Crisp, polished, and incisive in a Neil Finn-ish sort of way, “We Are Waves” alternates itchy, restrained verses with a gorgeous, crashing-to-the-shore sort of chorus. And yet—if I may stretch the metaphor to the breaking point, as it were—much the way a crashing wave is simultaneously composed of the water being pulled back to sea, so do I hear in the chorus an engaging sort of counter-movement that gives the song extra depth and presence. What I’m talking about in particular is the way the chorus leads with a straightforward A major chord but then, even as the melody takes that engaging leap up, from the fourth to the seventh note (0:56), the chords retreat from the plain power chords one might expect into something more complex (perhaps suspended?; listen at 0:58, on the words “open sea”); listen further to how the chords take two more unexpected steps before finding A major again. The chorus might have been blandly catchier without the subtle complications, but it’s richer and more gratifying with them. Darmstaedter, by the way, is an interesting dude—he split his childhood years between Hamburg, Germany, where he was born, and northern New Jersey, where he lived with his family from ages 5 to 11. After spending a few teenaged years busking through Europe on his own, he returned to NJ by himself to finish high school with his old friends, and eventually found himself back in Germany in the late ’80s with a band (the Jeremy Days) and a hit single. After the band dissolved in 1995, Darmstaedter began recording solo albums. In 2002, he co-founded Tapete Records and has recorded a few CDs there, the latest being Our Favorite City, which came out in March. That’s where you’ll find “We Are Waves”; the MP3 is courtesy of Dirk and Tapete.
“But Will Our Tears” – Soy Un Caballo
Handmade semi-electronic EU pop from a French-singing Belgium duo with a Spanish name (which translates to “I am a horse”) and at least one English-titled song. When it comes to this sort of semi-lo-fi-ish duo music, it can be a fine line for me between something bright and alluring and something simply bubble-headed, but I think this one crosses onto the right side of that boundary for a few reasons. I like the peppy yet melancholy guitar line that opens the song, and provides an undercurrent for the electronics that follow—it grounds the song in something human and three-dimensional. I like that the electronics that follow help characterize the song but never dominate it; there are stretches where you’re hearing just guitar and drum and voice here, and when some sort of keyboard joins in, I feel as if the actual concrete keys themselves are present in the soundscape somehow. Speaking of the drum, note how the electronic beat is supplemented–and quite often replaced–by an actual drumkit (listen around 0:32, when it’s first noticeable), played with a wonderful carefree touch. And I like Aurélie Muller’s upfront, deadpan voice and how well it wraps itself around the unadorned melody—back and forth on a third interval and then, oops, a delightful jump from the one to the five note. (Funny how striking it always sounds in a pop setting for a singer to leap beyond a standard third interval.) “But Will Our Tears” can be found on the band’s debut CD, Les heures de raison (“The hours of reason”), which was released last month on the Belgian label Matamore. The MP3 is no longer available but you can stream the song via Minty Fresh Records if you’d still like to hear it.
Funny thing about this elastic, elusive thing called power pop. Sometimes we (i.e. power pop fans) want almost slavish devotion to form (even though none of us know exactly what the hell the form actually is), other times a new twist helps render the form all the more heart-rending and addictive. The Contrast, a band from Peterborough, Cambridgeshire (the UK, don’t you know), gives us a few prominent power pop earmarks–notably the guitar sound, an ineffable combination of the crunchy and the jangly, on display in a prominent riff, and the punchy (maybe compressed?) drumming. But then they deliver a couple of twists. First and foremost, a vocal twist: while classic power pop singers usually deliver in one sort of sweet tenor or another (think Alex Chilton, Matthew Sweet, Carl Newman of the New Pornographers), singer David Reid sings in a throaty, emphatic baritone. If Richard Thompson wanted to make a power pop record, it might sound a bit like this. Second, at 1:54: it’s a piano. Like a regular sounding piano. Not your everyday power pop instrument, but it’s not here for long, and then again, listen to how it pounds out those percussive chords–piano as percussion makes some sense in power pop, which is often (but not always! there are no rules, remember) characterized by an insistent (though often subtle) beat. “Clue” is from the Contrast’s fifth album, Underground Ghosts, which came out in mid-May on Rainbow Quartz Records. The MP3 is via Insound—it won’t play through the Fingertips media player, but the MP3 will download if you click on the song title.