Resplendent electro-pop from an Oxford synthesizer trio that apparently wears lab coats onstage. While drawing obvious inspiration from bands like Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Trademark immediately announces its own presence with the opening synthesizer riff, featuring a deeper, buzzier, funkier tone than their ’80s forebears. The song swings along in a rapid 6/8 (maybe?) shuffle, and even as vocalist Oliver Horton’s blase, slightly nasal delivery recalls the likes of Neil Tennant (of the Pet Shop Boys), there’s something sturdier and more passionate going on here. Maybe because it was all new back then, and maybe there were serious technological limitations at the time, but ’80s synth-pop had a distinct air of preprogrammed relentlessness to it—as if the groups got going by pushing a button and letting the machines do the rest. Listen, by contrast, to the way the introduction here leads into the first verse: how the rhythm shifts and the three interweaving synthesizers are redefined around the vocals—how in fact they are played musically rather than electronically, even though they are, still, electronic instruments. It may sound on the surface like the ’80s but this is the ’00s we’re listening to, and a seriously wonderful new song. “Hold That Thought” can be found on Trademark’s debut CD, Trademark Want More, released in the U.K. last year on Truck Records. The MP3 is available via the band’s web site. Thanks to The Acousticwoodlands for the lead.
“American Grotesque” – Barry Thomas Goldberg
Straightforward old-school rock with a vibrant edge. Goldberg is a singer/songwriter in his fifties who’s been kicking around the Minneapolis music scene for a couple of decades; his age and experience blaze through this simultaneously good-natured and apocalyptic song. Goldberg’s deep, cigarette-stained voice brings the late Warren Zevon to mind, but there’s an added Graham Parker-like snap and snarl to his delivery and something Dylanesque about the whole carnival-like enterprise, with its cavalcade of characters and situations set to a rollicking 3/4 beat. “American Grotesque” is the title track of Goldberg’s most recent CD, released earlier this year.
The MP3 is available on Goldberg’s web site. Thanks to visitor Paul for the suggestion.
“The Guns of Brixton” – Nouvelle Vague
It’s the Clash song, it’s a French collective which has made an album transforming punk and new wave songs from the late ’70s and early ’80s into jazzy-poppy bossa nova-inflected tunes, and it’s way more successful and alluring than it has any right to be. The idea to do this came from French producer/multi-instrumentalists Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux—Marc’s idea, originally. (The web site claims that “Nouvelle Vague” means “new wave” in French and “bossa nova” in Portuguese; this seems cheeky to me, but cute.) The plan was to jettison the cultural context, focus on the strength of the song, and (a great touch) employ young singers who had never heard the original in the first place. On “The Guns of Brixton,” Camille (she uses just her first name) brings a beguiling early ’60s-style insouciance to the task, as the great Paul Simonon song is transformed into a jaunty lounge number with mind-boggling panache. Hear the incredible way she links the first verse to the chorus 48 seconds into the song, the audible out-breath she uses to get from the phrase “death row” to “You can crush us” etc. All through it of course is the crazy juxtaposition of this voice and these lyrics, but even that would not have been enough without the arrangement. What Collin and Libaux highlight most of all with this project is the sheer magic of musical arrangement, and the brilliance that can result when just the right instrument does just the right thing at just the right time without, somehow, sounding overly precise and calculated. One small example among many is the way a dark piano bass line is added at the beginning of the second verse—just perfect. Among the other songs covered by Nouvelle Vague on the CD are “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Making Plans for Nigel.” Released overseas last June on the U.K.-based Peacefrog Records, Nouvelle Vague comes out this week in the U.S. on Luaka Bop Records.
The MP3 is hosted by Insound.