“I Predict a Riot” – the Kaiser Chiefs

In both sound and sheer exuberant panache, this song more than any I’ve heard in the last few years recalls one of rock history’s greatest of time/places–Great Britain in the late ’70s. Urgent, vibrant, crazy-catchy singles poured overseas from the U.K. during that high-spirited time when punk transmuted into new wave. There was no separation between pop and credibility back then, perhaps because back then pop music could have (for lack of a more elegant word) balls–not to be confused with simple vulgarity, by the way. From the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Jam through the Stiff Records gang (Elvis Costello among them), the Buzzcocks, the Undertones, and many others, the years 1977 through 1979 gave birth to a flood of roiling, vivid singles, each sporting a terrific melody–even if the singer (as often was the case) sneered his way through the song. “I Predict a Riot” gives us simple, memorable melodies in all three sections of the song (verse, bridge, chorus), which sounds like a straightforward feat until you realize how few songs bother to achieve it. Like many of the Jam singles in particular (check that band out please if you’ve never heard them!), this song adds a thread of minor-key and lyrical menace to the cheery fabric; the vague sensation that maybe you’ve heard this all before only heightens the engagement. The song, a sensation in England, will be available in the U.S. on Employment, the band’s debut CD, set for a major-label release here this week on Universal. The MP3 can be found on SXSW.com.



“Axons and Dendrites” – Shipping News

Perhaps it’s only fitting that a song called “Axons and Dendrites” have so much depth and tension, so much implied mysteriously below the surface. As far as I can tell, this piece is built largely upon a recurring two-chord progression (the two nerve processes of the title?), but the chords are so spacious and so good–the second so completely satisfying and yet continually unexpected-sounding an arrival point–that a fully textured adventure results. Shipping News affects a lot through juxtaposition, the most prominent one being the matching of a rapid, tribal-like drumbeat against the slow unfolding of the two chords; listen as well to the way the ringing guitar that offers the signature chords plays against an undercurrent of muddy-fuzzy guitar noise, and to how the bass flits in and out of awareness, sometimes offering high-register melody, other times sinking down into the primal groove driving the song ever forward. A four-piece band with roots in Louisville, Kentucky, these guys have been around since 1996 and the experience shows. “Axons and Dendrites” is the opening track on their third CD, Flies the Field, to be released next week on Quarterstick Records.



“Oh Heart” – Jill Barber

An old-timey tune sung by a young Canadian singer/songwriter with an old-timey voice, “Oh Heart” is not the sort of song that screamed “Pick me! Pick me!,” waving its hands and jumping out of its chair to get here. But there was something in its insinuating melody and well-crafted homespun-iness that has worked to charm me as I’ve listened repeatedly over the last couple of weeks. (Note that it did keep calling for repeated listens.) Fans of Kate and Anna McGarrigle will feel an immediate affinity to Barber’s tremulous alto and back-porch arrangements; I hear hints of the great Ron Sexsmith (another Canadian) in the way this song mixes fragile beauty with rock-solid songwriting. Barber is the younger sister of Matthew Barber, who is himself far more well-known up North than he is here in the U.S. “Oh Heart” comes from a six-song EP Barber released last year by Dependent Music. The MP3 comes (where else?) from SXSW.com.




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