There’s an almost Baroque stateliness to this churning little ditty from the estimable Mr. Byrne. While probably not a classic addition to the Byrne oeuvre (the subject matter–entrancing woman in a magazine–seems tired by now), this contribution to Wired Magazine’s Rip. Sample. Mash. Share. project has its charms, beginning with the former Talking Heads leader’s inscrutably ingratiating voice. I mean, there’s nothing about this somewhat whiny, high-pitched, more than a little nasally voice that should engage us, and yet I find above all it’s always his voice that draws me in, through all his incarnations over lo these many years. For a geeky, intellectual sort of guy he’s proven himself to be a fearless singer; maybe that’s what lends such deep appeal to the Byrne vibe. If nothing else, don’t miss the grunt at 2:38–it’s perfect. I’m also getting a kick out of how Byrne bleeds his voice directly into the synthesizer at the end. And hey there are one or two more well-delivered grunts in the last few seconds too.
“Away” – Greta Gertler & Peccadillo
The beginning of this song sounds interestingly slidey and sloppy, like a small orchestra warming up, but keep the piano’s off-kilter theme in mind–it returns very effectively later. The intro gives way to a stripped-down, beat-driven verse, followed by a simple chorus sung over an oscillating violin line, at which point this so-called “chamber pop band” (an unusual combination of strings and winds, plus Gertler’s piano and some percussion) kicks in to flesh the song out with a wonderful assortment of organic flourishes. (Check out the great, punctuating sound at the two-minute mark–I think one of the stringed instruments does that, but which one? and how?). Combining a crystalline sort of yearning quality to her voice (think Lisa Loeb) with a knack for layered vocals and striking instrumentation (think Kirsty MacColl), Gertler packs a lot into a three and a half minute pop song. While the melody is relatively modest, the package is assured and engaging; when the opening theme returns about two and a half minutes into the proceedings–that wonderful, lop-sided piano theme augmented by all sorts of knowing squeaks and squiggles from the band–I’m won over for good. “Away” comes from a brand new album, Nervous Breakthroughs, that was begun way back in 1998 but was only recently finished.
The MP3 can be found on Gertler’s web site.
“Helen Reddy” – Trembling Blue Stars
Naming a song after a singer seems a particularly fetching thing to me. For all I know this stems from my lasting devotion to the Replacements’ “Alex Chilton” (one of the mysteriously great rock songs of all time), but what the heck, the world is full of strange and wonderful inter-connections. In any case, “Helen Reddy” is its own kind of good. Driven by singer Beth Arzy’s simultaneously warm-yet-distant vocals, the song succeeds in evoking the evanescent nostalgia of listening to distant radio stations at night as a child; the way certain lyrics spring forward clearly (“These nights are made for sleeping”) while others recede into the blurry aural landscape accentuates the mood and subject matter. The soft but steady beat, the subtle buzz of vague keyboard noise, and Arzy’s Georgia Hubley-ish voice all bring Yo La Tengo to mind, but there’s an airy warmth here that’s different from that band’s murkier sort of reserve. “Helen Reddy” is the lead track on the band’s latest CD, Seven Autumn Flowers, released on Elefant Records in Europe and, apparently, on Bar/None Records here in October, although the Bar/None web site still doesn’t list it anywhere.
The MP3 can be found on the Elefant Records site.