This Week’s Finds: April 23-29 (Daylight’s For the Birds, The Hot IQs, Jolie Holland)

“To No One” – Daylight’s for the Birds

Lush, swirly, airy noise in service to melody—call it shoegaze if we must (must we??), but I’d much rather dig into the sound than attach that odd (if apparently indelible) label to a sonic reality this deep and rich. The aural palette favored by this NYC-based quartet lends an immediate tension to the amorphous introduction, as two predominant sounds emerge, vibrate, and grow through the first drum-free, beat-free 45 seconds—one sounding like a synth-enhanced guitar, metallic and pulsing, the other a choral wash of keyboard. Listen carefully for two things arising from that: a submerged melody line by something that sounds like a faraway organ, and a flute-like synthesizer sound that flutters into being from the noise and eventually takes up the melody begun by the “organ.” I really like this flute-y thing, which seems so unexpected and yet weaves so organically into the ongoing texture (the storied “no lead guitar” sound characteristic of whatever we want to call this genre). The way the drummer drums skippingly around the beat through the verse is another indelible part of the airy soundscape, along with singer Amanda Garrett’s surprisingly strong voice: in lieu of the wispier vocal stylings often heard in this environment, Garrett sings with pop-like heft and character, even when she’s mixed back into the whorl of it all. Daylight’s for the Birds is a NYC-based quartet that features, among others, Phillip Wann, formerly of On!Air!Library! (which disbanded last year). The MP3 is available via the Deli, a fine online publication about the NYC rock scene.

“Firecracker” – the Hot IQs

Without frills or warmup, a stark, meaty guitar lashes out one of music’s most compelling progressions: a major chord alternating with the minor chord one-half step down. Laurie Anderson famously wrote a long, strange, avant-garde pop song (“O Superman”) that featured only this progression and nothing else; the contemporary composer John Adams has displayed his own recurring fascination with this simple, resonant interval. Pretensions to great art aside, these two simple chords sound just fine, thank you, when churned out by an actual rock band; the fact that the Denver-based Hot IQs are even a power trio (guitar, bass, drums) seems even more fitting. Let the minimalists seek meaning in inexorable repetition; me I’m happy that the song discovers a few other chords (I particularly like the Nirvana-ish progressions in the bridge, beginning around 1:35) and some incisive melodies as well. Singer/guitarist Eli Mishkin has a pleasing semi-nasal voice that rounds out nicely in its lower register, while drummer Elaine Acosta, refreshingly uninterested in pounding us into submission, has a marvelous way of letting the slashing guitar inhabit the bottom of the sound. As for bass player Bryan Feuchtinger, well, I don’t have much to say, but I didn’t want to leave him out. “Firecracker” comes from the Hot IQs’ debut CD, An Argument Between the Brain and Feet, which was released on a small Denver label late in 2004, and given a national digital re-release last week on SpinArt Records. MP3 via Better Propaganda.

“Springtime Can Kill You” – Jolie Holland

Rather than killing you I believe that spring is the perfect time of year for, among other things, a song this ripe and unhinged. Sounding like a lounge-based, accent-free Björk, Holland skates, slides, and flutters through the tune, all but deconstructing its wonderful melody—and making it all the Tom Waits-ishly more wonderful in the process. Holland by the way is actually making the opposite point her title implies, itself a neat songwriting trick: “If you don’t go get what you need/Something’s going to break on the inside”; springtime kills the part of you that needs to be killed, in other words; in other words, the blossoms and colors and scents and breezes force you to be as alive as you actually are all the time without realizing it, or at least try. The song, the title track on her new CD (released last week on Anti Records) features an upright bass, baritone horn, and Holland’s fun-house whistle, and it’s all crazy perfect. The MP3 is available via Better Propaganda. “So get out get out of your house,” she purrs. So saying, I will.

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