“Year of the Rat” – Badly Drawn Boy

Woolly-hatted one-man-band Damon Gough returns to the do-it-yourself orchestral style that lent his first CD, The Hour of Bewilderbeast, its distinctive allure. Not that this sound doesn’t have its share of potential pitfalls. I mean, add kettle drums to anyone this earnest and he runs the risk of sounding, shall we say, bombastic. And let’s not even talk about the children’s choir in the chorus. But BDB wins out here, I think, through sheer force of good will. Good will counts for a lot these days, as there is so blessed little of it to go around–or, more accurately, the people who have it are so rarely given a voice in popular culture. So, yeah, the tune is pretty simple, and the sentiments are pretty corny, but it sticks in my head, and I don’t mind it hanging out there. Plus, I get the sense, like with Bewilderbeast, that this song is going to be an idiosyncratic part of an idiosyncratic whole, so much so that taking it out of context probably involves missing a certain amount of its effect. According to the Chinese zodiac, by the way, it is not the actual year of the rat, so I’m thinking he’s making a political statement, telling us hey, buck up, stick together, we’ll get through (“One plus one is one,” he sings; and that’s the name of the CD as well). So the slacker dude in the hat turns out to be one big Harry Nilsson-ish cornball, and I say good for him. The CD, on BDB’s own Twisted Nerve label, released through XL Recordings and Astralwerks, is due out June 21. The MP3 comes from BDB’s web site.


“On the Green” – I Love Math”

The song opens with a fuzzy, automated-sounding rhythm sound that goes on perhaps a little too long–I’m thinking “all right already” when I first hear it–and then, bang, the drum enters off the beat of the automated-sounding rhythm thing, incorporating it in an unanticipated manner. Soon enter guitar, bass, and harmonica, and we’re suddenly in the middle of a home-spun, alt-country-tinged indie pop-rocker. What gives the song such presence, to me, are the extra melodic steps the music takes both in the verse and the chorus. Listen to how the verse doesn’t just stick with the simple, repeated melody from the first two lines (as many songs might) but adds an asymmetrical line that gives the verse a chance to explore a few extra chords before heading back to the beginning. A similar moment of spiffy modulation happens towards the end of the chorus as well–and don’t miss how the band extends this moment the second time the chorus comes around. We’re not talking profound accomplishment here, but the great good melodic energy and vocal charm on display here make this song a keeper. I can find little proof of this group’s existence except on the SXSW.com web site, where you’ll find this MP3. There it says: “I Love Math is John and Jason from The Deathray Davies, Philip Peoples from the Old 97’s and Aaron Kelly who is just a badass.”


“Miracle Drug” – A. C. Newman

Okay, so speaking of Ray Davies (sort of), my goodness, Carl Newman could’ve been understudy for Mr. Davies on the Sleepwalker sessions. Only I don’t imagine Newman was even alive in 1977, when the Kinks released that album. Minor detail. In any case, not only does Newman’s appealingly nasal upper-register singing pay deep homage to Davies, the staccato crunch of the guitar has its own sort of Kink-iness to it as well. “Miracle Drug” isn’t actually that much of a song; the chorus is just one line long (interestingly enough, he sounds rather a lot like John Lennon during this part), and the verses succeed more on the jumpy charm of the guitar-vocal interplay (and of course Newman’s Ray Davies-ness) than on the breadth or depth of the songwriting, but hey it’s summertime–short and catchy is just fine. And, as previously noted here, current rock’n’rollers who love and respect the Kinks gain a fair amount of love and respect on Fingertips from the get-go. “Miracle Drug” is found on Newman’s first solo CD, Slow Wonder, released earlier this month on Matador Records. Newman is otherwise known for being the leader of the Canadian band the New Pornographers. The MP3 comes from the Matador Records web site.




0