“Nervous” – Tessitura
Jonathan Williams sings in a warm, buzzy voice, rendered warmer and buzzier by his fetching tendency to sing in octave harmonies with himself. He further accompanies himself with clean, patient acoustic guitar licks; there’s something of Pink Floyd’s stately acoustic side in the air here, particularly when Williams spins out a line with such a haunting convergence of melody and lyric as this one: “Even in a dream/Things could seem far too real.” There, I think, we arrive at the song’s center of gravity, its point of pure allurement–it’s not just the nice chord he reaches on the word dream, it’s the way the word “dream” stretches out almost unaccountably, with a mysterious, standing-still sort of rising and falling. This is a real song, not just a guy with a nice voice strumming a nice guitar. (Not enough people these days seem to be able to differentiate between beautiful-sounding and actually beautiful, says me, and there we are yet again back at Ives’ great distinction between manner and substance, but I’ll steer clear of that particular soapbox for now.) Tessitura is a side project for Williams, who is otherwise a member of the fine, endearingly-named Cincinnati-based ensemble The Spectacular Fantastic. “Nervous” is a song on a new free-to-download split single featuring both bands; it can also be found on Tessitura’s recently released full-length CD, On the Importance of Being Confused.
“Juicebox” – the Strokes
Why does this 3:17 second song, with its hard-driving “Peter Gunn”-ish intro, seem so hard to get a handle on, intermittently harsh and irritating, and yet so simultaneously compelling? It’s not just because singer Julian Casablancas is singing without the filter he put his voice through to create the band’s trademark sound on their first two CDs; and it’s also not just because he spends a bit of time actually sort of screeching. What I think is going on here is the result of an unusual songwriting effect: the melody undergoes a series of purposeful time shifts so that in each of the first three sections of the song, Casablancas is singing half as fast as the previous section. (When this is done at all, it tends to be done only with two sections rather than three.) Then, after the slowest of the three, he doubles back to the middle pace, and that’s where the song hits its stride and delivers its best hook (the Stones-copping “You’re so cold” part) and coolest moments (the subsequent guitar solo). If you don’t tune in to the time trick, you might hear this song as more disjointed than it actually is; that “Juicebox” is disjointed at best and dreadful at worst is certainly what most online critics have decided, because it’s never their job to assume that a band actually knows more about music than they do. “Juicebox” is the first free download from the band’s upcoming CD First Impressions of Earth, their third, due out January 3 on RCA Records. Thanks to the gang at Glorious Noise for the lead on this one.
“Rise Up With Fists!” – Jenny Lewis
Jenny Lewis’s vocal charisma is a powerful powerful thing. She’s got that hyper-present Debby Harry sort of open-mouthed fullness, a way of singing that sounds like she’s just talking; and yet where Harry used a constant sheen of icy irony to keep her distance, Lewis, while still keeping her distance, seems infused with some messy mixture of pain and passion that makes it feel like she’s always right there in the room with you. After hitting the indie big-time last year with her band, Rilo Kiley, and their assured, well-regarded More Adventurous CD, Lewis has in fact sought the additional adventure of releasing a solo CD–called Rabbit Fur Coat, it’s due for release in January on Conor Oberst’s Team Love Records. As this track indicates, the album is steeped in a sort of rootsy, countrified, white-woman-soul sound: a Laura Nyro for the new millennium sort of thing, complete with the Kentucky-born Watson Twins harmonizing their hearts out in the background.
The MP3 is available via the Team Love site.