This Week’s Finds: April 30-May 6 (Marykate O’Neil, A Passing Feeling, Camera Obscura)

“Stay” – Marykate O’Neil

There have been at least four excellent songs with the same one-word title in modern pop history (I’m partial to Bowie’s, and the Blue Nile’s); it takes a bit of nervy self-assurance to offer up yet another, but as I listen to O’Neil’s voice, its rich tone equal parts passion and nonchalance, I’m thinking that here’s a singer/songwriter not lacking in nervy self-assurance. (I mean that as a compliment, by the way.) And why not another “Stay”?—the word, come to think of it, is one of the English language’s more emotionally resonant verbs, a four-letter subtext festival laden with implied connection, desire, and conflict. In any case, O’Neil’s “Stay” has the crisp, instantly likable propulsiveness of a classic pop hit, its sparkly, syncopated rhythm ably accented by a jangly guitar and, later on, an almost demonic violin. There’s something in the slightly nasally roundness of her voice that brings Aimee Mann to mind, which isn’t a bad thing; an even better thing is that the song has more open-hearted spirit than a lot of Mann’s able but same-sounding output has managed in recent years. “Stay” can be found on O’Neil’s new CD, 1-800-Bankruptcy, which will be released electronically tomorrow on Nettwerk Records, and physically on O’Neil’s own 71 Recordings imprint. The MP3 is available via O’Neil’s web site.

“Book of Matches” – A Passing Feeling

As the original punk era ricocheted into the original new wave era, this was the sort of song that was in the air: a short, triumphant bit of sweat and booze and bluster. My heart will ever have a big sloppy soft spot for songs with two separate hooks; that this NYC-based foursome delivers two great hooks in a song not even two and a half minutes long is all but insane. The first hook, 18 seconds in, starting with the words “So in taking you back to the scene of the crime,” has something of the unbridled melodicism of early Elvis Costello, fully utilizing all seven notes of the scale in a delightful four-measure outburst. (Think in contrast to how many pop hits of recent decades employ often as few as three or four discrete notes in their hooks, if you can call them hooks.) On the heels of hook number one, singer Brian Miltenberg spits out the second hook in the glorious chorus, which is, rather delightfully, a throwback melody straight from the ’50s, but sped up and thrashed through, as if the Ramones had attacked doo-wop instead of the Brill Building with their black-leather buzzsaw. For all of this song’s brevity there’s something monumental brewing in its sonic onslaught; I sure hope someone somewhere is blaring this out a dorm window on a blue, flowery day this spring. “Book of Matches” is one of five songs on A Passing Feeling’s self-titled debut EP, released back in December on 75 or Less Records. The MP3 is courtesy of the band’s site.

“Let’s Get Out of This Country” – Camera Obscura

While new bands are always a kick to discover, there’s something to be said for not-new-anymore bands as well. The Scottish sextet Camera Obscura has been around since 1996, and there’s nothing like a history together to give a band’s sound genuine weight and substance. “Let’s Get Out of This Country” wraps its arms around me with a winning combination of spaciousness and intimacy—the sound is ever so large, with those bashing drumbeats and sweeping waves of strings, all bathed in glossy reverb, and yet listen to how each melodic line ends with that introspective descending third, and listen too to the soft pretty ache in Tracyanne Campbell’s lilting voice. She sounds like someone spinning gently in her room, humming to herself. Often the swelling strings compete with her words—you know she’s there but aren’t quite privy to what she’s saying. Then, at a point when we might expect a bridge (from about 1:35 to 1:50), the music pulls back and we hear Campbell singing more or less alone against the drumbeat; the effect is particularly magical and melancholy. “Let’s Get Out of This Country” is the title track of the band’s forthcoming CD, due out in June on Merge Records.

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