“Take It If You Want It” – Shannon Curtis

Heartfelt & sophisticated

“Take It If You Want It” – Shannon Curtis

A crystalline, synth-driven call to inner action, “Take It If You Want It” stares down the existential mayhem of our 21st-century world and attempts to find a place and a way to live in it regardless. The song’s superpower is the glistening deftness of the presentation: the ’80s-inspired arrangement is tight and inventive (don’t miss the acrobatic bass line), the lyrics are precise and sincere without being dogmatic, and Curtis’s voice is rich, expressive, and disciplined. The overall vibe is heartfelt and sophisticated; if Kate Bush were interested in writing a catchy pop song that wrestles with spiritual precepts, it might sound something like this.

In any case it is certainly a Bushian vocal that, after a brief percussive intro, opens the song with echoey urgency. Curtis has an effortless melodic flair; from the opening lines of the verse the ear is hooked, and the song progresses through its interrelated parts–verse, pre-chorus, chorus–with a enviable sense of inevitability. Not all the lyrics will be immediately legible but, as with the most well-crafted songs, certain phrases will pop; one particularly indelible couplet is unambiguous: “The fascists are ascending/Disaster is impending.” A close listen reveals this as a voice in the head that the narrator is attempting to grapple with. I’d say a lot of us are grappling with that voice here at the end of 2022.

Born in California and based in Tacoma, Washington, Shannon Curtis is a singer/songwriter with a rich catalog to explore. Good To Me is her tenth full-length release in the last 10 years, following three previous EPs and an acoustic compilation album. “Take It If You Want It” is the opening track on the album Good To Me, which is something of a concept album, centering on an inner journey Curtis led herself on during the perilous, pandemic-jostled year 2021. The album, by the way, will next year be followed by a companion book, which Curtis describes as “a step-by-step roadmap for cultivating personal peace and power in hard times.” She notes further that the songs on Good to Me came from her own process of working with and through the steps described in the book. More on the album in the follow-up review, below. (Yes, this month I’m giving you two songs from the same album, with one palate cleanser in between. Keep reading!)

“Dog Stay Down” – Opus Kink

Offbeat frenzy, with horns

“Dog Stay Down” – Opus Kink

Under certain ineffable conditions I become a bit of a sucker for speak-singing in a rock’n’roll context (Cake perhaps my favorite example), and this one seems to hit the right buttons for me, general veneer of offbeat frenzy notwithstanding (or maybe because of it; hard to say). In any case there is no ignoring the sense of frantic drama that suffuses “Dog Stay Down”: from the wordless guttural chants in the introduction through the deft if semi-feverish vocal stylings of Angus Rodgers and the splatty horn charts, the song spools forward with an unhinged but somehow charming panache that grows more appealing with each listen. Those last 20 seconds introduce an extra level of loopy.

I have no idea what Rodgers is singing about, by the way, and it doesn’t remotely matter. Actually I’ll go out on a limb and say that lyrics in general tend to strike me as semi-irrelevant, in terms of their specific denotation. My ears require vocals on the one hand (I’m not much of an instrumental fan), but on the other hand I realize my enjoyment of words in a rock song has more to do with the voice as sound and the words as rhythm and texture than with what a singer is specifically saying. And here in fact is one of my perennial problems with standard music writing: so many reviews of albums focus so intently on lyrics that you’d almost never know the words were actually being sung, and accompanied by melodies and arrangements. More to the point, such writing tends to overlook the unique power of music, ignoring what’s most potent in the listener experience, which at its core is about sound waves, not verbiage. Or so says me. In any case, even were I able to discern all the words here, in “Dog Stay Down,” which I can’t (and at this point there’s no looking them up online), I really wouldn’t want or need to. The cathartic vibe speaks for itself.

Opus Kink is a six-piece band from Brighton, England. “Dog Stay Down” is a track from their debut EP, ‘Til the Streams Run Dry, which was released in October.

“Good To Me” – Shannon Curtis

Large & meditative at the same time

“Good To Me” – Shannon Curtis

In a new twist here on Fingertips I am this month featuring two songs from the same artist. This strikes me as a win-win: it relieves me of the need to select just one song from an album I really like, while also relieving me of the need to lower my standards in order to find three MP3s to offer in a given month. As recently noted, I’m sensing a decline in the availability of free and legal downloads–at least, in the availability of free and legal downloads that live up to my admittedly idiosyncratic standards. I may use this strategy moving forward, as the situation allows, in order to continue to offer at least three songs in any given update.

So yes, I really really like this new Shannon Curtis album, start to finish. The sonic palette, shot through with ’80s atmosphere (the good kind!), is immediately engaging, and Curtis’s prowess as a singer is continually on display–she can go light and airy one moment, and reach grainier middle tones at another. Reverb abounds but with ongoing restraint; the music feels spacious without losing definition. And I am impressed ongoingly by Curtis’s songwriting chops–the effortless melodies and artfully structured songs provide consistent delight, and reward repeated listens. As for the album’s cohesiveness lyrically, the songs reward as much attention as you’re willing to pay to them. For those who want the deep deep dive, there will also be the companion book, as noted above. (The book will initially be available to her community of supporting members, and then released more widely next year.) I applaud Curtis for the seriousness of her purpose and her concurrent capacity to translate her journey into a series of such accessible songs; and yet the beauty of the project is that you don’t have to engage with the details to be moved by the music.

“Good To Me” is the title track, and everything I’ve said about the album overall applies here. I love the ’80s synthesizers and big round percussion, in particular for how mindfully and cleanly produced these potentially over-the-top effects are employed; the song feels both large and meditative at the same time. And from beginning to end, the songcraft is exquisite, with verse and chorus melodies that interrelate and build on each other, and resolve with aplomb. The album was jointly produced by Curtis and her husband, Jamie Hill; Curtis is credited with the concept, the arrangements, the programming, and the performance, Hill with the synthesizers, sound design, and additional programming. This was a pandemic project through and through, conceived of and created during a time when Curtis, very active in recent years as a house-concert musician, was stuck in her own house during the extended lockdown.

MP3s here courtesy of the artist herself. You can listen to the whole thing on Bandcamp, and buy it there too, for a price of your own choosing. Be generous!

You can’t escape the way it all shakes out

Eclectic Playlist Series 9.10 – October 2022

My passing reference, last month, to Billy Bragg’s “dedicated swallower of fascism” lyric put the song it comes from in my head firmly enough that I had to give it an outlet this month. The Kinks will have to wait, but not, probably, for long.

As for the rest of what’s in store, I sense an unconscious blending of the happy and the wary, the rousing and the wistful: life, in other words, filtered through a 20-song playlist.

There are eight decades on tap this time, ranging from a jaunty 1956 cover of the jazz standard “On Green Dolphin Street” to a couple of heartfelt singles from 2022. In between there’s a little of a lot of things, from Motown and classic rock to new wave, indie rock, folk, funk, and other things that don’t cleave neatly to a genre label. Is there a usefully identifiable genre for an overlooked McCartney song from 2001? For Icelandic singer/songwriter Emiliana Torrini’s 2022 work with an ensemble dedicated to “the unorthodox use of classical instruments”? For former supermodel Rosie Vela’s one-time collaboration with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker? If one might file both the Casket Girls and Jolie Holland under “indie rock,” how helpful a label can that actually be?

And hey I’m not trying to open up a relatively pointless can of worms–I’m certainly not going to argue away the concept of genres, which no doubt have their place. In our content-saturated world I end up feeling the need to entice, and talking up the variety via well-worn labels seems, perhaps, a serviceable selling point. But in the interest of full transparency, these playlists, while offering variety, do not range every which way. I don’t connect to music that’s harsh or strident, so I pretty much act like genres that lean in that direction don’t exist. (Kind of a “sorry not sorry” circumstance.) Because melody, chord progressions, and traditional songcraft are my things, I have trouble making qualitative judgments in the hip-hop arena, so you won’t hear much here, though there have been occasional exceptions. For similar reasons, I don’t have a useful feel for EDM. And hyperpop?: I fear I am way behind the curve in understanding what’s going on there, but will note that any music that strikes my ears as “over-processed” defeats my ability to enjoy it. I’m not averse to technology and/or studio trickery per se, but at the end of the day I prefer music that presents as being generated by human voices and, ideally, physical instruments. It’s my born-in-the-20th-century shortcoming but there you go.

Back to the matter at hand: the musical vibe and value of these playlists can’t be fully summarized or represented by the parade of generic labels I might necessarily use to give a preview, via written words, of what your ears are going to encounter. I know there’s a small but dedicated group of listeners who find these mixes enjoyable, which continues to motivate me to put them together.

Enough jabbering. As usual, the widget for listening is below the playlist. After that, for the fully committed, you’ll find some random information about a few of the key songs this month.

1. “Pharmacist” – Alvvays (Blue Rev, 2022)
2. “Accident Waiting to Happen” – Billy Bragg (Don’t Try This At Home, 1991)
3. “Back In My Arms Again” – The Supremes (single, 1965)
4. “Getting Ready to Get Down” – Josh Ritter (Sermon on the Rocks, 2015)
5. “Laugh and Walk Away” – The Shirts (Street Light Shine, 1979)
6. “The Belle of St. Mark” – Sheila E. (The Glamorous Life, 1984)
7. “I Was Neon” – Julia Jacklin (Pre Pleasure, 2022)
8. “On Green Dolphin Street” – Ahmad Jamal Trio (Count ‘Em 88, 1956)
9. “Lonely Road” – Paul McCartney (Driving Rain, 2001)
10.”Magic Smile” – Rosie Vela (Zasu, 1986)
11. “Old Friend” – Caveman (Coco Beware, 2011)
12. “My Man On Love” – Judee Sill (Judee Sill, 1971)
13. “Only Talking Sense” – The Finn Brothers (Finn, 1995)
14. “Let Him Run Wild” – The Beach Boys (Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), 1965)
15. “Palmyra” – Jolie Holland (The Living and the Dead, 2008)
16. “So In Love” – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (Crush, 1985)
17. “Western World” – Casket Girls (What Keeps You Up At Night EP, 2015)
18. “People Say” – The Meters (Rejuvenation, 1974)
19. “Right Here” – Emiliana Torrini & The Colorist Orchestra (single, 2022)
20. “Save It For Someone Who Cares” – The Leisure Society (The Sleeper, 2009)

Odds and ends:

* All these years I didn’t realize that Neil and Tim Finn’s one and only album as a duo is called, simply, Finn as opposed to The Finn Brothers. For what it’s worth, iTunes never realized it either. As a longtime Neil Finn fan I always wanted to love this album more than I did at the time. But returning to it after a few decades I find it quite accomplished and charming in a low-key kind of way. And I realize that I never gave the years-later follow-up, 2004’s Everyone is Here much of a listen beyond the agreeable single, “Won’t Give In.” Going to do that right now. (By the way, you guys are all pretty clear on how great Neil Finn is, right? I’ll leave it to you to look up the history if you’re not familiar. He is an underrated rock’n’roll great, of the substantive/sensitive songwriter variety.)

* “I Was Neon” is the earwormy (in a good way) second single from Julia Jacklin’s impressive third album, Pre Pleasure. Jacklin has broken through more thoroughly so far in her native Australia but her time here in the U.S. may yet be coming.

* Paul McCartney released the album Driving Rain in 2001 to an unusual amount of commercial indifference (it was for instance his lowest-selling album to date in the UK)–a particular shame given the positive reviews and the general quality of the music. In retrospect the album represents a break in his sizable discography; recorded and released at age 59, it can be viewed as the last album he made before his age and experience themselves became subtle and often not-so-subtle themes. By the time of his next studio release, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, in 2004, he was presenting himself more openly as an aging adult. A subtle but definitive shift, and I should note a healthy one. We all get older; rock’n’rollers can too easily get stuck in youthful posturing that just gets foolish after a while. That all said, “Lonely Road” is a terrific, underplayed song. (Those interested in such things might want to give a listen to my “Overlooked McCartney” playlist, where you’ll find this and 20 other terrific Macca tunes that are less well-known than they deserve to be.)

* Speaking of aging rockers, every generation of rock’n’roll musicians to date has had to deal with how to square this particular career choice with the idea of growing older, but indie rock musicians are the first generation to be growing older in a post-rock’n’roll environment. This gives the question of staying power a vexing new wrinkle. (Are rock’n’rollers merely “experts in a dying field,” to quote the Beths?) I am in any case delighted that the Canadian band Alvvays is back for another go. I’ve long since forgiven them for the gimmicky-looking band name (you’re just supposed to pronounce it “Always,” but the spelling makes the band easier to find online), and am eager to spend more time with their fuzzed-up new album, Blue Rev, which was named for a sweet alcoholic drink that was popular in Canada around the turn of the century. The band have been through some bumps in the road since their sophomore effort, Antisocialites (2017), including stolen demos, flood-damaged equipment, two new band members to break in, and oh by the way the pandemic. They seem to have landed in one piece.

* The endearing Icelandic singer/songwriter Emiliana Torrini hasn’t been too obviously active over the last decade or so; her most recent solo album was 2013’s Tookah. But in 2016 she made a collaborative live album with the Belgium collective known as the Colorist Orchestra, which specializes in rearranging songs of specific singer/songwriters, and making an album featuring the new arrangements. More recently Torrini and the ensemble reconnected for a studio recording; the album, Racing the Storm, featuring all original material, will be released next year. “Right Here” is the first song to emerge from this intriguing project. Very long-time Fingertips followers may recall Torrini from her memorable single, “Me and Armini,” featured here back in 2008.

* I always wanted the Brooklyn-based band The Shirts to be better than they actually were. Staples on the same early new wave scene in NYC that produced Blondie, Television, and the rest, the Shirts weren’t punk in the slightest but that was okay–the music on stage at CBGBs in those days was more eclectic than you might think. The problem with the Shirts was simply a lack of consistent material. Over the course of their three initial albums, there were a small handful of excellent songs and a lot more that was forgettable. “Laugh and Walk Away” is from the second of those albums, Street Light Shine (1979), which was also the last album for which they received any helpful record company support. Lead singer Annie Golden ended up abandoning rock’n’roll for an acting career, where you might still find her–she had a notable role on Orange is the New Black and was also recently on Broadway in the acclaimed Into the Woods revival. Sans Golden, the Shirts reunited in the 21st century to release albums in 2006 and 2010. I’m not sure I’m that interested but I’ll always have a soft spot for a few of their ’70s tunes.

* Rosie Vela is an interesting footnote in rock history. After years as a successful fashion model, Vela went all in on music, building a home studio and landing a major record-label deal. The album she ended up making was produced by Gary Katz, well-known for his work with Steely Dan, and actually featured both Donald Fagen and Walter Becker for what might have been their first recorded work on the same project since they had broken up their band in 1981. Vela’s Dan-adjacent album was called Zasu–one assumes after the silent movie star ZaSu Pitts–and was well-received by critics, but went nowhere in terms of sales. While she later appeared intermittently as a singer on other people’s albums, and dated Jeff Lynne for a while, Vela has yet to make another record.

“Skulls” – Peter Matthew Bauer

Rumbly, insistent slice of indie rock

“Skulls” – Peter Matthew Bauer

It’s been a minute or two but here we are again with the download thing. Anyone interested? My beleaguered soul may only be able to fight the flow of inexorable technology for so long; even as I remain convinced that MP3s are an important part of the music listening landscape, I’m not sensing a lot of agreement outside of my own head. The more practical issue: whether I can continue to source enough MP3s that delight me to be able to continue to post about them in any regular way. If KEXP discontinues their MP3-attached “Song of the Day” feature I may have precious little left to offer.

But, let’s move along for the time being. And we’ll start here in October with this rumbly, insistent slice of indie rock from a founding member of the Walkmen, out on his own ever since the band entered its “extreme hiatus” stage in 2014. To anyone familiar with the Walkmen, the echoey ambiance and loping, syncopated pace will feel heartening; we can remember at least for four minutes and forty-six seconds that indie rock still inspires (some) people. An organ sustain beneath a bashy drum riff underscores Bauer’s distant, layered vocals and stately chord progression in an arrangement careful enough to create tension and purpose–you can all but intuit the guitar solo lying in wait (1:44). And worth the wait it is, with its patient melodicism and slow-boiling intensity.

“Skulls” is a song from Bauer’s third solo album, Flowers, released last month. Check it out via Bandcamp. Born in Washington DC, Bauer has, according to his website, done a significant amount of “esoteric work as a writer and astrologer,” influenced by Jung and Jodorowsky, among others. Knowing this may help you hear the lyrics–which skip across the ear without connecting to a discernible narrative or graspable meaning–in a different light, generating a vague sense of something potent lurking beneath the surface. In any case, for me–positioned against 21st-century pop music’s tiresome fountain of inspiration–well-chosen words even lacking any obvious connotation are preferable to lyrics detailing trivial issues of attraction and betrayal. Just saying.

MP3 via KEXP.

“Det er lige meget” – Rigmor

An energetic sense of melancholy

“Det er lige meget” – Rigmor

Obvious care has gone into constructing a song with a title that translates to “It doesn’t matter,” which maybe signals the subtext here: to care enough to record a song that says it doesn’t matter means that it actually does matter, probably a lot. In any case, listen to all that’s going on before the singing begins: above some indistinct mechanical noise we get a carefully articulated guitar melody playing against a blip of a pulse of a beat. Then (0:17) we’re in a groove, at once firm and laid back, ringing guitar on top, acrobatic bass below.

And then best of all, the voice, belonging to Sarah Wichmann, which likewise has a compelling, ringing quality that both blends in and takes the soundscape to a new and more urgent place. Embodying an unusually energetic sense of melancholy, the song revels in its upbeat, minor-key setting, the rhythm track double-timing the melody, allowing Wichmann to take her time while her bandmates churn it up. By the time the coda kicks in, around 2:24, the song has become pretty intense even as it’s not quite clear how we got here. The guitar returns to the opening melody line even as everything else has changed. We wrap up in under three minutes, always a power move in my book.

The four members of Rigmor began life as a band in Aarhus, Denmark in 2018. After an EP in 2020, the band released its debut full-length album Glade blinde børn in February of this year. The title, which means “Happy blind children,” says a lot about the band’s penchant for bittersweet soundscapes.

MP3 via KEXP. To check out more of Rigmor’s music, head over to Spotify or YouTube.

“Silence is Golden” – The Beths

Hepped-up power pop

“Silence is Golden” – The Beths

The Beths’ front woman Elizabeth Stokes has one of those appealing, unassuming singing voices that conveys the illusion that she’s merely talking most of the time. The fact that she accomplishes this in the midst of something so noisy and melodic makes the effect all the more fetching. At their best this New Zealand foursome is deliriously likable.

“Silence is Golden” is the Beths at their most frenetic, which right away is a bit of a wink in a song with this particular title. Stokes sings of craving quiet in a too-loud world while her band crashes their way through two minutes and fifty-five seconds of hepped-up power pop, with its emphatic, punctuating drumming and scratchy guitar work. And it’s only fitting somehow that a song about the joys of silence leads into a clamorous guitar solo (2:03): 20 seconds of madcap squalling that will make your head spin.

“Silence is Golden” is the third of 12 tracks on the Beths’ new album, Expert in a Dying Field, all of which is worth hearing. Check it out, and buy it in a variety of formats if you like it, via Bandcamp. MP3 again via KEXP.

“Anything You Want” – Vinyl Floor

Crafty touches

“Anything You Want” – Vinyl Floor

There’s something warm and reassuring about the sound the Danish band Vinyl Floor offers up in “Anything You Want”–the steady beat, the engaging melody, the vintage vocal tone, the horn (or horn-like) flourishes: it all evokes something timeless and balm-like in a day and age dominated by the distracting and the distractable.

Listen to how the song sounds both super casual and super well-crafted at the same time, a vibe that is not easy to achieve–I don’t think there’s a blueprint to get there, it’s just something a band can do or not do. I know I’m in good hands near the outset when the verse launches away from the home key (referring here to the chord shift at 0:13, when the singing starts), which is a crafty touch that you don’t hear every day. I like too the metric hiccups in the verse (via some sneaky 7/8 time signatures) and the left-turn chord progression that leads into the sing-along chorus and its emphatic series of “I know”s, which sound too heartfelt to resist.

And yes it’s somehow a second Danish band this week; consider it a coincidence unless you’re inclined as I am not to believe in coincidences, not fully. In any case: Vinyl Floor is the Danish duo of brothers Daniel Pedersen and Thomas Charlie Pedersen, who share lead vocal duties. “Anything You Want” is the lead track on their new album, Funhouse Mirror, the title of which accounts for the photo above, which appears to show a quartet if you don’t look carefully. The band has been around since 2007; Funhouse Mirror is their fifth full-length release. MP3 via the band. And while I can’t seem to find a place where you can actually buy the album, it is available to stream via Apple Music and Spotify.

Push off the bottom

Eclectic Playlist Series 9.09 – September 2022

So perhaps, with summer over, we’ll get a bit of rain, those of us in areas that can use? Had some here today, in fact. And I’ve been generally working on establishing a bit more equanimity in my resting mind, having grown mighty weary of living so long with a sense of underlying stress and doom. Yes, things are continually not great when you look around. But, anyone remember Tom Robbins’ running joke in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues?: every so often in the novel, he would write “The international situation is desperate, as usual.” This was 1976. I don’t mean to stick my head in the sand. At the same time, it’s the fascists who purposefully foster cynicism, who want you to believe your vote doesn’t count, that our institutions have failed, that having integrity doesn’t matter. Well screw all those “dedicated swallowers of fascism” (hat tip to Billy Bragg, on the shoulders of Ray Davies). The world is troubled but there are plenty of helpful and hopeful people working towards the cause of positive change in big ways and small. With the change of seasons I intend to access an untroubled, sanguine part of my psyche, to push off the bottom and swim towards the light. And vote, of course, when the time comes.

To the extent that music can contribute to one’s mental and emotional well-being, and I very much believe that it can, here’s the latest genre-hopping mix in the Eclectic Playlist Series. Playlist first, then the widget for listening, then some informative details about a few of the songs:

1. “Yes Eyes” – Fingerprintz (Distinguishing Marks, 1980)
2. “Shallow Heart, Shallow Water” – Caitlin Cary (While You Weren’t Looking, 2002
3. “You Hit Me Right Where It Hurt Me” – Alice Clark (single, 1968)
4. “Do You Sleep?” – Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories (Tails, 1995)
5. “Candy’s Room” – Bruce Springsteen (Darkness on the Edge of Town, 1978)
6. “Les Vaincus” – Pauline Drand (Faits Bleu, 2018)
7. “Hand in Hand” – Phil Collins (Face Value, 1981)
8. “I Talk to the Wind” – Dana Gavanski (Wind Songs EP, 2020)
9. “Boys Don’t Cry” – The Cure (single, 1979)
10. “Soul Deep” – The Box Tops (Dimensions, 1969)
11. “Come Together” – The Internet (Hive Mind, 2018)
12. “Underdog” – The Murmurs (Pristine Smut, 1997)
13. “Munich” – Editors (The Back Room, 2005)
14. “Master Plan” – Tears for Fears (The Tipping Point, 2020)
15. “Deadbeat Club” – The B-52’s (Cosmic Thing, 1989)
16. “Cry to Me” – Solomon Burke (single, 1962)
17. “Love to Get Used” – Matt Pond PA (Spring Fools EP, 2011)
18. “Blue Denim” – Stevie Nicks (Street Angel, 1994)
19. “The Mesopotamians” – They Might Be Giants (The Else, 2007)
20. “Elegant People” – Weather Report (Black Market, 1976)

Odds and ends:

* Although I did not name Fingertips with the unfairly neglected UK band Fingerprintz in mind, I am happy with the association, if anyone cares to make it. Their second album, Distinguishing Marks, is to my ear a highlight of new wave’s short-lived power pop era; side one in particular offers an impeccable lineup of crafty, melodic compositions. That said, for some reason, on Spotify, “Yes Eyes,” the album’s lead track, has been mysteriously swapped with the song that was actually the opener on side two. “Yes Eyes” definitely was side one cut one; I have the vinyl to prove it. One more Fingerprintz note: during the short, elusive life of the Fingertips podcast–there were 24 of them, back in 2006 and 2007–the Fingerprintz instrumental, “2.A.T.,” a smart Booker T homage, served as the theme music. Which I’m sure I wasn’t allowed to do, but nobody said anything because about three people were listening.

* A far less neglected UK band, Tears for Fears, released an unexpected reunion album earlier this year, their first in 17 years. While I’m not inherently a fan of bands attempting to recapture the magic, as it were, I’m also not opposed to giving a listen and seeing what they’ve managed to do. In this case, I think they’ve done quite a lot–The Tipping Point is, to my ears, both enjoyable and of consistently high quality. It occurs to me that bands that didn’t in their youth hew too closely to the cliche of hard-rocking guitar heroes have a better shot at reestablishing their vibe and sound as elder statesmen. Check the album out yourselves on Bandcamp.

* I can fall hard for French female singers with a certain kind of round whispery tone, and the as yet not-very-well-known Pauline Drand has it. “Les Vaincus” came to my attention a few years ago via a compilation released in 2018 by the French label La Souterraine. Kind of a random find but the song and the singer stuck with me so here she is, sandwiched agreeably between classic rock giants. Drand released her debut album later that year, with “Les Vaincus” as the ninth track; you can listen and purchase via Bandcamp. The title means “The Vanquished,” but that’s about all I can tell you, since feeding the lyrics into an online translator yields a series of words largely defying comprehension. I can also tell you not very much about Drand herself, except for the enticing tidbit, announced via her Twitter page, that she is currently the artist in residence at a place called the De Saram House in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It’s a big world.

* Leisha Halley and Heather Grody, as The Murmurs, made two and a half albums for MCA in the mid-to-late ’90s before moving onto other things. The “half” refers to the fact that their third album, Blender, included seven songs that had already been on their second album, Pristine Smut, among them the splendid “Underdog.” Note that these guys certainly had someone’s attention for a while; their record deal was with a major label, and their second album was produced by Larry Klein and k.d. lang. Not sure why they didn’t take off or stick around but here’s your chance to check them out and see what you’ve (probably) missed.

* “I Talk to the Wind” was originally performed by King Crimson, written by founding member Ian McDonald. Dana Gavanski, based in London, is a Canadian singer/songwriter with family roots in Serbia. Her version can be found on an EP she released during the lockdown in 2020 called Wind Songs, featuring three other covers (songs by Tim Hardin, Chic, and Judee Still), along with a Macedonian folk song. With a resonant voice and a knack for lucid arrangements, she has another EP of covers, Bouncing Ball, slated for release in November.

* “Soul Deep” was only a minor hit for the Alex Chilton-led Box Tops, and their last song to chart; the group disbanded the following year. But what a song it is! “Soul Deep was written by Wayne Carson, who had also written the group’s biggest hit, “The Letter.” Carson, who sometimes used the name Thompson, was a journeyman musician, songwriter, and producer; he shared songwriting credits on “Always On My Mind,” the most well-known and often-recorded entry in his songbook.

* Remember Editors? “Munich” flared across the blogosphere back when the blogosphere was an actual thing. It’s almost hard to fathom here in 2022 that indie rock did in fact have a heyday, albeit a relatively short one, before being sucker-punched by the poptimists and their tribal loyalty to processed, lowest-common-denominator music. (Yeah, don’t get me started.) Anyway, my bad here: Editors are no mere aughts nostalgia act; Tom Smith and company remain an active concern, having released their sixth album in 2018 and with four singles to date released this year, in anticipation of a forthcoming album that Wikipedia reports will be called EBM.

* As for “The Mesopotamians,” this may be one of They Might Be Giants’ loopiest songs, which is saying something. Operating in the liminal space between reality and fantasy, history and nonsense, the song imagines four historical Mesopotamian figures as if they are, somehow, also, paradoxically, a rock band in the present day. The in jokes span millennia, the chorus is goofy and sublime. And circling back to the top of these notes: I did not name Fingertips after Fingerprintz but I did name it after the (goofy, sublime) They Might Be Giants song “Fingertips,” which as some of you know is less a song than a mashup of song fragments. I don’t quite remember what my thinking was but here I am 19 years later, just like the Mesopotamians, with nowhere else to stand.

Trouble acting normal

Eclectic Playlist Series 9.08 (August 2022)

Maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s the hiatus, or maybe it’s the ever-unfolding perturbations of life in the 2020s, but I’m going to let the music do the talking this month. For a few enlightening details on a few of this month’s songs, scroll down past the playlist and the widget.

1. “Every One of Us” – Goldrush (The Heart is the Place, 2007)
2. “Dog & Butterfly” – Heart (Dog & Butterfly, 1978)
3. “Harps” – The Sea and Cake (Runner, 2012)
4. “Falling Down the Stairs” – Even As We Speak (Feral Pop Frenzy, 1993)
5. “Weird Fishes” – Lianne La Havas (Lianne La Havas, 2020)
6. “Reptile” – The Church (Starfish, 1988)
7. “The Planets” – The Clear (Patchwork, 2017)
8. “Pavement Cracks” – Annie Lennox (Bare, 2003)
9. “Bones” – Soccer Mommy (Sometimes, Forever, 2022)
10. “1,000,000” – R.E.M. (Chronic Town EP, 1982)
11. “She Loves the Way They Love Her” – Colin Blustone (One Year, 1971)
12. “Small Pony” – Dott (Swoon, 2013)
13. “Don’t You Even Care” – Leslie Uggams (single, 1965)
14. “What About Now” – Robbie Robertson (Storyville, 1991)
15. “Mirage” – Jean-Luc Ponty (Enigmatic Ocean, 1977)
16. “Dandelion Wine” – Ron Sexsmith (Retriever, 2004)
17. “Round Here” – Counting Crows (August and Everything After, 1993)
18. “Ese Chico” – Christina Rosenvinge (single, 2022)
19. “Bigmouth Strikes Again” – The Smiths (The Queen is Dead, 1986)
20. “Come All Ye” – Fairport Convention (Liege & Leaf, 1969)

Odds and ends:

* Sometimes Wikipedia is enlightening, sometimes it’s weirdly dense, and other times it’s just plain sad–and here I’m thinking about the way the information can just stop, page abandoned (but still online) because a band has ended its life without fanfare or notice. A page can go from being updated by various fans and observers to being deserted seemingly in midstream, with no one even bothering to change the present-tense intro (“XYZ are a band from…”) to past tense (“XYZ were a band…”). The Oxford, UK-based band Goldrush seems to have suffered this fate, despite being a band with a certain amount of notice and success in indie rock’s early-21st-century halcyon years. I don’t claim for Goldrush an undue amount of praise but I did feature them twice in the ’00s, and in particular loved “Every One of Us,” which I still find deep and affecting.

* With its bedroom rock ambiance, hazy vocals, and midtempo stasis, Soccer Mommy’s song “Bones” could’ve veered into a faceless mush but instead elevates to fabulous via the anchor of a terrific, poignant chorus melody. And don’t miss the increasingly frantic guitar work that dominates the last third of the song. Soccer Mommy is the Nashville-based singer/songwriter Sophie Allison; “Bones” is the opening track on Sometimes, Forever, her excellent third album, which was released in June.

* For a minute there in the 1970s, Jean-Luc Ponty was the planet’s most famous electric violinist. After working with Frank Zappa, Elton John, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, among other notables, he recorded a string of solo albums that collectively sold in the millions. His most recent project seems to have been 2015’s collaboration with Jon Anderson, the Yes front man, on an album called Better Late Than Never. Ponty will turn 80 next month. The track featured here comes from his mainstream heyday, 1977’s Enigmatic Ocean.

* I find it delightful that Lianne La Havas would even think of covering Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes,” independent of what the finished product sounds like. Watching talent seek talent is invigorating. And yet, not surprisingly, the end result is a marvel–an unexpected showcase for La Havas’s uncanny vocal prowess on the one hand, and for the emotional resonance, on the other, of a song that always intrigued but seemed, previously, a bit too abstract for its own good. It’s a surprising and satisfying winner from La Havas’s 2020 self-titled album.

* I programmed the old-school R.E.M. song “1,000,000” into this mix just because it seemed like a good idea, which is pretty much how I put these together in general. Only after I slotted it in did I find out that the band’s debut EP Chronic Town, where it comes from, which is 40 years old this year, was being released–last week–for the first time as a standalone CD, with a bunch of new liner notes from Mitch Easter, who produced it. I enjoy a good synchronicity whenever I encounter one.

* In our current pop cultural moment, Leslie Uggams is known, if at all, for roles in the Deadpool movies and in the television series Empire. But the 79-year-old actress/singer has been in show business and recording singles since she was a child in the 1950s. As a teenager, she was a regular on NBC’s popular Sing Along With Mitch series, a show that seems preposterous now but was a thing for a few strange early-’60s years. Then there was the probably inevitable effort to establish her as an R&B singer, which to these ears sounded pretty promising, if 1965’s “Don’t You Even Care,” on Atlantic Records, is any indication. But she soon found her niche in more pop- and/or musical-theater-oriented material, and landed in 1969 as the host of The Leslie Uggams Show on ABC, which was the first network variety show hosted by a Black woman. Since then she’s had a multi-faceted career including a star turn on the original Roots mini-series and a lot of varied stage work. MCUers can expect her back as Blind Al when Dead Pool 3 eventually emerges.

* I have long-standing admiration for the Spanish singer Christina Rosenvinge, who ditched a successful pop career as half of the duo Alex y Christina in the late ’80s for a more offbeat, soul-searching, and substantive solo career; she’s worked off and on as an actress as well. Openly critical of the misogyny she has encountered over the years in the music industry, she is likewise vocal in her support of the LGBTQ community, as this new single of hers demonstrates. I stumbled on it in Spotify but haven’t seen it talked about in any English-speaking media, so you can be the first on your block to check it out.

* And then there’s Ron Sexsmith, the Canadian troubadour with a extraordinarily consistent–and consistently overlooked–catalog of recorded music, with 14 quality studio albums now to his credit, dating back to his self-titled debut in 1995. What he does is neither ever in fashion nor quite out of fashion but boy does he do it well. Every album of his contains hidden gems, perhaps none gemmier and more hidden than “Dandelion Wine,” from his fine 2004 effort, Retriever. (The album received stellar reviews on both Pitchfork and AllMusic, with neither mentioning this song among the highlights.) His most recent release is 2020’s Hermitage, which I still haven’t caught up with, but I will note that his previous album, 2017’s The Last Rider, ranks up there with his best.

* There’s no standout segue this month but the best one may be “Round Here” into “Ese Chico”; I can definitely nominate a worst segue, which would be “1,000,000” into “She Loves the Way They Love Her”–it was one of those that was almost brilliant but in missing by a little it’s kind of a clunker. Apologies to the deep listeners among you.