“Flesh” – Islands
A dense, variegated rocker alternating time signatures, volume, and soundscapes to create a complex but memorable piece of (somehow) pop—almost as dense but way more memorable than this sentence, I should add. The introduction rocks and prickles in and out of a 7/4 beat like Television doing a Led Zep imitation; 50 seconds in, things quiet down as a mellowed-out electric guitar traces spare arpeggios before Nick Diamonds enters with his echoey and full-bodied tenor (Thom Yorke doing his Robert Plant imitation). This was already too much for me to absorb on one listen; my simple ears needed many repeats to begin to make sense of it, but along the way I caught melodies, chord changes, instrumental shifts, vocal qualities, and production touches that said “Keep listening.” During one of my later listens, I realized how the band uses the same post-introduction quiet section three-quarters of the way through the song to lead back to the music from the introduction, which ends up, palindromically, as the coda also. Cool, and maybe even brilliant. Islands is the name of a new side project formed by Diamonds (known as “Niel”) and Jaime Thompson (aka J’aime Tambour), who are two-thirds of the Unicorns, an eccentric, lo-fi Montreal band with something of a following.
“Space They Cannot Touch” – Kate Miller-Heidke
I think sometimes my ear not only needs charm and grace but also proficiency–unmitigated, unapologetic proficiency. From Miller-Heidke’s classically-trained soprano (used with a restraint almost unheard of in this age of “American Idol”-promoted histrionics) to her spiffy band’s exquisitely laid-back accompaniment (imagine Steely Dan as Joan Armatrading’s backup band), “Space They Cannot Touch” sounds like a song the indie-oriented ’00s cannot touch. Vocal comparisons to Kate Bush may be inevitable—Miller-Heidke has some of mighty Kate’s contained flutteriness and substantive breathiness–but her tone strikes me as purer, her ineffable idiosyncrasies more Siberry-ian, I’d say, than Bush-like. Be sure, by the way, not to miss the marvelous wordless flourishes of the song’s last 30 seconds or so. That this all comes from a 23-year-old Australian singer/songwriter is wonderful; I love how the rest of the world is more than ever feeding worthy music back into our bloodstream, compensating refreshingly for the black hole created by the American music industry’s abandonment of music itself as a virtue. “Space They Cannot Touch” is one of seven songs on Telegram, Miller-Heidke’s debut EP, self-released in April 2004 but not yet heard much in this part of the world.
The MP3 is available via her site.
“Mumble Mumble” – Get Him Eat Him
Not that there’s anything wrong with a sparkling slice of quirky indie-rock mastery either–coming to us this time via a quintet from Brown University in Providence, a location not unknown for breeding quirky rock bands. “Mumble Mumble” is a short, spunky mixture of slashy guitars and tumbly words, held together by a good-natured melody, a knowing sense of production, and octave harmonies (gotta love octave harmonies). The chorus is particularly joyful, with its cascade of chord changes, nifty keyboard effects, and old-school Brit-pop allusions (both 10cc and Squeeze leap to mind). (In my musical-history-addled head, I see the song as a tribute both to Get Him Eat Him’s former name–they began life as Grumble Grumble, but changed when threatened legally by the both obscure and defunct space-rock band Grimble Grumble—and to the brilliant Tilbrook/Difford song “Mumbo Jumbo.” Even if it’s not.) Singer/guitarist/songwriter Matt LeMay sounds like a wiseass, but a self-aware wise-ass (he is, after all, credited on the bio page as “jerk, nerd, guitar”), which makes all the difference; many of rock history’s best singers have had the air of self-aware wiseass about them. “Mumble Mumble” is a song from the band’s full-length debut, Geography Cones, slated for release later this month on Absolutely Kosher Records. The MP3 is available on both the band’s site and the Absolutely Kosher site.