“I Resign” – the Bigger Lovers
Ah, for the days when bands made pop songs in 6/4 time! Well, okay, actually there never were days like that, but there should’ve been. Or maybe, against all odds, we’re in them now. Here, in any case, are Philadelphia’s answer to Fountains of Wayne, the Bigger Lovers, with their own version of pure pop for now-ish people. In a week when the so-called music industry is celebrating (why?) having successfully turned joy into commerce, let those of us who still get the shivers from a wonderful melodic turn or an unexpected harmony (rather than mere vocal histrionics) take the three-minute, sixteen-second gift the Bigger Lovers have offered and sink right into every last bit of it. From the offbeat swagger of the time signature to the offhand expertise of the arrangement to the wondrous climax, two-thirds of the way in, when the bridge melts back into the first verse, but without most of the lyrics, because words are no longer necessary, this is one cool tune. You’ll find it on the band’s third CD, This Affair Never Happened…And Here are 11 Songs About It, when it comes out next month on Yep Roc Records.
“Ordinary Town” – Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer
When I wasn’t listening carefully, the music of Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer sounded like country-folk wallpaper—just another acoustic guitar, just another singer with a vague twang, nicely-enough executed, but so what. I’ll admit as well to a city person’s inherent distrust of the violin when played as a “fiddle.” But finally I’m listening carefully and as I do I’m at last hearing Carter’s incredibly well-crafted (not to mention philosophically subversive) lyrics, neatly delivered with deadpan grace by Grammer, who smoothes the way for (yes) the fiddle and darn if I kind of sort of like it in this context. I’m sorry I myself hadn’t paid more attention when they were still around; the duo was sadly cut short in its career when Dave Carter died suddenly, of a heart attack, in the summer of 2002. This song comes from their final CD, Drum Hat Buddha, released in 2001.
One of the most mysterious things in the annals of rock’n’roll is the matter of voice—how some bands or musicians can manage to develop a truly individual sound, a sound like themselves and no one else, while others struggle to emerge with a distinct voice, wearing influences a little too noticeably on their sleeves. (And then of course there are those many musicians with so generic a sound that they sound neither like themselves nor like anyone else specifically.) And yet sounding a little or even a lot like someone else, at first, is not necessarily a damning condition. Sometimes that’s what a band needs to find its voice, even as there’s no guarantee that it ultimately will. In any case, as this startlingly Wilco-like song from the Austin-based band Okkervil River illustrates, there can be a fine line indeed between a pleasing versus an uncomfortable resemblance. But despite the heavy Wilco vibe and singer Will Sheff’s Tweedy-esque vocals, this song stands firmly on its own. Right away I hear a wonderful spaciousness in the mix—a literal sense of physical space between the drums, the guitar, and the singer. Spaciousness always pulls me right in, and is only achieved by bands that really know how to use their instruments (including in this case, brilliant shadings from an organ, or maybe more than one). The melodies too are very appealing and long: eight leisurely bars—an anomaly in our melody-free age. From the 2003 CD From the River of Golden Dreams (Jagjaguwar Records), this song grows and grows on me with repeated listens.