“Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” – Arcade Fire

A gut-satisfying drumbeat, sleighbells, and a distinctively plucked guitar concoct a great introduction here, and that’s even before the bandoneon enters. I think this is a bandoneon; in any case, it’s a charming, plaintive accordion riff, and it goes on to form the backbone of a compelling song from an eccentric Montreal quintet. With a prominent amount of shouting and/or fuzzy-megaphone vocalizing, this song is not a smooth listen; I needed to hear it a number of times before I began to like it, so hang in there before jumping to conclusions. “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” is one of four numbered “Neighborhood” songs on the band’s Funeral album, released last month on Merge Records, to wide acclaim. I should note that the Arcade Fire’s emergence as one of the “it” bands of 2004 made me more than a little suspicious before I even heard them. I’m not normally prone to cynicism, but I mistrust pop music criticism’s flavor-of-the-month tendencies, which are prompted by fashion rather than sound. (One critic, for instance, wrote, of Arcade Fire, that “though the band utilizes nice melodies and lively arrangements, the nostalgia-steeped-indie-rock-orchestra pool was pretty much drained before the Arcade Fire dove in.” Silly! Fashion designers may feel that a certain look is “done” once it’s been too widely adopted, but musicians? An outlandish and elitist criticism. But I digress.)


“The Dirt-Bike Option” – the Fauves

Gruff but lovable guitar pop from an underappreciated Australian band. That is, in Australia they’re underappreciated; here in the U.S., they’re completely unknown. But there’s no way I for one am not going to like the heck out of a song with a sing-along chorus featuring this lyric: “Ooh, the dirt-bike option paid off/We never settled with the workers that we laid off.” The rumbly guitars balanced by spiffy harmonies in the chorus and a wonderfully cheesy organ line are further merits. Plus I am bound to be partial to a song that arose as follows: “The title came from listening to Terry [Cleaver; the bass player] bang on backstage at a gig in Bateman’s Bay about a new computer game he’d been playing; one in which he had ‘exercised the dirt-bike option’. Songs about computer games are boring so the main lyric dealt with the somewhat unrelated topic of messiah complexes and cults living in fortified compounds.” It seems poetic justic, somehow, that the world-weary, self-deprecating Fauves have now lasted longer than the early 20th-century art movement after which they named themselves. Formed in Melbourne in the late ’80s, the band scored some commercial successes in Australia in the mid-’90s, but have struggled more recently to get themselves heard–a reality implied by the name of the 2000 single (“Celebrate the Failure”) which contained “The Dirt-Bike Option” as a B-side. The MP3 is available on the band’s web site, along with a number of other enjoyable B-sides and rarities.


“Graceland” – the New Pornographers

Big and exuberant, this likable rocker showcases the New Pornographers’ enviable capacity to channel the sounds of bygone eras while still sounding fresh and catchy. “Graceland” (not the Paul Simon song) has the irrepressible drive and gleeful harmonies of, I don’t know, an old Grass Roots song maybe. Built on top of a shuffly pair of ever-irresistible four-note intervals, the whole thing brings back the early ’70s in some ineffable way. “Graceland” is posted on Insound; the song can be found on the Matador at 15 CD, which features 35 tracks spanning the 15-year history of Matador Records, released late last month.




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