Five lads from Oxford, England who do not sound like Radiohead, Goldrush has been busy the last few years perfecting a British take on Americana music, with nods towards everyone from the Byrds to Neil Young to Wilco. In the process (as these things go with the right amount of talent), the band has developed a sound that seems pretty much their own (not to mention a record company in the U.K. that is their own). “Wait for the Wheels” begins (nice touch) like the end of a Neil Young/Crazy Horse song–a fuzzy blare of guitar, a flare of cymbals, a noodling bass–but the drummer picks up the beat and soon we’re churning along to the crunch of a deep, circular interplay between guitar and bass. As singer Robin Bennett opens his mouth, the guitar peels away, which highlights the almost funky bass riff, while an acoustic guitar soon slips in to provide some sparkly texture underneath Bennett’s friendly, slightly breathy voice. Electric guitars return rather janglingly in the somewhat syncopated chorus: listen to how both sides of the verse “I wait for the wheels/To turn” begin on the central upbeat between the second and third beats, which then drags the line into the next measure. You sense a stutter or shift even as the song retains its 4/4 drive. Bennett has something of Jeff Tweedy’s casually pained depth while not sounding very much like Tweedy at all (except maybe a little in the chorus, come to think of it, particularly the second time, as the guitars really start buzzing and crunching); I really want to describe Bennett’s voice as “chalky” except that I’ve never quite figured out what a chalky voice is. Ah well. “Wait for the Wheels” will be found on the band’s U.S. debut CD, Ozona, scheduled for release in July on Better Looking Records. The MP3 is available via the Better Looking site; the other one there is equally as good, as is one more that’s available on the band’s site, which is a song from their first CD, Don’t Bring Me Down, released in the U.K. in 2002.
If “Lovesick” wastes no time flaunting one of pop music’s greatest of chord progressions, so be it–either not enough people bother to employ it, or (more likely) it’s not as easy to pull off as it may seem. Eschewing all distracting embellishments (there’s no introduction, no instrumental break, and the chorus and bridge are effectively combined), “Lovesick” accentuates its classic-pop roots and in so doing, may just transcend them. I especially enjoy the messy-tight guitar work scorching a hole in the background, as well as singer Jana Wittren’s endearing vocals, with their elusive almost-British-isms and sweet phrasing (the way she sings “you were the one” 15 or so seconds into the song melts my heart). If Harriet Wheeler from the Sundays sang lead for Blondie, they might have sounded, at least sometimes, like this. The Arrogants have released two EP-length CDs on Shelflife Records; “Lovesick” comes from their first, entitled Your Simple Beauty, released in 2000. The band’s long-awaited first full-length CD is due out next month; it will feature 23 songs, most of them new, some of them reworked “oldies,” including a new version of “Lovesick.” The MP3 is available via the band’s site.
“Salome” – Van Elk
Quiet, elegiac “Salome” overcomes its somewhat lo-fi trappings through the palpable mystery evoked by its simple setting and haunting beauty. There’s such refinement at work within the aural landscape here that it casts a spell and I am hooked. I love the heartbeaty percussive accent that sounds like a squelched guitar chord and love even more the stately, wordless motif that winds its way repeatedly through the song. “Salome”‘s mystery is enhanced by the dirth of information available about the duo calling itself Van Elk. Featuring former Mistle Thrush singer Valerie Forgione and Boston-area musician Ken Michaels, Van Elk (Val plus Ken, swirled around a bit) has the barest of internet presences–a web site with four songs to listen to, basically. No word about releases, no word about current work. I for one hope to hear more.