Tense, fragile, emotional, and intelligent. Listen to how the verse develops over an intriguingly minimal guitar accompaniment–he plays not chords, not a standard finger-picking pattern, but something more resembling a bass line. Vague keyboard washes add deep atmosphere, particularly as we get to the chorus. While not sounding specifically like Jeff Buckley–Matthews’ tenor seems more constricted, and pretty much lacks Buckley’s famous vibrato–there’s still something Buckley-like in the air here in the strong yet delicate melody and the sense of dramatic vulnerability suffusing the song. Matthews is a British singer/songwriter and this song has already been a big sensation in the UK, from an album called Passing Stranger that was released there in October 2006. “Elusive” recently won a major UK songwriting prize, the Igor Novello Award; Passing Stranger is now being readied for U.S. release on Universal Republic, probably in the early fall. MP3 via Stereogum.
“Always on the Telephone” – the Ladybug Transistor
Evocative minor-key 21st-century folk rock, with saxophone. Although here, for sure, is a band with its roots deep in the 1990s–associated with the storied Elephant Six Collective, the Ladybug Transistor in fact released its first CD back in ’95. The personnel has changed over the years and it’s a bit of a loosey-goosey outfit to begin with; it taxes me beyond my breaking point to determine, via all available press materials, who precisely is in the band at this point. (I do know that the band, tragically, lost their original drummer, San Fadyl, in April, to a fatal aesthma attack.) Through the years and the lineup shiftings, the band’s sound remains ever centered around Gary Olson’s sensitive baritone and his lovely capacity to convert something vaguely ’60s-like into something vaguely contemporary. I’m taken this time by the unexpected entrance of the saxophone (only, um, now I guess you’ll expect it) at 1:47–a sharp, lonely sax it is, its achy street-corner wail unlike anything one normally encounters in ’00s indie rock. “Always on the Telephone” is the lead track from the band’s new CD Can’t Wait Another Day, which was released on Merge Records earlier this month.
The MP3 is via Spin. Veteran Fingertips visitors, do you remember the band’s previous TWF pick, in December ’03? Refresh your memory.
Punchy, precise pop from the punchy and precise Bishop Allen, the Brooklyn-based band best known, in the web world, for releasing 12 separate EPs last year–one each month, each named for the month, each with four new songs (except for August, which had 14 live tracks). A band this productive has probably mastered the art of writing songs about more or less anything; this one appears to be, rather simply, about a rainy day. Between the snappy-clappy beat, the spirited, uncomplicated melody, and Justin Rice’s high-pitched yet appealing voice, “Rain” is charming from beginning to end. I like how the lead guitar enters about halfway through (1:38) with a squawk or two, as if it was literally waking up, just in time for a recalcitrant sort of anti-solo. “Rain” is a track from the forthcoming Bishop Allen CD, The Broken String, slated for release next month on the Dead Oceans label. The MP3 is via the band’s site. Bishop Allen is another band with a previous TWF appearance in the semi-distant past; unfortunately, the song selected back in March ’04 is no longer available.