Static In Verona

“Blindfold” – Static In Verona

Blessed with heroic chord progressions, wall-of-sound fuzz, background chimes, and a sweet-voiced singer, “Blindfold” offers up more evidence of power pop’s unanticipated third life in the 21st century. A genre all but genetically resistant to overt electronic manipulations, power pop does however seem to seduce any number of good-hearted bedroom rockers with guitars, laptops, and a decent microphone. As in this case: its big bashy extraversion notwithstanding, “Blindfold” is the product of Chicago-based Rob Merz, doing musical business as Static In Verona, and playing every last instrument his own self.

And I may be a sucker for this kind of thing, but the result here pretty much takes my breath away—some elusive combination of melodic invention, sturdy structure, and masterly conciseness (the song clocks in at a wonderful 3:33) that leaves me with little choice but to hit the repeat button, repeatedly. My music theory abandons me pretty quickly, so I can’t identify the type of chord that recurs here with great success (you can hear it at 1:13, 1:28, 2:30, et al.), but I can report that it is a Beatlesque/Brian-Wilson-y gesture that is well-known too for its memorable appearance in the extended piano coda to “Layla.” One of the greatest but most ineffable things about effective power pop is how the great exemplars, for all their straight-ahead catchiness, often weave some slight oddness or deviation into the fabric of the song. And so here: in addition to the chord in question, “Blindfold” also works with a shifty pre-chorus/chorus arrangement (the pre-chorus itself, first heard at 0:47, provides us with arguably the song’s strongest hook) and, further, sets off the chorus with an unusual, rhythmically separated mini-introduction—the “Be with you” part, which sounds maybe more normal than it actually is.

Rob Merz has been on the Chicago music scene for 18 years, most recently as a member of the band Ash Avenue. He has been recording by himself as Static In Verona since 2009. “Blindfold” is a track from the second Static In Verona full-length, Everything You Knew Before You Knew Everything, which has actually been out for almost a year. I just found out about it via a 2015 post on the Insomnia Radio blog. You can listen to the whole album via Bandcamp, where you can also buy it for any price you choose. Thanks to Merz himself for the MP3.

Shannon Wardrop

“I Wanna Be Your Lady” – Shannon Wardrop

With its distorted guitars and spongy bass line, “I Wanna Be Your Lady” has an ambling, vaguely psychedelic feel that seems suddenly like the very thing we need to be listening to, collectively, right now. The song suggests weathered trees and cracked sidewalks, roasty cups of afternoon coffee, heart-breaking daylight, and things made of rugged glass; it reminds us that there may be evil in the world, and stupidity, but that right now you’re probably okay, and that’s worth something too.

A young singer/songwriter from the London area, Wardrop has a rich and elastic tone, and employs it with ravishing restraint, letting her big voice rip only in the final moments. But me I prefer the shimmering implications in her phrasing of “Wanna to be the one you call,” starting at 0:23, particularly the understated oomph she gives to the word “one.” Lots of small moments like that here add up to major delight—another one: the way the droning guitar riff gets a clipped punctuation at 0:44 that kind of sounds like a vocal and kind of doesn’t—and help to turn a song of head-bobbing simplicity into something deep and lasting.

And how great is it that there are young singer/songwriters in the world in 2015 who sound like this? The rejection of digital hubris begins here, with a generation for whom classic rock has warm parental associations, and who seek to move forward musically via simple humanity, sly good humor, and well-informed musicianship. “I Wanna Be Your Lady” is one of three songs on Wardrop’s Cloud 9 EP, her second, released last month. You can listen via Bandcamp. Her previous EP, Medicine, was released in 2013.

EPS2-02

For a band or an artist to re-record in its entirety another band or artist’s album is a relatively unusual occurrence, and for the re-recording to emerge as its own work of art is even rarer. One of the best I’ve heard to date is the edgy, guitar-centric reinterpretation of the Steely Dan classic Aja done by the Canadian band The Darcys back in 2012. At the time, I featured the song “Josie” here on Fingertips, as it was the free and legal MP3. But “Home at Last” was always my favorite song on the album and the 21st-century redo is pretty brilliant. It’s actually one of three covers on this month’s playlist, the other two being Diana Krall’s simmering take on the Tom Waits song “Temptation,” and then (kind of a trick answer) Al Wilson’s “Show and Tell,” which itself was a huge hit at the time, far overshadowing the original recording, done only the previous year by Johnny Mathis, of all people. Favorite segue this time around pretty much has to be Alina Simone’s “Beautiful Machine” into that awesome Matthew Sweet song. Two songs in the same key can make for segue heaven under the right circumstances. Oh and I would be remiss this time if I didn’t give a hat tip to the retro awesomeness of the dustystevens music blog, which recently re-fired some dormant brain cells by re-introducing me to “The Sun Doesn’t Shine.” I love when that happens.

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

I wouldn’t want to make anyone nervous (Eclectic Playlist Series, 2.02) by Fingertipsmusic on Mixcloud


“Beyond Belief” – Elvis Costello & the Attractions (Imperial Bedroom, 1982)
“Words That I Employ” – Coach Said Not To (Coach Said Not To EP, 2005)
“Love In Action” – Utopia (Oops! Wrong Planet, 1977)
“The Sun Doesn’t Shine” – Beats International (Excursion on the Version, 1991)
“Holy City” – Joan As Police Woman (The Classic, 2014)
“Man Overboard” – Blondie (Blondie, 1976)
“Home At Last” – The Darcys (Aja, 2012)
“I’m Alright Now” – Soul X 2 (single, 1968)
“Man From China” – Vivabeat (single, 1979)
“Closer to Fine” – Indigo Girls (Indigo Girls, 1989)
“Beautiful Machine” – Alina Simone (Make Your Own Danger, 2011)
“Devil With the Green Eyes” – Matthew Sweet (Altered Beast, 1993)
“Temptation” – Diana Krall (The Girl in the Other Room, 2007)
“Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” – Simon & Garfunkel (Sounds of Silence, 1966)
“Read About It” – Midnight Oil (10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1, 1982)
“Lionsong” – Björk (Vulnicura, 2015)
“Juanita” – Rachel Smith (The Clearing, 2001)
“Wonderland” – Nils Lofgren (Wonderland, 1983)
“Show and Tell” – Al Wilson (single, 1973)
“Why” – Annie Lennox (Diva, 1992)

Annalibera

“Black Cat White Cat” – Annalibera

Slow songs are tricky things. Songs that move “too slowly” (whatever that ends up meaning, or feeling like) can violate our sense of needing to get things done, or at least needing to feel like something is happening. And yet a slow song can also be delicious in its deliberation and restraint. But: what makes a slow song slow, anyway? A song can have a slow-moving beat but fast-moving melodies; a song can have a normally-paced beat but still feel slow.

“Black Cat White Cat” works both sides of this fence with aplomb, first establishing the prominence of an unhurried 1-2 beat and then contradicting that impression with first-verse lyrics that move largely in double-time. Soon, in what appears to be a kind of chorus (although seemingly wordless), the bass continues its deliberate, spread-out line but the guitar now rings out with a lead constructed of strung-together triplets (first heard at 0:52). Later the guitar fills space between languid lyrics with urgent oscillations of a different timbre (1:48 and following). That there is no obvious overall structure further contributes to the sense of slowness, I think. The song develops not by clearly going from A to B and back again but by gliding into separate but related segments. The faster-moving melody of the first verse never repeats; the thing I thought of as the wordless chorus disappears until the song’s final quarter (3:20), and there evolves into an indecipherable but dramatic interaction between skyscraping vocals and a truly foundational guitar riff.

Holding everything together are two related things: the interval-oriented melody, which floats us up and down the octave via archetypal arpeggios; and singer Anna Gebhardt’s soaring, searing voice, in which I hear rich echoes of the perennially underrated Tanya Donelly. (And if that comparison means anything to you, seriously, don’t miss this song.)

A native of rural Nebraska, Gebhardt studied voice at Drake University and stayed in Des Moines to start the trio Annalibera. “Black Cat White Cat” is a single from their forthcoming album, Nevermind I Love You, which is due in March via the Des Moines-based label Sump Pump Records. The band has one previous release, a three-song self-titled EP that came out in 2013. You can pre-order the new album (with a vinyl option) via Bandcamp.



photo credit: Bruce Bales

Record/Start

“Rock From Afar” – Start/Record

Crunchy, melodic, smartly-crafted rock’n’roll, “Rock From Afar” is one of those rare one-man-band home recordings that sounds spacious and outgoing. (In that way it brings to mind the work of Devin Davis, for those with long Fingertips memories.) And while full of elusive homages to great moments in rock history, this song is likewise a rare bird for managing to funnel nostalgia through a contemporary filter: conjuring the past without wallowing in it, without losing the recognition that we live in the here and now and that that’s okay too.

So—stay with me on this one—I’m thinking now that what sounds like a catchy, well-paced song is actually much more than that. With “Rock From Afar,” Simon Cowan, doing business as Record/Start, offers us a much-needed (not to mention delightful) way out of the dead-end technophilia of the early 21st century. Enough with having to pretend there is nothing of value to be had from the past, enough with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists so smug and myopic that they can’t credit or recognize anything they didn’t invent or fund. Life existed before us and life (if we don’t go all Interstellar on ourselves) will go on after us and the smartest and most valuable (not to mention most fun) people are those who partake of the whole buffet. Use the past to inform the present and aim towards the future.

That’s what “Rock From Afar” does and it’s a breath of fresh air in a musical age suffocating from the addictive beats and compressed mightiness required to keep the kids dancing and the fingers clicking. Cowan finds a brisk pace and rich texture far removed from the stifling dictates of today’s pop, with guitars that bleed into a kind of 2015 Wall of Sound, and melodies that sweep you pretty close to power pop heaven. One of my favorite moments is the abrupt break for a “woo-oo-oo” vocal that happens at 2:41, because of how precisely this moment embodies the seamless melding of past and present: this kind of “woo-oo-oo” is pure Beach Boys, but Cowan augments it with an ear-popping 21st-century affect that Brian Wilson probably wishes he could have invented 50 years ago but most certainly did not.

Cowan fronted the Manchester band Carlis Star during the latter ’00s. Record/Start, a solo project, came into being in 2014. “Rock From Afar” has been bumping around the internet for a few weeks, in advance of its official double-sided single (on cassette) release next month, via Post/Pop Records. Thanks to Insomnia Radio for the MP3.