This Week’s Finds: December 4-10 (Kathleen Edwards, Suffering & the Hideous Thieves, Belle and Sebastian)

“In State” – Kathleen Edwards

If you already know Kathleen Edwards, you’ll be pleased to discover that she’s recently made ten full songs, five from each of her two CDs, available on her web site as free and legal MP3s. If you don’t already know her, use the opportunity to rectify the situation pronto. While Edwards is often compared, logically enough, to Lucinda Williams (the sweet-rough voice, the alt-country-americana vibe), what slayed me when I first heard her mighty first CD, Failer (2003), was how much she channeled Neil Young in his Crazy Horse mode. You maybe didn’t expect it from a skinny 25-year-old from Ottawa; then again, as I’ve discovered time and again, do not underestimate Canada as an endless source of powerful music. The revelatory “In State,” its muscular Tom Petty-ish-ness lit up by Edwards’ heart-melting voice and a ripping arrangement, is the opening track on her excellent follow-up release, Back to Me, which came out earlier this year on Zoe Records (a subsidiary of Rounder Records). If I were inclined to make year-end best-of lists, it’s a CD that would be in my top 10. Many thanks to Pop Matters for the lead on the new MP3 stash.

“I Will Always Find A Way” – Suffering and the Hideous Thieves

What an elusive vibe suffuses this song: it seems one part late ’70s punk-turning-into-new-wave, one part ’00s orchestral-indie-construction, and one part musician-from-another-planet epic. With its slow, swaying rhythm, “I Will Always Find A Way” makes the most of an exceedingly simple core riff (we’re talking do-re-mi-re-mi-re) by handing it to a loose-limbed ensemble mixing strings, drums, keyboards, and goofy background vocals. Band leader Jeff Suffering has a British-sounding, congestive sort of wail that is oddly appealing, particularly when he goes off-key, which appears to be part of his vocal strategy. As for the burning question–is this his real name, really?–I can report that he does seem to take the name rather literally, both within his songs and without. “I’ve been wishfully thinking of leaving you/Since the day that we met” are the first words we hear him sing, with what appears to be a characteristic blend of sorrow and defiance. The record company’s bio, in turn, quotes Suffering this way: “As of now, we will continue to put out obscure releases until the Lord comes back, or until we die, or can’t rock anymore.” “I Will Always Find A Way” is from the band’s Ashamed CD, released in August on Lujo Records.

“Another Sunny Day” – Belle and Sebastian

As charmingly twee and enigmatic as ever, Belle and Sebastian is back with a brisk, wonderfully melodic tune tinged with a slight, speeded-up country and western veneer, or as much of one as this eccentric Scottish band is likely to give us. Regardless of what he’s singing about (often impossible to discern precisely), front man Stuart Murdoch–his high voice at once pure and reedy–almost always sounds laden with unbearable nostalgia for some far-off time and place that is only reachable via a rabbit hole or a wardrobe or some such magical portal. Here Murdoch delivers a voluptuous melody line most effortlessly: the entire verse is an extended melody, all 16 measures of it (compare that to standard pop songs, with their four-measure melodies at best). The shift in melody and chord that happens at the seventh measure wollops me in the gut every time (in the first verse, it’s the shift that happens on the word “pardon” in the line “I told you, ‘Beg your pardon'”); we move there into a second minor chord that cracks the song open–listen to how deeply inevitable the rest of the verse sounds, even as it’s only half over at that point. And while you’re at it, check out the nutty double-time snare beat the drummer offers up during the instrumental break at 2:24, just because it’s nutty. “Another Sunny Day” is a song that will be on the band’s next CD, The Life Pursuit, scheduled for release in February on Matador Records.The MP3 is available via the Matador site via Better Propaganda. Thanks this time to Some Velvet Blog for the lead.

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