Daisy Victoria

“Animal Lover” – Daisy Victoria

I have already spoken admiringly of the young British musician Daisy Victoria both last year and the year before, but it turns out I was only getting started. Her latest single, “Animal Lover,” is flat-out brilliant, a thrill ride of vocal prowess, textural panache, and melodic zing. Releasing her inner Kate Bush, Victoria emotes with range and know-how; and yet, at the center of this smartly focused composition is something that sounds far more like rock’n’roll than most of what passes for 21st-century indie rock, thanks to the active, gut-level guitar work on the one hand, and the cathartic vigor of the chorus. It’s actually the first half of the chorus, rocking with beauty and precision, that I’m talking about specifically (first heard at 0:39), powered by Victoria’s extraordinary voice; the second half, meanwhile, extends at 0:55 into fully Bushian territory, with thumps and yelps to drive us along.

And then: listen with glee later on as the song concludes with the two halves layered on top of each other (2:58), something that arrives feeling at once unexpected and inevitable.

“Animal Lover” succeeds beyond my ability to say much more, as succinct and powerful a three-and-a-half minutes of pop music as I’ve heard this year. It’s the title track of a three-song EP, which will be released next week. You can hear a second song on SoundCloud. Personal thanks to Daisy for the MP3 and permission to post it here.

Minders

“Boiling the Ocean” – The Minders

Launching off a concise, Buddy-Holly-ish acoustic-guitar riff, “Boiling the Ocean” bottles an elusive variety of bygone rock’n’roll sounds into an artisanal blend that feels at once comfy and idiosyncratic. It’s a simple-sounding, toe-tappy song, it’s under three minutes, and yet there’s all this movement and depth about it, due to at least two elements I’ve uncovered with repeated listens.

First, the overall song structure seems normal at first (verse/chorus/verse) but bewilders (in a good way) upon closer inspection. The verses operate with two distinct and unequal parts, and after we spend time with the chorus (about more in a moment), we only revisit “part two”—part one, which opened the song, is never heard from again. The second complicating feature is the chorus itself (starting at 1:17), also in (at least) two parts, which feels like its own mini-adventure: advancing from the punchy, titular phrase and an indecipherable descending-line lyric that follows, it seems to keep receding from view, grounding itself in a notably unresolved moment (the minor chord that arrives first at 1:28 and the percussive episode that follows) before revisiting that chord (1:37) and sliding out the back door. What kind of chorus was that, exactly? No time to wonder: an assertive, repeating series of four guitar chords, with bashy drumming, provides aural slight of hand and brings us back to where we started. But not really. From here the song repeats in a truncated fashion, as we get only part two of the verse and then only part one of the chorus, with one strategic addition (the “I walk” line at 2:31) brought in from the otherwise complicated part two.

And that’s a lot of structural gobbledygook simply to say that the Minders have put together a dynamic little song here that feels both old and new, both catchy and ambiguous. And this is all a good thing.

“Boiling the Ocean” is a track that became available this spring as a download from the annual PDX Pop Now! Compilation; the song opens disc two of the 42-song offering, about which you can read more here. The album is released each year in conjunction with the PDX Pop Now! music festival, which happened last month. Note that the Minders are 20-year rock’n’roll veterans, initially springing from the renowned Elephant 6 collective. They have been based in Portland since 1998, and have a new album themselves due out next month, called Into the River. You can download a free and legal MP3 from that album, “Summer Song,” on SoundCloud.

Manwomanchild

“Change the Channel” – Manwomanchild

Longstanding and/or thorough readers of these virtual pages may have noticed that for all the details I cover in reviews, I don’t comment all that often on lyrics. There’s a simple reason: I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to the words in a song. Which may be strange, but I guess I just approach a song as sound, in which case the words too are more “sound” to me than “story.”

Every now and then, however, lyrics just start rising to the surface, without my making any effort to notice them. This is almost always a sign of a good song, and (oddly? logically?) it almost always happens with songs in which the words end up being pretty much inscrutable: i.e., I finally notice words and even so I don’t know what they mean.

Anyway: “Change the Channel” turned out to be that kind of song; as I kept listening, I began to notice the lyrics, which scoot along with a lively sort of insouciance, matching the music’s peppy, concise vibe. The sing-song-y landscape, full of descending melody lines and agile bass playing, is reminiscent to me of early Talking Heads, minus the nerdy anxiety. Manwomanchild’s master mind David Child is more 21st-century chill than new-wave angsty, but his words still push their way forward, many offering the bonus of perfect rhythmic scanning:

We are the workshop elves
The ones who went back to the scene of the crime

I’m at the end of my rope
Just like a joke that nobody wrote

I tried to make you a star, but it’s hard
And the project got the best of me

These lyrics offer the additional pleasure of monosyllabicism (to coin an awkward term): most are humble, one syllable words. This is harder to do than it looks. Completing an increasingly delightful package here are the backing vocals, which often involve same-note harmonizing but over time expand into appealingly lackadaiscal intervals, as if Child is making up his vocal chart along the way. When he breaks into what sounds for all the world like a Tom Petty imitation around 3:02, that seems even more likely.

“Change the Channel” is a song from the second Manwomanchild album, Awkward Island, which was released at the end of June. You can listen to the whole album via Bandcamp, and buy it there too, for just $5. Thanks to David for the MP3.

EPS-3-07

Let’s start as unfashionably as possible—say, a nuanced, thoughtful, beautiful Jackson Browne song from the mid-’70s. I wasn’t sure where it would all go from there but I can see that the West Coast kept reasserting itself, in various guises. In the end, a distinct if unconscious dialogue emerged between Britain and the U.S., between idealism and resignation, between joy and melancholy, all the back and forth we internalize and externalize every day, invisibly. Do I cast my fate to the wind? Do I learn to let go? Do I stay a little longer? Do I review the situation? (And how’s *that* for a cover, by the way, Oliver going all swinging London?; too bad the single got canned before release when the record company went out of business.) Underneath it all I think most of us just want to be Kate, too.


Full playlist below the widget.

“Your Bright Baby Blues” – Jackson Browne (The Pretender, 1976)
“Skeletal Blonde” – The Awkward Stage (Slimming Mirrors, Flattering Lights, 2008)
“Anchorage” – Michelle Shocked (Short Sharp Shocked, 1988)
“Big Me” – Foo Fighters (Foo Fighters, 1996)
“How Are Things in California?” – Nancy Sinatra (single, 1970)
“Shoot My Mouth Off” – Bread & Butter (Bread & Butter, 2015)
“Cast Your Fate to the Wind” – Vince Guaraldi Trio (Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus, 1962)
“Airport” – The Motors (Approved By The Motors, 1978)
“Nobody’s Empire” – Belle & Sebastian (Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, 2015)
“I Can’t Let Go” – Linda Ronstadt (Mad Love, 1980)
“Dance of the Dream Man” – Angelo Badalamenti (Music From Twin Peaks, 1990)
“Nothing Stays the Same” – Elastica (The Menace, 2000)
“Reviewing the Situation” – Jacki Bond (unreleased single, 1967)
“Kate” – Ben Folds Five (Whatever and Ever Amen, 1997)
“In Deep Water” – Dot Allison (Exaltation of Larks, 2006)
“Louder Than Words” – Pink Floyd (The Endless River, 2014)
“West Coast Blues” – Wendy Waldman (The Main Refrain, 1976)
“You’ve Got Your Troubles” – The Fortunes (single, 1965)
“Please Let Me Stay a Little Longer” – The Dirty Dozen Brass Band (Funeral for a Friend, 2004)
“Invisible” – Alison Moyet (Alf, 1984)

People and Stars

“You’re Not Alone” – People and Stars

With its ’60s-esque, shuffly optimism and good-humored horn charts, “You’re Not Alone” feels like a wondrous balm during a stupidly fractious season. And for all its bright-eyed presence, one of the best things going on here is the melancholy that simultaneously weaves through this soul-satisfying song. From the dusky catch in vocalist Amanda Tate’s voice (I hear here a lovely echo of the late great Kirsty MacColl) to the minor-key moments etched into the catchy chorus, “You’re Not Alone” comes across less as mindlessly rosy than sensibly wistful about life’s beauty in and around its unpreventable angsts.

Doesn’t the song’s very title aptly capture the underlying poignancy of our shared adventure?: it’s not “I’m With You” or “We’re in This Together” it’s “You’re Not Alone”—which cheers us even while acknowledging what may well be every thinking, feeling human being’s most primordial dread. Another sign of the song’s enjoyable thoughtfulness is the instrumental break we get at 2:22, a tamped-down, philosophical pause in the middle of an effort to otherwise rouse us a bit more head-bobbingly. I always appreciate unexpected musical turns of events like that.

People and Stars is the duo of Tate and David Klotz, the latter a former member of the LA-based band Fonda. Klotz, furthermore, has developed quite a resume as a music editor for television, with credits including Game of Thrones, American Horror Story, and Stranger Things. “You’re Not Alone” is the duo’s first release, in advance of an EP slated for later this year. MP3 via Insomnia Radio Network.