Monday, April 30, 2007

week of Apr. 29-May 5

The hamsters are back in their wheels, firing up the Fingertips generators, and here we are, in the saddle again after a daring week-long venture into the offline world. But not only have the three weekly picks returned (below), there is a new contest on the way as well. The prizes this time will be CDs and 7-inch vinyl singles from the band Mason Proper, a recent "This Week's Finds" featured artist. Visit the Contests page tomorrow (Tuesday) and check it out. And now, on with the show (this is it):

"Everybody's Got Their Own Part to Play" - Shannon Wright
There's a distinct early '70s vibe in the air here, from the head-bobbing piano chords to the sing-song-y melody, but most of all, as I listen, what brings me back to that bygone time are the subtle John Lennon references I'm hearing in the music, the lyrics ("Nobody knows what the truth is"), and even in the echoey way her voice is slightly buried in the mix. As Wright is nothing if not a simmering vocalist, it's actually kind of fun to have to listen more closely than usual for the emotion--powerful singers grow more powerful, I believe, when they learn to present with subtlety. This compact song features an unusual structure--there are basically four different paired melodic segments, three of which we hear twice, one of which we hear only once, and that unrepeated segment appears to be the chorus. In any case, the whole thing whips right by us (total time: 2:43) before we've quite gotten our arms around it; I suggest allowing a few listens for its various charms to emerge most clearly. "Everybody's Got Their Own Part to Play" is the closing song on Wright's new CD, Let In The Light, which is scheduled for release next week on Quarterstick Records.

"TV Reality (The New Plague)" - Contramano
If David Byrne had been an Argentinian cellist rather than a geeky Ontario- and Maryland-raised art school dropout, Talking Heads might have sounded something like this. Contramano centers around Pablo Cubarle's spiky cello playing, homely singing, and joyfully unexpected sense of melody. The jagged rhythms of the introductory cello riff lead us into an extended, unsettled opening section--the band has our attention but it's unclear what they're going to do with it, as the chords hover without resolution and Cubarle's accented English renders understanding minimal. Then, as Cubarle sings, "But it's not a special day," something begins to shift, we are suddenly in a bridge to somewhere else, and that somewhere else becomes a crazy-great chorus, a very Talking Heads-like bit of infectious simplicity, enlivened by crystal-clear bass arpeggios and a lively drum kit. Cubarle is particularly difficult to understand right here; to add to your enjoyment, you should know that what he's singing is: "It's the new plague/The new invasion/Click on, screw your life, screw your life." And maybe reality TV presents an easy target but if so, not nearly enough people are taking it on. "TV Reality" is a song from Contramano's second CD, Unsatisfecho, which the band will release themselves next week. The MP3 is via the band's site.

"First Blood" - the Chrysler
An insistent, minor-key lament with engaging atmospherics and a sustained sense of woe. While an acoustic guitar strumming a simple E minor chord remains at the center of the sonic space, nice touches persist around the periphery, most involving a range of electric guitar sounds--shimmering sustained notes, controlled feedback, echoey chords, an occasional twang. I'm getting a feeling of the archetypal American West in this one, which may seem strange in that the Chrysler is a folk-pop quintet from smalltown Sweden; on the other hand, they are considered a "country" act there, so maybe that accounts for the mysterious, tragedy-prone landscape their music evokes. The song unfolds at a leisurely pace, and doesn't travel too far, yet somehow keeps the ear occupied through its five-plus minutes. "First Blood" is from the band's second CD, Cold War Classic, which was released in mid-April in the U.S. on Parasol Records. The MP3 is via the Parasol site.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

week of Apr. 15-21

The Fingertips home office will be closed, on adventure break, from April 20 through April 27. The next weekly update after this one will pixelate onto your screen on Monday April 30. Use the opportunity to visit other, less-trod-upon pages of the site, such as this one, or this one, or maybe even this one.

"Broken Arm" - Winterpills
The beauty of my slow, steady system here is that often it appears to work on its own, as if I'm not even a part of it. Songs that hit me at a level below rational thinking get added to my "top consideration" folder, and each week I spend time listening to all the songs in it, and when I listen long enough and closely enough they kind of just sort themselves out. It's a mystery. And what also sometimes happens--equally mysterious--is a song that I didn't pick that week ends up floating around in my head, singing itself to itself in the days that follow. Usually that means I will pick that song at some point. Thus, "Broken Arm," from the western Massachusetts band Winterpills, which I kept not quite selecting and which has continued to arise unbidden in my head. This one has the minor melancholy folk-rock tension of something from the '60s (Simon & Garfunkel? Mamas & Papas?), and I think the thing that really sticks with me is how the hook is, somehow, the first melodic line of the verse. Normally a pop song has to work up to its hook but this one starts with it: a simple descending melody that curls back up at the bottom, and it may not sound like much the first time you hear it, when singer Philip Price sings on his own; but one of the band's characteristic sounds is the vocal interplay between Price and keyboardist Flora Reed, and when Reed harmonizes that same line when it returns (at around 0:47), well, yikes. Wow. She stays with him for (I think) three notes then they separate into the most wonderful intervals. A parallel highlight is the interplay between the acoustic and electric guitar, the acoustic crisp and precise, the electric slurry and evasive. (Note a very clear "bad word" happens at 2:03 so be careful if children or bosses are nearby.) "Broken Arm" is from the band's second CD, The Light Divides, released on Signature Sounds at the end of February.

"Speak To Me Bones" - Land of Talk
And this one sounds like something sharp and itchy from maybe the early or middle '90s. Right away I like the tension established by a stationary guitar slashing intermittently against the propulsive rhythm section, while otherwise retreating into a vibrating, harmonic fuzz. I can feel the whole enterprise coiled up, restrained, ready to boil over. When the guitar is fully unleashed, at 0:27, we get pretty much the same chord--something with the vague dissonance of a suspended chord, from the sound of it--only now the slashing intensifies, gains a rhythm, is fleshed out by adjunct chords that veer magnetically back to the central cluster, with a beautiful fury that would do Neil Young proud. When singer/guitarist Elizabeth Powell emerges from behind her mighty instrument (54 seconds into it) to sing a discordant melody, with passion, I'm falling for this one big-time. While comparisons have been made to P.J. Harvey because of Powell's vocal turbulence, I hear something ultimately sweeter there in the midst of the storm--to me, in fact, her rich, sandpapery tone brings Kathleen Edwards rather unexpectedly but pleasingly to mind. But try not to let Powell's vocal assurance distract you from her impressive guitar chops, which provide a constant source of grinding grandeur to this explosive little piece. Land of Talk is a trio from Montreal; "Speak To Me Bones" is a song from the band's debut EP, Applause Cheer Boo Hiss, which was released in the U.S. in March on The Rebel Group. The MP3 is via the record company site.

"Loud and Clear" - Pink and Noseworthy
This is another song that engages me before the singing even starts. Here we have the often agreeable acoustic guitar and piano combination, and listen to this piano in particular--how slyly unconcerned with the beat it can be, just floating its gentle notes here and there, in and around the guitar's structured picking. And it's also another song with a very engaging male-female duet going on, in this case via Shanee Pink and Mark Noseworthy (yup, the band is simply named after people; and there was me intially trying to figure out what the name meant). I really like the vibe here: while there's a quiet late-night feeling going on, it's not simply loungey-jazzy; instead we get a nice and yet subtly unusual sense of movement--the unusual part the result of the unexpected 7/4 time signature. I can't remember hearing a song centered around fingerpicking in 7/4 time like this, although of course there may well be some. Another nice touch is how the acoustic instruments each pick up an electric counterpart as the song develops--we get both a dreamy electric guitar and an atmospheric keyboard filling out the original piano-guitar combo, plus some simple percussion (mostly just an egg shaker). And the percussion really disguises the unconventional beat, managing to keep what sounds like a regular pulse even with those odd-beated measures. All in all both a lovely tune and a spiffy accomplishment. "Loud and Clear" is a song from Pink and Noseworthy, the duo's debut CD, which was released in March on North Street Records. The MP3 is available via the North Street site.

Monday, April 09, 2007

week of Apr. 8-14

** As promised, there's a new giveaway on the Contests page: I've got one copy of the brand new Son Volt CD, The Search, to be randomly bestowed upon one fortunate Fingertips visitor. Two other lucky folks will receive a copy of the Fingertips: Unwebbed CD as a consolation prize. Hurry!: deadline for entry is April 13.

"Los Cruzados" - Elk City
Smooth and sinuous and upbeat and heartbroken. Over a pulse-like bass and a beautifully articulated, reverberant guitar, Renée LoBue sings with an ache in her slightly smoky voice that drapes the whole effort in a buoyant sort of sorrow. She's singing "Halleluyah" but it's as if she's trying to convince herself; and when she says, "Let's jump in the river to celebrate/The light that they left in our hearts," the song has gotten so pensive there that she appears more focused on the jumping than the celebrating. Elk City, from New York City, has been around since 1998 and spent most of their time as a trio; the original guitarist left, discordantly, in '04; LoBue and drummer Ray Ketchem eventually brought in guitarist Sean Eden, formerly in Luna, and bassist Barbara Endes, from the Lovelies, and the new band's sound is strong and sure and polished in all the best ways. "Los Cruzados" is a song from the forthcoming CD, New Believers, the band's first as a quartet, scheduled for release next week on Friendly Fire Recordings. The MP3 is available via the Friendly Fire site. Thanks to Bruce at Some Velvet Blog for the lead on this one.

"Miss Marylou Carreau" - Mason Proper
This one is half crazed swampiness, half disciplined pop song. It's an inspired amalgam. I really have no idea what's going on here lyrically but I love the spill of tangible, baffling words we get from singer Jonathan Visgr, such as: "She bought a mug of bubbles from a bauble-hawker at the bazaar,/Supposedly an ex-czar from lands afar," or "Her now ignored automatic attendent M.I.A. on the floor,/Amid discarded decor," and what really nails these words--which, I'll admit, sort of just sit there on the screen--are how they scan in the music, which swoops up and down via intriguing intervals and syncopations, rendering physical the strange jumps and blank spots in this impenetrable narrative. I don't really mind if lyrics don't make sense because I don't really tend to hear them except as part of the sound, and Mason Proper seems a band with a great feel for words-as-sounds. The persistent crunch of the band's variegated guitar arsenal is another ongoing highlight, and there is to be sure no shortage of guitar in this song, from the villainous riff that underpins the verse (heard for instance at 1:06) to the multifaceted, multi-guitar showdown that begins at 1:52 and ends in a high-pitched drone somewhere around 2:40. That's a nutty and juicy snack for all you guitar fans out there. Mason Proper is a quintet based in Michigan; "Miss Marylou Carreau" is a song from the CD There is a Moth in Your Chest, released last month on Dovecote Records. (The CD was originally self-released last January in a limited run; the new version is re-mixed, re-mastered, and partially re-recorded.) The MP3 is via the Dovecote site.

"Going Numb" - Tin Cup Prophette
Perhaps it's just in this odd little corner of the indie rock world in which I find myself wandering, but I'm beginning to wonder if the violin isn't becoming at long last a bonafide rock'n'roll instrument here in the 21st century. Athens, Georgia-based Amanda Kapousouz--doing musical business as Tin Cup Prophette--is, in any case, a talented and energetic fiddler, and she keeps her instrument front and center, from the urgent, appealing pizzicato refrain that opens the song (which, if it repeated unaccompanied for three or four minutes, would not sound out of place in a piece of classical minimalism) to the loops of continuous bowing we hear as a surging and fading swell starting at 1:26. (Apparently Kapousouz has this way of looping her instrument through pedals, and I'm not geek enough to describe that better or to know exactly how it works but it sounds cool.) The other worthy instrument Kapousouz has at her disposal is her voice, a sonorous mezzo at once clear and rich--nicely plain-spoken during the clipped verse, fuller and more passionate during the melodic chorus. "Going Numb" is a track from Tin Cup Prophette's debut CD, Liar and the Thief, which is another one that was self-released initially, now about to be released nationally--it's due out later this month on Subway Grime Records, which does not appear to exist online at this point.