“Look At Her Face” – the Coral Sea
A terrifically put together song from a Santa Barbara-based band with a good-looking future. Offering dynamics legitimately deserving of the overused adjective “cinematic,” the Coral Sea melds musical elements from a number of different decades, or maybe even centuries, to create an artfully assembled space that feels both layered and airy. The sense of urgency pervading the opening section is driven largely by the pulsings of a string quartet, of all things; when a simple, resonant piano line enters at 1:28, the song opens up magnificently, achieving a U2-esque grandeur even as singer/songwriter Rey Villalobos, with his sweet, pitch-perfect pop voice, keeps the enterprise rooted on earth rather than in the heavens somewhere. The son of a cinematographer (ah!), Villalobos is a classically-trained musician who lists Chopin among his influences; easier ones to pick out here might be the Beatles (John Lennon in particular), the Moody Blues, the Pixies, and Bends-era Radiohead, and yet this doesn’t really sound like any of them. “Look At Her Face” is the opening song on the band’s debut CD, Volcano and Heart, self-released under the Red Clover Records imprint in July. The MP3 is hosted on the band’s site. Thanks to the gang at 3hive for the lead.
“Number One” – Catlow
Wielding no obvious sonic gimmicks, no “listen to me, I’m different!” antics, Natasha Thirsk, doing business as Catlow, has crafted a remarkably unformulaic piece of punchy, three-minute neo-’90s guitar pop. From the opening, off-beat crunch of the guitar, the off-kilter entry of the bass, and the restrained drumbeat, the song manages to feel both march-like and arhythmic. Hooks come and go before they settle in, as if seen from the aural equivalent of the corner of the eye. Listen for instance to the descending riff heard first in the introduction (11 seconds in): it kind of melts in on itself, describing a slippery series of diminishments that are quickly folded into the stuttering drive, leaving you not quite sure what you heard and whether it even made sense or not. This riff, however, recurs, and becomes its own sort of mysterious hook when Thirsk works it into the melody at the end of each line of verse (the “I am I am I am” part in the first verse). The chorus, in turn, is even more elusively catchy, with the clipped stop-start-ishness of the crunchy guitar and its lack of melodic lines to hang onto; what we get instead is Thirsk’s light but powerful voice reaching successive climaxes before retreating in a sort of syncopated wave, falling then rising towards an unexpected chord that manages to lead us back to the verse without a traditional resolution. Thirsk comes from Vancouver, and gained a following late in the ’90s and into the new decade with her former band, the Dirtmitts. “Number One” is the lead track on Catlow’s debut CD, Kiss the World, released earlier this year in Canada on Boompa Records. The MP3 is via the Boompa site.
“Miles” – the Southland
Styles and tendencies in rock’n’roll tend to change pretty gradually when all is said and done, the definitive sound or sounds of one era blending seamlessly into another, and only emerging as definitive in retrospect–it’s much easier, as an example, to talk about a “’90s sound” now than it was back when we were living through it. And so the ’00s (more than half over already!) may seem so far to have produced a difficult-to-generalize sort of sound to date–particularly as there is by now such a longer and richer musical history for rock bands to be inspired by. I contend, however, that some characteristic sounds are emerging and this able and spiffy tune by a new L.A. band called the Southland pretty much nails one of them exquisitely. With its bedroom-rock-style mixture of acoustic and beat rhythms, “Miles” is not a song that could possibly have been produced in the ’60s or ’70s or ’80s or ’90s. I’m not saying this is gloriously original; actually the point is that it isn’t–but it is enormously characteristic, and beautifully crafted. What wins me is the memorable chorus, with its bittersweet melody and that great, marshmallowy slide-guitar lick. “Miles” is a song from the Southland’s debut CD, Influence of Geography, released in June on Ruffworld Records. The MP3 is via the Ruffworld site.