This Week’s Finds: February 13-19 (The Layaways, Laakso, Damon and Naomi)

“Silence” – the Layaways

An untamed growl of guitar noise lays at the heart of this pop confection, like a bit of crunchy frog sealed within succulent Swiss chocolate, as it were. It’s a simple song, but the vibe works well for me, a vibe constructed through a combination of an appealing melody and a knowing ability to romp through some of the choicer specimens in rock’n’roll’s sonic back catalog: from Jesus and Mary Chain-esque squalls of sound to Yo La Tengo-ish understated vocalizing to (this is the kicker, for me) a Cars-like use of catchy synthesizer riffs. While I’m generally all for the ’80s touches that seem to be inspiring lots of today’s independent bands, I particularly enjoy when there’s integration going on rather than re-creation, however exuberant. The Layaways are a trio from Chicago; “Silence” is the lead track on the band’s second CD, We’ve Been Lost, released in December on Mystery Farm Records (which appears to be simply a label set up by the band for its own releases). The MP3 is available via the band’s site. Thanks to visitor Jen for the tip.

“Aussie Girl” – Laakso

From Sweden comes this idiosyncratic, joyful blurt of a bittersweet song. Wrap Conor Oberst up with the Decemberists, give him a fetching little Swedish accent, speed him up and spin him around blindfolded, and maybe he’d sound like this. Any four-person rock band featuring one member who plays trombone, trumpet, accordion, and glockenspiel is going to immediately catch my attention, and I must say I do enjoy the subtle texture said member (David Nygård) delivers. For what is in fact a fairly precise song, there’s an endearing fringe of sloppiness oozing out around the edges here, due I think to lead singer Markus Krunegård’s wavery energy and unbridled spirit. And while a song bemoaning the torture of a (very) long-distance relationship is unlikely to break new ground observationally, I find that good pop music has the happy ability to keep me unworried about cliche. “Aussie Girl” can be found on the band’s first and only full-length CD, I Miss You, I’m Pregnant, released on Adrian Recordings, a Swedish label. The MP3 is available via the band’s site.

“Beautiful Close Double” – Damon and Naomi

I like how Naomi Yang’s dreamy voice floats against a rooted instrumental base here. Too much of what is sometimes known as “dream pop,” while perfectly agreeable, does tend to drift off into an airy sort of neverland. Damon and Naomi–two-thirds of the landmark indie band Galaxie 500, back in the day–keep things grounded in a variety of subtle ways. (Key word subtle: be warned this song can in fact sound as if it’s merely drifting off into neverland if you don’t pay close attention.) To begin with, the song is set against Naomi’s classic-rock bass riff (sounds like “Cinnamon Girl” to me, actually). Second of all, drummer Damon Krukowski, while starting off cymbally and understated, echoing the bass line for a while, kicks out a few jams (subtly) now and again. Distant layers of muted trumpet add a distinct substance as well. As for Michio Kurihara’s rubbery-sparkly guitar licks, well, they’re pretty dreamy I guess, but what the heck, they’re still cool. “Beautiful Close Double” is the song that opens Damon and Naomi’s new CD “The Earth is Blue,” set for release this week on the duo’s own label, 20/20/20. The MP3 can be found on their site.

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