“Cloud Room” – Laura Veirs link no longer available
Hang in there through the up-front, wavering, slightly out of tune vocals at the outset of this one–the pay-off is deep and moving. Laura Veirs may well be one of the most accomplished of America’s unknown singer/songwriters; “Cloud Room” hits a groove quickly, snaking into my consciousness with its assured beat, astute instrumentation, and some wonderful chords. For a performer with a somewhat geeky presentation (according to one British critic, she resembles a young Woody Allen, of all people), Veirs has an unexpectedly commanding presence. The music floats in a dream-like place straddling the familiar and the entirely fresh; a few listens to “Cloud Room” has me realizing once and for all that the 21st century has fully arrived. Indicative of her tendency to perform frequently in Europe, her new CD, Carbon Glacier, where this song comes from, has been released overseas but not in the U.S. at this point.
“The Dream is Over” – MK Ultra
Time to dip back into the rich John Vanderslice MP3 trove, this time to point you in the direction of his unheralded work with the band MK Ultra. “The Dream Is Over” opens with an itchy, insistent acoustic guitar, on top of which arrive some lush but unresolved harmonies (they sound like suspended fourths; so okay this must be great chord week here), and now he’s got you set up, the subtle musical tension extending through a repetition of the words “It’s unbelievably sad”; on the second “sad,” the music glides into unabashed gorgeousness, with melodies and harmonies straight from the Simon & Garfunkel songbook. And yet there’s still a keen skewedness about the song, both lyrically–“I was relieved/As a broken sweat”–and instrumentally (listen for a great duet between distorted fuzz guitars about halfway through). MK Ultra recorded between 1993 and 2000; Vanderslice has been on his own since then, and is really worth looking into. In case you’re curious, the band’s name came from a secret (and rather terrible) series of mind control experiments apparently performed by the CIA in the 1950s. Now you know.
“Believe” – Earl Slick (with Robert Smith) link no longer available
How almost foolishly tickled I sometimes feel to hear an old familiar voice, after a long time, singing something new. This can happen even when I don’t remember being a particular fan of the voice in the first place. So here’s yet another ’80s icon (watch out, they’re popping up all over the place these days), the Cure’s Robert Smith, lending his distinctive style of fragile solidity to a dreamy piece of space-guitar pop from Earl Slick. It’s fun to hear Smith slowed down, a bit more vocally naked than I recall him from those Cure hits he spun out back in the day. Slick is himself a reappearing icon, although a background variety; he was David Bowie’s guitarist in the mid-’70s, on both Young Americans and the great Station to Station. This song doesn’t strike me as any sort of classic, but putting Smith’s voice against that arching, swelling guitar creates a pleasant few minutes that rewards some repeat listens. “Believe” can be found on Slick’s CD Zig Zag, released at the end of 2003 on Sanctuary Records.