This Week’s Finds: Dec. 18-24

Fingertips will be taking a break for the HOLIDAYS (there are more than one, you know!–Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Day, you name it); this is therefore the last “This Week’s Finds” update for 2005. When next we meet again it will be Tuesday, January 3, of all things. In the spirit of the season, I offer an extra song this week. Hope all is sweet and peachy with all of you as this most excellent interesting year winds down and yet another begins. See you in ’06….

“Smile” – Stone Jack Jones

Spacey, melancholy, arty folktronica: Leonard Cohen meets Portishead at Laurie Anderson’s house. When it comes to the sort of noodly atmospherics employed in this nutty little song, I know that it’s hard to differentiate cool/noodly from dumb/noodly–I mean, is the wavery, spitty sort of trumpet meandering in the background a stroke of genius or completely random? The answer is probably both, which doesn’t help. One of the ways I see my way through foggy aesthetics like this is to latch onto small moments, and if there are enough of them in a given song, I presume the whole thing is working. The small moments here include: the simple, plaintive piano refrain that holds the structure of the song up; the first line of the song (I love songs with great first lines): “Let’s pretend this is an opening/Let’s pretend this is a door”; the aforementioned trumpet; the deadpan female backup vocals; the construction-site percussion; and the fact that the song sounds exactly like the opposite of a smile, and yet simultaneously manages to provoke one, somehow. Stone Jack Jones is a musician from Nashville who’s been taken under the wing of producer Roger Moutenot (Yo La Tengo, Sleater-Kinney). “Smile” is from his forthcoming CD, Bluefolk, to be released in February on Fictitious Records. The MP3 is available via Jones’ page.

“Air” – the Owls

Sweet floating misery in pop form from a Minneapolis-based foursome. I’ll admit to being something of a sucker for list-like lyrics; in this case songwriter Maria May appears to be free-associating her way through heartbreak; when she gets to “No header, no footer/No girl, no boy,” I am charmed for good. (“No hand to put my handshake in”: also charming.) “There is only air/Where I used to care,” which is the lyric in the chorus, is by the way a pretty powerful way of communicating post-breakup malaise. While normally I might feel the need for a bit more development in a song than this truly airy number offers, on the other hand, I could probably rationalize why the breezy repetition is thematically appropriate. Or something like that. I also really like the disconcertingly unusual use of male backing vocals under a female lead; why isn’t this appealing sound used more often? “Air” is from an eight-song EP entitled Our Hopes and Dreams, released last year on Magic Marker Records. The MP3 is available via the Magic Marker site.

“My Kingdom for a Trundle Bed” – Bound Stems

A jaunty, toothsome bit of complex pop from an interesting quintet from Chicago. The vague, lightly swinging intro barely hints at the muscular, tumbly song to follow. I like how the melody is at once central and changeable: the way the words pump out with an ahead-of-the-beat syncopation, the exact notes changing verse to verse even as the overall melodic essence is strong and sure. And lots of words there are indeed, in a relatively short song; and while the meaning is elusive, and while I don’t often get all that caught up in puzzling lyrics out, in this case they seem worthy and intriguing and appear to add up to a bittersweet tale of a broken relationship–which I intuit largely from adding the title to the lyrics (it would seem the narrator has to sleep on the floor for the night in his ex’s apartment). “My Kingdom for a Trundle Bed” is a song from the EP The Logic of Building the Body Plan, released last month on Flameshovel Records. The MP3 is from the Flameshovel site. (Be aware that the song cuts off a bit abruptly at the end.)

“I Feel Like a Fading Light” – Kim Taylor

With a voice mixing Ricki Lee Jones and Karin Bergquist (Over the Rhine), Kim Taylor wins me over with this simple, lo-fi strummer-with-an-attitude. Given the sort of year we’ve all had, this seems about the most appropriate seasonal song I could offer, even as it’s not actually a seasonal song at all. I love how the Florida-born, Cincinnati-based Taylor subverts the girl-with-guitar model with such an insistent, percussive number; even the guitar has an upfront, twang-ish but not really twangy sound that exudes tension rather than easy listening–even as, at the same time, the melody is comfortably catchy, her sweet-weary voice a wonderful instrument in and of itself. This is not standard singer/songwriter mush, and the world is a better place for it. “I Feel Like a Fading Light” was released as a single in August, and is available via Taylor’s web site. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up. Merry Christmas to all (“whether you celebrate it or not,” as per The Daily Show) and to all a good night.

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