“Tired & Buttered” – Quilt

For a minute and a half, “Tired & Buttered” pounds away with a fidgety, psychedelic claustrophobia that seems counter-intuitively liberating. I don’t think we’re hearing more than two chords here, and the section that seems to be the chorus appears to be getting by with just one. Notice too that a lot of urgency is created without, actually, that much noise. No wailing or bashing, just a steady beat, some atmospheric vocal effects, an elusively non-Western guitar line, and two chords. Keep an ear on the harmonies, which are casually trippy.

At the precise halfway point, things change (1:30). The song slows and quiets, the woozy vocals get a bit woozier, the drumming gets careful and winsome. Soon an electric guitar snakes to the foreground with an informed ’60s flair for the pop-exotic, and leads us with an abrupt lack of fuss back to the opening tempo and ambiance. Now the guitar seems more clearly in charge, its background flourishes suddenly keys to the entire song. Having no clear idea what “tired and buttered” means will not detract from the song’s charms.

Quilt is a trio from Boston. “Tired & Buttered” has been floating around online since the fall, finally to emerge on the band’s second album, Held in Splendor, in late January, on the Mexican Summer label. MP3 via NPR’s fine selection of free and legal downloads from 2014 SXSW acts.

(As a P.S., the band had a bad accident in their van recently. They are all okay but their van, upon which they rely to tour, is not. You can read more details at http://quiltmusic.org/quiltmusic/HOME.html and contribute some amount, big or small, if you are so inclined.)

The Honey Trees

“Nightingale” – The Honey Trees

You don’t expect a song named “Nightingale” to begin with a drum solo. You do expect a song named “Nightingale” to be sung by a someone with a lovely voice. You don’t expect any song—named “Nightingale,” or not—to have a drop-dead, goose-bump gorgeous chorus, simply because there’s no sense in getting one’s expectations that high. Bonus points here for the musical elegance of the transition from verse to chorus (first heard at 0:52-0:55). Note too that even in the rarified world of crystal-pure voices, The Honey Trees’ singer Becky Filip deserves some special props. Hers is not simply pretty but full of subtle character, and impressively athletic (for example, the supple leap she takes at the end of the phrase “skin and bones,” at 0:40).

The song is lush, disciplined, unfalteringly interesting. The verse feels purposeful, as Filip floats her beguiling voice above a syncopated rhythm. I like the sudden clearing of the minimal bridge (2:26). But, seriously, this chorus. Like many acutely beautiful things, it is not perfect. It is less full-fledged chorus than indecipherable sentence, containing perhaps 10 words, and encompassing (by my count) at least six moments of ravishing harmonic delight along the way. It ends both unresolved and somewhat incomplete-seeming, the perhaps inevitable result of the breathtaking mini-journey it pulls us through. The first time you hear it, in fact, the power of its beauty may not quite to sink in before the song slides sideways into a liminal section of wordless vocals (1:10). The next two times, the chorus is repeated, creating what may well be the song’s finest moment: the drum-led threshold between the chorus’s irresolute end and its immediate repetition, which we hear both at 2:13 and at 3:14. And that second time—don’t miss it—the chorus gets an additional repeat, which this time is preceded by an unexpected upward melisma at 3:43 that in its own way introduces a delicate kind of anticipatory closure into a melody that otherwise resists completion.

The Honey Trees are a duo from central California (Filip’s band mate is Jacob Wick). “Nightingale” is a song from the band’s debut full-length album, Bright Fire. An earlier EP was released in 2009. The album was produced by Jeremy Larson in Springfield, Missouri, and will be released in April.

Jessy Bell Smith

“John Mouse” – Jessy Bell Smith

Jessy Bell Smith has a magical lilt in her voice, and “John Mouse” is a magical, lilting song, all forward momentum and friendly, recycling melody. Verse and chorus are barely distinguishable as Smith, once set in motion, seems not to want to break the spell of this odd, oblique little tale. A mouse has been killed, to begin with. The narrator seems conflicted about it. After that, little is unambiguous, lyrically.

Musically, on the other hand, “John Mouse” is steadfast and definitive, with the feeling of a olden-days folk ballad re-booted by a traveling-carnival rock band with more interest in horns and tooting keyboards than electric guitars. There in the midst of the song’s light-footed élan, Smith manages to convey the sensibility of both ringmaster and empath, laying an almost poignant tenderness atop her “Step right up!” confidence.

Note by the way that it’s rare for a song to have both this trustworthy a backbeat and this offbeat an arrangement. When the backbeat disappears, starting at 2:09, the song’s idiosyncratic pith comes more fully into focus. This is fun in its own way but when the drumming returns 30 seconds later is when she really owns you. I think there’s a lesson in that but I’m not exactly sure what it is.

A singer/songwriter from Guelph, Ontario, Jessy Bell Smith has also somewhat recently become a member of the veteran Toronto band The Skydiggers. “John Mouse” is from the album The Town, released at the end of February via Choose My Music, a British music blog with a small, associated record label. The album was a limited-edition CD and appears now to be sold out; you can check out two other songs via Bandcamp, and download one of them via SoundCloud, thanks to the Guelph-based Missed Connection Records. Smith’s one previous release appears to have been a very lo-fi EP called Tiny Lights, in 2004. Two of those songs landed on this finally-recorded album. Thanks to the record label for the MP3. Thanks to Lauren Laverne for the tip.

Eclectic Vol 4

As one corner of the world embarks upon a week of relentlessly promoted new music, how about a playlist filled with almost entirely unpromoted music from every rock’n'roll decade that yet exists?

So, yes, Volume 4 of the Eclectic Playlist Series is upon us. I am starting to think the playlists should have titles, if only to give them more immediate personality. Will think about this for future reference.

In the meantime, here are 20 more songs placed thoughtfully together despite notable differences in year of origin and genre. We open up with a Jules Shear track that is not I don’t think in the standard pantheon of widely-admired Jules Shear gems but not for lack of brilliance. The Smiths song has always been a favorite in part because of how it manages to break out of the band’s signature sound even while still being very Smiths-y. Willie Colón I quite literally just stumbled upon recently via some Songza exploration. New York salsa is not an expertise, needless to say, but this song had an extra oomph to it that called to me. I especially like juxtaposing the cutely blasé Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett, just now breaking out, with the declarative strangeness of New Wave princess Lene Lovich. It just seemed to work. As for OMD into the Grateful Dead, that initiated as a music library shuffle accident that was too good to forget. Meanwhile, the Auteurs, anyone? I never really knew what they were about, but ended up with a cassette version of New Wave a few years after its release. I never heard them on the radio, and have never had reason to discuss them with anyone, so I feel as if they have previously existed in my own private sub-universe. We’ll see how they do exposed to the light of day.

If this seems like a reasonable idea, be sure to check out the previous playlists in the series, helpfully titled Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3.

And this one is definitely going to sound better when the Mixcloud version is finished, with professional segues rather than random bits of dead air. For more information on what Mixcloud is about and links to Volumes 1 and 2 on Mixcloud, see the previous post.

For those who want or need the direct Spotify URL:

And for those who are interested but are not Spotify members, and therefore can’t access the list (yet; a Mixcloud version will be online at some point), here are the songs featured, along with year of release and album of origin, if any:

“Hard Enough” – Jules Shear (Allow Me, 2000)
“Le vent nous portera” – Sophie Hunger (1983, 2010)
“A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours” – The Smiths (Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987)
“I Just Got Back” – Parliament (Up for the Down Stroke, 1974)
“Listen to Me” – Buddy Holly (Buddy Holly, 1958)
“Heart” – Nick Lowe (Nick the Knife, 1982)
“El Dia de Suerte” – Willie Colón (Lo Mato, 1973)
“Avant Gardener” – Courtney Barnett (The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, 2013)
“Home” – Lene Lovich (Stateless, 1978)
“I Got a Line on You” – Spirit (The Family That Plays Together, 1968)
“Kill to Know” – Amy Miles (Dirty Stay-Out, 2002)
“Helen of Troy” – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (English Electric, 2013)
“Box of Rain” – Grateful Dead (American Beauty, 1970)
“Leave Me Alone” – Baby Washington (I’ve Got a Feeling, 1963)
“He Keeps Me Alive” – Sally Shapiro (Disco Romance, 2004)
“Gimme Some Slack” – the Cars (Panorama, 1980)
“Show Girl” – The Auteurs (New Wave, 1993)
“10538 Overture” – Electric Light Orchestra (The Electric Light Orchestra, 1972)
“Bodyguard” – Dawn Landes (Fireproof, 2006)
“It’s a Fire” – Portishead (Dummy, 1994)

Regular visitors may have noticed that I’ve begun posting playlists on Spotify. At the same time, I haven’t been completely happy there. While it’s all but effortless to make playlists on that popular streaming service, there are in my view three consistent downsides to how things work in Spotifyland. First, you have to register before you can listen; second, playlist songs are inelegantly stacked together (rather than artful segues you typically get an awkward amount of dead air between songs); and third, all playlists are marred by random commercials which intrude if you are using the free versus paid-for service. An additional problem occasionally encountered is the absence of a song one might otherwise want to use. Spotify has lots of stuff but they don’t have everything, because basically no one can.

The British streaming service Mixcloud deftly sidesteps each of these problems, for the relatively minor cost of it involving more effort to create playlists in the first place. Rather than dragging and dropping songs, Mixcloud requires the playlist maker to fully construct his or her playlist as one long file, which is then uploaded. Further effort is then necessary to upload song titles and “time-stamp” the playlist, so the Mixcloud player can identify what song is playing at any given time.

The end result is brilliant, however. You get a playlist anyone can listen to, without joining anything, you get a playlist with purposefully designed segues, you get a playlist without commercials, and you get to include any song you have in your own library. On top of all this, Mixcloud is legal; they pay all the appropriate licensing fees required in the U.K. And while it’s true that Mixcloud is a very DJ-oriented environment, there does seem room for eclectic playlists of all kinds, so I’m definitely hopeful to gain a foothold there.

Which I most certainly have not done yet, as you’ll see if you visit my profile page. But hey it’s a brand-new enterprise for me, and the beginning is always today, as the saying goes.

Note that right now I’m a bit out of sync with myself—Volume 4 in the Eclectic Playlist Series will be out in a few days on Spotify, but on Mixcloud only the first two playlists in the series are available. You can access those below. I am hoping that within another month or so I will be able to beginning publishing the playlists on Spotify and Mixcloud at the same time. In the meantime, it’s a good opportunity to check out these earlier playlists if you haven’t quite found the time yet. Not that I can give you more time in the day (if only), but here at least is the easiest access yet to the music.

Fingertips Eclectic Playlist Series, Vol. 1 by Fingertipsmusic on Mixcloud

Fingertips Eclectic Playlist Series, Vol. 2 by Fingertipsmusic on Mixcloud