This Week’s Finds: Dec. 12-18 (Danny Allen, De Novo Dahl, Muckner)

“Howdy” – Danny Allen

This song is driven by a vivid, swampy-slowness that I wouldn’t have previously identified as a sound that would pull me in. And yet “Howdy”–without a glistening melody or engaging complexity–pulls me in most assuredly. How does this work? Well, to begin with, the opening minor-key guitar arpeggio is satisfyingly skewed. Then Allen enters with his full-throated voice detailing a series of odd but concrete images. Before long an atmospheric steel guitar begins to issue languid phrases in the background. Then we arrive at the wordless bridge (around 1:25), a melodic moan in the middle of this overheated summer night of a song; the song sways, coalesces, gets under my skin. Danny Allen is a Californian who apparently led an L.A. band called Harvette a couple years back before striking out on his own. He’s since returned to his hometown of Oakland, for what it’s worth. “Howdy” is the title track of a CD released earlier this year on the Stanley Recordings label. The MP3 can be found on Allen’s web site.

“Waiting For My Friends” – De Novo Dahl

Exuberant, theatrical rock’n’roll–one part Super Furry Animals, one part Queen, and one part something they must put in the water down there in Nashville. De Novo Dahl is a six-piece outfit that named themselves after author Roald Dahl, of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame; whimsy is part of the mix, in other words. So are a lot of sounds, and no I can’t begin to identify them all. But what I like is how worked into the gleeful momentum of the song they all are–I didn’t fully notice most of the shall we say more peculiar noises (chugging beeps, trilling boops, et al) until I listened a few different times (okay I noticed the screams right away), so otherwise transported was I by the whole over-the-top enterprise. I don’t think I’m going to hear a more satisfying chorus for a while, for both its power-pop-goes-to-heaven chord progression and its unexpectedly silly-yet-poignant lyrical climax (I’ll let you listen and discover it for yourself). “Waiting for My Friends” comes from a six-song EP the band released last year; the MP3, as usual, is waiting for you on the band’s site.

“Transamericana” – Muckner

An exceedingly well put together song, with one masterful touch arising after another. This song is not only about traveling, it sounds like traveling: listen to the wordless vocal (hey! it’s wordless vocal day) that drives the beginning of the introduction, underneath the drumbeat. It doesn’t sound like a car, but it sounds like driving. “Transamericana” is propelled by a steady acoustic beat, some especially effective use of fingers-on-metal-guitar-strings sounds, and guitarist Dan Erb’s gritty but gentle voice. The melody is at once urgent and soothing, full of subtle knowledge (listen to how it dips at the end of the second and fourth lines in the verse). And then the touch that seals it for me: how Lisa Smith (who plays bass and cello in the band) joins Erb in the chorus, but just on alternate lines. For some reason I really like that effect. Plus, on the first line she sings with him, she doesn’t harmonize, merely sings the same notes. For some reason I really like that effect as well. “Transamericana” comes from If I Can’t Talk to You, Then I Can’t Talk to Anybody, released in mid-November on Buttermilk Records. You’ll find the MP3 on the band’s web site.

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