This Week’s Finds: February 19-25 (Dead Heart Bloom, the High Violets, the Submarines)

“Letter to the World” – Dead Heart Bloom

With its Pink Floyd chords, Beatlesque strings, and Neil Finn-ish melody, “Letter to the World” is both lovely and deep, always a gratifying combination. The loveliness stems from a beautiful major-to-minor melodic refrain set against an exquisitely restrained instrumental background; the depth emerges first from Boris Skalsky’s rich voice, with its Lennon-like timbre, and, as with the loveliness, is encouraged by the pristine production. Formerly the bassist and keyboard player with a D.C. band called the Phasers, Boris Skalsky is now doing the one-man singer/songwriter/performer/producer thing as Dead Heart Bloom. To his credit, however, Skalsky seems at the same time to enjoy collaboration, bringing guest musicians in where needed (and thus avoiding the claustrophobic feeling that often afflicts bedroom rock productions). And he clearly knows what he’s doing: listen to how beautifully everything is layered together, from those mournful string quartet flourishes to his firmly centered piano motifs to that forlorn guitar crying echoes in the distance. Dead Heart Bloom’s debut, self-titled CD will be released in March on KEI Records, but is now available to download, for free, via the Dead Heart Bloom web site. Do yourself a favor and check out other songs on the album, as Skalsky manages, impressively, to range far and wide sonically even while sounding in the end very much like one band.

“Sunbaby” – the High Violets

And yet sometimes of course I feel like all the fuzzed-up grind of a real band. I will forever be partial to the sort of sound the High Violets aspire to, a shoegazey sort of churny-chimey drive, with an angelic singer floating along on top of all the rumbly electricity. I’ve been sitting with this song for a number of weeks, putting it aside in the past for what I kept hearing as the lack of a completely satisfying hook; but this week, coming after the precise beauty of the Dead Heart Bloom song, this sounds quite satisfying indeed (the segue is really good, if I do say so myself). (And okay, I know, not many of you guys may necessarily listen to each week’s songs one after the other, but be aware that they are in fact selected as threesomes, each balancing something off against the other two.) One of the mistakes I made previously was not turning the volume up high enough: this song just does not achieve its full minimalist-hypnotic effect without the right volume. (When the rhythm and lead guitars start to sort of melt into each other, you’re just about loud enough.) Singer Kaitlin Ni Donovan has both a cool name and a fetching way of singing the word “you” differently each of the six times she sings it in the chorus. She has a fetching way of singing “sunbaby” too, just kind of snapping the word “sun” off the roof of her mouth. The High Violets are a Portland, Oregon-based quartet; “Sunbaby” is a song from their new CD, To Where You Are, released at the end of January on Reverb Records. The MP3 is available via the band’s web site.

“Clouds” – the Submarines

No doubt if every song were in three-quarter time, the concept would wear thin, probably quickly. But as this is an unlikely development, songs that bounce along with three beats to the measure frequently carry an automatic, bonus air of wistful joy about them. The duo calling themselves the Submarines accentuate this wistful-joyful dichotomy as singer Blake Hazard’s intimate, ache-laced voice is offset by a bubbly keyboard riff; likewise does the pair manage to fuse a groovy ’60s vibe (I keep think I’m hearing musical allusions to early Joni Mitchell in here–hey she sang about clouds too–but they slip away when I try to pin them down) with a more somber 21st-century electronica edge. Hazard and John Dragonetti, the other Submarine, were once a couple, broke up, went and wrote a bunch of songs separately, and may now be reunited; it’s kind of hard to tell from the convoluted bio posted on the Nettwerk Records site [no longer online]. Likewise difficult to discern is when their debut CD, called Declare a New State is coming out–sometime in the spring, it seems. In any case, “Clouds” is one of three good songs from the CD now available as free and legal MP3s on the band’s site. Many thanks one more time to Bruce from Some Velvet Blog for the lead.

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