This Week’s Finds: January 14-20 (Youth Group, Miho Hatori, The Book of Daniel)

“Sorry” – Youth Group

Crisp, glistening music that breaks no particular ground and yet makes me happy in a bittersweet sort of way and compels me to go back and listen again. This one launches with a crystalline guitar line, seven precise notes twice in a row, and check out the “off” interval on the fourth note in the second set–an ever-so-slightly jarring but actually amenable change that right away suggests a well-crafted song. I like too the subtle contrast between the song’s brisk pace and singer Toby Martin’s sweet and somewhat languorous delivery. Those who remember the British band James may hear some pleasing resonances here; this song boasts the soaring yet fleet-footed touch of that band’s best work. I’ve said it before and no doubt I’ll say it again: “good” is a far more important value than “new” when it comes to judging music; criticism based largely upon something not being “new” or “different” enough is almost always facile and suspect, in my opinion. Youth Group is a quartet from Sydney, Australia; “Sorry” is from the band’s new CD, its third, entitled Casino Twilight Dogs, which is scheduled for release in the U.S. next week on Anti Records.

“Barracuda” – Miho Hatori

Born in Tokyo, transplanted to Manhattan in the ’90s, Miho Hatori became known later in the decade as the singer in the experimental duo Cibo Matto, which combined facets of trip-hop, rock, and Latin music in a vibrant multicultural mélange. Now she’s got a solo CD, called Ecdysis, on which she emerges as a frisky-quirky eccentrically accented 21st-century musician with maybe even more trans-global chops than the reigning queen of frisky-quirky eccentrically accented 21st-century musicianhood, Björk. While happy enough around beats and programming, Hatori likewise employs on her CD a globetrotting battery of esoteric organic instruments–repique, zabumba, timbau, and Indian ankle bells among them–that lend an earthy sincerity to the sound. “Barracuda” in particular is propelled by an exotic drumbeat, a slinky, Latin-esque keyboard riff, and a stuttery monkey-call-like counter rhythm. Head full of transcultural metaphysics (she counts Joseph Campbell as a major influence), Hatori writes both concretely and obliquely, which is a fetching combination: I sense the real world very much around her, even as I can’t make heads or tails of what she’s talking about most of the time. The culiminating section in which she sings multilayered Portuguese (I think?) lyrics against that jungly backbeat, plus some sort of accordion, (starting around 2:20) is exuberant fun. Ecdysis was released on Rykodisc in October.

“Deadringer Deadringer” – the Book of Daniel

I have something of a soft spot for singers who don’t have pretty voices who sing pretty melodies, from Bob Dylan and Tom Waits to Shane McGowan and Peter Garrett and then some. Sounds like Gothenburg’s Daniel Gustaffson is a budding member of the group; older brother of Boy Omega’s Martin Henrik Gustaffson (who also plays in Book of Daniel), Daniel G., leading his loosey-goosey, eight-person ensemble, doesn’t grumble like Waits or go gruffly off-pitch like McGowan but his voice sounds mostly like he thinks he’s still talking rather than singing–which makes the melodic charm of this swingy, homespun tune all the more charming, to me. There’s something of Moondance-era Van Morrison in the air here, filtered through a rollicking Swedish-pop sensibility. When the band joins in for a bit of call and response (around :43), it’s hard not to smile. Later on, the extended trumpet solo (starting at 2:51) is just plain cool. “Deadringer Deadringer” is from the Book of Daniel’s debut full-length CD, Songs for the Locust King, which was released late in November on Riptide Recordings in Germany, and then again in late December (I think; the precise date is oddly difficult to discern) on the Malmö-based Black Star Foundation label. The MP3 is available via Riptide.

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