“Call It Clear” – Halloween, Alaska
A sustained synthesizer fades into a drum that sounds simultaneously like an electronica beat and a real drum being pounded by a real drumstick. The bass that quickly joins in is yet more intriguing, mashed somehow into a boopy sort of electro-sound for half of its repeating motif. This immediate and compelling blend of electronics and organics then releases into a meltingly warm two-chord guitar riff—a sound that has clear roots in jazz rather than electronica—and I’m pretty much hooked. Guitarist James Diers, it turns out, has a voice as meltingly warm as his guitar, with something of the husky depth one hears in Peter Gabriel, or the Eels’ Mark Oliver Everett. This also makes me happy, and still happier I become as I note the indescribable series of precise, programmed sounds that work to create an electronic background of unusual (that word again) warmth. Halloween, Alaska is a four-man band from Minneapolis apparently specializing in infusing electronics with a deep human glow. The world can use the skill. “Call It Clear” is a song off the band’s self-titled debut CD, originally released on Princess Records in 2004, and re-released by East Side Digital in April.
The MP3 can be found on CNET’s music.download.com. Thanks to 50 Quid Bloke (self-described “saviour of the music industry”!) for the lead.
“Shallow” – Halomobilo
So this one sways to a fat 3/4 beat and is introduced with a barrage of heavy guitar work (I will continue to find lower-register guitar playing refreshing as long as most rock guitarists express themselves predominantly on the high notes). A bonus: within the first 30 seconds of the song, the singer uses the word “whilst,” which sounds unaccountably endearing to my American ears. The entire song, come to think of it, sounds unaccountably endearing to me. I think it’s the head-bobbing chorus that does it in particular: the measure-long notes and diving intervals work especially well with the muffled sort of angst that singer Mark Burnside has itching at the back of his throat (and occasionally throwing his pitch off in a strangely effective way). Even the lyrical imperative (“I won’t be a shadow/No, I won’t be so shallow”) is unexpectedly touching, but perhaps not surprising from a group describing itself as “a heartfelt, commercially acceptable, big sounding rock band.” Halomobilo was founded in Chelmsford, England in 2002; they have yet to release a CD. “Shallow” is available as an MP3 on the band’s site.
Sounding like a song from some lost epic indie-folk rock opera, “Across the Bridge” weaves banjo, violin, and increasingly dramatic vocal choruses around a sure beat and a sturdy, gratifying melody. Lead vocalist James Christopher Monger bears a smile-inducing resemblance to Paul Heaton of the Beautiful South (and the Housemartins before them), singing with open-hearted gusto both alone and in larger groups. The Great Lakes Myth Society are five guys from Ann Arbor with a geographical fixation and a keen sense of socio-historical drama, not to mention an unusual way with words. As their web site notes: “Like five applehead men soaking in their respective freshwater tombs, feeling the pulp return to their faces, each day brings the delicious pain of life and the endless need to create.” Indeed. “Across the Bridge” is one of 15 songs on the band’s self-titled debut CD, released in April on their own Stop, Pop, and Roll label. Thanks to Salon’s “Audiofile” for the lead, which came from one of the intriguing summer-oriented playlists Thomas Bartlett has been posting there recently. The MP3 is hosted on the Stop, Pop, and Roll site.