“Slow Years” – Men Among Animals

An irrepressible air of the madcap permeates this sly and slightly manic piece of pure pop from the Danish quartet Men Among Animals. One of the many fun things about “Slow Years” is how misleadingly it begins: I’m not sure what sort of song is being signalled by the throbbing bass line and portentous guitar noodles of the intro, but I don’t think it’s the gleeful hookfest that follows when Lasse Nielsen opens his mouth at 0:12. Nielsen sings with a yelpy but agreeable doubletracked tenor (a voice that makes “most bluebirds quiver and almost all librarians faint,” according to the band’s MySpace page); check out the likable way he takes those upward sidesteps in the verse, away from the notes you think he’s going to hit. This is fun in its own way but all the more so for how it sets up the chorus, which has the simple, unstraying melody of a lost classic. I like too how the band augments the proceedings with some flavorful work of their own, including an extended instrumental break that begins at 1:16 with a previously heard guitar riff and stretches way out from there, first with a glissando-crazy haunted-house organ, then (my favorite part) a guitar solo that consists pretty much of one note, bent and strained for 15 seconds or so. Don’t miss it. “Slow Years” comes from the CD Bad Times, All Gone, which was released last week in Europe by the small but tasteful German label Tapete Records, which is run by Dirk Darmstaedter. The MP3 is via the Tapete site.

“Million Dollars Bail” – Peter Case

Before he was frontman for the little-known (but influential) power pop band the Nerves and the better-known Plimsouls, Peter Case eked out a living playing guitar in coffeehouses and busking on the San Francisco streets. After the Plimsouls had their 15 minutes of new wave fame in the early ’80s, Case revisited his roots, re-emerging as a road-toughened troubadour in the later part of the decade, and recording a couple of fine albums in the process. In the years since, Case has all the more convincingly grown into the role; nowadays he sings his finger-picked songs about hard-luck characters with the deep, rough-hewn authenticity of the folk and blues balladeers he admired as a teenager. “Million Dollars Bail” is an old-fashioned protest song—guitar, voice, and indignant lyrics. And yet notice the lack of vitriol, the palpable dignity of the stark yet nuanced performance—he sounds too centered to have to convince us he’s right, and too right to have to point fingers and yell. He’s singing about our two-tiered justice system, but he’s not ranting and demanding changes—he lets the story tell itself, and lets us know, in the end, what’s really at stake: “But there’s a sentence passed on every soul, someday we all must die/When the question’s not who pulled the switch, it’s how you lived and why.” You’ll find “Million Dollars Bail” on the CD Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John, which was released last month on Yep Roc Records. The MP3 is courtesy of Spin.com.

“Salvador” – Jamie T

“Salvador” takes full advantage of its three and a half minutes, filling both the time and space it has with an enticing, cross-genre stew of sounds and rhythms. After a slow intro featuring oddly ancient-sounding electric guitars, the song takes off with a ska-infused beat, at once propulsive and snaky, and atmospheric, often sinister guitar accents. Just as we adjust to this unexpectedly captivating soundscape, the young Briton introduces an unhurried rap verse, which slides into the churning musical terrain quite nicely. As do the threatening “hoo! hah!” background vocals a bit later, somehow. His working-class singing accent has caused a bit of a row in England, as it turns out 21-year-old Jamie T (née Treays) is from well-to-do Wimbledon, and attended a posh school, but all I’m thinking we should care about is does the song work? I say it does. (And would point out that Joe Strummer, the son of a diplomat, was hardly a hooligan either.) “Salvador” is from Jamie T’s debut CD Panic Prevention, which was released in the U.S. at the end of August on Caroline Records. (The record came out in the U.K. back in January and is one of the 12 nominees for this year’s Mercury Prize.) The MP3 is via Better Propaganda.




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