Sharp Things

“Everything Breaks” – The Sharp Things

“Everything Breaks” manages the uncommon trick of being both lovely and urgent. Each of these aspects, as it turns out, seems to hinge primarily on the song’s consistent—and subtly edgy—alteration between minor and major keys. We hear it right away in the crisp, ringing piano intro, and the minor/major shifting is only deepened and underlined by the addition of vocals. There’s a breathlessness to the proceedings, a sense that the song just has to burst out as is and be done.

And then too there’s the way the song unfolds lyrically as an elegiac litany of facts, descriptions, and/or circumstances, creating a kind of beauty-meets-tragedy atmosphere, even if it is difficult to apprehend exactly what is being sung about and why. With its graceful confluence of lyrical and melodic portent, “Everything Breaks” grabs the ear so quickly and securely that we feel grounded without even a chorus to provide its steadying influence.

The Sharp Things, previously featured on Fingertips in November 2013, are an expanding and contracting NYC ensemble, active since the ’90s, and currently in a nine-piece phase. “Everything Breaks” is the lead track on Adventurer’s Inn, released earlier this month. This album, the band’s sixth, turned out to be a personally notable and heartbreaking effort for front man Perry Serpa, as it is the last album the Sharp Things were able to record with drummer and band co-founder Steven Gonzalez, Serpa’s best friend since childhood. Gonzalez died in September from complications related to a lifelong struggle with cystic fibrosis.

Thanks to the band for the MP3.

Daisy Victoira

“Nobody Dies” – Daisy Victoria

And here we have, at the tail end of 2014, a song that somehow shocks me into here-and-now Okayness. Nearly (but not quite) as glistening as the kind of brain-free indie pop that makes my teeth grind, “Nobody Dies” is instead a song shot through with humanity and depth that leaves me laughing and winded, like emerging, twirling, from the salty, numbing North Atlantic on a warm summer day. Partly it’s the sweet subtle resonance of Daisy Victoria’s voice, and partly it’s the heroic melody, and the way it continually brings that voice upward in gratifying, unforeseen ways, but mostly it’s just how big and sweeping and genuine this feels, in an almost Kate Bushian way (minus, it should be noted, Kate’s all-out strangeness).

Hints that this is no mere dance-beat trifle come quickly (a beat-free intro juxtaposing water drips and echoey guitars) and often (even as the beat sets in, the mix is full of nuance and texture, devoid of ear-squashing processing). Some (most?) of the aural effects sound refreshingly guitar-based, in fact, while the drumming is sticks and skins as far as I can tell. And please understand that I am not now and never have been against electronics and beats and anything else that can be employed to make great music. But great music only and always originates in the human heart and soul. Something isn’t genuine just because it’s acoustic any more than something is automatically soulless just because it’s electronic. My particular glee regarding “Nobody Dies” has to do with how Victoria here has managed, in a sheep-in-wolf’s-clothing kind of switcheroo, to take an aural language too often employed to create soulless product and find within it the glow of life. I love this in uncountable and unaccountable ways.

Daisy Victoria is a singer/songwriter based in Norwich (UK). “Nobody Dies” is the title track to her second EP, released last month. You can listen via her SoundCloud page, and also there download this song in higher-quality .wav format, if that makes you happy.

Thanks to Lauren Laverne at BBC Radio 6 for the head’s up, and thanks to Daisy for the MP3.


“Great White Shark” – Hollands

With confident cockeyed momentum, “Great White Shark” is a fun-house blend of thoughtful art pop and something bashier and more direct. A dignified violin break collides with a chugging, minimal rhythm section; articulate guitar lines locate clearings between earnest chunks of elusive lyrics; a basic verse melody repeats, with reappearing variations, while something resembling a chorus slips in once or twice; the song, while pushing five minutes, passes in something of a fever dream. Welcome to what has become of rock’n’roll in the mid-’10s, devolving and evolving simultaneously into whatever two people in Brooklyn (it’s almost always two people in Brooklyn) feeling like recording. Even when it isn’t quite like anything else you’ve heard it always manages to be at least a little like something else you’ve heard. This is fun and as it should be.

Anyway, I have listened to this song like a thousand times and I am left with two conflicting impressions: 1) its various complexities (in structure, nuance, texture, rhyme) continue to elude me; 2) its sturdy simplicity is grounded in the relentless recurrence of a basic three-note, ascending melody. And I am guessing that if I can train my brain to hold these two antithetical notions simultaneously, I may achieve some new level of enlightenment. Or, at least, would be better able to explicate a song named “Great White Shark” only, it seems, because the phrase slides quickly by in a lyric two-thirds of the way through the song.

Hollands is the married couple of John-Paul and Jannina Norpoth. John-Paul is the multi-instrumentalist, Jannina, classically trained, plays violin. Both are children of professional musicians. Among their favorite artists, according to the band’s Facebook page, are Igor Stravinsky, Frank Zappa, and Randy Newman—a mighty trio if ever there was. “Great White Shark” is a song from Restless Youth, their full-length debut, which was released last month. You can listen to the whole thing and buy it (vinyl is an option!) via Bandcamp. MP3 courtesy of Magnet Magazine.

While taking its usual romp through the decades, this latest iteration of the Eclectic Playlist Series focuses its 2010s attention largely on the current year, as a way of highlighting songs from three of my favorite albums of 2014. Other than that, we get the usual strange brew of things that somehow go together for largely unknowable reasons. Along the way we find a Radiohead B-side far stronger than most band’s A-sides, a lost new wave ballad from the downtown NYC scene (from an album, The Shirts’ debut, never put on CD as far as I can see), and a song that, internet at my disposal or not, I could discover no confirmation of year of release—this the completely obscure but oddly satisfying “So Long Sam,” from Barbara Ruskin, a British singer/songwriter of the “swinging London” era. Because she is still alive and potentially reachable online, once I have this playlist posted, I’ll see if I can ask her directly about this song, and maybe I can nail down the year that way. Which would actually be kind of fun. But, thanks to good old-fashioned email, I was able to get the information directly from Ruskin herself, who informs us that “So Long Sam” was written and recorded as a demo in 1967. It never ended up being released until President Records put out a Barbara Ruskin retrospective album in 2004 entitled A Little of This, which is quite a bit of fun.

As for why 1997 alone represents the 1990s this time, I have no explanation. Oh, and the Robert Plant song? Unexpectedly awesome.

Listen on Mixcloud via the widget. Entire playlist is directly below.

I didn’t really know where to go (Eclectic Playlist Series, 1.11) by Fingertipsmusic on Mixcloud

“Surrender” – J. Geils Band (Monkey Island, 1977)
“Pearly” – Radiohead (Airbag/How Am I Driving? EP 1997)
“Kristine” – Sky Ferreira (Night Time, My Time, 2013)
“Heart of Stone” – SVT (No Regrets, 1981)
“Sonic Parts” – Khoiba (Nice Traps, 2005)
“Running Through the Night” – The Shirts (The Shirts, 1978)
“No One’s Gonna Love You” – Cee-Lo Green (The Lady Killer, 2010)
“So Long Sam” – Barbara Ruskin (demo, 1967; A Little of This, 2004)
“Long Gone (Buddy)” – ‘Til Tuesday (Everything’s Different Now, 1988)
“Loop De Li” – Brian Ferry (Avonmore, 2014)
“Les Petits Ballons” – France Gall (single, 1972)
“Why Can’t You Fix My Car” – Leo Kottke (My Father’s Face, 1988)
“The Agency Group” – Alvvays (Alvvays, 2014)
“Hide in Your Shell” – Supertramp (Crime of the Century, 1974)
“Everybody Knows (except you)” – The Divine Comedy (A Short Album About Love, 1997)
“House of Love” – Robert Plant (lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar, 2014)
“Louis Quatorze” – Bow Wow Wow (single, 1982)
“Just One Last Look” – The Temptations (With a Lot O’ Soul, 1967)
“Annan Waters” – Kate Rusby (Hourglass, 1997)
“Parables” – Rebekah Higgs (Rebekah Higgs, 2006)

Ward White

“Sabbath” – Ward White

With sly hints of the old Hot Chocolate nugget “Every 1’s a Winner,” “Sabbath” chugs off the launch pad with delicious authority, featuring the splendid songwriting trick of beginning your lyric with the word “And.” I’m kind of a sucker for that one. And Ward White’s rounded, art-y tenor, a less adenoidal version of someone like David Byrne, it turns out I’m kind of a sucker for that too.

“Sabbath” is as arch and distinctive as a rock song can hope to be in the year 2014 without sounding fey or contrived. The verses feel like we’re already in the middle of the song, and lead us into a section (0:47) that bridges us without hurry to the chorus, accumulating lyrical lines while not quite coalescing musically; and the chorus, when it arrives (1:02), turns out to be less a chorus than a single sentence, rendered memorable by a vivid chord change in the middle (on the words “in front of my face,” at 1:08). The lyrics, meanwhile, feel rich and involving without easily forming a narrative. But any song that can include these lines—

And what of all these women?
They come and go but mostly go
And when they come believe me I’m the last to know

—is surely doing something right. And then, as word-oriented as White appears to be, he unexpectedly closes the song out with an increasingly scintillating minute-and-a-half of droning guitars and bashing drums. Fun!

The Brooklyn-based White has been releasing stylish, accomplished recordings since the late ’90s, floating around the edges of the NYC music scene without quite breaking through, even to the blogosphere. Which may also mean the man is doing something right. “Sabbath” is a song from his eighth solo album, Ward White is the Matador, released earlier this month. MP3 via Magnet Magazine.