Slinky and acoustic, “Whiskey Tango” shows off Tanya Donelly’s rich, elastic voice and subtle facility with melody in a quiet and simplified setting. It’s a new direction for the former leader of the band Belly, whose songs have not lacked for crunch, drive, and electricity in the past. On “Whiskey Tango,” the under-appreciated Donelly looks for texture in smaller gestures–a slide guitar here, a wood block there–and brings her world-weary lyrics (“Of the art of making waves/I’ve had my lesson in spades”) front and center. The song is as quiet as its implied tango beat, and might float by unnoticed were it not for the aching dignity of its minimal but lovely chorus–Donelly’s use of a seventh chord and the elegant progression out of it when she sings “Of the art of speaking plain…” gives “Whiskey Tango” a small but powerful hook. The song is the effectual title track from her just-released Whiskey Tango Ghosts (4AD Records). (MP3 is no longer a direct link but if you click the red download button on Insound, you should find yourself with a copy.)
“Gonna Never Have to Die” – Guided By Voices
The air of timeless rock’n’roll hangs brilliantly around this song, from Robert Pollard’s Pete Townshend-like vocals to the old-fashioned drive of its big, snare-less beat and simple harmonies, to something at once larger and less definable in its deep and well-crafted ambiance. After a simple, itchy bit of acoustic guitar, the song grabs me instantly with the way each line in the first verse begins with one syllable drawn out over five distinct notes, complete with a wonderful, syncopated sort of hestiation in the middle. Okay, so it’s kind of harder to describe in words than to listen to, but it creates an almost transcendent sort of wonder right smack in the middle of the action. There’s even a counter-balancing resolution at the end of each line in the chorus, when, again, one syllable is stretched over five distinct notes, this time a simple back-and-forth between two tones. Yeah, like I said, harder to describe than to listen to. “Gonna Never Have to Die” is a song from Guided By Voices’ soon-to-be-released CD, entitled Half Smiles of the Decomposed (Matador Records). After 20 some-odd releases spanning 17 years, Half Smiles will be GBV’s last album–and therefore something of a momentous event in the indie world. And yet at the same time, leader Pollard has put the band through so many incarnations that it’s safe to say that as long as Pollard continues to record, GBV fans will have a lot to look forward to.
Mysterious, hypnotic, and bizarrely endearing, as Björk just about always is. “Verandi” combines the exotic ambiance and expansive percussiveness typical of 1997’s Homogenic with a hint of the intimate sonic touches and gentle melodicism of 2001’s Vespertine. I like how the almost martial regularity of the beat provides unexpected comfort through the aural adventure that unfolds here. Some of the non-Western-ness on display stems from work done on the song by “Bollywood” composer Jolly Mukherjee, but with Björk, a musical universe unto herself, you never know quite from where the unearthliness radiates. And what does it all mean? With Björk, you just don’t ask. Bask in the sound of it, thrill to the countless moments of offbeat beauty, and be happy that she, at least, knows what she’s doing. “Verandi” was originally released as a B-side to “Hidden Places,” from Vespertine; the MP3 is on Björk’s jam-packed web site. Thanks to Fat Planet for the heads up on this one; the Björk site is so overflowing with words and links that I never previously noticed she had any MP3s up there at all.