Glistening, accomplished pop from a Scottish band that came together in 1989 and has never quite had its day. Look how much these guys pull out of a simple melody set against a clockwork, tom-tom-accented beat, and how effortlessly they do it–largely by playing against the regularities they set up. Notice, to begin with, how the melody line of the verse starts first on the downbeat and then, when it repeats, begins on the upbeat; this creates an off-centered feeling to what is actually a regular, 4/4 beat. But then notice what happens in the chorus (which is just the words “It’s all in my mind” sung twice)–the beat is stretched to 6/4 for two measures, which manages both to ground the song and keep it slightly on edge. A minute and a half into things, we’re returned to the first verse but the song has shifted subtly, tom-tom giving way to a fuller drum kit, some gorgeous but unexpected harmonies fleshing out the words and their dreamy message. That the whole thing culminates in a spaced-out guitar break three-quarters of the way through–I love how the song sort of floats into the guitar solo, as if catching up to it–is only fitting. “It’s All In My Mind” is the lead track on the band’s new CD Man-Made, their seventh, scheduled for release next week on Merge Records.
“The World in 1984” – Shearwater
This song has the echoey, majestic sadness of a forgotten photo album, an impression accentuated by the timeless melody, backward-looking lyrics, and singer Jonathan Meiburg’s high, fluttery voice. There’s something haunting and lasting at work here, something I’d locate somewhere in the graceful interaction between the minor and major chords and the way they play out through the central, plaintive piano refrain. Shearwater features two members (keyboard player Meiburg and guitarist Will Sheff) of the somewhat better-known Okkervil River; reflecting Meiburg’s graduate-level involvement in ornithology (how does he have the time?), the band is named for a type of bird that flies close to the surface of the water. And the song comes from an album called Winged Life (released last year on Austin-based Misra Records), to continue the bird theme–although the phrase itself is William Blake’s (is it my imagination or are independent rock bands the last bastion of literate culture in our post-literate world?): “He who binds to himself a joy/Does the winged life destroy;/ But he who kisses the joy as it flies/Lives in eternity’s sun rise.”
The MP3, by the way, is hosted on the band’s site.
“New Resolution” – the Heartless Bastards
Skeletal and elemental, “New Resolution” is driven by an aggressive drumbeat (hey, it’s distinctive drumbeat week) and Erika Wennerstrom’s achy-furious voice. She’s got something of that back-of-the-throat roughness that makes Lucinda Williams cut me to the core sometimes, but in this case it’s Lucinda crossed with Patti Smith, or maybe even Robert Plant. While “New Resolution” is rooted in a time-worn bass line, there is simultaneously a liberating vibe to this short and quirky tune, as if the band is gleefully writing its own rules as it goes. I for one find it impossible to argue with (not to mention half fall in love with) anyone who sings the following: “My new resolution is to be/Someone who does not care what anyone thinks of me/’Cause I don’t even like myself half the time/And what’s the use in worrying what’s on other people’s minds?” The Heartless Bastards are from Cincinnati; “New Resolution” can be found on the band’s debut CD, Stairs and Elevators, released in February on Fat Possum Records, a label previously known for blues recordings.
The MP3 is available via the band’s web site.