week of Feb. 6-12

“Inaction” – We Are Scientists

A playful yet blistering piece of dynamic guitar pop, “Inaction” is, actually, all action–two and a half minutes of alternately crunching and blazing guitar work supporting an edgy, propulsive melody. Singer/guitarist Keith Murray plays and sings with a bursting sort of restraint while his two band mates–what we’ve got here is a nice 21st-century version of a venerable rock institution, the power trio–punch out a pulsing backbeat. California born and NY based, We Are Scientists bristle with the sort of energy that may in fact only be available to this clean, three-pronged approach to popular electric music; I even think I hear an homage to Cream–rock’n’roll’s first widely-acclaimed power trio–in the assertive guitar riff that pops in at 1:39. And yet there’s nothing ponderous about this group; both the lyrics and Murray’s delivery of them have a subtly goofy edge, perhaps to be expected from a band that includes the following instructions on their download page: “To download songs, click on the title. To stream an mp3, click ‘stream’. To tie your shoes, twist the laces around each other as many times as you can, then light them on fire.” “Inaction” comes from We Are Scientists’ self-released 2004 EP, The Wolf’s Hour; the MP3 is on the band’s web site. Thanks to the good folks at 3hive for the head’s up on this one.

“Alive With Pleasure” – Viva Voce

The opening juxtaposition of a buzzing synthesizer and a big old-fashioned non-digital drumbeat is distinctive, and an immediate sign that this husband-and-wife do-it-yourself duo will visit some interesting musical places before they’re through. And, in fact, “Alive With Pleasure” feels like a few songs rolled into one, as the bashy introductory section–all drums, claps, and stomps–gradually wobbles into a slower, lovelier vocal section (wife Anita Robinson does the singing) with a Beatlesque melody and increasingly orchestral overtones. But before things sound too familiar, husband Kevin cranks out a loony, wah-wah-ish synthesizer solo seguing us into a coda that stompily reprises the introduction and there, we’re done. Are we having fun yet? “Alive With Pleasure” is the opening track on the band’s third and latest CD, The Heat Can Melt Your Brain, released in September on Minty Fresh Records. The MP3 is available on the band’s web site.

“Blue Angel” – Rose Polenzani

And sometimes the ear needs just an acoustic instrument or two, a lilting melody, a simple but resonant human dimension to the music. (Especially after a Super Bowl loss, eh?) I have long admired Polenzani’s vocal bravura–she can go to some really exposed places when she wants to–but in this song she reins it in in such a way that you hear it indirectly, like something you catch out of the corner of your eye but disappears when you look at it. One of the things I like best here is how she subtly shifts the rhythm on us as the song unfolds–what begins as a clear, softly swinging 3/4-time confessional pushes into a more urgent 2/4-time plea by the end, even as she sings the same notes. Instrumentally and lyrically reminiscent of R.E.M.’s “Half A World Away,” this song like that one has a keening poignancy to it that also seems appropriate the day after. “Blue Angel” comes from a CD of home recordings Polenzani released this past October entitled August; the MP3 comes from her web site.

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