This Week’s Finds: January 16-22 (Audible, Provan, Chad VanGaalen)

“Sunday Bell” – Audible

The way the crisp guitars and simply articulated piano refrain leap into motion is instantly heartwarming; I already know I’m going to follow this song wherever it wants to go. I am quickly rewarded, as the first place it goes is into Mike Kennedy’s appealing tenor–he sounds like an upbeat Elliott Smith, replacing Smith’s wavering fragility with a bell-like resolution. The song gains a lot of power by its capacity to sound both sad and happy at the same tinme: the melody is bittersweet and descending, but the rhythm drives forward with vigor. Kennedy’s wonderful voice bridges the dichotomy perfectly, effective at both the upper (listen to how he sings the word “decision” in the second line) and lower ends of his register (as the melody heads downward, his voice seems to expand and envelope the sonic landscape). I also like how the driving rhythm is interrupted in the bridge section, itself split into two parts: opening with a sharp, punctuating beat, the melody continues but the accompaniment glides into a swinging sort of two-step. This whole section is underscored by a subtle dissonant sustained note on the synthesizer (sounds like maybe a ninth), before resolving into a reprise of the main melody. “Sunday Bell” will be found on the band’s debut CD, Sky Signal, scheduled for release on January 25th on Polyvinyl Records. The MP3 is available on the Polyvinyl web site.

“I Won the Context” – Provan

Sometimes, very often, maybe even most of the time, it’s just a little thing that makes a song fly. That’s what we’re looking for: songs that fly. Lots of songs walk reasonably well (even as, of course, many can’t even crawl), but not many soar. That said, there is no–absolutely no–formula for how to fly. Often it’ll be the plainest sort of extra touch (an almost random-seeming melodic twist, a particular chord in a particular place, the quality a singer’s voice attains during one specific syllable) that launches a song, unexpectedly. In this case, it’s singer/guitarist Joe Kelly’s one-octave vocal leap in the verse–when he gets to the word “prize,” to use the first example. It’s a simple thing, could’ve even been an afterthought, but when he does that, to my ears, the song takes off. Of course, one might reasonably ask whether this little vocal leap would have had the same effect without everything else cool going on in this song: the punchy, inventive drum work, the way the melodic lead guitar works against the band’s churning-crunchy sound, and the subtle strength of Kelly’s voice itself the rest of the way–while he sings with the high yearning sweetness of many a power-pop frontman, he’s got an underlying muscle to him (reminsicent, to me, of Peter Case, for those who know his stuff). So maybe it’s not a simple thing after all, come to think of it. “I Won the Context” is a song from a yet-unreleased EP from the Brooklyn-based Provan, who have two previous EPs to their name. The MP3 can be found on the band’s web site. Thanks to visitor Mary, from the PowerPop blog, for the tip on this one.

“Traffic” – Chad VanGaalen

With an endearing Neil Young-ish-ness to both his voice and the resolute idiosyncracy of his music, Chad VanGaalen is a Canadian bedroom rocker beginning to attract attention very much outside the bedroom. Crankily engaging from the get-go–there’s something satisfying and brilliant about how he matches his high voice in the verse against a bass playing the same notes way below–“Traffic” pumps along with both grit and perkiness, a lo-fi production with hi-fi instincts. After 10 years of writing and recording literally hundreds of songs, VanGaalen put 19 of these songs together onto a debut CD, Infiniheart, released in a very limited way last March by Flemish Eye Records. Slowly word began to spread; with the buzz really picking up by year-end 2004, the CD is now slated for a larger re-release this spring. “Traffic” is the closing song on VanGaalen’s CD; the MP3 is available on the Flemish Eye web site.

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