This Week’s Finds: April 17-23 (David Fridlund, Jennifer O’Connor, Okkervil River)

“April & May” – David Fridlund

Built around a simple but sturdy minor-key piano riff, “April & May” sounds like Ben Folds doing Kurt Weill, with the extra air of mystery provided by Fridlund’s Scandanavian-inflected English. With only a double bass providing support for the piano, the song acquires a wonderful heft thanks to Sara Culler’s expert backing vocals. I’m not quite sure how she manages to be so in sync as to almost disappear and yet so present as to be integral to the song’s success, but there she is just the same. I love how she finally emerges on her own with some wordless vocals at the very end–a perfect finishing touch. And then oh yeah, before that, there’s that magical little bit of synthesized harp or some such thing that chimes in, along with an acoustic guitar, around two and half minutes into the proceedings. I assume these are the responsibility of Johan T. Karlsson, who is thanked on the album for the “space echo and other small things that really made a difference.” Fridlund is known in Sweden as leader of the trio David & the Citizens; “April & May” is the second track on his first solo CD, Amaterasu (Amaterasu is the Japanese Shinto sun goddess, just so you know; her name means “She who shines in the heavens”). Culler is in fact featured prominently throughout the disc, which will be released in the U.S. early next month on Hidden Agenda Records. The MP3 is available via Parasol Records, which is Hidden Agenda’s parent label.

“Hole in the Road” – Jennifer O’Connor

Smart, engaging indie-singer-songwriter-rock from the NYC-based O’Connor. While her plainspoken vocal style quickly brings pre-2003 Liz Phair to mind, this is on the one hand a great starting point, to my ears, and on the other hand it becomes with repeated listens only a starting point, as O’Connor’s ability to combine drive, melody, and cool lyrics helps to create her own particular vibe. This is one deftly written and produced song, flowing knowingly from a crisp acoustic rhythm guitar intro into a full-band propulsiveness. There in fact is where the song wins me over, as the band kicks in and is followed shortly by O’Connor now backing herself with octave harmonies. I remain ever the sucker for octave harmonies–that is, when the harmony vocal is singing the same note as the melody but either one octave higher or lower. I love this almost every time. At this point I begin to notice how certain lines from the lyrics jump out and resonate—“I didn’t know I was a target till you made me feel like one”; “Maybe next time you’ll remember to remember every time”–even as the song never pauses long enough to draw extra attention to the sad story being told. Nice stuff. “Hole in the Road” will appear on O’Connor’s new CD, The Color and the Light, when it is released in early May on Red Panda Records. The MP3 is available via O’Connor’s web site.

“For Real” – Okkervil River

Time and again here in the 21st century I am taken aback—pleasantly and resonantly—by the musical depth and breadth on display by the widest variety of independent bands and artists from both around the country and around the world. The Austin-based band Okkervil River—whose song “It Ends With a Fall” was a “This Week’s Finds” pick in February 2004—is a great example of how rich and confident a sound awaits us from any number of relatively unknown ensembles. If last time I was perhaps a bit distracted by what I heard as the band’s distinct Wilco-ishness, this time Okkervil River has a whole lot more on immediate display, offering up a vibrant, edgy song combining a range of sounds and emotion into one dramatic whole. “For Real” is marked by a palpable tension between constraint and unfettered release—heard most obviously in the juxtaposition of the quiet singing and loud guitar bursts in the opening section, and carried through most of all in singer Will Sheff’s vocals, which alternate between a tender waver and an emotion-choked wail. This song is the second track on the band’s new CD Black Sheep Boy, their fourth full-length disc, released earlier this month on Jagjaguwar Records; the MP3 comes to us via the record label site.

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