This Week’s Finds: June 27-July 3 (For Stars, The Playwrights, Jesse Malin)

“It Doesn’t Really Matter” – For Stars

A simple piano refrain over a racing heart-like beat starts “It Doesn’t Really Matter” with a thematically appropriate sense of unresolved tension. I mean, the whole idea of singing about something that doesn’t really matter is a sort of paradox, if you’re inclined to think in that direction. So, okay, the piano, the vague tension, and then comes Carlos Foster’s distinctively fragile tenor, punctuated by crisp, vaguely dissonant electric guitar bursts; the tension accumulates even lyrically, as the first verse culminates with a thought-provoking line—“It doesn’t really matter who you think you are”—that resolves neither melodically nor psychologically. The payoff comes in the chorus, as the guitar becomes a wash of noise under gratifying harmonies and a perfectly resolved melody. A trumpet arrives to add a gentle edge to the restrained instrumental break, then we’re back to a quick verse, this time fleshed out with harmonies, still over the heartbeat beat. One more exultant chorus, a second trumpet solo, and we’re done. Nice stuff. And I’m glad to see For Stars are still around; it’s been long enough since their last CD that I’d been wondering if they existed any more. The song comes from the CD …It Falls Apart, due out June 29 on the label known as Future Farmer Recordings. The MP3 can be found on Insound.

“Welcome to the Middle Ages” – the Playwrights

As hard and fast and angry and assured as an old Jam song, “Welcome to the Middle Ages” finds a new generation pondering the trade-offs of adulthood, with intelligence and venom. The introduction is simply a fade-in on a fuzzy electric din; then with a curt “one-two,” the Playwrights dive in: vocals with declarative authority burst on top of a hard-driving, bass-heavy beat. The song rocks hard, instantly, but the 6/4 time keeps things jittery, and the unexpected instrumentation–hey, another trumpet in this one–and subtle changes keep your ear engaged. The lyrics are charmingly wordy; again the Jam come to mind when I hear singer Aaron Dewey spitting out more syllables than the line theoretically wants to have (“As I get older my conditions get better/But my expectations get lower…”). Located in Bristol, England, the Playwrights have one full-length CD to their name so far—Good Beneath the Radar, which was released in June 2003 by the Bristol-based Sink and Stove Records. “Welcome to the Middle Ages” comes from a Sink and Stove compilation CD called The Hospital Radio Request List Volume 2, which came out in the beginning of June 2004. The MP3 can be found on the band’s site, as well as on the Sink and Stove site.

“Hungry Heart” – Jesse Malin

There’s a good song from Jesse Malin’s new CD that I’ve heard a few times on the radio. So of course I went hunting for a free and legal from the album, which alas don’t appear to exist. While looking on his site, however, I found “Hungry Heart,” and at the risk of turning this into Fragile-Sounding Tenors Week here (see For Stars, above), I could not resist featuring this one as well. Yes it’s the old Bruce Springsteen song, but Malin grabs it by the throat (or maybe that’s his own throat he’s grabbing; he sounds like he’s nearly strangling with odd pronunciations every now and then) and makes it his own. To begin with, he reins in the big, bashing, irresistible beat of the original, stretching it taut and slowing it down against a fuzzed-out guitar. Then Malin takes the aw-shucks, Everyman ache of Springsteen’s version and gives us a Neil Young-meets-Brian-Wilson-at-Tom-Waits’-house vibe. With Springsteen, it was sloppy-goofy; Malin makes it weird-goofy, but I’m not complaining. Perhaps I’m rather too easily impressed when someone takes a familiar song and adds an edge of unfamiliarity to it, but I’m enjoying this. The song was released on a Bruce Springsteen tribute CD compiled by the British magazine Uncut in April 2003.

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