“Cherry Tulips” – Headlights

At once delicate and sturdy, quirky and poppy, summery and somehow wintery too, “Cherry Tulips” embraces a seemingly endless series of opposites—in addition to containing the aforementioned dialectics, the song strikes me likewise as both lo-fi and polished, retro-y and current, crisp and echoey. And if that’s not enough, singer/keyboardist Erin Fein manages to be at once airy and substantive, both forthright and mysterious.

Or maybe I just can’t make up my mind today.

I do know that I’m enjoying this one without reservation, from the shadowy opening heart-throb pulse through the sped-up Motown rhythm and maybe most especially the soaring, melodic, call-and-response payoff in the chorus, which enlarges the song in a way I can only describe as florally. Headlights is a trio from the Champaign, Illinois area; “Cherry Tulips” arrives in advance from the band’s second CD, Some Racing, Some Stopping, scheduled for release next month on Polyvinyl Records. MP3 via Polyvinyl.



“Gila” – Beach House

Sometimes it’ll be one melody that does it, one melody that is robust and agreeable enough to hang a song upon. And “Beach House,” a languorous new song from the Balitmore duo Beach House, gives us that melody as its opening salvo, the first thing we hear from singer Victoria Legrand’s mouth: a dreamy, downward-tending progression that’s actually two lazily swinging four-note descents tucked into one another. Drenched in reverb, steamy organ, and unplaceable atmosphere, the melody hooks me for good the second time, when the upturn at the end disappears; the simple act of staying on the same note one extra time changes the chord, the mood, the trajectory of the song on the spot (compare 0:25-0:26 to 0:32-0:33 and see if you feel it.)

Now normally I’m not sure I enjoy songs with quite this much blurry reverb, but I realize in listening that it’s not the blurry reverb that bothers me per se, it’s the tendency for songs with a lot of blurry reverb to be blurry through and through–indistinct melody, hazy structure, vague instrumentation, vague everything. “Gila” is exactly not that; it’s as precisely crafted as they come, in which case the smeary touch of the reverb offers an enriching counterpoint, in maybe the same sort of way it works when a happy-sounding song has sad lyrics, or a song with fast underlying rhythm has a slow melody. Listen in particular to the guitar, which plays chord-free accompaniment throughout, offering nicely-etched lines that curl in and around the vocal melody.

“Gila” comes from the band’s forthcoming CD, Devotion, which will be released next month on Carpark Records. MP3 courtesy of Pitchfork.


“Henri” – the Heavy Circles

In one of the more unusual multi-generational (but not really) musical couplings in recent memory, Edie Brickell has teamed up with her stepson, Harper Simon, to put out an album as an entity called the Heavy Circles. Simon is Brickell’s husband Paul Simon’s son from his first marriage, and I said multi-generational “but not really” because as it turns out, Brickell is only six and a half years older than stepson Simon, who’s 35.

And here they are, serving up an offbeat, atmospheric homage (it seems) to French painter Henri Matisse, describing Matisse’s imagery via a hypnotic rhyme scheme over a circular, spy-movie motif, fleshed out with some cinematic synthesizers and the barest touch of crunchy guitar. I’m not sure there’s any more point to it than there was when the elder Simon sang rapturously, and surreally, about René Magritte back when Brickell was a teenager. But it draws me in and then—nicely—lets me go, without fuss. Songs under three minutes always score extra points with me.

But: combine the son of a ’60s and ’70s icon with a woman most often considered an ’80s one-hit wonder and the cool factor is way low on this one; I’ll be surprised if the blogosphere pays much positive attention. But I’ve always admired the clear-voiced Brickell as a singer; maybe this collaboration will help her shed her outdated public identity.

The self-titled CD, to be self-released on a label called Dynamite Child, is, yet again, due out next month.




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