This Week’s Finds: Dec. 26-Jan . 1 (Dead Meadow, Bill Ricchini, Emma McGlynn)

“At Her Open Door” – Dead Meadow

I am always partial to bands that can establish a distinct sonic presence quickly. The D.C.-based trio Dead Meadow does well this way, with its Led Zeppelin-meets-R.E.M. vibe: big, searing guitar lines mixed into the background, propelled by a fuzzy folk-rock vibe and chords that take you right back to the late ’60s or early ’70s (for instance, count along with each of the opening beats and when you get to seven—there, that’s a combination of notes and sounds that speaks to us from the past). I also like the quality of singer-guitarist Jason Simon’s voice, how it is not of the usual tone or timbre that I’m used to hearing with this sort of slurry, heavy-chiming environment–he’s more Robert Smith (the Cure) than Robert Plant (Zep). The song weaves an insistent if nebulous spell through its largely indecipherable lyric section, then opens out at about 3:30 into an extended instrumental coda. Churning, psychedelic guitars come to the front, but listen too for the dreamy, choral-like synthesizers up on top. “At Her Open Door” will be found on the band’s CD Feathers, scheduled for release in February on Matador Records. The MP3 can be found on the Matador site.

“Ballad in 2D” – Bill Ricchini

This song has a lot of things going against it, to my ears. I’m not a particular fan of lo-fi, “bedroom”-style rock’n’roll, which this most definitely is; while I like Elliott Smith’s music, I’m not usually happy with anyone who sort of sounds like him; and I also tend to hold in suspicion songs with lyrics that don’t scan well (i.e. when the singer has sometimes to put the emphasis on the incorrect syllable to make the line fit with the music). All these things apply to “Ballad in 2D,” and, what do you know, I still think it’s haunting and memorable–perhaps all the more haunting and memorable because it manages to transcend its potential drawbacks. Ricchini knows his way around the sounds at his disposal, but he doesn’t overdue it–he uses layers organically, while other bedroom recorders tend to overcompensate and pile on in a way that sounds phony. But what sells me finally is the beautiful and beautifully presented chorus. Here Ricchini allows the simple but brilliant, Bacharach-esque melody to take center stage, much the way Ron Sexsmith so often does with his simple and brilliant melodies. “Ballad in 2D” comes from Ricchini’s one and only CD to date, Ordinary Time, which was recorded (yup) in his bedroom in South Philadelphia and released in 2002. The MP3 can be found on Ricchini’s web site.

“Whole Heap” – Emma McGlynn and the Monorails

Blistering and glistening, “Whole Heap” is an emotional freight train of a song. While Ani DiFranco inevitably comes to mind (ferocious acoustic guitar work, emotive singing, hyper-self-involved lyrics, self-owned record company), I think McGlynn is carving out her own sound within this particular niche. Both musically and lyrically harsher than “Impatience” (a Fingertips Top 10 selection earlier this year) “Whole Heap” uses blazing electric guitars and thrashing drumwork to crank the intensity up a few notches. Even in the more frenzied setting, McGlynn sings with uncanny precision–a sort of out-of-control control. And then I like how she pulls back at around a minute-fifty, running her voice through a filter, only to plunge forward into a full-fledged PJ Harvey-ish catharsis as the piece careers toward a distorted, plug-pulling end. “Whole Heap” is the lead track on McGlynn’s Kamikaze Birdie CD, which was originally released last year on McGlynn’s own Impatio Sound label; it was apparently re-released in September of this year with distribution through Genepool/Universal. The MP3 is available on McGlynn’s web site. (Be aware that there are a number of audible “naughty words” along the way, in case you’re playing this on your speakers where others can hear.)

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