“All the Things You Do” – Winter

If the concept/sub-genre of dream pop didn’t already exist, you would invent it right now to describe “All the Things You Do,” by the Boston-born, Los Angeles-based band Winter. Front woman Samira Winter floats her cloudless voice over a languid, semi-blurry soundscape and it’s kind of immediately hard not to love this. The buoyant verse is infused with ever-appealing suspended chords; the chorus—forward and forceful—fills the ear with satisfying, wall-of-sound resolution, complete with an unexpected and extra-satisfying minor-chord detour.

And speaking of extra-satisfying detours, don’t miss the instrumental break-cum-coda, starting at 2:30, with its dreamy jazz-guitar-ish accents and splendid bass guitar lead, which kind of makes you go wow, what happened to bass guitar players anyway? And then the whole thing kind of makes you go wow, don’t we just want to be doing this, enhancing our lives with heartwarming sound, feeling the magic and power of this at once distant and intimate connection? It’s the opposite of living in fear, brutalized by not only the existence of barbaric death-mongers but by the fear-mongers who scurry around in their wake. And I don’t mean to pollute the beauty of our modest enterprise here with too much talk of tragedy but I do so to remind you that beauty is not negated by darkness, but becomes further concentrated. And important.

“All the Things You Do” is a single released this month on Burger Records. Support the band by buying it here, and if you want a reason to spend 99 cents versus having it for free, note that the hi-res, lossless version is also just 99 cents.

photo credit: Mariana Borau

Cashavelly Morrison

“Long-Haired Mare” – Cashavelly Morrison

I am never quite sure when and how musical simplicity transmutes into timeless musical power. It is certainly true that most simple songs are neither timeless nor powerful and likewise true that many powerful songs are not especially simple. But Cashavelly Morrison’s graceful and commanding “Long-Haired Mare” not only serves as evidence of the eternal potential of folk-like music but functions as an aural balm for any ears that might be feeling overstuffed with 21st-century musical commotion just about now.

The particular beauty I hear in this song is grounded in the acoustic guitar, in particular the supple notes slipped in after the first four iterations of the traditional strumming pattern on which the song is based. At once fluid and discrete, this understated motif (first heard in the introduction starting at 0:11), recurs throughout the song, between verses, and each time it comes around it sounds like a would-be confidant, a repeatedly viewed stranger with kind eyes, and if it is partial illusion to sense that the song’s poised unfolding and subtle accumulation of textures (heartbreaking drums, outcast steel guitar) is built entirely on the foundation of this humble motif, it is also partial non-illusion. The ear knows what it knows. Add to the aural amalgam Morrison’s country-air voice and instinctive, subtly syncopated phrasing and from humble roots—gothic tale, guitars, percussion—I sense a growing majesty and am myself humbled before it.

And the payoff for waiting patiently for each return of the sad and deft guitar motif? A full-fledged guitar solo, beginning at 3:26, as gripping as a resolutely self-effacing acoustic solo can possibly be.

Cashavelly Morrison is both the stage name taken on by the singer/songwriter Melissa MacLeod and the name of the musical project co-created and -peformed with her husband Ryan MacLeod; he is the masterly guitarist we’ve been hearing here. Cashavelly and Morrison are family names from Melissa’s side, lost in marriage. “Long-Haired Mare” is from the debut Cashavelly Morrison album, The Kingdom Belongs to a Child, self-released at the end of October. You can listen to the album via SoundCloud, and buy the album at the CM web site.

Cousin Tony's Brand New Firebird

“Soothsayer” – Cousin Tony’s Brand New Firebird

Evocative rocker that manages to feel old-school and brand-new at the same time. While you are probably first going to notice the emotive and elastic vocals of front man Lachlan Rose, the song itself, upon examination, is a more than worthy vehicle for his talents.

To me, “Soothsayer”‘s charms are rooted in the way that, tempo-wise, it moves at a good clip on the one hand while not seeming to be in any hurry on the other. Interesting juxtapositions like this are often fun and rewarding in a pop song; this one in particular is accomplished, I think, by three different means. The first is the double-time accompaniment: while the song appears to be written in a moderately-paced 4/4 time, the rhythm guitars and some of the percussion are moving at twice that pace. Another element that reinforces the faster/slower sensation is how spread out and unrepetitive the verses are; the lyrics are given musical space, while the music comprises three separate sections, each picking up pace from the previous one. The overall effect is a 45-second, 16-measure melody that draws you in to a compelling but ambiguous story.

The third and perhaps most obvious thing creating this fast/slow tension down is the chorus, which feels like it slows the song down although doesn’t—all that happens is we lose the double-time backing: front man Lachlan Rose now sings with minimal assistance, but the song’s pace never actually changes. Most choruses in pop songs aim to burst forth with volume and energy, the better to come across as “catchy.” “Soothsayer” instead gives us a chorus that all but brings the song to a halt. “Catchy” seems suddenly besides the point when “arresting” is happening. (Such thinking might also underscore the recalcitrant fact that what might be the song’s most fetching moment, when the lyrics speed up with the phrase “thinking about yourself,” at 1:02, is never repeated.)

Cousin Tony’s Brand New Firebird is a trio from Melbourne. “Soothsayer,” their first single, has been out for a number of months, but their debut EP, Queen of Hearts, on which you’ll find this song, was released just last month in Australia. You can listen via SoundCloud. Thanks to Triple J Unearthed and the band for the MP3.


Even within as curious and compelling a genre as Northern Soul (an odd, ex-post-facto, non-genre genre, truth be told; but a great one), “You Don’t Mean It” is a curiosity. Its origins are couched in contradictions if not outright mysteries, beginning with the simple fact that the singer, initially identified as Towanda Barnes, would later call herself Gloria, and pretty much disappear in any case. The recording itself, meanwhile, exudes such jittery energy as to sound warped and partially mistaken. The fact that it can lead us seamlessly into the acoustic stompiness of Carlene Carter’s Rockpile-fueled heyday tells us something about the profundity of what those Motown folks were up to for a blessed number of years (Northern Soul was founded upon nothing as much as an unmitigated worship of Motown castoffs). As for the seamless segue from Traffic’s self-titled semi-psychedelic 1968 album into a bravura reemergence in 2015 by the stately but beat-driven post-punk pioneers New Order, what that illustrates, clearly, is the aesthetic and emotional necessity of eclectic listening. (By the way, do yourself a monster favor and listen to the New Order song even if you don’t listen to the whole playlist. So good.) And yes: “October in the sky” I missed by a few days, but the closing song this month epitomizes the bittersweet joys of autumn with exquisite lyricism and melodicism, and on my Northern, soulful calendar it’s still autumn for a while yet, so drink it in and thanks for stopping by.

Full playlist below the widget.

As you reach a certain age (Eclectic Playlist Series, 2.08) by Fingertipsmusic on Mixcloud

“Tayter County” – The Cavedogs (Joy Rides for Shut-Ins, 1990)
“Please Take Me Home” – The Bird and the Bee (Recreational Love, 2015)
“The Crook of My Good Arm” – Pale Young Gentlemen (Black Forest (Tra La La), 2008)
“The Story of a Rock and Roll Band” – Randy Newman (Born Again, 1979)
“When the Night Comes” – Jeff Lynne’s ELO (Alone in the Universe, 2015)
“You Don’t Mean It” – Towanda Barnes (single, 1967)
“Love is a 4-Letter Verb” – Carlene Carter (Blue Nun, 1980)
“Bothered” – Over the Rhine (Ohio, 2003)
“Don’t Change Your Plans” – Ben Folds Five (The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, 1999)
“Forty Thousand Headmen” – Traffic (Traffic, 1968)
“Nothing But a Fool” – New Order (Music Complete, 2015)
“Watch Your Step” – Anita Baker (Rapture, 1986)
“Survivor” – Cindy Bullens (Desire Wire, 1978)
“Somewhere in Between” – Kate Bush (Aerial, 2005)
“Bankrobber” – The Clash (single, 1980)
“Bud” – Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass (Herb Alpert’s Ninth, 1967)
“Trouble” – Shawn Colvin (A Few Small Repairs, 1996)
“You Get What You Deserve” – Big Star (Radio City, 1974)
“Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” – Arcade Fire (The Suburbs, 2010)
“The Birds Are Leaving” – Boo Hewerdine (Thanksgiving, 1999)

The Whales

“Marguerite” – The Whales

Short and enticing, “Marguerite” chugs along in a semi-garage-y world of droning sound with the enticing addition of some time signature complication: the song’s 4/4 momentum is given knowing little tugs by some well-placed 6/4 measures. A little of this goes a long way to my ears, as it indicates first and foremost that someone is paying attention, that there is some vivid musical creativity at work. No offense to groove-oriented music (maybe) but personally I am less convinced of musical artistry via what are essentially decorations (i.e., interesting sounds layered on top of a beat); I am more impressed with a creative intelligence that can work at the structural level. I mean, there’s choosing a paint color or two and there’s architecture, right? Not everyone operates at the same depth and that’s completely fine. I’m just saying…well, what am I saying? I seem to have digressed.

Oh and then there’s the subject matter, which is offbeat and refreshing, as “Marguerite” turns out to be about the French writer Marguerite Yourcenar, the first woman elected to the Académie française. (In the U.S. Yourcenar is probably best known for the 1951 novel Mémoires d’Hadrien.) As I sit with this song over repeated listens, I’m getting more and more of a Kinks vibe, but in the very best way—not a slavish homage but an intriguing contemporizing of the band’s mid-’60s drive, some elusive amalgam of horsepower and brainpower that gives, in my mind, the best rock’n’roll from any era its appeal and staying power.

The Whales are a six-piece band from the UK formed in 2013, about which not a lot of information is readily discoverable (blame in part the generic name). “Marguerite” is available via an admirable project: the British label Fat Cat Records has an ongoing SoundCloud page where it makes available as free downloads the best demos it receives, acknowledging that they simply don’t have the resources to sign every band that sends in a good song. You can visit the Fat Cat demo page here. Thanks to the Powerpopulist blog for the head’s up on the song.