This Week’s Finds: July 25-31 (The Walkmen, Red Pony, Grant Lee Phillips)

“The Rat” – The Walkmen
Brash and big and all but irresistible right out of the starting gate, from that first, fuzzy, unresolved chord, through the huge drum beats and the minor chord progressions, and that’s even before the first verse kicks in. These guys just don’t hold anything back, and the sonic result is exhilarating, combining the twitchy rawness of the Strokes with the aching spaciousness of early U2 and the artful drive of New Order. Singer Hamilton Leithauser sings with a hoarse edge, as if he’s already overdone it and should be resting his voice already but forget about it, he’s got this song to sing first, dammit. The Walkmen are from Washington, D.C. and have apparently been playing in bands together since the fifth grade. “The Rat” comes from their second CD, Bows + Arrows, released in February on the Record Collection imprint, which does its best to look like a quirky, independent label but is actually part of Warner Brothers. But I’m not complaining–more big labels should offer offbeat acts like Record Collection does, along with (heaven forbid!) free and legal MP3s. Back in the day, all we had more or less were the big boys to find our music for us, and they sometimes did a decent job. Times have changed, but good music is still good music.

“London” – Red Pony  link no longer available
While I am not a big fan of overly indie sounds, and am downright suspicious of lo-fi recordings, I find this song oddly endearing. Part of the appeal is the piano motif at the beginning; there’s something about its plaintive melodicism that I will gladly follow anywhere. The vocals are simple to the point of naivete, the guitar tinny, the sound garage-y, and yet at the same time I hear in it a vitality and urgency that brings me back to great singles that used to emerge from the U.K. in the late ’70s, each its own mini-universe of hopes, dreams, and vision. Red Pony is a bass-less three-piece band from Cardiff, Wales. They are label-less, also; “London” can be found on the band’s web site.

“Far End of the Night” – Grant Lee Phillips  link no longer available
And then sometimes this is exactly the sound I want to hear: deep, polished, and timeless. Phillips, the driving force behind the ’90s band Grant Lee Buffalo, has a knack for writing new melodies that you’re sure you must’ve heard before, sings them in an arrestingly familiar voice, and wraps them in an exquisite acoustic setting. Phillips is also as skilled as an ancient troubadour at telling a sad tale with a gorgeous tune: while the music is lullaby-gentle, the vague story sketched is a foreboding one, evoking a journey through a dark, enveloping night in which, sings the story’s narrator, “Time hangs like a noose before me.” “Far End of the Night” can be found on Virginia Creeper, released earlier this year on Zoe Records; the MP3 is located on the SXSW.com site.

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