This Week’s Finds: November 12-18 (31Knots, Nina Nastasia, Elanors)

“Sedition’s Wish” – 31Knots

Even as I am historically oriented towards the simple-sounding music that falls under the “pop” umbrella (the intelligent edge of the umbrella, in any case), I don’t think that anyone’s musical tastes are as rigid and unyielding as, say, American radio has long assumed. Sure, I love a smart and catchy pop song; but I also love something as dense and prickly as this song from the dense and prickly Portland, Ore.-based trio 31Knots. Mind you, I still need something to hook me, but the hooks don’t always have to be soaring melodies and warm-and-fuzzy chord changes. For instance, once I’m accustomed to it, the clumpy melody of the verse, mirrored simultaneously by a meticulous guitar, has its own special charm. It’s a careful-sounding, somewhat homely refrain that becomes the oddball backbone of this vaguely threatening song–and so even when the guitar explodes into almost incoherent noise (e.g. 1:14), note how you can still sing that central melody along with the noise, and how the noise halts at exactly the right moment for the refrain to return (1:25). My favorite iteration of the melody is in the middle of the song when an unexpected trumpet joins in (1:44), accompanying much as the guitar had originally, but not directly mirroring the vocal notes; instead it plays a semi-dissonant countermelody that gives a Kurt Weill-ish air to the proceedings, somehow. We get a bit more noise, a bit more horn, and then a smoother, flow-ier section as a coda. This is not a pop song, but it’s less than four minutes long; it’s not “catchy” but it sure engages me. “Sedition’s Wish” can be found on the band’s new EP, Polemics, which was released last week on Polyvinyl Records. The band also expects its fourth full-length CD, The Days and Nights of Everything Anywhere, to be released early next year. MP3 via Better Propaganda.

<“Bird of Cuzco” – Nina Nastasia

Hollywood-born, New York City-based singer/songwriter Nina Nastasia has a pretty, unadorned voice that brings Suzanne Vega to mind, a bit, but not precisely, as Nastasia sounds more ordinary on the one hand (Vega’s voice has always had an unearthly air) and yet also richer and rounder: the ordinary made extraordinary through breathtaking clarity and presence. Or something like that. This sad and stately acoustic guitar piece, adorned with cozy, precise piano accents, seems eerily aligned with the sort of day it’s been out my window today–a gray, rainy, wet-leaved day that looks dreary yet somehow also comforts; the day and the song alike manage to be melancholy and heartening at the same time, a feeling-state I’m not sure there’s a word for in English. “Bird of Cuzco” is from Nastasia’s CD On Leaving, her fourth, which was released in September on Fat Cat Records, a British label. As with her previous discs, Nastasia has teamed again with engineer Steve Albini (don’t call him a producer, he hates it), who has worked with a mighty range of alternative and indie musicians from the ’80s through the ’00s, including big names such as the Pixies, Nirvana, and P.J. Harvey. The MP3 is via Insound.

“She Had a Dream” – Elanors

Don’t miss the opening combination of insistent drumming and sugary strings, an uncommon juxtaposition that lends a curious vibe to this idiosyncratic and gorgeous piece of music. The Chicago-based duo Elanors, featuring singer/pianist Noah Harris and wife Adriel Harris on guitar and backing vocal, paint big orchestral pictures of a familiar-seeming yet singular variety. (For the CD, Elanors have borrowed two players from the band Judah Johnson, for whom Noah plays keyboards.) Brian Wilson comes to mind, partly because of the orchestral aspirations, but mostly because of just how in-its-own-world this song seems. Having spent a certain amount of time reacquainting myself with Pet Sounds in recent weeks, I was struck anew by how thoroughly peculiar a sonic reality it presents, a peculiarity rooted somewhere in the marriage of the songs he wrote, the voice he sung them in, and the instruments he employed and how he employed them. With Elanors, a similar sort of splendid peculiarity is in the air. Note for instance the drumming again, which with or without the strings is just plain unusual, keeping up as it does a unflagging but continuously inventive triplet rhythm, three beats for each beat of the 4/4 measure, until the very end (oh and don’t miss too that point, at 3:57, when the drum actually stops, just seconds before the end of the song; it’s almost a revelation). “She Had a Dream” is a song from the band’s second CD, Movements, released last month on Parasol Records. The MP3 is via the Parasol site.

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