This Week’s Finds: Jan. 30-Feb. 5 (Veal, The Octopus Project, Blonde Redhead)

“Judy Garland” – Veal

“If you looked like Judy Garland/I’d be over it in half a shake/But you stood there dumbfounded/You looked nothing like Judy Garland” is how this song that appears at least partially to be about being knocked unconscious begins. We’re instantly right in the middle of something (although exactly what is part of the quirky mystery), a feeling enhanced by the smart cascade of (mostly) major chords, which change on the first beat of each measure, and the asymmetrical use of seventh chords (at “half” and “nothing”). I feel pulled in, delighted, and yet still completely unprepared for (okay, I’ll use one of the music industry’s hoariest cliches because nothing else quite applies) the killer chorus this leads into. I won’t describe it (much; but do listen for those extra two beats, the crazy lyrics, and how sharp the harmonies suddenly are), but yes, absolutely, it’s a killer chorus. Veal is a Canadian trio led by singer/guitarist Luke Doucet, whose cheery voice has a wonderfully elastic upper register. (The drummer, I feel compelled to point out, is simply named Chang.) “Judy Garland” comes from the band’s third and most recent CD, “The Embattled Hearts,” released in 2003 on Six Shooter Records. The MP3 can be found on the band’s web site.

“The Adjustor” – the Octopus Project

A lo-fi-ish, white noise-y, scratchy-boopy instrumental with genuine warmth and charm. Which shows that all things are possible (good news for Eagles fans, I should note). A quartet from Austin, the Octopus Project sounds like a surf-dance band attempting to play jazz on R2D2’s spare parts. First we spend an agreeable minute or so establishing the basic groove–a chiming sort of repeated melody propelled by a perfectly fetching sort of clickety-scratching percussiveness (sounding a bit like someone trying to play the snare drum on a broken guitar neck). Then come some (for lack of a better word) solos: the minimalist solo played by a squeaky-honky gizmo (sampled tricycle horn?) which begins at 1:13 is well worth the download by itself; so is the one played by what sounds like a sampled dial-tone, at 2:13. What makes it work so well for me is that, for all the electronic manipulation going on, the song still happens in an expansive aural space–due no doubt to the fact that the band uses actual drums and guitars along with the machines. “The Adjustor” can be found on the band’s new CD, One Ten Hundred Thousand Million, their second, released last week on Peek-a-Boo Records (the label which spawned the group Spoon). The MP3 is available on the band’s site.

“Misery is a Butterfly” – Blonde Redhead

Talk about a simple, repeated melody–“Misery is a Butterfly” succeeds, to my ears, largely because of the plain, recurring piano riff that serves as a backbone for this atmospheric, borderline melodramatic piece. There are strings, there’s almost a dance beat popping up here and there, there are breathy-emotive vocals from guitarist Kazu Makino, there are Rachmaninovian chords, but time and again we get back to the piano riff, and everything seems all right again. Blonde Redhead is a veteran NYC-based trio that has gravitated over time from a Sonic Youth-style dissonance to a lusher sound that early fans of the band might not like very much. Me, I’m kind of intrigued by the still-somewhat-strange-ness of the whole thing. The song is the title track from the group’s sixth CD, released last year on 4AD Records; the MP3 is found on Better Propaganda.

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