This Week’s Finds: Nov. 19-25 (The Casting Couch, Apes and Androids, Benjy Ferree)

“Song About Dying” – The Casting Couch

Have I been in a rut? Do I always put the quiet songs second? This has occurred to me. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that. But this week I’m starting quiet, and maybe a little sad. Though not as sad as you’d think from the title. And it doesn’t stay completely quiet, either. I really like the variety of instruments that show up here—hand bells, clarinet, a horn of some sort, a (I think) theremin(!)–but even more I like how these instruments just kinda sorta play, they just do their thing without fuss, making an ensemble blending hand bells, clarinet, a horn of some sort and even maybe a theremin sound like well, yes, doesn’t everyone? Meanwhile, singer Wendy Mitchell has just the right sort of crack in her not-quite-twangy voice for this down-home alt-country meets chamber pop lullaby. The Casting Couch is based in Austin, but combines the talents of musicians from both Texas and Athens, Georgia. “Song About Dying” is from the band’s debut full-length CD, Row Your Boat, which was released on I Eat Records at the very end of last year. The MP3 is available via the I Eat site.

“Radio” – Apes and Androids

If this sounds at first like just another blippy bit of electro-rock sung by another nasally vocalist, well, okay, it is a blippy bit of electro-rock sung by a nasally vocalist—but it’s also a whole lot more. If you want a hand-hold, here’s one point that gave me a clue this was something significant: after the opening melody, where it sounds like it’s just a nasally guy singing blip-rock, check it out: at 0:23, a chorus of voices opens up, somewhat Queen-like but not exactly, and they’re not singing any words, just an extended “oh,” but oh what an “oh”–there are a copule of interesting descending lines and nice chords in there even as the lead singer joins in on top with a resolutely dissonant “counter-oh,” as it were. Whoa. And then: the initial melody returns but now there’s an awesome chord in there, somehow, at 0:43. Listen to that and and then best of all listen to how it comes back at 0:59 with backing harmonies. Whoa-ho. Soon a vaguely Middle Eastern synthed-up guitar lines plays against soaring harmonies, then stops for a gliding funk break and we regroup back into blippiness before a big bashy wash of sound closes things out, like some sort of robot orchestra kicking out the jams. This is seriously unusual and engaging, always a good combination. A relatively new band, Apes and Androids is from New York City and appears to be wowing live audiences wherever they go. “Radio” is available via the band’s web site NME. Perhaps you haven’t heard the last of these guys.

“In the Countryside” – Benjy Ferree

This one is weird (but enjoyable!) in a whole different way, as Washington, D.C.-based singer/songwriter Benjy Ferree gives us a crisp, head-bobbing ditty that sounds like an American version of a British music-hall romp, funneled through a nebulous ’60s filter (T. Rex? the Kinks? Thunderclap Newman??). This is, in any case, one style of old-timey music that Bob Dylan has yet to wrap his arms around. We get a bit of fiddle, a little whistling, and a guitar trying to sound like a tuba, but mostly we get Ferree’s high, appealingly robust voice—sounding not completely unlike Robert Plant, if he were on the front porch singing to the neighbor’s children, perhaps in Tennessee. “In the Countryside” is from Leaving The Nest (Domino Records), Ferree’s first CD, which was originally released in the D.C. area last year as an EP. The MP3 is via the Domino site.

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