There’s a meandering quality to some of these songs. Some may make you smile. Smiling is good. Of the 20 artists represented, 16 had yet to be featured on a playlist here. And we made it back to the ’50s for the first time in a while. Also good. Less good: Samsa the band seems no longer to exist, but “Throw My Weight” remains one of the early great finds on Fingertips, back from the retrospectively innocent mid-aughts. Then there are all those amazing soul numbers, still aching to be discovered, some so elusive there is no telling when they were actually recorded. (“I’ll Never Stop Loving You” may not have been released in 1967, but it sounds like it.) “The Wild Places” is as evocative a song from my young adulthood as I can call to mind. I did not visit many wild places at the time, and received no consolation prize. Life goes on, with or without revolutions. We are led on, we are let go of. Are you with me now? You’re a bit early, but I know how you feel.


Full playlist below the widget.

“Throw My Weight” – Samsa (First, The Lights EP 2005)
“I’ll Never Stop Loving You” – Carla Thomas (single, 1967?)
“Lights Are Changing” – Mary Lou Lord (Got No Shadow, 1998)
“Don’t Dictate” – Penetration (single, 1977)
“Driving Through” – Jennifer O’Connor (The Color and the Light, 2005)
“She Took Off My Romeos” – David Lindley (El Rayo-X, 1981)
“Where’s the Revolution” – Depeche Mode (Spirit, 2017)
“Etude No. 2” – Philip Glass (Etudes For Piano, Vol. 1, 2003)
“I Only Have Eyes For You” – The Flamingos (single, 1959)
“The Wild Places” – Duncan Browne (The Wild Places, 1978)
“Est-Ce Que Tu” – Dusty Trails (Dusty Trails, 2000)
“I”ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” – The Byrds (Mr. Tambourine Man, 1965)
“Consolation Prize” – The Ocean Blue (Davy Jones’ Locker, 1999)
“Pendulum” – FKA twigs (LP1, 2014)
“Let Me Go” – Heaven 17 (The Luxury Gap, 1983)
“Powerhouse” – Don Byron (Bug Music, 1996)
“Lead Me On” – Gwen McCrae (single, 1970)
“Are You With Me Now?” – Cate Le Bon (Mug Museum, 2011)
“Cigarette of a Single Man” – Squeeze (Babylon and On, 1987)
“At The Beginning Of Time” – Jane Siberry (When I Was a Boy, 1993)

Kacey Johansing

“Bow and Arrow” – Kacey Johansing

“Bow and Arrow” has a melancholy majesty about it, formed of straightforward acoustic guitar strumming, a calm but resolute backbeat, and the dusky beauty of Kacey Johansing’s voice. This is the kind of music that grabs me at some level below or beyond the ear. I’m a sucker, to be sure, for suspended chords, and am pulled in effortlessly, as well, by lyrics that do this, even as I’m not sure exactly what “this” is:

I held the bow and arrow
Unsteady was my shot

These words arrive near the beginning; a scene is suggested without clarifying details—the titular bow and arrow could be pure metaphor, or could have a literal side; whatever story Johansing tells is sketched so elusively that we read the live-and-learn sorrow without apprehending a storyline. As the plot is probably thickening, in fact, Johansing backs away from enunciation, floating the second verse into smudges of suggestions; released from particulars, the listener tunes further into the emotion of the climactic lines (which I hope I’ve gleaned accurately):

I wanted to feel
Anything at all
I wanted to know
How far I could fall

So it turns out that songs are only partly fathomable as concrete notes and words on paper. Arrangement, vibe, and quality of singing voice can transform and transport. Meaning: it’s not always what someone is saying but how they are saying it—which then feeds back (crucially, alchemically) into what they are saying. That’s the magic of song, pretty much. Kacey Johansing (previously featured on Fingertips in 2013, by the way) has a firm grip on this magic.

Johansing is currently based in Los Angeles, after a decade in the Bay Area. “Bow and Arrow” is a song from her third album, The Hiding, which comes out in June on Night Bloom Records. MP3 via Insomnia Radio, a stalwart source of downloads in this wayward, stream-focused age.

The Afghan Whigs

“Demon In Profile” – The Afghan Whigs

Boy, is there something to be said for veteran musicians who still feel the urge to create. “Demon In Profile” is as enticing a slice of stylish, urgent rock’n’roll as I’ve heard in a good while, and is unimaginable as the product of anyone who hasn’t been at this game a good long time. Actually it’s unimaginable as the product of anyone who isn’t the Afghan Whigs, a band that in its day created one of the more singular catalogs of music in the popular and semi-popular realm.

The Cincinnati-based band did have a bit of an alternative-rock cultural moment in the early ’90s, moving up from Sub Pop Records to a major-label deal with Elektra, and then in 1993 releasing the widely acclaimed album Gentlemen. The Whigs always had a distinctive if somewhat elusive sound, funneling a grunge-y crunch into a musical landscape that tipped its hat to something soulful and unrestrained. Front man Greg Dulli combined a dramatic baritone with larger-than-life bravado, all excess and attitude. Never, however, quite hitting the mainstream, they did what they did until 2001, with one personnel change along the way, at which point they broke up, amicably. Ten years later, they were back, and in 2014 released their first album since 1998. They appear to mean business in their 21st-century incarnation, which includes only Dulli and bassist John Curley from the original lineup.

“Demon In Profile” slips in with a welcoming piano refrain that harkens back to AOR radio days (Al Stewart? Journey? something), then morphs assuredly into a midtempo rocker that’s equal parts swing and menace. Horns mix with electric guitars in a very satisfying way, undergirding melodies that feel inevitable and haunting; every section of this impressively concise song feels all but perfectly conceived. Dulli, meanwhile, sounds as in command as ever, and early on delivers the especially suggestive line “It was all that I wanted/Now it’s killing me.” If an all-out rock’n’roll dude like Dulli can stomp his way through middle age without keeling over I imagine he’ll continue to have some pretty interesting things to say.

“Demon In Profile” is the third of 10 songs on the new Afghan Whigs album In Spades, which was released earlier this month. The band is back on Sub Pop Records after all these years. You can listen to and purchase the album (available in vinyl as well) via Bandcamp. MP3 via KEXP.

Waxahatchee

“Silver” – Waxahatchee

Not that you have to be middle-aged to put out accomplished music, by the way (see previous review). Katie Crutchfield, 28, has, up till now, recorded three albums’ worth of smart, lo-fi rock’n’roll as Waxahatchee. (And this overlooks the many independent recordings she made—both solo and with bands—dating back to age 14, often with her twin sister Allison.) You sometimes have to slow down to appreciate her penchant for introspective, drum-free electric guitar pieces. But she’ll take it up a notch or two also, and in “Silver” we get Waxahatchee at its drummiest and catchiest.

A relatively simple tune, with a verse that employs but three notes, “Silver” reverberates with understated power. Some of this comes from the relentless fuzz of the guitar, some from the simple sound of a human being at a drum kit, some from the ineffable purity of Crutchfield’s unaffected voice. Also, I am getting a particular thrill out of lyrics that manage both to puzzle and to flow, as the striking preponderance of one-syllable words lends a comfortable solidity to a song that does not reveal much direct meaning. Because of the unorthodox title choice, I can’t help hearing the line “My skin all turns silver” with extra attention, but then what? Lacking comprehensible narrative message, the phrase highlights mystery on the one hand, while feeling precise and gratifying on the other—the colloquial construction of skin “all turning [x]” is lovely in the way a candid photo can be lovely: capturing something familiar and yet never quite recorded before.

Katie Crutchfield was born in Alabama—which explains, at least peripherally, Waxahatchee—but has been based (sometimes loosely) in Philadelphia since the early 2010s. “Silver” is a track from the fourth Waxahatchee album, Out in the Storm, which is coming in July on Merge Records. MP3 available, again, via the fine folks at KEXP.

Minka

“Josephine” – Minka

Electronic dance music will come and go (might we be ready for the “go” part just about now?), but vigorous, jump-around-the-dance-floor music will always exist. And the beauty is that, compared to the fundamental stylistic monotony of EDM, there are in fact a lot of ways to make dance music, a lot of styles one might employ. I myself am partial to a sound pioneered in the late ’70s by the likes of Talking Heads and David Bowie, a kind of angular white-guy funk I could, as a white guy, relate to. I especially loved this odd type of dance music’s emphasis on the electric guitar; I’m a particular sucker for that squonky metallic tone you hear at its most compelling on an album like Scary Monsters.

Some of that is going on here with the Philadelphia band Minka and I am all for it. Even before we get to full squonk (that would start at 2:14), these guys have brought post-punk dance music, or some such thing, into the 21st century, complete with scratchy rhythm guitars and a lead singer, one Ari Rubin, whose edgy croon and theatrical vibrato give us a sense of what a young David Byrne might have sounded like had he smiled once in a while.

A palpable humanity underpins this kind of sound—there’s great precision here (there has to be, with any kind of dance music) but also a looseness in the air that speaks of a band delighted to be playing actual instruments in a room full of actual people, as opposed to twiddling knobs in a booth. Now then, not every band that hypnotizes you into buying their album at the gig has the songwriting chops required to deliver both in the club and in the iPhone. And Minka is most definitely an in-person phenomenon, renowned for their shall we say uninhibited performances. But “Josephine” transcends the requirement of being in the same room with these guys, and to me, that’s about the best kind of dance music there is.

Minka is a four-man band and officially spell their name in all caps: MINKA. “Josephine” is a track from the band’s forthcoming EP, Born in the Viper Room.