“Ghosts of York” manages the clever trick of being both atmospheric and emphatic, combining the feel of a more noodly type of guitar rock with the smart, concise dynamics of a great pop song. Look at the ground covered here, so quickly: we get an introspective guitar line for all of 13 seconds before the vocalist sings a slow, emotive section for maybe another 15 seconds, and then, bam, the drummer hits the ground running, yet with everything around him still feeling restrained; at the same time you may notice a wall of sound building the energy towards something bigger. This is already engaging, very much so, but these guys have barely started. Just past 50 seconds, the sonic tension cracks open into a clear, decisive melody (note the nice use of octave harmonies right here), and even this is just a set-up for the central hook at 1:06—the melody there featuring a deeply pleasing modulation from a minor chord to the major chord one full step below. (There’s probably a name for that, theory-wise, that escapes me.) This is the part that completely slayed me, and even after this there’s more, including a bridge with a trickier time signature, then a dramatic building-back of the wall of sound, and then a combination of the time tricks and the wall at the very end. Good stuff. As Tall As Lions is a foursome from Long Island; “Ghosts of York” is a song from the band’s self-titled debut CD, released last week on Triple Crown Records. The MP3 is available via Insound. (This is no longer a direct link; go to the Insound page linked to above and you’ll see the download button.)
Sometimes there’s little as satisfying as a good old-fashioned song—nicely unfolding melodies and a sense of verse-chorus-verse structure, confidently presented, with an assortment of little touches so perfect that you barely even notice them. Because she does this so well, and because there’s an air of alt-country about her, and because she’s from Canada, Montreal’s Angela Desveaux may have trouble escaping Kathleen Edwards comparisons, but hey, all up and coming musicians are going to be compared to somebody, and Edwards is one of the very best singer/songwriters of our day—good company, says me. I think you know you’re in the hands of a true talent when there doesn’t necessarily seem like there’s anything unusual going on, and yet you’re hooked anyway. Desveaux here has hit upon a simple-sounding but resonant underlying motif: that basic 5-4-3-4-3-4 melody that drives the song, sung in that gently swinging rhythm, with her friendly, reedy voice the perfect accompaniment. Songs like this develop in ways that seem pretty much inevitable, even when they aren’t at all. For instance, despite my assurance about verse-chorus-verse structure, Desveaux here actually throws something extra between the verse and the chorus that’s like a pre-chorus–a great hook in its own right, and not a bridge. And it doesn’t matter; it all seems precisely as it should be. Listening to it, I feel the world, if only for four minutes and twenty-six seconds, is also precisely as it should be. Quite a feat during these unsettling times. “Heartbeat” is available via her web site, a stand-alone song. According to the site, an album is coming soon.
“Burn This Flag” – Boy Omega
Well it’s been at least a little while since we’ve dipped back into the Swedish talent pool, so here’s Boy Omega, the working name of a certain Martin Henrik Gustaffson. To begin with, do yourself a favor and try to listen to this straight out of “Heartbeat”—the segue is rather striking, if I do say so myself. Even as it’s driven by an acoustic guitar, “Burn This Flag” starts out all itchy and unsettled, a feeling augmented both by Gustaffson’s Robert Smith meets Conor Oberst vocal style and by the blippy-scratchy percussive accents. I am slowly but surely realizing that I love much of what electronica has to offer, sound-wise, when musicians bring it structurally into something resembling a song rather than presenting it in a relentless, beat-oriented setting. Gustaffson here crams a lot of know-how into a relatively short space: strong instrumental hooks, crisp production, an incisive melodic theme, and unexpected sounds, among other things; unusually for me, I’m left here feeling as if the song could actually have been longer than it is. That’s almost always a good sign. “Burn This Flag” is from Boy Omega’s forthcoming EP, The Grey Rainbow, scheduled for an October release (in Europe) on Riptide Recordings, a German label. The MP3 is via the Riptide site. Hat’s off to the consistently enlightening Getecho blog for this one.