industry, but me I just try as usual to listen with my ears, and my ears say: "Hey! Kinda cool!" Or they would if they had a mouth. "Adventure" is a song from the band's self-titled debut CD, which was released in the U.K. in March on XL Recordings and is due out early next month in the U.S. on Universal (note the big record company, which certainly has something to do with the fury of the aforementioned hype/backlash cycle).

Monday, May 01, 2006

week of Apr. 30-May 6

"Stay" - Marykate O'Neil
There have been at least four excellent songs with the same one-word title in modern pop history (I'm partial to Bowie's, and the Blue Nile's); it takes a bit of nervy self-assurance to offer up yet another, but as I listen to O'Neil's voice, its rich tone equal parts passion and nonchalance, I'm thinking that here's a singer/songwriter not lacking in nervy self-assurance. (I mean that as a compliment, by the way.) And why not another "Stay"?--the word, come to think of it, is one of the English language's more emotionally resonant verbs, a four-letter subtext festival laden with implied connection, desire, and conflict. In any case, O'Neil's "Stay" has the crisp, instantly likable propulsiveness of a classic pop hit, its sparkly, syncopated rhythm ably accented by a jangly guitar and, later on, an almost demonic violin. There's something in the slightly nasally roundness of her voice that brings Aimee Mann to mind, which isn't a bad thing; an even better thing is that the song has more open-hearted spirit than a lot of Mann's able but same-sounding output has managed in recent years. "Stay" can be found on O'Neil's new CD, 1-800-Bankruptcy, which will be released electronically tomorrow on Nettwerk Records, and physically on O'Neil's own 71 Recordings imprint. The MP3 is available via O'Neil's web site.

"Book of Matches" - A Passing Feeling
As the original punk era ricocheted into the original new wave era, this was the sort of song that was in the air: a short, triumphant bit of sweat and booze and bluster. My heart will ever have a big sloppy soft spot for songs with two separate hooks; that this NYC-based foursome delivers two great hooks in a song not even two and a half minutes long is all but insane. The first hook, 18 seconds in, starting with the words "So in taking you back to the scene of the crime," has something of the unbridled melodicism of early Elvis Costello, fully utilizing all seven notes of the scale in a delightful four-measure outburst. (Think in contrast to how many pop hits of recent decades employ often as few as three or four discrete notes in their hooks, if you can call them hooks.) On the heels of hook number one, singer Brian Miltenberg spits out the second hook in the glorious chorus, which is, rather delightfully, a throwback melody straight from the '50s, but sped up and thrashed through, as if the Ramones had attacked doo-wop instead of the Brill Building with their black-leather buzzsaw. For all of this song's brevity there's something monumental brewing in its sonic onslaught; I sure hope someone somewhere is blaring this out a dorm window on a blue, flowery day this spring. "Book of Matches" is one of five songs on A Passing Feeling's self-titled debut EP, released back in December on 75 or Less Records. The MP3 is courtesy of the band's site.

"Let's Get Out of This Country" - Camera Obscura
While new bands are always a kick to discover, there's something to be said for not-new-anymore bands as well. The Scottish sextet Camera Obscura has been around since 1996, and there's nothing like a history together to give a band's sound genuine weight and substance. "Let's Get Out of This Country" wraps its arms around me with a winning combination of spaciousness and intimacy--the sound is ever so large, with those bashing drumbeats and sweeping waves of strings, all bathed in glossy reverb, and yet listen to how each melodic line ends with that introspective descending third, and listen too to the soft pretty ache in Tracyanne Campbell's lilting voice. She sounds like someone spinning gently in her room, humming to herself. Often the swelling strings compete with her words--you know she's there but aren't quite privvy to what she's saying. Then, at a point when we might expect a bridge (from about 1:35 to 1:50), the music pulls back and we hear Campbell singing more or less alone against the drumbeat; the effect is particularly magical and melancholy. "Let's Get Out of This Country" is the title track of the band's forthcoming CD, due out in June on Merge Records.