“The Vice and Virtue Ministry” – the Happy Bullets

Intertwining guitars, at once loopy and dainty, set the stage for this brisk, assured, and endlessly delightful tune. I am especially taken with lead singer Jason Roberts’ fetching falsetto leaps—I love how his voice just flies upward at the end of a few key phrases, most of all when it happens so much in the middle of a lyrical line that he has to drop again as quickly as he went up. A five-piece band from Dallas (which includes Angela Roberts, Jason’s wife, on bass), the Happy Bullets made the happy decision to work with producer Stuart Sikes (who has worked with Modest Mouse, the White Stripes, and the Walkmen, among others), whose sure touch enlivens this song in many different ways. I am unaccountably charmed, as an example, by the subtle acoustic strum that leads into the second verse (at 0:39), arising out of a maracas-like shaking sound just introduced out of the original loopy guitar line. And then of course there’s the brilliant infusion of Kinks-ish spirit on display throughout. Being influenced by the Kinks is (praise the lord) no longer a novelty on the rock’n’roll scene, but I don’t know that I’ve heard a 21st-century band take Ray Davies so delightfully into the here and now as these guys do. This isn’t an homage and it’s not nostalgia; Roberts doesn’t even sound like Davies in any particular way. And yet this song so thoroughly embodies some key Kinksian vibe that if Davies had come of age in the ’00s rather than the ’60s his band I think would sound something very much like this. “The Vice and Virtue Ministry” is the title track from the Happy Bullets’ second CD, released regionally in March on Undeniable Records; the album is set for a national release on November 1. The MP3 is available via the band’s site.

“Chain Reaction” – 31 Knots

And now for something completely different: dense, complex, guitar-heavy neo-progressive rock from the Portland, Ore.-based trio 31 Knots. And yet I would not be here to foist this upon you if it were all intricate stop-start-y math-rock bloviation. Guitarist Joe Haerge plays with distinction, variation, and purpose, maintaining a shifting, surging energy throughout this long but engaging song. I’m thinking that not enough bands that record songs over five minutes understand how rewarding a more complex approach to song can be. Go back to those old Genesis records and you’ll see that the songs were six, seven, eight minutes because they went places. The best part of “Chain Reaction” may well be the last two minutes, during which an intense instrumental break leads into a wholly new section of the song, including perhaps the most rewarding melodies of the whole piece. We’ve gotten a little too used to endless repetition padding out five-minute songs; here instead is a six-minute song that ends climactically, and leaves you wanting more. “Chain Reaction” comes from the band’s fourth CD, Talk Like Blood, released last week on Polyvinyl Records. The MP3 is available via the Polyvinyl site.

“I Just Can’t Fall In Love” – Bill Ricchini

And now consider this song, in yoga terms, to be the “counter-posture” to the previous song: open, flowing, melodic—an unabashedly “pop” song to re-wire the brain after all that intense intricacy. Here the hook is a simple-as-can-be five-note descent at the end of two of the four verse lines. Why does it slay me so? And yet it does, particularly when harmony vocals are added the second time around. The good-natured, ’70s-style vibe pumps the song along at a nice clip, but it’s that five-note descent that makes the song for me, and how well-suited it is to Ricchini’s yearning, bittersweet voice. On another day maybe it’s not enough to hang a song upon, but, hey, the sun is shining, the leaves are falling, and there’s only so much intensity I can take in one sitting. Born and raised in Philadelphia, where he recorded his first CD bedroom-style to much acclaim, Ricchini is now New York City-based and signed to a small label. “I Just Can’t Fall In Love” is from his second CD, Tonight I Burn Brightly, released in August on Transdreamer Records. The song is available through Music.download.com.




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