The beauty of my slow, steady system here is that often it appears to work on its own, as if I’m not even a part of it. Songs that hit me at a level below rational thinking get added to my “top consideration” folder, and each week I spend time listening to all the songs in it, and when I listen long enough and closely enough they kind of just sort themselves out. It’s a mystery. And what also sometimes happens–equally mysterious–is a song that I didn’t pick that week ends up floating around in my head, singing itself to itself in the days that follow. Usually that means I will pick that song at some point. Thus, “Broken Arm,” from the western Massachusetts band Winterpills, which I kept not quite selecting and which has continued to arise unbidden in my head. This one has the minor melancholy folk-rock tension of something from the ’60s (Simon & Garfunkel? Mamas & Papas?), and I think the thing that really sticks with me is how the hook is, somehow, the first melodic line of the verse. Normally a pop song has to work up to its hook but this one starts with it: a simple descending melody that curls back up at the bottom, and it may not sound like much the first time you hear it, when singer Philip Price sings on his own; but one of the band’s characteristic sounds is the vocal interplay between Price and keyboardist Flora Reed, and when Reed harmonizes that same line when it returns (at around 0:47), well, yikes. Wow. She stays with him for (I think) three notes then they separate into the most wonderful intervals. A parallel highlight is the interplay between the acoustic and electric guitar, the acoustic crisp and precise, the electric slurry and evasive. (Note a very clear “bad word” happens at 2:03 so be careful if children or bosses are nearby.) “Broken Arm” is from the band’s second CD, The Light Divides, released on Signature Sounds at the end of February.
“Speak To Me Bones” – Land of Talk
And this one sounds like something sharp and itchy from maybe the early or middle ’90s. Right away I like the tension established by a stationary guitar slashing intermittently against the propulsive rhythm section, while otherwise retreating into a vibrating, harmonic fuzz. I can feel the whole enterprise coiled up, restrained, ready to boil over. When the guitar is fully unleashed, at 0:27, we get pretty much the same chord–something with the vague dissonance of a suspended chord, from the sound of it–only now the slashing intensifies, gains a rhythm, is fleshed out by adjunct chords that veer magnetically back to the central cluster, with a beautiful fury that would do Neil Young proud. When singer/guitarist Elizabeth Powell emerges from behind her mighty instrument (54 seconds into it) to sing a discordant melody, with passion, I’m falling for this one big-time. While comparisons have been made to P.J. Harvey because of Powell’s vocal turbulence, I hear something ultimately sweeter there in the midst of the storm–to me, in fact, her rich, sandpapery tone brings Kathleen Edwards rather unexpectedly but pleasingly to mind. But try not to let Powell’s vocal assurance distract you from her impressive guitar chops, which provide a constant source of grinding grandeur to this explosive little piece. Land of Talk is a trio from Montreal; “Speak To Me Bones” is a song from the band’s debut EP, Applause Cheer Boo Hiss, which was released in the U.S. in March on The Rebel Group. The MP3 is via the record company site.
This is another song that engages me before the singing even starts. Here we have the often agreeable acoustic guitar and piano combination, and listen to this piano in particular–how slyly unconcerned with the beat it can be, just floating its gentle notes here and there, in and around the guitar’s structured picking. And it’s also another song with a very engaging male-female duet going on, in this case via Shanee Pink and Mark Noseworthy (yup, the band is simply named after people; and there was me intially trying to figure out what the name meant). I really like the vibe here: while there’s a quiet late-night feeling going on, it’s not simply loungey-jazzy; instead we get a nice and yet subtly unusual sense of movement–the unusual part the result of the unexpected 7/4 time signature. I can’t remember hearing a song centered around fingerpicking in 7/4 time like this, although of course there may well be some. Another nice touch is how the acoustic instruments each pick up an electric counterpart as the song develops–we get both a dreamy electric guitar and an atmospheric keyboard filling out the original piano-guitar combo, plus some simple percussion (mostly just an egg shaker). And the percussion really disguises the unconventional beat, managing to keep what sounds like a regular pulse even with those odd-beated measures. All in all both a lovely tune and a spiffy accomplishment. “Loud and Clear” is a song from Pink and Noseworthy, the duo’s debut CD, which was released in March on North Street Records. The MP3 is available via the North Street site.