“Speech With Animals” – Palaxy Tracks
I find the beginning of this song has been popping in my head randomly and repeatedly for the past couple of weeks, ever since I first listened to it. The only explanation I can offer is that this is one incredibly, indelibly gorgeous song; even before I had fully absorbed it, my brain was singing it back to me. After a laid-back but authoritative drumbeat, shuffly and welcoming, we hear a guitar describing a simple third that descends and ascends, just that, plainly and without hurry. Then comes the central melody, aching and beautiful, accentuated by lead singer Brandon Durham’s tender but resilient voice. The guy sounds like he’s sitting on a lot of hurt, but refuses to get maudlin about it; everything here is about understatement—that this is a song without a chorus seems only fitting somehow. The lyrics are elusively about a relationship on the brink of ruin, and arrive at an emotional brink themselves as a swelling sort of controlled noise rises in the background but never quite takes over. “Speech With Animals” will be the lead track on the band’s new CD, Twelve Rooms, due out in April. The MP3 comes from SXSW.com.
“Cold Cold Water” – Mirah
A strangely hypnotic sort of indie-folk-rock epic, complete with orchestral flourishes and dramatic gestures, “Cold Cold Water” is held together first and foremost by Mirah’s immediately endearing voice. Picture Edie Brickell crossed with Liz Phair and you might get close to Mirah’s matter-of-fact sweetness; add a sprinkle (just a sprinkle) of Kate Bush for an underlying sense of drama and here you are, in a place you’ve probably never been before. “Cold Cold Water” develops instrumentally in an almost indescribable way–much of the time, Mirah sings against a sparse but evocative background; intermittently things explode in various ways; nothing happens quite the same way twice; all sorts of interesting accompaniments (listen for strings and percussion in particular) are encountered along the way. I can’t think of that many songs that pull off the feat of being truly innovative and truly engaging simultaneously but this does it for me. A road warrior and full-fledged free spirit (apparently born on a kitchen table, she grew up in an artistic, hippie, macrobiotic household), Mirah (full name: Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn) has aquired a devoted left-of-center following over the past four or five years, and while not to be confused with the band Marah, both are in fact from Philadelphia. “Cold Cold Water” can be found on Mirah’s 2002 CD, Advisory Committee, released by K Records. The MP3 is available on the K Records web site.
“Don’t Push” – the Exit
Here’s a New York City trio that answers the burning question: what would the Police have sounded like if Thom Yorke had been the lead singer? I for one find the Police influence refreshing; and I’m talking the early, reggae-inflected, percussive singles like “Roxanne” and “Can’t Stand Losing You.” For all that Sting has become, for better or worse, over the years, it’s nice to take a breath and remember the raw vivid energy the Police hit the ground with in the late ’70s, and nice to see a new band drawing upon that sound for some 21st-century-style inspiration. “Don’t Push” may not be a truly great song but it sounds great coming out of the speakers, all sharp-edged, rumbly, and assured. Maybe it’s just me reliving a moment of actual awe (I swear I can still picture where I was and who I was with when we threw the “Roxanne” 45–yeah it was an actual 45 back then–on the turntable and sat there slackjawed at what we heard), but what the heck. Yet another MP3 from the incredible SXSW.com repository, this song is from The Exit’s 2004 CD Home For an Island, released on Some Records.