This Week’s Finds: June 6-12 (PJ Harvey, Come Down, Polaris)

“The Letter” – PJ Harvey  link no longer available
Energized by its ragged, syncopated beat, “The Letter” shows me within a measure or two that maybe, just maybe, I’ve been listening to a bit too much indie rock of late. Harvey’s raw yet radiant assurance enlivens the music with a rich texture unlikely to be encountered in the lo-fi indie world. One of the most critically acclaimed singer/songwriters to come of age in the the midst of the “alternative rock” eruption of the early ’90s, Harvey is back with her seventh CD, the just-released Uh Huh Her, on Island Records. The deep, fuzzy guitar that lends the song its arresting groove all but hypnotizes me even as Harvey’s words–emerging in bursts between the guitar’s funky drive–snap me to attention, as she effortlessly charges the act of letter-writing with brash eroticism, before resolving into cathartic wailing in the wordless chorus section. Listen to how she enriches the sound in the second verse, as the guitar is supplemented by a mysterious-sounding low-register vocal below and a judiciously added synthesizer above. Unfortunately the song is available through the creaky, ad-crazed Artist Direct site. The link above should take you to a page that allows you access to the download, rather than directly to the song; this is one of those that gives you a license allowing for a limited number of plays.

“You Are Not A Song” – Come Down  link no longer available
This NYC band is going to have to get used to being compared to Radiohead, as both the dreamy, melodic ambiance it creates and singer Mark Pernice’s slurry, emotive voice rather quickly bring the great British band to mind. But sounding like another band is not a bad thing–I mean, “Beatlesque” is not an insult; neither is “Radioheadesque” (although maybe we need a better coinage). To begin with, there are far worse bands to embrace as a major influence. Second, if rock’n’roll is to remain vital in the 21st century, it’s important for sounds to establish themselves independently of any one band–too much fragmentation and there are too many islands, no mainland. Plus, when the band itself has talent, the more one listens, the more the apparently derivative work emerges with its own attributes and charms. I like the engaging interplay between acoustic and electric guitars here, and am particularly enamored of the droning guitar that accompanies much of the way through, adding a subtle ache to an already wistful song. Check out how the drone stutters and reverberates with added intensity in the second verse, but never (quite) overwhelms the melody. “You Are Not A Song” can be found on the band’s self-released Happy Hunting EP; the MP3 is available on the band’s web site.

“Waiting for October” – Polaris  link no longer available
A bouncy slice of good-natured rock’n’roll originally featured on the mid-’90s Nickelodeon show, “The Adventures of Pete & Pete.” I hear a big dose ofSteve Wynn in this track, for you Steve Wynn fans, both in the tone of singer Mark Mulcahy’s friendly voice and in the goofy good energy of the whole thing. One particularly endearing element here for me is the echoey background harmonies in the chorus, recalling another bunch of good-natured rock’n’roll goofballs, Jonathan Richman’s Modern Lovers. Polaris was “Pete & Pete”‘s “house band,” more or less; the band sprang from the core of a Connecticut-based band called Miracle Legion, which featured Mulcahy as singer and songwriter. Mulcahy, in turn, began his career in the mid-’80s as a Michael Stipe-inspired jangly-guitar indie-rocker, but transformed over the years into more of an emotionally forward singer/songwriter type and is said to have inspired none other than Radiohead’s Thom Yorke (him again) somewhere along the way. “Pete & Pete” was one of those shows that acquired a devoted cult following (many fans consider it the best TV show ever, in fact) while operating just below the pop cultural radar screen. The music was a definite part of the show, and “Waiting for October” is apparently a fan favorite. The song can be found on a CD released in 1999 called, simply enough, “Music From The Adventures of Pete & Pete” (Mezzotint Records).

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