Rules are not necessarily “meant to be broken,” as the odd saying goes; but, sometimes, a rule might be meaningfully circumvented. And so this month, I give you two songs from one artist as we open and close with Steely Dan, in honor of the recently departed Walter Becker. A hat tip along the way to obscure soul songs resuscitated by the internet, to the unhinged and brilliant “Twin Peaks” revival, and to a handful of well-known artists who wandered into the list this month with some lesser-known material. I should note that the Skip Drake song is as of yet unplaceable chronologically–it surely sounds like the ’60s but nowhere can I find confirmation. What year is this, indeed?

Full playlist below the widget.

“Kid Charlemagne” – Steely Dan (The Royal Scam, 1976)
“Nvr Surrender” – Rumble (Rumble ep.1, 2015)
“Wrapped Around Your Finger” – Skip Drake (Eccentric Soul: The Cash Label, 2014; originally 196_?)
“Laura” – Billy Joel (The Nylon Curtain, 1982)
“Hot Blood” – Lucinda Williams (Sweet Old World, 1992)
“Maybe After He’s Gone” – The Zombies (Odessey and Oracle, 1968)
“Blood and Chalk” – EMA (Exile in the Outer Ring, 2017)
“Slow Motion” – Blondie (Eat to the Beat, 1979)
“Felicidade” – Astrud Gilberto (Look to the Rainbow, 1966)
“Understanding Jane” – The Icicle Works (If You Want to Defeat Your Enemy, Sing His Song, 1986)
“I Have Laid in the Darkness of Doubt” – Mazes (Mazes, 2009)
“Water Song” – Hot Tuna (Burgers, 1972)
“Shiny” – The Decemberists (Five Songs EP, 2003)
“Falling” – Julee Cruise (Floating Into The Night, 1990)
“Can’t Live Without Your Love” – Janelle Monáe (The Electric Lady, 2013)
“L’Accord Parfait” – Autour de Lucie (L’Échappée belle, 1994)
“Southern Girls” – Cheap Trick (In Color, 1977)
“You Got Me” – The Roots (Things Fall Apart, 2004)
“The Hymn of Acxiom” – Vienna Tang (Aims, 2013)
“Third World Man” – Steely Dan (Gaucho, 1980)


“In Undertow” – Alvvays

All music fans, I’m pretty sure, have certain sounds that are so irresistible to them that bands who manage to hit that aural sweet spot have a more or less limitless appeal—just about anything they record sounds terrific. The Toronto-based quartet Alvvays (pronounced “Always”) is one of those bands for me. Some alchemical mixture of voice, texture, and melody puts me in my happy place when I hear them.

It all begins with Molly Rankin’s voice, with its enchanting blend of purity and depth, her honeyed tones retouched by the flawless application of reverb. Add in the band’s knack for finding contemporary homes for nostalgic melodies and I am smitten. Beyond these immediate characteristics, the band delivers likewise at a deeper level. Check out the juxtaposition of the staccato bass line with the ongoing wash of guitar noise, the bass guiding the ear through the indeterminate din that floats just beyond the surface prettiness; “ice cream truck jangle collides with prismatic noise pop” is how the band describes the general ambiance and sure, why not.

Then we have Alvvays’ ongoing attentiveness to the words employed within their sonic environment of choice. Despite the reverb and the noise, Rankin is rarely mixed beyond comprehension, which allows us to appreciate her heedful language. Note the way the words in the second part of the second verse mirror the words in the same position in the first verse, but altered into slant rhymes: “metaphorically” for “rhetorically,” “psychology” for “astrology,” “mood” for “moon.” Another sign of attention to language is the title selection—rather than rely on the most repeated phrase, which would be “no turning back,” the band names the song after a phrase heard (just barely) once. And speaking of “no turning back,” one of the few places in which Rankin muffles her words is here. With its delivery broken this way—“No turning/There’s no turning/There’s no turning back”—the phrase, at first, to my ears, sounded like “There’s no teddy bears.” Whether she did this on purpose or not, and I suspect she did, it adds poignancy to a tale of a love that’s disappeared.

Alvvays was previously featured on Fingertips in November 2014, some months after their debut release. The band’s second album, Antisocialites, comes out in early September on Polyvinyl Records. You can check out one other song from the new album, and purhase it, on Bandcamp. MP3 via KEXP.

Juana Molina

“Cosoco” – Juana Molina

The world would be a plainer, paler place without odd time signatures. Leave it to the mistress of mysteriously appealing electro-acoustic experimentation to find such a lovely, hypnotic groove in 7/4 time. Propelled by some of the most softly satisfying percussive sounds I have ever heard, “Cosoco” is a sprightly off-kilter dance that blossoms, at 1:40, into an even tighter, richer, more intriguing parade of sound and rhythm, led by Molina’s charming, multi-tracked vocals. The effect is of something at once complex and free-spirited, intricately woven and yet easy to follow. On the one hand, we get a “solo” from the sort of loopy electronic sound that is her ongoing signature (2:20) (even as each song seems to present us with a different variation). But then, straight away, arrives a short, plump bass solo (2:42), pretty much its ambient opposite. The bass stays front and center through the next section of the song before steering us into one more iteration of our main musical setting.

Then, at around 3:48, a magical mystical coda begins, with the entrance of a swirly, wind-like effect that emerges in tandem with the drumming that now sounds more and more organic. “Cosoco”‘s closing minute is as engaging as it is amorphous: there are no particular melodies, or even any chord progressions, just the ever-energetic pulse of the 7/4 rhythmic riff that has provided us with the song’s foundational characteristic from beginning to end, accompanied by the curious synthetic squiggles that Molina manages to rope into pop coherence.

Once upon a time a sitcom star in Argentina, Molina, long ensconced on the Fingertips “Most Often Featured” list, has been written about here three previous times: in June 2003, May 2006, and September 2008.

“Cosoco” can be found on Halo, Molina’s seventh album, released in May on Crammed Discs. You can listen to the whole thing and buy it via Bandcamp. Thanks again to KEXP for the MP3.

Shout Out Louds

“Oh Oh” – Shout Out Louds

A sparkling nugget of melodic, full-bodied rock’n’roll, 2017 style, “Oh Oh” is a good example of a song in which my ear is caught more by a “moment” than an all-out hook. For me, it happens in the pre-chorus, first heard at 0:47. After the long descending melody of the verse, the music here feels inordinately satisfying, an effect boosted by lyrics that shine with both denotation and connotation: front man Adam Olenius sings “Don’t say that it’s over/’Cause nothing ever is,” and it pops with both energy and poignancy in this setting.

As for actual hooks, “Oh Oh” has them, but they’re sneaky. We actually get the main one in the introduction—it’s the guitar riff/”Oh oh” combination heard at 0:15—but, interestingly, it doesn’t come across as a hook right there; the guitars are subtle, deeper down in the mix than your classic guitar riffs tend to be. This hook requires context, it seems. When the riff returns (1:03), it feels closer to completion. When it finally gets reassembled, with the “Oh oh”s on top (1:57), well what do you know? I think we have ourselves a hook.

All that is semantic, of course: hooks, moments, riffs, whatever—I’m just trying as ever to put words onto what is going on in a piece of music, trying to translate the listening experience into writing. Dancing about architecture, in other words. As usual.

From Stockholm, Shout Out Louds have been together since 2001. The band was featured previously on Fingertips in 2009, for the dramatic, slow-building “Walls.” “Oh Oh” is the first single from the band’s upcoming album Ease My Mind, their fifth, due out on Merge Records in September. MP3, one more time, via KEXP.

Veal was a Canadian band that hung around off and on for nearly 10 years as the ’90s bled into the 21st century. “Judy Garland” comes from their third and final album, and is as accidentally great a song as I can think of, dropped in the middle of an obscure album by a forgotten band. Front man Luke Doucet remains active in Canada as a solo musician. “Judy Garland” was an early Fingertips find and all these years later I love this song to pieces.

“Kellyanne” is sadly self-explanatory. Juliana Hatfield sounds like an old friend calling out of the blue.

What a beautiful and unexpected little song is “I Fall Down,” still.

“Shilo” is way better than a song about an imaginary friend should be as well as better than I tend to think a Neil Diamond song is going to be (but I’m often wrong about that; he had some serious chops back in the day).

I could feature the Kinks every month and not run out of amazing songs; it’s only my self-imposed “no artist more than once a year” rule that keeps them away. We’ll get back to them in 2018, provided we’re all still around.

And Kirsty MacColl. Sigh.

A couple of outside credits this month. “Girls Girls Girls” came to my attention via the amazing Emma on the ever-engaging Said the Gramophone blog. It comes from a 2008 compilation of recordings put together around 1967 in East St. Louis by the veteran musician and producer Allen Merry, who at that point was working with young men at a community center, aiming to keep them off the streets and out of gangs. You can read more about the project, and listen to the whole album, here.

Secondly, the wonderful Mexican singer/songwriter Carla Morrison floated into my inbox via “Off Your Radar,” a newsletter featuring one weekly album recommendation, accompanied by a dozen or so reviews of that one album from their stable of music writers. OYR had recently recommended Morrison’s 2012 album Déjenme Llorar, which led me to dive into her catalog. She’s a terrific singer and an engaging personality; I’m happy to know of her work and will continue to familiarize myself with her catalog in the coming weeks.

And yes Kate Bush’s cover of “Sexual Healing” is odd in a number of ways but something about it charms me and moves me as it develops. Maybe when all is said and done it’s nothing more or less than the ineffable profundity of her singing voice. Her version of Marvin Gaye’s final classic was originally recorded in 1994 and intended for an album by the Irish musician Davey Spillane (whose uillean pipes are featured throughout), but it ultimately was left off. Bush finally released it as a b-side to “King of the Mountain,” the first and only single from her 2005 double-album Aerial.

Full playlist below the widget.

“Judy Garland” – Veal (The Embattled Hearts, 2003)
“Kellyanne” – Juliana Hatfield (Pussycat, 2017)
“Tainted Love” – Gloria Jones (single, 1964)
“Novocaine for the Soul” – Eels (Beautiful Freak, 1996)
“Wives and Lovers” – Cécile McLorin Salvant (For One to Love, 2015)
“I Fall Down” – U2 (October, 1981)
“Back to Black” – Amy Winehouse (Back to Black, 2007)
“Second Hand Store” – Joe Walsh (But Seriously, Folks…, 1978)
“Girls Girls Girls” – The Young Disciples Co. (single, 1967?)
“You Don’t Know What You’ve Got” – Joan Jett & The Blackhearts (Bad Reputation, 1981)
“H>A>K” – Jane Weaver (Modern Kosmology, 2017)
“Another Girl, Another Planet” – The Only Ones (The Only Ones, 1978)
“Shilo” – Neil Diamond (Just For You, 1967)
“All I Ever Wanted” – Kirsty MacColl (Electric Landlady, 1991)
“Nutty” – Thelonious Monk Quartet (Misterioso, 1958)
“Un Beso” – Carla Morrison (Amor Supremo, 2015)
“Strangers” – The Kinks (Lola Vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround, 1970)
“Beating of Hearts” – XTC (Mummer, 1983)
“Hello” – Poe (Hello, 1995)
“Sexual Healing” – Kate Bush (b-side, 2005)