This Week’s Finds: Sept. 17-23 (Annuals, Paul Michel, Special Patrol)

“Brother” – Annuals

This expansive group of North Carolina youngsters (front man Adam Baker is 19) sound like Arcade Fire’s younger American cousins. This is a good thing. Like that great Montreal band, Annuals show an impressive grasp of instrumental melody (note the recurring violin refrain), musical dynamics (they do both loud and soft with impressive character), and idiosyncratic production tricks as they transform a lilting, pastoral opening (complete with crickets) into a hard-driving rocker, showing both patience and passion in the process. It takes well over half the song to arrive at the visceral, propulsive beat that becomes its destiny—a beat that actually swings if you think about it: one-two; one-two. I really like when the percussion steps to the forefront at 2:45 and we hear the beat in a stripped-down and yet still nicely textured setting, and like as well the unusual guitar solo that led into the percussive section, at 2:26—unusual both for the complexion of the sound (not the typical searing guitar solo) and for the way it allows itself to be enveloped by the slightly unhinged background; typical guitar solos demand the front-and-center seat, perhaps at the cost of a richer musical flavor. Nice stuff from a promising ensemble. “Brother” is a track from the band’s debut CD, Be He Me, scheduled for release in October on Ace Fu Records; the MP3 is via the Ace Fu site.

“Day’s Looking Up” – Paul Michel

With its melancholic descending guitar line and casually assured presence, “Day’s Looking Up” sounds like some great lost classic rock ballad, particularly when we arrive at the chorus. What a beautiful, inevitable melody we get there, and what great lyrics: “Hope is an only child/And change is a desperate fool/Waiting for jealousy to clear out the room.” These are great not because they are unutterably profound (that would be asking a lot) but because of quite literally how they sound in the setting: big fat concepts to match the big fat beauty of the musical line. I am also impressed with the words because Michel is going for it here—he’s aiming at something beyond “I love you, baby” or “You hurt me, baby” while at the same time avoiding the two biggest problems in pop lyrics, which are 1) cliche and 2) obscurity. Mainstream pop veers towards cliche; indie rock veers towards obscurity, and I’m not equipped to say which is worse but neither is particularly satisfying. A Washington, D.C.-based singer/songwriter, Michel has also spent time in bands, and it shows in his singing—his voice is packed with more power and elasticity than the typical singer/songwriter, gliding effortlessly up and down to notes both higher and lower than they sound. “Day’s Looking Up” is a song from the CD These are Beautiful Things, released last year on Magic Bullet Records. Michel has a new CD called A Quiet State of Panic scheduled for a November release on Stunning Models on Display Records.

“Changing Emily” – Special Patrol

Anyone remember Pure Prairie League? Although I have never been a particular fan of that sort of country-pop-rock, there’s no doubt that the once-upon-a-time ubiquitous “Amie” had a certain compulsive charm. And everything sounds better draped in nostalgia anyway, so if a trio from Adelaide, South Australia decides to come along in 2006 and channel some Southern U.S. country-rockers from three decades ago, if the melody is there, and the harmonies, and if the effort has verve and more than a little compulsive charm of its own, what the heck. I’m on board. There is definitely something about the layered harmonies of the chorus, with those high voices on top, that just seems so comfortable and right. I like how the song in fact starts with the chorus, which is not something you hear every day—there’s just a ringing, vaguely Credence-like guitar line and boom, the chorus. I’m surprised more people don’t try that. Two of the guys in Special Patrol—the singer/guitarist Myles Mayo and drummer Rob Jordan—have been playing music together since ninth grade, and have known each other since second grade; they began recording in 1999. The band has been in its current form since 2003. “Changing Emily” is a song from their upcoming CD, Handy Hints From The Undertaker, to be released in October in Australia on Mixmasters Records.

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