This Week’s Finds: August 29-Sept. 4 (The iOs, Julian Cope, John Vanderslice)

“Forces Regrouping” – the iOs

Resplendent neo-’80s pop with subtle bursts of warmth and charm in just about every line. After an ambiguous opening measure or two of vibrating synthesizer, the song quickly engages me with its sly juxtaposition of garage-like rhythm guitars and new wave-ish electronics in the introduction. This surely isn’t your father’s ’80s music. I’m already won over when guitarist Chris Punsalan brings his agreeably buzzy voice to a neat, playful melody; that he is echoed in the second half of the verse, call-and-response-ishly, by keyboardist Autumn Proemm’s dreamy background vocals clinches the deal. I like this. But the best is yet to come, and it’s here: when the song goes into a stop-start section bridging the verse and the chorus (beginning with “And I could make it up to you”); the tension builds as melodic synthesizers play against a dark, fuzzed-up guitar; and then (wow) it breaks gloriously wide open as the song’s killer hook appears out of left field–the sneaky resolution of the “Look for a sign” section, full-ahead tempo returning with a lovely melody, and Punsalan and Proemm briefly but effectively singing directly together, taking my breath at least somewhat away. Great new pop from a young NYC band. The song is one of three on the iOs’ first release, an EP called Center and Stop; the MP3 is on the band’s web site.

“Uptight” – Julian Cope

Every musical generation needs its own mad-genius-one-man-band-recluse, and Julian Cope will do nicely for the new wavers who came of age in the late 1970s. Making a name for himself as the leader of The Teardrop Explodes, Cope went on to a certain amount of success in the ’80s as a solo artist, but it was all in and around a lot of weirdness, some drug-induced, some just natural for the eclectic Cope. The ’90s saw him out of the mainstream pretty much entirely, yet as active as ever on a number of fronts, including writing his memoirs and founding his own mail-order record label. Currently he’s spending time in a band called Brain Donor, and any band that can record an album entitled Too Freud to Rock’n’Roll, Too Jung to Die can’t be all bad. So, anyway: “Uptight.” It’s a song from the early ’90s that never made it onto any of his albums, and it’s a nice if lightweight example of Cope at his most Peter Gabriel-mellow-funky. A brief pastoral-like bit of Chinese music at the outset leads to a relaxed but definitive groove, and when Cope opens his mouth you are his, so much beautiful authority does he carry in that voice. The whistled refrain in the second half saves the enterprise from floating away perhaps a bit too inconsequentially. The MP3 is on Cope’s Head Heritage web site, his online musical community/record label. Thanks to Oddio Overplay for the lead.

“Pale Horse” – John Vanderslice

Another rich offering from the magnificent Mr. Vanderslice. Like “They Won’t Let Me Run,” this one comes from his powerful Cellar Door CD, released in January on Barsuk Records. When I first heard the two songs online in February, I latched onto the other, but after (finally) buying Cellar Door (see? it works!: post high-quality, full-length songs for free on the web and it’ll convince me to buy the CD! how about that?), I find myself in thrall to the serious charms of this literally off-beat tune. The lyrics are derived from Shelley’s “The Mask of Anarchy,” the music is all Vanderslice: assured rhythm, impeccable melody, casually expert producion touches, all wrapped in a glistening 6/4 shuffle. This guy is serious, and yet almost impossibly accessible for such an independent spirit. Check him out, and tell your friends. He really deserves a much much wider audience. The MP3 comes from Vanderslice’s web site.

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