“Turn This Thing Around” – El Presidente
Turn it up, shake it out, and beware as this uncomplicated, preposterously addictive tune is likely to stick in your head for the next several days. Boasting a smashing neo-glam-rock sound that bridges everyone from David Bowie to the Bee Gees to Prince to the Scissor Sisters, this quintet from Glasgow makes music that leaps from the speakers, certain to sound at home on everything from a transistor radio (should any still exist) to a Mac Pro. With their feisty dance-rock riffs and falsetto vocals, El Presidente edges neo-glam-rock ever so close to camp (and truly glam rock and camp are never that far away), and yet, for me, “this thing” stays on solid musical ground largely for the crazy sincerity of its exhilarating chorus. When Dante Gizzi (great name) sings “Let me go back to where we were,” the melody not only resolves impeccably (and deep in the gut) but I hear an unexpected dollop of genuine pathos that no amount of squeally vocals can quite dispel. “Turn This Thing Around” is a song from the band’s self-titled debut, which came out last October in the U.K., finally to be released in the U.S. last month on Red Ink Records, a Sony imprint. The MP3 is courtesy of the fine folks at betterPropaganda.
“Songs That No One Will Hear” – We Are Soldiers We Have Guns”
Okay so while I would never have identified this, in advance, as a favorite songwriting trick, as soon as I heard it I knew it was: having the introduction in a different key from the song. And, who knows, maybe that won’t always work for me either, but in this case I find the effect entrancing, in large part because of the thoughtful, atmospheric beauty of the guitar work that comprises the introduction. The playing is both crisp and echoey, its gentle alternation between major and minor chords creating a continual sense of something about to happen and yet also there being no hurry to get there. Then, 40 seconds in: we change keys, we get a sense of movement in the guitar, something chimey chimes in, and Malin Dahlberg adds her delicately powerful voice to the mix. Even as the atmosphere remains restrained–almost slipping into near silence at one point–the song has tremendous character, perhaps because of the next thing I notice: for all the gentle meanderings of the sonic landscape, this song has a real melody to offer. You could speed this baby up and set it to a big bashing rock beat if you wanted to (not that I want to!), because of the range of motion in the notes. I think it’s all too easy here in the 21st century for musicians, fiddling with digital gizmos, to lose track of the great gift of melodic elasticity. On a screen everything flattens. It’s a theory, at least. We Are Soldiers We Have Guns is a duo from Gothenburg, Sweden; “Songs That No One Will Hear” comes from their cleverly-titled EP To Meet is Murder, which is scheduled for release later this month on Stereo Test Kit Records. Many thanks, as always, to Hedvika at the excellent Getecho blog for the lead.
“Ain’t No Reason” – Brett Dennen
Another simple and compelling tune, but set in an entirely different musical universe than the one occupied by El Presidente (see above). Brett Dennen is one part Ron Sexsmith and one part Steve Forbert, with maybe a sprinkle of John Prine, repackaged by the universe into lanky (he’s 6’5″) 20-something redhead with a wise-beyond-his-years vibe, a memorable voice, and some spiffy songwriting chops. He seems to have the distinctly Prine-like ability to be simultaneously goofy and serious, sometimes within the same sentence (“I don’t know why I say the things I say/But I say them anyway”), and a Sexsmithian flair for sad, vivid melodies. Forbert kicks in because of the woodsy ache in his tenor, and the sense I get that he’s going to out on the road playing his guitar for the next 30 years also. “Ain’t No Reason” is from Dennen’s second CD, So Much More, slated for release next week on Dualtone Records. MP3 via Spinner.