“We Can Have It” – the Dears

So this one begins quite literally as a lullaby–a soothing keyboard, a strumming acoustic guitar, a gentle sing-songy melody. And then the words: “Last night all the horrible/Things in life start through my dreams…” Okay, not your typical lullaby. Nor is it your typical rock song. The opening lullaby of despair continues for two full minutes, singer Murray Lightburn–who often sounds uncannily like Morrissey–here channeling David Bowie with the best of them while the band sustains interest and tension through subtle touches (listen for the melodramatic synthesizer blurts, and how the female backing vocals just sort of melt into place without your being aware they started). Then, at 1:59, the tempo kicks in double-time, electric guitar ticking a precise line against a complex drumbeat, and now there’s a flute in there, and a harmonica, and now Lightburn is back, still Bowie-like but yearning now, repeating emotive lines like, “You’re not alone” and “You never said I’d see you again.” Eventually the song pivits once more, on this great line: “Someone somewhere says they’ve got it all/But that’s not even what we want/Not even close.” From there the one-time lullaby closes as an incantation, the last minute featuring one line repeating over and over, instrumentation fading away, leaving only Lightburn and a muted chorus of voices. Pop music as therapeutic/spiritual adventure; just the thing for a Monday, eh? “We Can Have It” is the lead track on No Cities Left, the Dears’ second full-length CD, released in October 2004 on SpinArt Records; the MP3 is found on the SpinArt web site.



“Slumberdoll” – the Autumns

On “Slumberdoll,” the L.A.-based Autumns manage the wondrous but challenging task of being both lovely and noisy. A perky-chimy guitar and chipper drumbeat open the song, but then are suspended into a spacey wash as singer/guitarist Matthew Kelly enters with his voice distant and filtered. When his voice regularizes and the band kicks in, note that we’re now hanging out in the musically tense fourth chord (that is, four whole notes up from the home chord–usually denoted with the Roman numeral IV; trust me, it’s a time-honored place to hang out if you want to create tension). We’re not there for long, but it’s kind of fun that the song feels like it’s starting there, because of the production choices leading up to this point. So when we return to the starting place, harmonically speaking, it feels wonderful. There’ll be a five (V) chord in there too (e.g. around 1:08) to assist with the ultimate sense of resolution. But by now note how much noise the band has filled the song with; I particularly like the slanty discordant edges at least one of the guitars (there are a lot of guitars going on here) throws into the mix, and big open spaces the other guitars carve into the production. And yet an underlying sort of gorgeousness persists because of the unabashed use of the ancient I-IV-V progression. The return of the perky-chimy guitar helps too. “Slumberdoll” comes from the band’s self-titled CD on Pseudopod Records, their third full-length (they’ve actually been together since 1992), released in September.



“Finally” – Corrina Repp

Slightly skewed, minimalist folk-electronica from a Portland, Oregon-based singer/songwriter who was herself named by her parents after a Bob Dylan song. I like the carefully chosen sounds used to enhance the clockwork simplicity of the tune: a ghostly, bowed-saw-like synthesizer on top; a twangy, off-key guitar string randomly appearing in the middle of the sound; scratch-like swipes and buzzes of sound below. Repp’s voice has a deadpan straightforwardness that reminds me of Suzanne Vega, while the unearthly, hodge-podgy aural ambiance brings Tom Waits to mind, albeit a more mild-mannered and less loony version of Tom Waits. Not much happens, ultimately, here, but on the other hand, I find that I can keep listening to it again and again with little sign of mental wear and tear. If nothing else, the entire song, for me, is completely redeemed by the whispered “okay” at 3:17 (of a 3:39 song). I’m in love with the way she says “okay” right there. “Finally” comes from Repp’s second CD, It’s Only the Future, released on Hush Records in November; the MP3 is on the Hush web site.




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