This Week’s Finds: March 6-12 (The Decemberists, Devin Davis, The Hold Steady)

“The Engine Driver” – the Decemberists

With crisp, minor-chord rhythm guitar, spacious yet intimate percussion, and an unusually effective melodica, the Decemberists deliver a haunting take on the time-honored train song—whether metaphorical or actual, the train conjured here both lyrically and musically feels lost even as it chugs by necessity along its predestined tracks. While not as obviously a historical tale as many this unique band has told, there’s yet something in the graceful fabric that suggests history (and history’s handmaiden, loss)—something that has much to do with the distinctive, nasal urgings of singer/songwriter Colin Meloy’s voice and his singular syntax and vocabulary. “The Engine Driver” will be found on the band’s new Picaresque CD, due out on the Kill Rock Stars label on March 22. MP3 via Better Propaganda.

“Turtle and the Flightless Bird” – Devin Davis

Chicago bedroom rocker Devin Davis opens his mouth and Ray Davies all but tumbles out. This is a fine thing in and of itself, as I am kindly disposed to anyone properly inspired by the Kinks. But Davis (and isn’t come to think of it “Davies” pronounced “Davis” in the U.K.?), to my ears, has much more going for him than a Kinks fixation, a fact made clearest by his achievement as a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/arranger/engineer/producer. Technology has made it easy enough to be a one-person band in your own home studio, but rarely will you hear a bedroom rocker who sounds as loose and unfettered as Davis does. Think of it: to do all this yourself requires incredible precision and repetition; how do you then produce something that sounds so loose and alive? Playing the part here of a crestfallen turtle who appears to have lost his true, inter-species love, Davis delivers a song buzzing with spirit and life. From the quiet, bouncy-sad electric piano intro through to the heart-opening chorus, with its stirring melody and ramshackle feel, he not only transcends his influences, he transcends his technology. “Turtle and the Flightless Bird” comes from Davis’s debut CD, Lonely People of the World, Unite!, set for release on (of course) his own Mousse Records imprint next week. The MP3 is available on his web site.

“The Swish” – the Hold Steady

Cross early Bruce Springsteen with mid-career Iggy Pop and you get a harsh, riveting slash of wordy, sardonic rock’n’roll that at the same time offers a bracing, Dada-ist antidote to the retro-’80s love-fest dominating the indie rock scene here in the mid’-00s. (As singer/guitarist Craig Finn directly notes in this song: “I’ve survived the 80s one time already/And I don’t recall them all that fondly.”) This song isn’t pretty; there’s no real chorus; the band isn’t trying to get you to like them. The Hold Steady throw a lot of electricity into their particular rock’n’roll stew and the end result may not be beautiful but to me it sounds not only compelling but maybe even original, which is saying a lot at this particular point in the rock timeline. “The Swish” comes from The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me, the band’s first CD, released last year on French Kiss Records. A new CD is due out in May. The MP3 is available on the band’s web site.

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