“Fraud in the ’80s” – Mates of State

For a keyboard-and-drum duo, Mates of State manage to build a warm and involving sound. The key, I think, is their willingness (and ableness) to be truly musical rather than try to hang too much (an entire song) on too little (beats and maybe a short riff); everywhere you turn this song has been fleshed out and thought through—there’s genuine meat on its catchy and likable bones. Listen for instance to the central keyboard line in the main part of the introduction: most songs that float a melodic riff like that will run it for two measures and vamp it a while, pounding it into your head until the song actually begins. Here, however, the keyboard is playing an actual melody that extends a full eight measures, leading directly into the start of the verse. Singer/keyboardist Kori Gardner has an upfront but soft-edged voice and sings with a fetching looseness, playing with notes in just the right way, adding flourishes that draw attention to the melody rather than her vocal prowess. I like how the throbbing, Laurie Anderson-ish synthesizer we hear in the song’s “pre-intro” returns as the backbone of the bridge that keeps the wonderful chorus at bay until 1:38. Worth the wait, it is, yet even then the song doesn’t stop giving; I especially like the deep, rounded sound that kicks in around 3:22, all fuzzy chords, bashy drums, and now the bass is allowed to stretch out a bit after hiding behind the keyboard most of the song. Oh, and I couldn’t figure out a smooth way to work this into the song description, but note that Gardner and drummer Jason Hammel are married. “Fraud in the ’80s” will be on their forthcoming CD Bring It Back, scheduled for release in March on Barsuk Records. The MP3 is hosted on the Barsuk site.

“Jane is Fat” – Oh No! Oh My!

And sometimes it’s one pure thing in a song that slays me, so go figure: in this case it’s the way vocalist/guitarist/bassist/etc. Greg Barkley unaccountably, idiosyncratically, and yet irrestistibly stretches out the last syllable at the end of the first line of the verse by ricocheting a fifth up and down and up and down. Against that crisp strumming background it’s oddly brilliant. Then notice (well really how will you not notice?) how at the end of the verse (balancing out the bouncing?) he holds just one note far longer than might be expected, or even otherwise desired, given the shrillness of his upper register. The song teeters dangerously on the edge of lo-fi purgatory during what appears to be the chorus, with its unintelligible, sloppy-gang call-and-response and tweeting synthesizer, but, no worries, it holds together thanks largely to the sharp dynamism of the acoustic guitar. There’s an extra payoff in the coda following the second chorus, in which Barkley’s warbly tenor reveals an unexpected depth and poignancy, against a spaghetti-western guitar line. Don’t ask, but it works. Oh No! Oh My! is a trio from Austin, but two of them appear to be living in Nashville now, and they only just recently changed their name from the Jolly Rogers (decidedly less ’00s/indie-sounding, huh?). “Jane is Fat” is from a nine-song self-produced CD made available this past October when they were still the Jolly Rogers; the MP3 is available through their as-yet still-pirate-ish web site. Apparently a full-fledged CD is in the works and will be released soon. Thanks to Catbirdseat for the lead.

“Come Up” – Devics

This one’s just gorgeous. Don’t be deceived by the lounge-like piano and drum sound at the beginning if you don’t like a lounge-like piano and drum sound; once singer Sara Lov opens her mouth, we’re transported way way beyond surface-level cocktail-hour piffle. Such sweet strong character emerges as Lov breathes music into the words over Dustin O’Halloran’s assured touch at the piano; when she arrives at the simple sad sing-along chorus, the piece has acquired a melancholy grandeur not often heard from the indie world. As noted last time Devics were featured here, their music reminds me, admirably, of Over the Rhine: Lov has a lot of Karin Bergquist’s aching soul, with a less idiosyncratic timbre, while O’Halloran accompanies her with a sensitivity akin to the great Linford Detweiler. “Come Up” is a track from the L.A.-based duo’s next CD Push the Heart, to be released in early March on Filter US Recordings, a label associated with Filter Magazine, which hosts the MP3.




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