Friday, February 26, 2010

Fingertips Flashback: Emily Haines (from September 2006)

Snow won't stop the music this week. I just wish the music could stop the snow already. Here's a melancholy bit of social commentary for you, a song at once gorgeous and unsettling.

[from "This Week's Finds," Sept. 24-30, 2006]

"Doctor Blind" - Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton
Lead singer for the band Metric and one-time member of the ramshackle Broken Social Scene ensemble, Emily Haines strips things down here for a haunting, piano-based reverie with a pointed message. I'm immediately attracted to the time-signature challenges in the chorus, which lend a meaty flavor to an already tuneful piece--I think she abuts a measure of 5/4 to a measure of 7/4, but I could be wrong; it's beautifully articulated and engaging in any case, with Haines singing in a weary, not-quite-deadpan voice. Everything is draped in lamentation (listen to how the strings sound when they join those ghostly echo-noises in the background), which is perhaps as it should be when the subject turns, as it seems to here, to our society's sickening reliance on pharmaceutical products for our quote-unquote well-being. And actually I'm loving those echo-noises, whatever they are (unearthly guitars? distorted vocal samples?); they acquire a more prominent place in the background during the last minute or so, sounding like a chorus of alien ghosts trying to warn us, through a some sort of interdimensional doorway, about something we wouldn't understand anyway. "Doctor Blind" is a song from the CD Knives Don't Have Your Back, coming out this week on Last Gang Records.

ADDENDUM: Haines is still very much active at the head of Metric, a band whose Fantasies album was among my favorites in 2009.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Free and legal MP3 from David Vandervelde (catchy neo-Buckinghamian craziness)

"Learn How to Hang" - David Vandervelde
     Bright, fast, and spacious, with compelling echoes of Lindsay Buckingham. And it's not just because of the guitar licks and vocal characteristics, although that's a start. Buckingham, especially outside of Fleetwood Mac, has often had an unravelled edge about him, has played and sung in a way that suggests that standard social constraints may not apply once he's got a guitar in his hands. Likewise the Nashville-based Vandervelde, although he's a multi-instrumentalist so you really have to watch out.
     But the cool thing is that, like Buckingham before him, he seeks to funnel his borderline nuttiness into the relatively strict confines of a three-minute pop song, which creates a wonderful ongoing tension that drives the song both generally and specifically. Take the multi-tracked vocals he launches into at 0:41 to sing the lyric "You were talking shit"--there's something just kind of crazy about that from top to bottom, but it's also playful and winsome and, as a bonus, gets turned into a neat little back-door hook when he adds the next lyrical phrase "Didn't know how to tighten your lip." More broadly, notice how a song this open and flowing nevertheless stays grounded throughout in a quick, syncopated three-beat rhythm, which you can hear most prominently in the clipped chorus, where the three beats correspond to the words "learn," "how," and "hang." This tells us subtly, all along, whether you notice or not, that this thing is not going to fly apart at the seams, however much you might hear that in Vandervelde's hurtling voice.
     "Learn How to Hang" is the title track to a digital EP released last week by Secretly Canadian Records. MP3 via Secretly Canadian.

Free and legal MP3 from Red Pens (bashy, reverbed, and loud, but also musical)

"Hung Out" - Red Pens
     Things maybe haven't been loud enough around here for a while. Not that loud is an automatically positive value; lord no. But done with the right spirit, and with a concurrent sense of musicality, loud can be fun. Bashy and reverb-laced, "Hung Out" is definitely fun, and it's definitely loud, or definitely should be. That's up to you and your volume dial of course, but if you don't turn this one up pretty high, it's not going to sound right. (No, even louder than that. Go on, I'll wait.) Listen to this too softly and you'll just get thin, tinny, clangy, and indistinct instead of rich, resonant, three-dimensional, and mind-opening. Or at least sinus-clearing. And you'll definitely miss the nuances of Howard W. Hamilton III's crazy guitar solos.
     I mean, check this out at 2:22: the solo's already underway and now he introduces a motif featuring notes that are rapidly attacked but taken together sketch out a slower melody, a melody that, at high volume, rings out with unexpected melodicism, and then wow to how it crunches at 2:25 into an outlandish mondo-chord that has no business being there except that now it is. Somewhere within is the chord that the ear was expecting, and as it turns out the other chords that are packaged around it make the elusive "right" chord all the more persuasive.
     Red Pens, based in Minneapolis, are Hamilton on guitar and lead vocals and Laura F. Bennett on drums and backing vocals. "Hung Out" is the lead track from Reasons, their full-length debut, which was self-released in June '09 and then re-released by Grain Belt Records in the fall. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head's up.

Free and legal MP3 from Electric President (electronic/acoustic combo, crafted w/ precision and warmth)

"Safe and Sound" - Electric President
     Here we have another duo, but that's about all "Safe and Sound" has in common with "Hung Out." Instead of sculpted noise and a simple verse-chorus-verse structure we here get a carefully conceived instrumental palette, a sweet-voiced singer, and a three-sectioned song linked by a chorus we hear only twice. This song sounds at once very relaxed and very precise, which is an engaging combination; every sound carries the weight of purpose, from the reverberant tom-tom of the intro to the acoustic rhythm guitar that is given a quiet 10 seconds of playing by itself in the middle of the song, to the gentle, clap-driven gospel swing that drives the song but below the level of conscious awareness until the keyboard joins it halfway through. While electronica is at the root of the band's approach, this song replaces overt glitchiness with something that seems very much like organic warmth and is no worse for the wear.
     Jacksonville is home base for Ben Cooper and Alex Kane, who have been doing business as Electric President since 2003. (Their first album, released in 2006, was called S/T: "Self-Titled.") They do most of what they do jointly and electronically, while Ben is the aforementioned sweet-voiced singer. Their third full-length, The Violent Blue, was released this week on the small New Haven, Conn.-based label Fake Four Inc.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fingertips Flashback: Low (from February 2005)

Last week's Flashback was apparently snowed out, but it's back this week with an uncharacteristically rousing song from the veteran "slowcore" band Low.

[from "This Week's Finds," February 20-26, 2005]

"California" - Low
How much to keep sounding the same and how much to evolve and explore is a question that faces all bands that manage to stay together for more than a few years. Remain too much the same and risk staleness ("There's a fine line between a groove and rut," as Christine Lavin once sang); change too much and risk alienating fans who like how you sound already, thank you very much. And in the indie rock world, any change that smacks of "accessibility" is treated with the harshest of scorn, for reasons I have never quite figured out. In any case, here's Low, a band from northern Minnesota that cultivated a devoted following through the '90s while giving new depth of meaning to the word "slow" in the so-called "slowcore" genre. And here's a song from their latest CD, The Great Destroyer (Subpop Records) that moves with a nice crunchy, toe-tappy bounce. This is not the first upbeat song the band has recorded by any means, but so far they remain indelibly associated with their brooding, slow-burning material. Me, I'm enjoying the grit and intensity a band that knows slow brings to a peppier number. On the one hand, I love the big, fat, but still ambiguous chords that open the song, and drive its center; but on the other hand, check this out: right at the moment in the song where songs that have these kind of big, fat chords will break into a bashing, cathartic instrumental break (at around 2:00 here), Low, slyly, retreats into quiet--instead of big bashes we get a slow, ringing guitar and gentle harmonies, which simmer slowly together before delivering a final almost-bash. Pretty cool. The MP3 is available on the Subpop web site; the CD was released in January.

ADDENDUM: "To this day, Low continues to create and record interesting and unique music," says the band's web site. The trio has not, however, put out an album since 2007. In fact, two of the three members--vocalist/guitarist Alan Sparhawk and bassist Steve Garrington--are currently doing business as another trio, Retribution Gospel Choir. That band's second album just came out in January.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Revenge of the casual fans (or, how to stop worrying and learn to love Sade)

I'm not picking up on a lot of online, future-of-music chatter about how the reclusive Nigerian singer Sade and her band (also called Sade) managed to sell quite so many albums in a week while ignoring pretty much every piece of conventional wisdom about the way the "new" music industry is supposed to be navigated.

The silence is kind of deafening, actually.

But there are the facts: without any effort to engage social media, without any kind of 24/7 pop cultural presence, Sade released a new album, Soldier of Love, her first in 10 years, and it sold 502,000 copies in its first week. The band's last album, Lovers Rock, sold 370,000 copies in its first week in 2000. The fact that album sales in general have declined 50 percent since then makes Sade's feat all the more striking.

At a time when music futurists are insisting that success involves engaging true fans, Sade has come along with an army of casual fans and has reaffirmed, at least for a passing moment, the power and possibility of large-scale appeal.

Now then, there are no doubt those who think her success has nothing to teach anyone who isn't already successful and famous. And there are likewise those who would assure us that musicians of the future have no interest in or need for selling a half million copies of their albums--who would tell us, in fact, that there aren't going to be any albums to sell.

And there are those who will in any case write this off as an aberration, an eleventh-hour blip in the death spiral of a moribund industry.

But even if Sade's success has nothing to do with the future (and I'm not at all convinced of that), it has a lot to do with the present, and theoretically has something to teach us.

Look, we have gotten amazingly good here online at ignoring outside, objective facts that don't align with our inside, subjective view of reality. This is a harmful tendency in general, and blatantly shortsighted when considering the future, which--news flash--none of us can predict, in the slightest, especially when it comes to either social behavior or technology.

So for just one moment, let's put aside speculative pronouncements about where music is "going." Let's acknowledge that Sade has a distinctive and appealing sound, and that a surprisingly large number of people are eager to hear this music when she and her band are ready to record and release something. These are people who don't need to know what's on her mind 24 hours a day, who don't need to interact with her, remix her, or do anything else but enjoy her music when she chooses to put it out. And these are people who are quite willing to pay actual money for an actual album.

I am tired of the hive mind ruling the day on what the future of music is supposed to look like. I am tired of people who are hypnotized by the fantasy that there's something in the bits we manipulate and the screens we stare at that has suddenly changed human nature in a deep and lasting way. I am tired of people who look at their immediate cohort ("Hey! We all love remixing!" "Hey! We all hate to pay any money for music!") and presume momentous, irreversible sociological trends.

Maybe these crazed, black-and-white pronouncements that tend to proliferate on the web are an inevitable consequence of our collective digital underpinning (every bit is 0 or a 1 after all, a yes or a no). But, in truth, all the online articles and blog posts that begin with all-or-nothing provocations ("Is Indie Dead?" "Music Must Be Free!" etc.) cannot be supported by the diversity of real life itself.

How nice it would be if we could give that all a rest for a while. I would, in fact, suggest putting some Sade on your music player of choice. She can surely teach the world a thing or two about just chilling out.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Free and legal MP3 from Gold Motel (new Chicago band with a '60s flair)

"Don't Send the Searchlights" - Gold Motel
     With a clipped, fleet Motown beat, an expansive girl-group-style sing-along chorus, and an oh-so-classic length of two minutes fifty seconds, "Don't Send the Searchlights" has one eye quite obviously on our musical past. But at the same time there's something lovely and casual going on that allows the music to transcend its influences; Greta Morgan, the band's singer, songwriter, and keyboard player, has the sound of someone just kind of happening upon this song rather than sweating the historical details, and "Don't Send the Searchlights" jumps and swings accordingly.
     I think a good part of the song's flair arises from the melodic intervals Morgan builds into both the verse and the chorus. You can hear an example when she sings "before we hit the dawn" at 0:18--from the "we" she jumps down a fifth to "hit" and then back up a fifth to "dawn." This larger-than-normal interval creates a sense of movement and freedom, and in so doing reflects the lyrics, which on the surface extol the benefits of breaking off a relationship so it won't turn sour ("Always leave before tomorrow comes/All the greatest loves are the unfinished ones"). But don't believe everything she says. There's something wistful playing at the edges of the song's breeziness, and once again a melodic interval comes into play: the leaps she takes while singing both "goodbye" and "good guy" turn on the half-step difference between the first and second "good," which turns the chord from major to minor. She may not be as happy as she'd like to believe she is. And the chorus ends musically unresolved--not typically a sign that all is well.
     Formerly of the Hush Sounds (2005-2008), Morgan assembled the five-piece Gold Motel in 2009. "Don't Send the Searchlights" is one of five songs on the band's self-released, self-titled debut EP, which came out in December. Expect a full length in June. MP3 via the band's site.

Free and legal MP3 from Cats On Fire (Finnish Smiths worshippers make nice new song)

"The Borders of This Land" - Cats On Fire
     Maybe you wouldn't expect a band from Finland to sound quite so much like the Smiths, but such is musical life in this mashed-up century of ours. And yes I mean really a lot like them: check out the urgent yet lilting minor-key suspended chord strumming; check out the meandering, melancholy melody, and the way it feels as if we're somehow joining it already in progress; check out (as if you could miss it) the Morrisseyan croon of singer Mattias Björkas. Turns out it is sometimes a very fine line indeed between transcending and re-transmitting one's influences.
     But the song charms me. I keep listening, I keep saying, "Okay, maybe too much," and yet sure enough, by the time Björkas gets to that part about being lowered into the ground (0:48), the song--ironically enough--comes alive. In my book, sounding like someone else, even a lot, doesn't prevent you from writing a good song. And if you've written a good song, then look at that: you've transcended your influences. (For the record, there's a healthy dollop of Belle & Sebastian in here too.) I particularly like the changes that unfold through the chorus: how it starts as an extension of the verse but takes first a melodic twist (at "your friends will set up..."; 0:56), and then both a rhythmic and tempo shift ("supporting all the boys..."; 1:02), which is not only not particularly Smiths-like but is in fact nicely unusual. And then the chorus kind of lingers on beyond its natural ending point, which makes the return to the lilting, brisker, strummy section especially effective.
     "The Borders of This Land" is the second "side" of an MP3 single the band released on the Swedish label Cosy Recordings in December. (Note that the song is labeled a "live demo" but doesn't to my ears sound notably demo-ier than the A-side.) I found out about the band via a recent Contrast Podcast with the theme of "Borders"--specifically thanks to JC, who runs the Vinyl Villain blog. MP3 via Cosy Recordings.

Free and legal MP3 from Moneybrother ("Radio Clash" meets Northern Soul)

"Born Under a Bad Sign" - Moneybrother
     With his Joe Strummer voice, abiding love for Northern Soul, and greased Christopher Walken hair, Anders Wendin is a big-time pop star in his native Sweden, dating back to Moneybrother's Swedish Grammy-winning debut album, 2003's Blood Panic. If the upcoming, first-ever Moneybrother U.S. release fails to accord him similar status here (I'm not holding my breath), it's not for lack of agreeable material. Take "Born Under a Bad Sign"--not a cover of the old Albert King song, but a rousing club-floor body-shaker that adds a compressed, 21st-century edge to the feeling of some of the Clash's dancier numbers. I find it easy to love tightly-crafted songs that manage to maintain a ramshackle vibe, and this is surely one of those, as Wendin's rough-edged voice and his nearly shouted, gang-style backing chorus belie the song's nimble beat and crisp guitar licks.
      After five successful releases--and a new line of eco-friendly Moneybrother tomato soup (?)--Moneybrother will see album number five, Real Control, come out here on Bladen County Press Records in April. MP3 via Bladen County Press.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Free and legal MP3 from Anaïs Mitchell (memorably sung, sadly swinging ballad)

"Flowers (Eurydice's Song)" - Anaïs Mitchell
     Slow down and breathe with this one--it's a burner and a keeper. And don't be worried that the song is part of a so-called "folk opera" that reworks the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in Depression-era America. In fact, I probably shouldn't even have mentioned that. Forget I said anything.
     Instead, just listen: to Mitchell's indelible voice--part pixie, part pop star--and her incandescent phrasing; to the unhurried viola which accompanies her so balefully (note to self: the viola is one underutilized instrument) and turns the song on one unexpected note (1:47); to the ache and pain that exists around this piece but never, completely, in it. In much the same way, the song unfolds with its simultaneously steady and hesitant gait and never quite coalesces into any solid verse or chorus structure. The mighty myth that underpins the music provides all the structure we need, and Mitchell's lyrics, in service to it, can be stunning in their understatement. Here's how Eurydice recalls what may have been her last living moment: "Walking in the sun, I remember someone/Someone by my side turned his face to mine/And then I turned away, into the shade." By and large she uses short, concrete words and trusts her splendid voice to add layers of meaning. Listen, for one example, to how she sings the simple word "now" at 1:09. I don't think you can teach that.
     Hadestown is the name of the theatrical work that the Vermont-based Mitchell wrote in collaboration with composer Michael Chorney. It premiered in Vermont in December 2006, and went out on a partially fan-supported tour of New England in 2007. The recording, for Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe Records, features a variety of prominent indie music voices--including Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Petra Haden, and Ben Knox Miller (the Low Anthem)--along with grizzled folkie Greg Brown and Ms. DiFranco herself. The album, well worth checking out, will be released next month.

Free and legal MP3 from MiniBoone (energetic neo-new wave, w/ harmonies)

"Devil In Your Eyes" - MiniBoone
     Energetic, crisply executed fun, filled with rhythmic dissonance, echoes of 1978-ish American new wave music, and large-scale harmonies falling somewhere on a line connecting Queen to Sparks (but not, to my ear, Animal Collective, as per some of the band's press). And hey I really like how effectively this shifts the mood from Hadestown's heavy-hearted tragedy even as it delivers a synchronistic lyrical alignment (which believe it or not I didn't notice until I'd already laid this week's songs out in order).
     I especially love the guitars here. From beginning to end they play prickly, often rapid-fire chords that seem never to align quite with the melody either sonically or rhythmically. Listen, for instance, to the choked-neck sound you hear at the beginning, just past the organ opening: the engaging noise made by a guitar used more percussively than tonally. None of the actual notes that emerge jibe with what the song theoretically would want harmonically but the kinetic insistence of it becomes its own logic. The sound continues into the verse but note how the guitar steadily comes to life, the choked hammering giving way, around 40 seconds in or so, to fuller-fledged chord slashes that any music writer worth his or her salt would be tempted to call "angular" except maybe for how lively an atmosphere the band is churning up at this point. Typically, angular guitars are heard in a less flamboyant setting. One more example of creative guitar work comes in the chorus, when the layered harmonies take over center stage, pushing the guitar into making odd little offbeat exclamation points.
     MiniBoone is a five-piece from New York City. "Devil In Your Eyes" is a song off the band's new EP, Big Changes, which was released at the end of January on Drug Front Records. MP3 via the band's web site.

Free and legal MP3 from Midlake (gorgeous, well-crafted British folk revival sound)

"Acts of Man" - Midlake
     Last heard in a Fleetwood Mac-ish soft rock mode (2007's The Trials of Van Occupanther), the boys from Denton, Texas have reemerged with a renewed hankering for a more traditional-sounding British rock. But rather than the semi-psychedelic early Pink Floyd and Procol Harum-esque pageantry on display through much of Bamnan and Slivercork, their 2004 debut, the quintet takes it back a notch further to a '60s British folk scene sound--think Steeleye Span, think Fairport Convention, think gentle, chivalrous melodies and general melancholy woebegone-edness.
     But me, I'm eating it up because the stuff is marvelously crafted, ravishingly performed, and drop-dead gorgeous. What a vibe the band has here! Tim Smith's medievally baritone is just the start of it. From the golden-toned acoustic guitar to the almost regal rumble of the drums to the deep and delicate flute lines and the potent minor-key melody that holds it all together, "Acts of Man" presents an aural landscape that all but makes me cry, for reasons beyond explanation. This is music working--as classical music is so often supposed to--at the level of pure emotion.
     Apparently not everyone gets it. In addition to a number of supportive reviews, the new album, The Courage of Others, has gotten some notable pans, including a tone-deaf dismissal in Pitchfork. Normally I get a bit worked up over that kind of thing but this time it just occurs to me to feel badly for anyone whose head and ears can't let them hear the beauty and worth of this album. Released last week on Bella Union, it's only going to get better over time. MP3 via Insound.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Fingertips Flashback: Tessitura (from Dec. 2005)

This week we flash back to December 2005, and a solo effort from a member of Cincinnati's fine, ongoing ensemble, the Spectacular Fantastic. A lovely song, worth hearing again, or for the first time.

[from "This Week's Finds," December 11-17]

"Nervous" - Tessitura
Jonathan Williams sings in a warm, buzzy voice, rendered warmer and buzzier by his fetching tendency to sing in octave harmonies with himself. He further accompanies himself with clean, patient acoustic guitar licks; there's something of Pink Floyd's stately acoustic side in the air here, particularly when Williams spins out a line with such a haunting convergence of melody and lyric as this one: "Even in a dream/Things could seem far too real." There, I think, we arrive at the song's center of gravity, its point of pure allurement--it's not just the nice chord he reaches on the word dream, it's the way the word "dream" stretches out almost unaccountably, with a mysterious, standing-still sort of rising and falling. This is a real song, not just a guy with a nice voice strumming a nice guitar. (Not enough people these days seem to be able to differentiate between beautiful-sounding and actually beautiful, says me, and there we are yet again back at Ives' great distinction between manner and substance, but I'll steer clear of that particular soapbox for now.) Tessitura is a side project for Williams, who is otherwise a member of the fine, endearingly-named Cincinnati-based ensemble The Spectacular Fantastic. "Nervous" is a song on a new free-to-download split single featuring both bands; it can also be found on Tessitura's recently released free-to-download full-length CD, On the Importance of Being Confused.

ADDENDUM: Seemingly impossible to find out any new information on Williams. Tessitura appears to have been a one-off effort. But I still love this song, should've been much more widely heard. Fortunately, it's not too late.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Free and legal MP3 from the Morning Benders (musically astute pop with crunch and charm)

"Promises" - The Morning Benders
     Chunky, loping, and unaccountably engaging new song from a long-time Fingertips favorite. But never fear, I will try to account for it. First, note how the octave harmonies (I always love octave harmonies as you may know by now) set up the first kind-of-hook, which is at 0:25, when the melody shifts from something low and slinky to something higher and more forceful. The melodic shift hooks the attention precisely because of the octave harmonies: the first half of the melody naturally focuses your ear on the lower harmony voice but when the higher-register section starts the ear now latches onto the higher voice. So it's like we hear a more pronounced displacement than is actually happening. It may not be a hook per se but it's subtly compelling. You want to keep listening.
     Next point on the tour: that crunchy, unresolved chord that both ends one verse and starts the next (0:31). And then, notice that as the second verse unfolds, it doesn't play out like verse one, and now for the first time we get phrases that stand out both musically and lyrically. The first is when Chris Chu sings "They say it's only natural," and then, even better: the linchpin point to which the song has been building (0:58), at the lyric, "I can't help thinking we grew up too fast." Things deconstruct a bit after that, with shifting time signatures and accumulating noise. And round about now I'm noticing how thick with musical detail this song actually is--there are engaging guitar licks, hidden keyboard flourishes, unexpected percussive accents, stray sounds, and an ongoing parade of nifty chord changes. These guys know what they're doing.
     The Morning Benders, a quartet from Berkeley, are no strangers here, having been featured twice previously--in June '08 and, for the sublime "Grain of Salt," in December '06. "Promises" is from the Big Echo, the band's second full-length, and first for Rough Trade Records, due out next month. MP3 via the Beggars Group, of which Rough Trade is a part.

Free and legal MP3 from Lali Puna (lustrous electro-pop from veteran German band)

"Remember" - Lali Puna
     Lustrous electro-pop from the veteran German quartet Lali Puna, but the first new song heard from them since 2004. Centered on a recurring sound that has the aspect of a wordless question, the introductory beat is oddly poignant-sounding, and nicely launches this smartly orchestrated mix of rubbery aluminum synth lines and understated percussion. Everything's electronic but not too blippy or scratchy; there's instead something palpably formed about the sound, something that gives this the feel of musicians actually playing instruments rather than twiddling knobs. There are even sounds mixed in--am I making this up? I don't think so--that resemble the sound of fingers changing chords on guitar strings.
     Meanwhile, Valerie Trebeljahr's wistful vocals find their whispery place in the hypnotic mix, neither too forward nor too restrained; and listen too to the shadow of male harmony accompaniment all the way through, most clearly heard on the recurrent refrain, "Will you remember me?" Oh and don't miss what happens at 1:29 when for seven seconds or so the smooth electro stylings are stripped away and we're left with a most idiosyncratic aural skeleton, as if beneath the limpid facade is a deviant alien core.
     "Remember" will be found on Our Inventions, Lali Puna's fourth album, scheduled for an April release on Berlin-based Morr Music. MP3 via Morr Music.

Free and legal MP3 from Aidan Knight (effortlessly strong, country-tinged sing-along)

"Jasper" - Aidan Knight
     When a song comes along as effortlessly gladdening as "Jasper" I actually get a little suspicious. "That's it?" I think. "It's that easy to write a really good song? A sing-along even? Anybody could do that!"
     But of course as it turns out anybody can't. Otherwise we'd have a lot more of this around, which we clearly do not. There's something ramrod solid about this song, even as it glides so easily through its three and a half minutes. Perched squarely on the shoulders of Aidan Knight's comfortable, boy-next-door baritone, "Jasper," for all its laid-back, singer/songwriter-y vibe, shines with the melodic assurance of an old Elton John song. (This is, to be clear, a compliment, and anyone who doesn't realize that would do well to go revisit some of the songs Sir Reg recorded between 1970 and 1974.) The song sounds channeled more than written, and everything about its presentation--from the delightfully restrained steel-guitar licks to the climactic group-sung chorus--rings true and right, as if no one had to decide any of this, as if it sprung to life of its will alone.
     Knight is from the lovely city of Victoria, B.C.; "Jasper" is from Versicolour, his first album, which is due out early next month. It is also the first release for the record label Adventure Boys Club, a label started by Knight along with Tyler Bancroft, of the Vancouver band Said the Whale.

Monday, February 01, 2010

February Q&A: Ben Walpole of the Minor Leagues

The latest--and somewhat overdue--installment of the Fingertips Q&A is now online at the main Fingertips site. This month, Ben Walpole of the Minor Leagues take a crack at the five quick questions. And even so I fear I tuckered him out before the end.