“Colorguard” – Division Day

An insistent drive, accentuated first by a wash of reverberating synths and then a searing guitar line, gives “Colorguard” some good hard substance; at the same time there’s a great warm softness at its core too, in the form of singer Rohner Stegnitz’s dulcet tenor, and the beautiful repeating melody in the chorus. There’s nothing too complicated going on here, but that’s really part of the effectiveness of this song. What I like is how I can clearly hear its various parts–the subtle, affecting octave harmonies once the second verse starts, the clear contribution of the bass, the clean, stratospheric lead guitar lines. I’m thinking that a lot of times, this sort of song (whatever sort of song it is) and this sort of music (again, whatever you might call it) often gets harmed by a sort of “piling on” that goes on in the recording studio. Great structures of amorphous sounds are constructed, and it can be cool in its own way, but sometimes it’s cool too to be able to hear everyone. The stronger the song, the more it’s okay. Division Day is a quartet from California; “Colorguard” is a song off the band’s debut full-length CD, Beartrap Island, self-released this spring. The MP3 is via the band’s site.


“Harrowdown Hill” – Thom Yorke

I don’t know if I’ve ever heard such a funky riff used at the core of such an un-funky song; this is not nearly the most significant thing going on, but it may be the easiest to notice; and it may be more significant than it at first seems. What Yorke is doing here is as mysterious as it is marvelous, combining disparate elements (funky guitar, programmed beats, sustained synthesizer, tense lyrics) into a completely cohesive and moving piece of music. (The song addresses a tragic, Iraq-related controversy in the U.K., involving a former UN weapons inspector who apparently killed himself–though some believe otherwise–after unintentionally finding himself in the middle of a political scandal.) In taking a much-publicized break from his day job as Radiohead’s frontman, Yorke has, to my ears, redefined the idea of what a singer/songwriter–it feels weird to call him that but that’s what he is here–can do. “Harrowdown Hill” has the beating (and aching) heart of a traditional, organic song, and yet is presented in an all-out, 21st-century sonic landscape. Two aspects of the song strike me as key to its haunting success: one is the synthesizer that plays an offbeat but continuous pattern of single notes sustained typically for seven or eight seconds at a time, in a muted yet majestic, organ-like tone; the other is Yorke’s voice, which is rather naked and up front, draped with maybe a slight echo to fit in to the electronic vibe but also fragile and shakily human. “Harrowdown Hill” is a track from Yorke’s highly-anticipated CD, The Eraser, to be released in July on XL Recordings. MP3 available via Ampcamp.


“Scene It All Before” – the Minor Leagues

Any band seeking to sound like “Ray Davies fronting the Clash with Phil Spector on production” (as per the web site) is going to get my attention quickly, and that is apparently what singer/keyboardist Ben Walpole has in mind for the Minor Leagues, give or take the quartet’s own individual sense of do-it-yourself quirkiness. In any case, “Scene It All Before” is a breezy yet satisfyingly chewy morsel of pop goodness, from its nostalgic horn charts to its grand swinging chorus and its intermittently goofy background vocals. Like any number of great old Kinks songs, this one has three solid, well-put-together parts; I particularly like how the melody in the chorus spills over its expected container, blurring the distinction between measures in a loose-limbed and agreeable way. And I will say that Walpole does manage to sound eerily like a cross between Davies and Mick Jones–especially eerie for a guy from Cincinnati. “Scene It All Before” is a track off the CD The Pestlience is Coming, which was self-released last week. The MP3 is available via the band’s site.




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