“Underdog Victorious” – Jill Sobule

Jill Sobule has an uncanny gift for putting big, memorable melodies into her offbeat songs, where I kind of least expect them. From the piano-driven opening stomp to the beautiful modulation in the second half of the verse (that is, the mysteriously gratifying chords she shifts into with the words “Four o’clock when he got home…”) to the seriously anthemic chorus, “Underdog Victorious” blazes with confidence from beginning to end. With sonic heft and lyrical grit, Sobule consistently undermines my expectations of what a singer/songwriter can sound like; her large and polished sound likewise runs counter to what one typically hears from musicians who record independently. Warren Zevon once called her “a cross between Tolstoy and the tomahawk thrower at the Cheyenne rodeo.” Not sure what that means, but what the heck, it’s a good quote, and indicative if nothing else of Sobule’s depth, talent, and wacky artistic courage. This song is new, not yet released on an album, but available on her web site.

“Lie in the Sound” – Trespassers William

With a big, melancholic tip of the hat towards bands like Mazzy Star and the Cowboy Junkies, the California band Trespassers William serves up a fetching and affecting version of that sort of sad, deep, and distant dream pop. The key to this song’s success, to my ears, is the strength of the melody in the chorus. Too often bands on this path bog down in their own dreaminess; Mazzy Star’s well-known “Fade Into You,” offered little more than four- or five-note melodic phrases, repeated. “Lie in the Sound” gives us both the dreamy vibe and the extra lift of an honest, beautiful melody anchoring the song at its center. “Lie in the Sound” can be found on Different Stars, released in 2002 on Bella Union Records.

“Perfect Weapon” – Communique

A big, brash homage to the so-called “New Romantic” movement of the early ’80s, “Perfect Weapon” comes at us like an ABC reunion, complete with a re-use of the phrase “poison arrows” (the British band ABC had a hit song called “Poison Arrow”) and a lead singer who sounds vaguely British, even as the band hails from Oakland. The dance beat is pure ’80s; the minor-key urgency of the synthesizer riff will have you glancing over your shoulder for Midge Ure (the emotive singer who fronted Ultravox at the height of their hit single career phase). And yet for all the echoes from a bygone era, the song has a here-and-now chutzpah to it. Communique’s debut CD, Poison Arrows, will be released in June on Lookout Records. MP3 via Better Propaganda.




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