Jessica Lea Mayfield

“Sorry Is Gone” – Jessica Lea Mayfield

Powerhouse song from the talented Nashville-based singer/songwriter, and merely one track on a fierce new album. From the opening riff, a casual but purposeful series of descending notes on a fuzzed-out guitar, “Sorry is Gone” has a haunting presence, from its mantra-like chorus to the engrossing, unresolved melodies of the verse. Gliding by in a subtle, velvety cloak of reverb, the song wraps up in a concise 3:21, and if Mayfield didn’t consciously select the launch-like run time, let’s call it serendipity.

It’s painful to review the circumstances of both this song and album—Mayfield’s art here is rooted in a frightful experience of ongoing domestic abuse during her three-year marriage that she has had the courage to speak about publicly. In other places, the album doesn’t flinch from some of the graphic details; the almost light-hearted “Sorry is Gone” presents more of a blanket statement of liberation and self-assertion. Make of this lyrical nugget what you will:

It’s nice to have a guy around
For lifting heavy things and opening jars
Should we really let them in on the beds?
Chain ’em to a little house outside

“Sorry is Gone” is the title track to Mayfield’s fourth solo release, and was produced by John Agnello (Sonic Youth, The Hold Steady, Dinosaur Jr.). MP3 via KEXP. But buy the album, either via ATO Records (where you can also get vinyl or cassette) or Bandcamp (digital only). It’s terrific. Hat tip to Glorious Noise for the video capture.

The Luxembourg SIgnal

“Laura Palmer” – The Luxembourg Signal

With a hypnotic groove grounded in organic drumming and a slightly off-kilter chord progression, “Laura Palmer” doesn’t reveal its Twin Peaks connection readily—I for one can’t make heads or tails out of the lyrics—but over the course of its almost six minutes, I do hear allusions to Angelo Badalamenti’s iconic musical landscape. Listen, for instance, to the protracted synth lines that float above the briskly moving foreground. Listen, as well, to the ominous rumble of guitar noise that rears its head down below after the 2:20 mark. And in general there’s a melancholy that weaves itself through the song that surely conjures the at once melodramatic and tragic fate of David Lynch’s mythological victim.

This is one of those fortunate longer songs that creates such a seductive atmosphere as to feel, still, rather too short than too long. To my ears, it’s the artful amalgam of voice and guitar that carries “Laura Palmer” to such an exquisite place. At first the meet-up is mostly between Betsy Moyer’s voice and one finger-picked, jangly-toned electric guitar; even though I have referred to the song’s “groove,” let me note that the feel is all gentle and melodic here, not rhythmic or beat-based. More of a wall of guitar sound emerges as the song develops, but even as the texture grows in density, an overall feeling of delicacy persists. As with Twin Peaks, the song seems to exist in its own time and place. (This isn’t nearly as weird as the TV show, however.)

The Luxembourg Signal is a seven-piece band based in Los Angeles. Various members have their roots in the band Aberdeen in the ’90s, and vocalist Beth Arzy was last seen passing through these parts as a member of Trembling Blue Stars (featured here way the hell back in 2004, for the similarly woozy, name-inspired song “Helen Reddy”). “Laura Palmer” is a song from the album Blue Field, the band’s second, released in October on Shelflife Records. MP3 via Magnet Magazine.

Wold Parade

“Valley Boy” – Wolf Parade

The well-regarded Montreal quartet Wolf Parade went on an indefinite hiatus in 2010. This fall they returned, and these were the first words from them we heard:

The radio’s been playing all your songs
Talking about the way you slipped away without a care
Did you know that it was all gonna go wrong?
Did you know that it would all be more than you could bear?

The song was written about a year ago, after two profound, near-simultaneous occurrences: the death of Leonard Cohen and the election of the 45th President of the United States. Wolf Parade has ably if enigmatically linked these two adjacent events in the rolling, quirkily anthemic, Bowie-esque rocker “Valley Boy.” With a theatrical quaver, vocalist Spencer Krug sings words that conceal more than they reveal, but the opening verse, repeated once at the end, blazes with clarity and pathos, providing a foundation of meaning for an otherwise inscrutable song. I have certainly yet to figure out the centrality of the “valley boy” reference, but I’m working at it, because it so clearly means something. The best I can surmise is that the song is wondering if, after death, Cohen has finally been able to release himself from the existential angsts he spent his life pondering. It may not be the writer’s intention but it kind of works, for me.

Musically, “Valley Boy” presents with a sonic depth and acumen that belies its pop-song length. There are dissonant motifs and churning textures; there are also moments of clearing, and some attentive, Television-ish guitar interweavings. Krug has been quoted as saying, intriguingly, that “the band itself is almost a fifth member of the band,” as a way of describing and/or explaining the group’s authoritative sound. I like that.

“Valley Boy” is from the new Wolf Parade album Cry Cry Cry, the band’s first since 2010. It was released early last month on Sub Pop. MP3, again, via KEXP.

For a musician who sold so many records and who meant so much to so many people, Tom Petty still in the end managed to be somehow underappreciated. Maybe it was just his being that half-generation removed from the Mt. Rushmorean figures in rock history (Beatles, Dylan, Stones, etc.) that kept him flying somewhat below the radar when talking about rock’s monumental representatives. Or maybe it was the fact that his music, while cumulatively his own, wasn’t really pioneering, it was just incredibly effective. Anyway, Petty now sets a new if unfortunate template: for the musician who has to leave this world for us to take full note of his beloved place in it. I mean, it’s always something like that, but in this case I felt it keenly. Tom Petty was always just out there somewhere, being Tom Petty. And now he’s not. The time of course will come for all of us. Let’s do our best in the meantime to listen: to our own hearts, and to each other’s, and to the knocking of the door, and the growing of the grass. No more time for bullshit. The nightmare will end, the emperor will stand naked, and we won’t be lost if we stand by each other.

Full playlist below the widget.

“When the Time Comes” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (You’re Gonna Get It!, 1978)
“12 Bellevue” – Kathleen Edwards (Failer, 2003)
“Theme From ‘Danger Man’” – The Red Price Combo (single, 1961)
“Tips For Teens” – Sparks (Whomp That Sucker, 1981)
“When I Was Your Girl” – Alison Moyet (The Minutes, 2013)
“Wanted” – The Cranberries (Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, 1993)
“What Good Am I Without You” – Darrow Fletcher (single, 1967)
“No More” – Julie Doiron (Woke Myself Up, 2006)
“Now That You’ve Gone” – Chicago (Chicago V, 1972)
“Tear The Whole Thing Down” – The Higsons (single, 1982)
“Hear You” – Waxahatchee (Out In The Storm, 2017)
“I Hear You Knockin’” – Smiley Lewis (single, 1955)
“This Heart” – Nanci Griffith (Flyer, 1994)
“Lost” – Frank Ocean (Channel Orange, 2012)
“Nightmare” – Artie Shaw (single, 1938)
“Life In Dark Water” – Al Stewart (Time Passages, 1978)
“Somewhere Sometime” – Roseanne Cash (King’s Record Shop, 1987)
“I Can Hear the Grass Grow” – the Move (single, 1967)
“Villain” – CocoRosie (Tales of a GrassWidow, 2013)
“The Emperor’s New Clothes” – Sinéad O’Connor (I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, 1990)

The Roseline

“How To Be Kind” – The Roseline

So immediate is this song’s command that it feels familiar and fresh simultaneously, right from the opening bars.

Launched off a sneaky, descending riff, “How To Be Kind” exploits the underutilized tool of the interrupted verse. Check it out: the first verse begins with an amiable echo of the intro’s riff, and proceeds melodically through a standard four measures. At 0:24-0:25, the vocals resolve the first section and launch directly into what sounds like a repeat trip through the same melody with new lyrics—standard operating procedure in a rock song, or pretty much any song for that matter.

Only here, after two measures, the verse melody is interrupted (0:29) as we transition without fuss into what appears, upon reflection, to be the chorus, although when you first hear it it sounds like an intriguing augmentation to the verse. And here is where “How To Be Kind”‘s low-key Wilco-ness turns up a notch. Front man Colin Halliburton doesn’t sound like Jeff Tweedy per se but projects a charming Tweedy-like aura as the song ambles its way along, all soft piano fills and drumming that finds an edge between gentle and bashy.

In the end, that edge speaks for the song as a whole, as it achieves through vibe and craft an appealing balance between geniality and purpose. It was, again, Wilco that most notably pioneered the use of the language of Americana to transcend the genre. These guys aren’t going that far, necessarily, and there’s no saying that they have to or need to. But I am feeling something of that nonchalant vigor in the air, of music with a depth that belies its laid-back surface.

The Roseline is a five-man band from Kansas. “How To Be Kind” is a song from their fifth album, entitled Blood, which is coming out in this week.

photo credit: Stevie Jackson