“Balloon Maker” – Midlake

Here’s a band from Denton, Texas that’s channeling a veritable history of British rock in one great, swirling package. I hear Salty Dog-era Procol Harum in here, a dash of Robyn Hitchcock, some Beatles of course, and even a touch of Radiohead, majestically and more than a little psychedelically mixed together. (I for one never realized how much Thom Yorke owes to Procol’s Gary Brooker until these guys linked the two so clearly together.) “Balloon Maker” places you immediately in the middle of a fuzzy, orchestral wash of sound, and unfolds with quirky hesitations through the verse before unwrapping into a memorable chorus. Horns and chimes lend extra texture as the song develops, and before things get too stodgy, the synthesizer offers a dizzy solo three and a half minutes in. This song comes from the band’s first full-length CD, Bamnan and Slivercork, to be released June 8th on Bella Union. The MP3 is located on the vast SXSW web site.

“Coin-Operated Boy” – the Dresden Dolls

The White Stripes have their guitar-and-drum, Led Zeppelin meets a couple of geeks from Detroit act; now we have the Dresden Dolls with their piano-and-drum, Kurt Weill meets a couple of punks from Boston act. It’s hard to know what kind of shelf life this sort of duo will have, but the music (“Brechtian Punk Cabaret,” as they label it themselves) certainly stands out in a crowd. And there are hints at a simmering sort of brilliance beneath what might at first glance seem like shtick. To begin with, there’s the band’s seemingly effortless knack for melody–the verse, for instance, is an extended line rather than a repeated phrase; the descending twist at the point when pianist/singer/songwriter Amanda Palmer sings “But I turn him on” is a great moment. The lyrics likewise reveal a sneaky capability, despite the pitfall of tromping through somewhat well-worn territory (lonely outsider imagining life with an artificial lover). Like here: “Coin-operated boy/All the other real ones that I destroy/Cannot hold a candle to my new boy and I’ll/Never let him go…” Or, in particular, as the bridge starts, here: “This bridge was written to make you feel smittener/With my sad picture of girl getting bitterer.” Note too that the narrator wants the robot not because she can’t find a lover otherwise but because she’s tired of how she easily chews up her real ones. Could be a band to pay close attention to. The song is found on the Dresden Dolls’ self-titled CD, their first studio release, which came out in April; the MP3 comes from SXSW again.

“When I Wake Up” – the Fontaine Toups

I do like songs with “do-do-do-do”s in the them, I guess. Here’s an appealingly straightforward rocker from the oddly-named band the Fontaine Toups—oddly named because the leader herself is, apparently, named Fontaine Toups. She used to be in a popular NYC-based band called Versus, which recorded five CDs through the ’90s. “When I Wake Up” has a loose-limbed energy to it that plays well off Toups’ Chrissie Hynde-like swagger. The song comes from the band’s debut CD, released earlier this month on Teenbeat Records; the MP3 is located on the band’s web site.




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