One of the most gifted musicians I’ve yet uncovered by seeking free and legal MP3s online, John Vanderslice is a powerful songwriter and unerring producer; the music he creates is melodic, beautifully textured, and consistently engaging. This song comes from his new Cellar Door album, released at the end of January on Barsuk Records. “They Won’t Let Me Run” tells a sorry tale with an edgy sort of elegance and restraint, and shows off Vanderslice’s gift for creating hooks not merely with melody but with instrumental accents–listen here to the repeating synthesizer motif at the end of each verse, and the stylish way it works against the beat to draw you in. If you have a chance, spend some extra time on his web site and check out his older material, including his work in the band MK Ultra. It’s like a peep-hole into some grand, alternate, undiscovered musical universe; this stuff is seriously good, but no one (relatively speaking) knows about it.
“Me and the Bean” – Spoon
The three-piece Austin band Spoon has been around since 1994; such is the frenetic pace of musical trends that in staying together for 10 years or so, the band serves as a link from a bygone sound (punk-roughened indie pop, a la the Pixies) to a newly emerging sound (emo-infused indie pop, a la Death Cab for Cutie), and does it by simply by sounding the same. If that makes sense. Anyway, this song, from the 2001 CD Girls Can Tell, is a concise, edgy confection, brought to life by the unexpected warmth of the keyboard riff and lead singer Britt Daniel’s gruff melodicism.
“Better Than Me” – Rachael Davis
A stark track, featuring voice and banjo, but the 22-year-old Davis appears to have the chops to pull it off. With a fetching resemblance to the young Shawn Colvin, this Boston-based singer/songwriter sounds fresh and inspired to me in my current state of mind. Still reeling from my annual confrontation with quote-unquote mainstream music (I really have to learn to lay off the Grammy Awards once and for all), I feel particularly engaged by this sort of song performed by this sort of 22-year-old. Mass media depictions notwithstanding, young musicians in this country are not all about harsh rhythm, schmaltz, and/or heart-stopping shallowness. This song can be found on Davis’s one and (to date) only CD, Minor League Deities, released in 2001.