This Week’s Finds: October 9-15 (Flotation Toy Warning, Nicole Atkins, Le Reno Amps)

“Popstar Researching Oblivion” – Flotation Toy Warning

“Popstar Researching Oblivion” has the sort of fully-realized ecstatic sonic goofiness that MP3 collectors like to link to the Flaming Lips but harkens more firmly back to the likes of 10cc, Genesis (yes, they actually had a sense of humor), and Queen. One of the things this quintet from London does with much aplomb is present a straightforward melody via a crazy quilt of sounds–a neat effect not unlike the more widely acknowledged pop effect of singing sad lyrics to happy music. In this case, the end result is a satisfying confusion: the ear hears complexity and simplicity overlappingly, which somehow resolves the polarity. First, the song’s basic, recurring melody, a line of lullaby-like gentleness, is introduced via a searing guitar solo (itself an interesting juxtaposition). The same melody is then re-delivered via layers of soaring and diving sounds, some vocal and some electronic and some created by who-knows-what, weaving and interacting in ways that are specifically elusive and yet link in the ear as an organic whole. Singer Donald Drusky’s earnest British tenor, recalling a somewhat huskier version of Robert Wyatt, is the perfect vocal instrument for the dreamy loopiness of it all; the homely yet graceful horns arriving to mingle with the electronics during the second half of this strangely haunting number are yet more perfect. “Popstar Researching Oblivion” comes from the band’s debut CD, Bluffer’s Guide to the Flight Deck, released in the U.S. in August on Misra Records (the CD was originally released last year in the U.K. on Pointy Records). The MP3 is available on the Misra site.

“Skywriters” – Nicole Atkins

If Chrissie Hynde were Jeff Tweedy’s sister and Roy Orbison were their uncle…oh, never mind. I’m losing patience with my effort to create evocative analogies. But there’s no denying the Hynde-like timbre in this NYC-based singer/songwriter’s voice, nor the touching, earnest early ’60s vibe infusing this shimmering, knowingly produced song. As for the Wilco connection, well, listen to those chord changes (check out for example where she goes with the word “the” in the phrase “the people below” in the chorus). And that unexpectedly intense guitar work that kicks in around 1:48. And the fact that it’s really hard to follow what she’s singing about, even as it doesn’t sound all that complicated either. Let the song loop in your media player for a while and see how its various charms unfold. In the end I maybe like the ghostly, plucky, chiming synthesizer (?) line from the introduction most of all–at once weird and comforting, it brings me back a few generations musically for no reason I can particularly identify. “Skywriters” is one of nine songs on her first CD, Party’s Over, self-relesaed earlier this year. The MP3 is available via The Deli.

“Once You Know” – Le Reno Amps [stream]

Scotland’s answer to They Might Be Giants, Le Reno Amps are two guys (Scott and Al) from Aberdeen with an idiosyncratic sense of song, playful ideas about making lo-fi production come to life, and an enviable knack for melody. The modus operandi is stripped-down, always geared around their two voices and two guitars. But there’s goofiness in the air too, lending an ineffable magic to the aural landscape. “Once You Know” sounds like it was recorded in a gym, with bouncing balls and/or stamping feet ingeniously employed as the rhythm section for this sharp and sprightly down-home ditty. The song gets off to a great start based on melody alone; when the “percussion” kicks in with the second verse, ably accented by some hardy background “hey!”s, the song is unstoppable. The fully-whistled verse that starts at 1:14 appears at that point both a crazy surprise and utterly inevitable. “Once You Know” is from Le Reno Amps’ archly-titled debut CD LP, released under their own (ha-ha) Vanity Project imprint last year. The MP3 is up on the band’s site. A second CD is apparently in the works for these guys, due out some time in 2006. [MP3 no longer available; link above is for the stream.]

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