This Week’s Finds: June 4-10 (The Fiery Furnaces, Snowden, The Keene Brothers)

“Benton Harbor Blues” – the Fiery Furnaces

A brother-sister band known for idiosyncratic experimentation here delivers a delightful piece of almost classic-sounding pop (copping the keyboard and/or bass riff from the Four Tops strikes me as a neat touch). The fact that the Furnaces have revealed the capacity to spin out something this traditionally appealing (even if it is a remix) changes everything, to me. It’s just like knowing Picasso could draw beautifully when he wanted to; that he could and chose not to makes all the difference. In any case, everything else I’ve heard from the Fiery Furnaces (which I may go back and listen to again) has struck me as almost perversely odd (music critics like to call this “challenging”). But here they are, chugging to a keyboard-filled Motowny groove sounding both at home and still (if you listen closely) satisfyingly edgy. The drums have a pasted-on electronic itch to them that tells you this is more than a nostalgia trip, and singer Eleanor Friedberger’s delicious, drip-dry delivery has no reason to sound so good in this context but boy does it. Don’t miss the mini keyboard concert that arrives at around 1:56, which features both ghostly flourishes and an organ-like series of ascensions and descensions. “Benton Harbor Blues” is, from what I’ve read, pretty much of an anomaly on their latest CD, Bitter Tea, which was released in April on Fat Possum Records; the rest of the disc is apparently still odd, including the original version of this same song. The MP3 is available via Fat Possum Better Propaganda.

“Anti-Anti” – Snowden

Hard-driving and precise, “Anti-Anti” displays some characteristics of what is too typically (and unfortunately) called “post-punk” (its own sort of “town that makes no sense”), but I like the sonic elements this Atlanta-based quartet brings to the sound, including maybe most of all that beat-breaking synth-like guitar line (or is it a guitar-like synthesizer?) heard first at the end of the intro, and later on as well. Okay, perhaps it seems like a small and potentially random touch, but as it resurfaces it becomes its own sort of left-field hook in the context of the fuzzy, slashing, quasi-funk on display. Singer Jordan Jeffares sounds at once breathless and blase–an unusual, even uneasy combination–and the lyrical snippets that smack you as they go by only add to the vague tension. “Anti-Anti” is the title track to the band’s debut CD, scheduled for release in August on Jade Tree Records. The MP3 comes via the Jade Tree site.

“Death of the Party” – the Keene Brothers

Sounding like Michael Stipe’s long-lost brother, Robert Pollard has out-R.E.M.’ed R.E.M. with this lovely but typically inscrutable song. Just go ahead and try to listen to and make sense of the lyrics, if you can even understand them. But no matter at all: when the smoothly jangly verse opens into the chorus, it’s like being bathed by sunlight after a cool rain. Pollard, for the uninitiated, spent years as the prolific mastermind behind the Ohio-based proto-indie band, Guided By Voices. I couldn’t make heads or tails of those guys most of the time; I was pretty sure that among the 30 or so tracks on each of their 900 albums were buried treasures I’d never have the fortitude to discover. Since GBV disbanded in 2004, Pollard has merely gotten more spread out, but no less prolific, and no more understandable. “Death of the Party” is a song from the album he recorded with the relentlessly unknown but highly regarded Tommy Keene under the name of the Keene Brothers, entitled Blues and Boogie Shoes; this is however merely one of three collaborative CDs Pollard is simultaneously releasing this month as part of something he calls the “Fading Captain” series. He’s lost me logistically, but musically, for this one, I’m right on board–it’s a beauty. The MP3 is hosted via the old Guided By Voices web site, which still operates. Inscrutably.

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