“Discretion” – Pedro the Lion

David Bazan, Pedro the Lion’s mastermind (on some albums he’s the whole band), has a brilliant rock’n’roll voice, burnished by what sounds like an unalleviatable ache. This is a voice that says, “I’m going to tell you a sad story and you’re going to listen.” Here, an incisive, bell-like guitar line propels a tragedy I can’t completely decipher–but any song that starts with the line “Having no idea that his youngest son was dead/The farmer and his sweet young wife slept soundly in his bed” is not heading to a happy place. And yet the song has such presence and verve–Bazan writes long melodies, offers gratifying chord changes, and sings from his soul–that it feels stirring and heroic nonetheless. “Discretion” can be found on Pedro the Lion’s recently released fifth CD, Achilles Heel (Jade Tree). The MP3 is available on the band’s site.

“Captain” – Shapes of Race Cars

You could do worse than blast this song from your car’s sound system with the top down all summer long. Provided it doesn’t rain. And provided you have a convertible. But you get the idea: this here is a big, bashing dollop of tuneful, hard-driving, summer-anthemy energy. Shapes of Race Cars may be a new band, but the fact that they describe themselves as a “power trio” tells me what I need to know. It takes a certain amount of heart and guts to hit the rock scene with just guitar, bass, and drums: there’s no room to hide, no aural space for mushiness or lack of clarity. What’s more, these guys take what could’ve been an effective two and a half minute ditty and open it skillfully into an engaging four and a half minute mini-epic, thanks largely to an instrumental break that starts about two minutes in. Sailing out of chorus harmonies at that point, the song pulls back instrumentally, singer/guitarist Dylan Callaghan turns a high note into a thoughtful couple of “doo-ooo”s which are are mimicked on the guitar, launching a well-crafted, melodic solo that evokes nameless, bygone moments in rock history through both sound and gusto. “Captain” is one of six songs on a new, self-released EP called Apocalypse Hurts; the MP3 is on the band’s web site. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the heads up.

“Airstream” – Low-Beam

Vaguely off-key keyboards (off-keyboards?) lend an appealing goofiness at the outset, but when the joint male/female lead vocals kick in, “Airstream” takes off, steadily acquiring an unexpected sort of classic majesty, like some great lost late ’70s nugget–“Roadrunner” meets “I Zimbra” meets four 21st-century believers from New London, Connecticut. The repetitive, circular melody works in tandem with the driving rhythm and fuzzy-around-the-edges soundscape to create an inexplicably catchy song–its own sort of cruising with the top down summer song, come to think of it. And fans of unexpected instrumental entrances will no doubt appreciate the muted trumpet that wanders in during the last 50 seconds of this one. The band aims for an admirable sense of cohesiveness both musically and thematically; I like this explanation of the name, from the band’s web site: “Low-beaming is night-driving along the river road on the long way there, navigating by moonlight, almost into the river sometimes. Or out to the lake in a traveling party and shutting the lights off behind the lead car. And full moon motorcycling through the woods, the visual soundtrack equivalent to a CCR song or maybe Elvis in the ghetto.” “Airstream” was first released on a vinyl single in September 2003, then emerged on a six-song EP called Every Other Moment in March of this year; the MP3 is on Last.fm. A full-length CD is in the works.




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