“Unsound” – Bettie Serveert
Former mainstream rock’n’roll idols live forever (or maybe it just seems like it) on classic rock stations and in TV commercials. But what happens to the Bettie Serveerts of the world?Â There’s no radio format (yet) for college-radio rock icons of the early ’90s. I guess that’s another thing the internet is for, particularly when said alt-rock icons are still making good music. “Unsound,” from the band’s 2000 release, Private Suit, features an appealingly insistent 11-note guitar line and singer Carol van Dijk’s Chrissie Hynde-like blend of weariness and spunk. It’s an engaging vibe, although perhaps more Martha and the Muffins than the Pretenders come to think of it. In any case, not many bands combine edginess and polish with this much style and ease; and having the Canadian-born van Dijk fronting a Dutch band is a hidden weapon, keeping Bettie Serveert from floating aurally into that strange place that European bands tend to go when their singers try not to have accents.
“Half Acre” – Hem
A lot goes on in a short amount of time on this lovely piece of bygone-like music. Hem is a NYC-based group that got together with the idea of making an album of timeless-sounding new music, and to do it the old-fashioned way–no digital recording, no samples or audio trickery of any kind. The lovingly arranged instruments are real and pure, as is singer Sally Ellyson’s unerring, unsappy voice. This song can be found on the band’s one and only CD to date, Rabbitsongs, released independently in 2001, then re-released by DreamWorks this year.
“Song for the Ending Day” – the Ladybug Transistor
I’m not normally enamored of this sort of trembly baritone voice, but there’s something goofily endearing about this song, violins and all, particularly as it works itself towards full-fledged, “Walk Away Renee”-ishness two-thirds of the way through. This is no-holds-barred production-savvy pop and we don’t hear enough of this anymore, says me. Okay, so I’m still unlikely to become president of the Trembly Baritones Fan Club, but it’s a nifty little song. You’ll find it on the band’s recently released, eponymous album, their fifth.