This Week’s Finds: Aug. 27-Sept. 2

“Los Angeles” – the Rosewood Thieves

After the old-timey piano intro, the first thing you’re likely to notice here is singer Erick Jordan’s spunky vocal resemblance to John Lennon–whom he readily acknowledges as one of his musical heroes. (There’s even a lyrical reference to “that bird that flew,” for good measure.) If this already seems like a good thing, you’re home free with this song; if however you’re trained to be disapproving of transparent influences, I urge you to relax that learned reflex and simply listen to whether the song is pleasing. Me, I find “Los Angeles” a rousing good time, for a variety of reasons. The engaging melody and crisp production are a good part of it, but to me songs often prove their mettle in the details–the little things that go on that didn’t “need” to be there but, with their presence, make everything else seem deeper and stronger and truer. I like, a lot, the meandering course the melody takes from the fourth into the fifth measure of the verse–the part, in the first verse, where it sounds like Jordan is simply singing a drawn-out “ahhh” but it actually turns out to be an “I.” Formally this is called a “melisma”–where a group of notes are used to sing one syllable–and is more characteristic of classical than pop music. I also like the stutter (literally an extra beat) in the melody line–you hear it in the seventh measure in the introduction, and each time that point returns in the verse. Sometimes the more subtle the touch–like the way the piano intro is revisited in the middle of the song but with a major chord momentarily underneath (at 2:38)–the cooler the effect. All in all this seems the work of a band that knows what it’s doing. The Rosewood Thieves are a quintet from New York City. “Los Angeles” is one of seven songs on the band’s debut EP, From the Decker House, released last month on V2 Records.

“Lowlife” – Scanners

I’m in love with the opening riff here, with its fuzzy, restrained, melodic yet unresolved appeal; when it leads into a memorable opening line–“I know you’re not ready to live/Are you ready to die?”–I am solidly hooked. And even more is going on right away (check out that ghostly keyboard thing hovering above everything else), most notably the unexpected use of Sarah Daly’s violin, which provides a plaintive undercurrent to her full-throttled but pop-savvy vocal style. (I’m thinking she sounds like Grace Slick and Siouxsie Sioux’s somewhat more mild-mannered love child.) The more I listen to this song the more I am impressed with its precision and timeless pop know-how; while sounding completely contemporary, “Lowlife” displays a vitality that cuts across the generations–I hear all rock decades from the ’60s onward in different aspects of this song, which in another time and place might’ve been blaring from all of our car radios out on the wide open road but as of now is just a really cool little song you can download for free on the net. Bob was right: things have changed. “Lowlife” is from this London-based band’s debut CD, Violence is Golden, which came out in June on Dim Mak Records. The MP3 is available via the Dim Mak site.

“Lullaby in A” – Bel Auburn

A lovely melody placed over tasteful blips of tweaky fuzz and feedback, “Lullaby in A” starts slowly, almost as an incantation. A minute in, the song opens up sonically, but something of a reverie remains, as the earnest verse repeats and repeats–there’s no chorus, just an interlude of upward-swelling guitars and noise–against an assertive drumbeat and subtly shifting backdrop mixing the electric and the electronic. At around 2:50 we float into a new (but still lovely) melody; this one however slides quickly and refreshingly into a harsher section full of hammering guitars and electronic swoops before quieting back down and, soon, fading into a vibrating electronic wail. And, yes, okay: are they taking what Radiohead and Wilco have done and making it perhaps prettier, perhaps poppier, perhaps easier to listen to? Probably; and I for one say hooray for them. I love Radiohead and Wilco to pieces and have and will follow them anywhere (hey, I’ve even listened to the end of “Less Than You Think,” willingly, twice). But it’s a big planet, and there’s a lot of ways to make great music, only one of which is by being blindingly original. (Remember too that a whole lot of blindingly original music is also unlistenable; very little of it is effective pop.) Most of this rock’n’roll game is about absorbing and repositioning what someone else already did. And oops I guess I’m back on the “it’s okay to have obvious influences” soapbox, so I’ll step down merely to note that Bel Auburn is a quintet from Ashland, Ohio; “Lullaby in A” is a song from the band’s second CD, Lullabies in A and C, self-released in mid-August and available as well as a free and legal download on the band’s site.

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