This Week’s Finds: January 25-31 (The Church, Norfolk & Western, Damien Rice)

“Song in Space” – the Church

Call me nostalgic, but I can’t seem to get enough of ’80s bands that regroup and take up right where they left off, as if the ’90s never really happened. There’s something reassuring about the effort somehow. The Church is even more reassuring because they never actually broke up in the first place. So here are Australia’s redoubtable purveyors of spaced-out guitar pop, back with their 17th (!) album, the just-released Forget Yourself. “Song in Space” is an extended drone that takes you right back to something like “2000 Light Years From Home,” Marty Willson-Piper’s iridescent guitar shining as ever off Steve Kilbey’s sleepy but reverberant vocals. Not a classic but with its own subtle charms. MP3 via Better Propaganda.

“Terrified” – Norfolk and Western

If Yo La Tengo added a banjo, I might expect them to sound more than a little like this. Norfolk and Western is a project headed by a whisper-voiced Portland-based musician named Adam Selzer and sharing the talents of drummer and vocalist Rachel Blumberg (also in the band the Decemberists), among others. At first this sounded to me like it was going to veer uncomfortably off the twee scale, but the steady beat gives it body and the varied instrumentation–including a welcome touch of distorted guitar–gives it depth. The band is named after a defunct railroad line and plays music that, while not necessarily “traditional” or “folk,” displays a care and tenderness one might associate with songs dating back to the heyday of the Norfolk & Western itself. “Terrified” comes from the band’s most recent CD, Dusk in Cold Parlours, released in 2003 on Hush Records.

“Volcano” – Damien Rice

If I’m not mistaken, some industrious segment of the music industry seems bent on turning the phrase “emerging artist” into a marketable term, much the way “alternative rock” was transformed some years ago. Keep an eye on this; as with “alternative rock,” there may be something contradictory in trying to build a saleable category of music called “emerging artists,” not to mention something formula-inducing. In any case, Ireland’s Damien Rice is certainly the guy most often associated here in the U.S. with that irritating phrase in recent months. Not that he isn’t a singer/songwriter of merit–and apparently not an “emerging artist” at all in his home country, but a full-fledged star. “Volcano” is a spare and rhythmic effort, with a repetitive hook that I’ll admit I’m kind of tired of because I hear it too often on the local singer/songwriter-oriented radio station. But approached with what in yoga they call “beginner’s mind,” I think this song holds up pretty nicely. Rice’s widely-acclaimed debut album is called O and came out last year.

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