“To Go Home” – M. Ward

Smart, sharp, and exceedingly well put together, “To Go Home” presents the formerly sleepy-voiced M. Ward in an appealingly band-like and energetic setting. And let me stop and put a good word in here for exceedingly well put together recordings. Not enough people, I don’t think, speak up for them, as the indie world in particular has been often hijacked by lo-fi zealots pushing a radical (and often unlistenable) agenda of naive, accidental-sounding songscapes. But making a lo-fi recording is simply an aesthetic decision, not a moral one, and no less or more artificial a construct than a smartly produced recording. And I guess I’m digressing. Me, in any case, I listen to the opening measures of “To Go Home,” with their rousing wall of acoustic sound, spacious drumbeats, and next-room piano chords, and I’m smiling before anyone starts singing. (“Well put together,” I nod to myself.) When M. opens his mouth 45 seconds in, I’m further engaged by his roughed-up, reverbed-up voice, full of musical spirit in a way I hadn’t heard before. The fact that Neko Case is also one of the people who eventually sings has me smiling all the more; her seasoned brilliance is a blessing everywhere she goes. “To Go Home,” a Daniel Johnston song, is the second track off Ward’s upcoming CD, Post-War (yeah, I wish), slated for an August 22nd release on Merge Records.

“Major Arcana” – the Isles

If Neil Finn had been in the Smiths, they might’ve sounded something like this. Certainly, Isles vocalist Andrew Geller does not mind bringing Morrissey to mind, both in voice and (this is what nails it, actually) in the melody lines he sings. And let me quickly add that there’s nothing wrong with this. The Smiths had truly one of the most distinctive band sounds in the history of rock’n’roll; by merit, they should in fact have produced a lot more Smiths-esque bands in their wake than have yet risen to prominence. It was a sound that was never just about Morrissey’s voice—it was Johnny Marr’s guitar, of course, and most of all those melodies that always sounded like they were composed mostly of black notes on the piano: those odd and relentlessly minor-sounding intervals Morrissey just couldn’t help singing. Geller’s doing that here too. At the same time, the song has a crisp pop know-how to it, which is where the Neil Finn part comes in. I like for instance, the unexpected “oo-oo-oo” flourish at the end of the chorus. Not Smiths-like at all, that. “Major Arcana” is the lead track on Perfumed Lands, the band’s debut CD on Melodic Records, set now for release next month in the U.K. and in October in the U.S. Interestingly, Melodic Records is based in Manchester, in the U.K., exactly where the Smiths are from; the Isles however are from New York City, of all places. Thanks to the gang at 3hive for the head’s up.

“In Every Direction” – So Many Dynamos

Every now and then I find myself attracted beyond reason to the sort of deadpan speak-singing So Many Dynamos vocalist Aaron Stovall employs in this simultaneously skewed and tightly presented song. For me, the tight presentation is key, and this song is as blistering and disciplined, with its two-guitar assault and time-signature tricks, as it is slightly unhinged. A good microcosm of the song’s idiosyncratic allure is the instrumental break at 2:03, which starts out sounding like they’re unplugging the guitars, knocking over the amps, and heading offstage, but instead leads into a guitar line with an incisive melodic theme that sounds like it must’ve been at the heart of the song all along and yet actually wasn’t. Before long a chorus of voices is joining in and I have no clue what’s going on anymore, but at this point perhaps it’s time to chuckle at the band’s palindromic name and call it a day. “In Every Direction” is a track from the St. Louis-based quartet’s second full-length CD, Flashlights, to be released in September on Skrocki Records.




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