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September is the melancholy part of the summer, the summertime we never remember or conjure when we use the word “summertime.” It’s either still too warm for all the things we now have to do or abruptly too cool when we’re not quite ready for it. For no reason I can quite put my finger on this is a playlist for this time of year, and for 2016 in particular, when we are collectively holding our breath to see which way we’ll go, what new world awaits us. Be brave while acting breezy. Beware of snakes. Believe in miracles. Etc.

As for specifics, we begin with a song from the 1958 album that is generally credited with being the first bossa nova album, Canção do Amor Demais, and a song that features the guitar work of João Gilberto, who almost single-handedly created the bossa nova sound. Consider it here a fond if complicated post-Olympics farewell. If you haven’t previously come across Chris von Sneidern, purveyor of power-pop-oriented indie rock before anyone called it indie rock, there is a 2009 documentary called Why Isn’t Chris von Sneidern Famous? that makes an effort to understand why mainstream success can elude very talented musicians. Not that we needed a movie to alert us to that particular news flash. Then, the other side of the coin—the musical recluse, two of whom populate the playlist this month: the semi-legendary Canadian songstress Mary Margaret O’Hara, who recorded one album in 1988 and pretty much left it at that, and the anonymous Swedish singer who took the pseudonym Sally Shapiro. The singer’s musical partner, Johan Agebjörn, acknowledged “Sally”‘s disinclination for the business in 2009, writing in a blog post, “What if you just want to be a normal person with a normal job, record songs in the weekends, and spend the holidays picking blueberries instead of going on tour?” After 10 years of intermittent music, Sally Shapiro quit once and for all.

And then, somewhere in between famous and reclusive we have Look Park, which is the name Chris Collingwood has given to his solo project. For at least some of you, Collingwood’s voice should be easily identifiable as the long-time lead singer for Fountains of Wayne. But the man has had a checkered history of being ready and willing to record. You can’t rush things, or force them onto the right track. In the end, you have to do what you want to do, and the trick isn’t that it always comes easily but that it should always sound like it does.


Full playlist below the widget.

“Outra Vez” – Elizete Cardoso (Canção do Amor Demais, 1958)
“Open Wide” – Chris von Sneidern (Sight & Sound, 1993)
“If You Should See” – Wye Oak (Tween, 2016)
“Tales of Brave Ulysses” – Cream (Disraeli Gears, 1967)
“Anything, Anything (I’ll Give You)” – Dramarama (Cinéma Vérité, 1985)
“Benton Harbor Blues” – The Fiery Furnaces (Bitter Tea, 2006)
“Betcha By Golly, Wow” – The Stylistics (The Stylistics, 1971)
“Breezy” – Look Park (Look Park, 2016)
“Tony Adams” – Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros (Rock Art & The X-Ray Style, 1999)
“Anew Day” – Mary Margaret O’Hara (Miss America, 1988)
“Divers of the Dust” – Marissa Nadler (Strangers, 2016)
“Right Track” – Billy Butler (single, 1972)
“Love Doesn’t Just Stop” – Standard Fare (The Noyelle Beat, 2010)
“Rattlesnakes” – Lloyd Cole (Rattlesnakes, 1984)
“Which Way” – The Sorrows (single, 1968)
“Slow Dog” – Belly (Star, 1993)
“Miracle” – Sally Shapiro (My Guilty Pleasure, 2009)
“Any Way That You Want Me” – Evie Sands (Any Way That You Want Me, 1969)
“Do Anything You Wanna Do” – Eddie & The Hot Rods (Life on the Line, 1977)
“New World” – Björk (Selmasongs, 2000)

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)