The Pharmacy

“Masten Lake Lagoon” – The Pharmacy

While rock’n’roll has been dying as a cultural force since the turn of the millennium, the 2010s seem truly to be delivering the death blow. The sound of the music that the young and the trendy want to be listening to seems to have little to do with the sound of rock’n’roll (admittedly an amorphous and multifaceted concept by now anyway) and a whole lot more to do with the interrelated sounds of EDM and indie pop. And I’m not saying this as a judgment, I am merely reporting. If you want a clear sign, look no further than the venerable and ongoingly trend-savvy blog Gorilla vs. Bear, which was founded in the early ’00s as a bastion of indie rock, and has adroitly morphed into something rather different.

That said, however dead as a mainstream phenomenon, rock’n’roll is not finished as an artistic pursuit. There are always going to be those who want and need more organic sounds and performances than today’s EDM-fixated indie pop is interested in providing, and, thankfully, still bands out there stubborn enough to furnish it. Like the Seattle trio The Pharmacy, whose career has pretty much spanned rock’n’roll’s death-knell phase, as the threesome sprang to life in 2002 and, in August, will be releasing their fifth album, entitled Spells. “Masten Lake Lagoon,” an initial single from the album, is not only unapologetic rock’n’roll, it is unapologetically melodic and well-crafted. Which may not be our culture’s current sweet spot but is always mine. Buoyed by scratchy guitars, grounded by a deep and supple bass line, and highlighted by a brisk sing-along chorus, “Masten Lake Lagoon” also has the gumption to veer into an extended, multi-sectioned instrumental, which takes us from 1:20 all the way to 3:01, growing more riveting by the moment; the squall of guitars that closes it out all but brings me to my feet even as I just sit at my desk writing this.

Long live rock’n’roll, 21st-century style.

(The Pharmacy were previously featured on Fingertips in February 2012.)

Jeni Valtinson

“Silver Linings” – Jeni Valtinson

A first-rate diamond in the rough, “Silver Linings” has a just-born aspect about it that speaks of young talent announcing itself to the world. And, to be sure, Jeni Valtinson is all of 19 and barely emerging from the covering-pop-songs-on-YouTube phase of her musical education. But my intuition tells me there may be a gifted singer and songwriter in the process of maturing here. I receive a lot of submissions from young and unformed musicians and a lot of this music, however well-intentioned, is pretty much unlistenable. “Silver Linings,” on the contrary, is a splendid song, ably assembled and arranged, and for what the production may lack in all-out sophistication it makes up for through the simple power of the song’s sturdy construction, and in particular its memorable chorus, which presents us with an earworm of the highest quality. I have lately been singing this to myself at all hours of the day. Lovely, potent stuff.

I am also charmed by Valtinson’s vocal performance, which manages to be at once slightly uneven and thoroughly poised. The rounded, breathy quality of her voice sounds at one level slightly green and yet also moves me with moments of casual depth.

Valtinson is from Orlando. “Silver Linings” is the title track to her debut, a three-song EP, which she self-released in April. It’s available to listen to and purchase at Bandcamp. She tells me she wrote all of the songs when she was 14, and that the EP took four years from start to finish. She is listed as co-producer, which gave her decision-making power throughout. If Jeni Valtinson sticks with it, “Silver Linings” could one day pale in comparison to the rest of her work.



photo credit: Reg Garner

DoublePlusGood

“Sometimes” – DoublePlusGood

The Portland duo DoublePlusGood (three guys in the photo, yes, I don’t know why) traffic in almost heart-breakingly straightforward and melodic synth pop. The new wave era pop rock that inspires them was typically fabricated with glistening studio sheen back in the day; that a song like “Sometimes” pushes forward with an almost homely plainness adds to its appeal in an odd and refreshing way.

And note that while couched in a lo-fi feel, “Sometimes” does not confuse lo-fi with mere muddiness. On the contrary, one of the song’s many charms is the aural accessibility of all of its sounds—there’s nothing going on that can’t be singled out and understood by the ear, which is actually an unusual accomplishment in an age when it is far too easy to layer and overlap till the cows come home. And bonus points here for the late-arriving bridge (singing begins at 2:48), with its darker, lower-register melody, and its eventual and artful meshing with the friendly and by now inevitable-sounding chorus.

“Sometimes” is a track from the the PDX Pop Now! Annual Compilation, which was released in June, in advance of the PDX Pop Now! music festival, scheduled for this weekend in Portland. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.

The Rosebuds

“In My Teeth” – The Rosebuds

The veteran Raleigh, NC duo of Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp have long had a gift for brisk, minor-key compositions—attentively crafted songs with a subtle insistence to them, songs that expand and deepen with repeated listens.

True to past Rosebuds form, “In My Teeth” feels at once relaxed and meticulous, a song full of moments that read as simultaneously casual and exquisitely wrought. Everything from the placement of guitar riffs to the use of harmonies (here but not here) speaks to effortless know-how. To my ears, even the way the titular phrase scans—with accents on both “my” and “teeth”—abounds with implication.

“In My Teeth” is from the forthcoming album Sand + Silence, the band’s sixth. The album was recorded at Justin Vernon’s April Base Studio, in Wisconsin, and was recorded live. It is also something of a reunion project for Howard and Crisp, who had spent the previous two years working on solo projects. Formed back in 2001, the Rosebuds were featured previously on Fingertips in 2008 and 2010. Sand + Silence arrives next month on Western Vinyl.

Elskling

“900 Hands” – Elskling

“900 Hands” traffics in the best kind of nostalgia: elusive, sweetly sad, and oddly inspiring. Sounds from the ’60s float through the song without sidetracking it; I’m hearing something timeless going on here too. Don’t miss both the opening and closing moments, which serve further to wrap this lovely, backward-glancing song in the 21st-century present.

I especially like the authoritative balance achieved throughout between reverb and clarity, which doesn’t call extra attention to itself but is highly unusual. The reverb dial is a siren song that lures more than a few musicians into the deadly rocks of stale muddiness. (They’re muddy, but they’re rocks, and they’re stale. Don’t ask. I just needed a metaphor.) With “900 Hands,” we get the warm, inviting feeling of reverb without the gummy aftertaste. (Is that better, metaphorically speaking?) The vocals, in particular, are simultaneously shaded with echo and crystal clear, somehow. Center this all around a chorus that posits a gorgeous, melancholy melody over a bustling bottom end and I’m all in. Oh, and that chord that unresolves the chorus right before it resolves, minor-key-ishly? That one you first hear at 0:44? It’s completely straightforward, and I would listen to that for days on end.

Elskling (“darling” in Norwegian, if the internet is to be trusted) is a musical project launched by Norwegian-born, San Franciso-based Marte Solbakken—with, as it turns out, a number of interesting Fingertips-related connections. Solbakken wrote the first Elskling songs while holed up in her boyfriend’s NYC apartment during the unpleasant winter of 2011. Her boyfriend, it turns out, is Van Pierszalowski, of Waters (Fingertips, June 2011) and Port O’Brien (August 2009). Meanwhile, this debut Elskling song was recorded by Jason Quever, of Papercuts (April 2011, May 2014) and mixed by Chris Chu, whose band Pop Etc used to be called the Morning Benders and were featured here three different times back in the day. So it turns out Solbakken not only knows how to write a great song, she knows who to hang out with—a not to be underestimated skill of its own.