The Eclectic Playlist Series resets again with the new year: all previously played artists are now fair game for the playlists here again. And good thing too, because even though I played David Bowie just last month, I really needed to hear him this month, in the aftermath of our losing this profoundly inspirational artist, and all-around Good Guy. And I wanted in particular to make musical, curational sense of the complex, moving, and generally astounding title track to his final recording, which you will find along the path of this month’s offering, aptly titled “The heart that sings before it breaks.” And this month I will let the music speak for itself, which is about the best thing music does.

Full playlist below the widget.

The heart that sings before it breaks (Eclectic Playlist Series, 3.01) by Fingertipsmusic on Mixcloud

“Church of the Poison Mind” – Culture Club (Colour By Numbers, 1983)
“Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)” – Frank Wilson (single, 1965)
“You Know It’s You” – Kirsty MacColl (Titanic Days, 1993)
“Tightrope” – Fanfarlo (Rooms Filled With Light, 2012)
“You Can’t Have Sunshine Everyday” – The Rattles (single, 1971)
“Breathe” – Maria McKee (Maria McKee, 1989)
“Blackstar” – David Bowie (Blackstar, 2016)
“Total Control” – The Motels (The Motels, 1979)
“#807” – Pieta Brown (In the Cool, 2005)
“Tender” – Blur (13, 1999)
“Soldier of Love (Lay Down Your Arms)” – Arthur Alexander (single, 1962)
“Toutes les Belles Inconnues” – Dawn Landes (Mal Habillée, 2012)
“The Goodbye Look” – Donald Fagen (The Nightfly, 1982)
“See Fernando” – Jenny Lewis (Acid Tongue, 2008)
“We Belong to the Night” – Ellen Foley (Nightout, 1979)
“Your Saving Grace” – Steve Miller Band (Your Saving Grace, 1969)
“It Could Be Sweet” – Portishead (Dummy, 1994)
“New York Morning” – Elbow (The Take Off and Landing of Everything, 2014)
“I Surrender, Dear” – Thelonious Monk (Brilliant Corners, 1957)
“Highway Song” – Aztec Two-Step (Aztec Two-Step, 1972)

TW Walsh

“Young Rebels” – TW Walsh

I needed to hear little more than the distorted drumbeat of the song’s opening seconds to suspect impending goodness; by the time a chimey synth line is added on top (0:04) and a fuzzy bass underneath (0:12), I am all on board. On the one hand yes the intro is just 20 instrumental seconds, the song hasn’t really even started yet; on the other hand, sometimes, damn it all, you can judge the book by the cover. No one who puts together this effortlessly terrific an introduction is going to attach it to a mediocre song. It would unbalance the universe.

Ok so the introduction also lays the table for the first of the song’s two principle compositional enticements, which is the melody’s ongoing de-emphasis of the downbeat (i.e., the first beat of the measure). Check it out: the chimey synth starts up a half beat in front of the first beat, while the verse melody starts a half beat after the first beat, and later lines pick up a half beat before the measure’s last beat. And never mind whether any of this registers as a thing to you as a word description, the larger point is that all this shiftiness around the beat makes for a compelling listen, and renders the chorus (which at last begins right on the first beat; e.g., 0:56) all the more satisfying.

The second enticement is the melody’s relentless downward motion. After the melody at the beginning of the verse repeats once, to catch your attention, all melodic movement in the verse is downward from there. The chorus, likewise, is a descending melody, repeated once. This has a kind of primal appeal, much the same as the satisfaction of watching a ball you toss up in the air return back to your waiting hands.

TW Walsh is a musician and audio engineer who was last featured on Fingertips in 2011; you can read that entry for more biographical background. But know too that since then he suffered for a year and a half with a debilitating disease that was diagnosed inconclusively as chronic fatigue syndrome. Then, when he began to feel somewhat better, he broke his elbow. His 2011 album had been called Songs of Pain and Leisure. “Young Rebels” is the third track on his new album Fruitless Research, which arrives next month via Graveface Records, and was produced in collaboration with the Shins’ Yuuki Matthews (who has worked previously with Sufjan Stevens, Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, and David Bazan, among others).

Death in the Afternoon

“We Don’t Have to Go Out Tonight” – Death in the Afternoon

If “We Don’t Have to Go Out Tonight” doesn’t single-handedly rescue the electric guitar in our knob-twiddling age, then we may just have to give the thing up for dead once and for all. There are the well-placed, slightly wobbly chords of the introduction; the crisp, economical riff accompanying the verse; and then, watch out!: the intertwining of the lead and rhythm guitar lines (1:04), a veritable ballet of funky precision. I’m just about hypnotized by all this. What was your question again?

And okay I’m not expecting miracles here. This is the kind of song that stirs up a tiny bit of dust in a couple of quick weeks (when blogs that need to be first with everything spit their PR-filled words onto the internet), then pretty much disappears (because those same blogs rush on to the next thing, and the next). (Don’t get me started on this, please.) So yes “We Don’t Have to Go Out Tonight” has been out for a few months. Sometimes (maybe all the time) it pays to reflect. I first heard this and it seemed pleasant but I wasn’t sure. Maybe I wasn’t in a good mood that day, who knows. So it sat around and I kept listening. One day it hit me that this song was really good. Those kind of muted lead vocals in the verse, that initially made me wonder what was happening? Turns out they are smartly redeemed by the clarity of the vocals in the chorus, when Christian joins Linda—and note how he sings backing vocals on the same note as the lead vocal for the first two lines, then offers one line of harmony, then a final line back on the same note. It’s a lovely, unassuming construction.

Much as Death in the Afternoon seems to be a lovely, unassuming duo (the aforementioned Linda and Christian, surnames missing in action). They are based in Halmstad, Sweden and take their name, for unknown reasons, from Ernest Hemingway’s treatise on the glory of bullfighting. Their self-titled debut album came out in October on the Stockholm-based Sommarhjärta label.

Find The Others

“We Stared at the World” – Find the Others

“We Stared at the World” begins as a gentle song oscillating mysteriously between the electronic and acoustic. Front man Andy Sheppard fills our head with his conversational tenor. Listen attentively and you may begin to hear a variety of openings in the muted landscape, soft sounds implying larger worlds. Urgency arrives un-urgently: halfway through the song all sorts of things start happening, and the layers of instrumentation become more overtly fascinating and gratifying–guitar sounds, string sounds, a determined parade of clicking-clopping percussion sounds.

And, actual drum sounds. It took me a while for it to register but this halfway point is where we begin to hear what sound like real drums being smacked with real sticks. It’s a sound that I think gives the song such a satisfying climax, during the final iteration of the chorus, beginning around 2:47. There’s something about the various juxtapositions on display right here (the organic vs. the electronic, the gentle vocal vs. the percussive accompaniment, the melodic vs. the beat-driven) that together strike me as both powerful and poignant, but also fleeting: in 12 or 13 seconds everything’s gone, replaced by 30-plus seconds of ambient tinkling and droning, a kind of sonic after-image, rendering everything previously heard abruptly dreamlike. I like that a song ostensibly about staring turns out to be so indirect, even inscrutable.

Given the band’s name, Find The Others is an ironically elusive project. It appears to be a one-man operation (the album credits Sheppard as the only performer), even as the press photo features two people (and a blank third). Web resources identify Sheppard’s location alternately as either Toronto or British Columbia, so let’s at least assume he’s Canadian—even as he shipped himself off to Iceland to work with Valgeir Sigurðsson (Sigur Rós, Björk, Feist, Nico Muhly, and then some). The end result was the album Empire of Time, on which you’ll find this song. The album was released back in April 2015; I heard it much later in the year via Insomnia Radio.

EPS 2.09

I picked up the song “How or Why” from Jennifer Castle after hearing it for the first time via the Said the Gramophone year-end best-of list in 2014. It’s already a year later, that venerable and eclectic blog has just posted its latest year-end best-of list, and in and around the bracing mix of obscurities and pop smashes I will no doubt find a few more gems that float the Fingertips boat, as it were. Not everyone’s idea of eclectic listening is the same, to be sure; I don’t usually love all 100 songs on the list but I do love being given the opportunity to hear them. And most of all I love the care and attention given both to music and ideas there; if I were more whimsical and/or poetic, more of my posts would read like more of Said the Gramophone’s.

But I digress. We have come to the last EPS mix of 2015, which means that the artist list will re-set again next month and you will in 2016 begin to hear some of the same artists you may have heard either in 2014 or 2015 (or, in the case of particular favorites, both). And still there are plenty of as-yet unheard bands and musicians, both current and of past eras, who will show up on playlists here in the new year. Because that’s what I do. As for this particular mix, first of all, how on earth was that Marvin Gaye song unreleased? And if I must listen to 16-year-olds, give me 16-year-old Rachel Sweet in 1978, please. And yes, Genesis made some excellent music back in the day, extending at least all the way to 1981’s Abacab, which in retrospect straddled an admirable line between the complex, proggy stuff of their youth and the top-40 fodder they were getting ready to make. “No Reply At All”—featuring the Earth, Wind & Fire horns, no less—flummoxed older fans and yet with the benefit of years seems an almost unprecedented blend of the catchy (it reached the top 30 in the U.S.) and the intricate; the bass line alone is worth the price of admission.

Full playlist below the widget.

Close your eyes and hear the call (Eclectic Playlist Series, 2.09) by Fingertipsmusic on Mixcloud

“How or Why” – Jennifer Castle (Pink City, 2014)
“Gone With the Wind is My Love” – Rita & the Tiaras (single, 1967)
“New Killer Star” – David Bowie (Reality, 2003)
“Everything’s Coming Our Way” – Santana (Santana III, 1971)
“White Knuckles” – Boh Doran (Boh Doran EP, 2015)
“No Reply At All” – Genesis (Abacab, 1981)
“Barracuda” – Miho Hatori (Ecdysis, 2005)
“In My Command” – Crowded House (Together Alone, 1993)
“Keep Your Head to the Sky” – Earth, Wind & Fire (Head to the Sky, 1973)
“Casablanca Nights” – Johan Agebjörn (Casablanca Nights, 2011)
“Via Con Me” – Paolo Conte (Paris Milonga, 1981)
“Who Does Lisa Like?” – Rachel Sweet (Fool Around, 1978)
“Milk of Human Kindness” – Procol Harum (A Salty Dog, 1969)
“Raising the Skate” – Speedy Ortiz (Foil Deer, 2015)
“Tell Me To My Face” – Dan Fogelberg & Tim Weisberg (Twin Sons of Different Mothers, 1978)
“Carried” – Ebba Forsberg (Been There, 1998)
“This Love Starved Heart of Mine (It’s Killing Me) – Marvin Gaye (unreleased single, 1965; available via Love Starved Heart compilation, 1994)
“When Things Go Wrong” – Robin Lane & the Chartbusters (Robin Lane & The Chartbuster, 1980)
“Black Heart Today” – Amy Ray (Stag, 2001)
“Sweet Soul Dream” – World Party (Goodbye Jumbo, 1990)