“Deep Frieze” – Chris Letcher
Smartly put together and sharply produced, “Deep Frieze” offers a gratifying union of acoustic, electric, and electronic sounds, linked beneath rich, almost choral-like vocalizing. A crisply strummed acoustic guitar lies at the heart of this midtempo rocker, but other rewarding guitar sounds come to fore as well, along with a battery of good-natured knob-twiddly noises. I like how this song feels so ornate without actually wasting a whole lot of aural space: it sounds very layered and yet you can easily, at any point, pick out and label everything you’re hearing—which isn’t often the case when bands aim in this sort of baroque direction. Chris Letcher is a South African musician now based in London, and studying composition at the Royal College of Music, no less. In South Africa, he was part of a successful ’90s band called Urban Creep. “Deep Frieze” is a track from Letcher’s CD Frieze, which was released in March on the Sheer/2 Feet label. (In South Africa, it was out in November 2006, while in Europe, release is slated for September; globalization in music is sometimes very complicated.)
So this one takes a little while to get going: one minute of slow and quiet noodling, 20 seconds of a bit more activity, then a good half minute of engaging rhythm and instrumental melody, leading surely into…well, oops, there’s another 20 seconds of quiet noodling. The singing starts at 2:30, which is bizarrely late, especially in song that’s just about four minutes long. All in all a recipe for the kind of thing I don’t have patience for, and yet in this case, I find myself rather charmed. Why? I’ll tell you: I’m not sure. Maybe it’s the happy tone of the noodly notes—those are very friendly-sounding synthesizers offering that reverie of a duet: the staccato pulse of a bass-like sound below and a chimey companion playing a smeerier sort of pulse up above. A drum at 1:00 breaks the trance and sets up a full-out breakthrough at 1:21, a wonderfully engaging bit of driving but melodic electronics, enlivened by starbursts of synthesizer glissandos. At this point it sounds like everyone’s having so much fun—Múm is seven members strong—that the singers perhaps have forgotten their cues. There is a reprise of the noodly part with a friendly animal sort of noise added to the mix. Then the singing, and it’s a strong ascending melody line we get from two singers who are not in fact the baby-voiced Kristín Valtýsdóttir, who has left the band. The melody line repeats four times, with—still!—instrumental breaks and we’re through. Is this even a song? Not sure. But it will be on the Icelandic band’s mysterious new CD, Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy, scheduled for release in September on Fat Cat Records. MP3 via Pitchfork.
From semi-avant-garde not-quite-song-writing we go to pure easygoing indie pop. What makes this a killer track, however, is that underneath the goofy-peppy sound is a genuinely poignant tale of love gone awry. So yes we’re in the land of “happy sound, sad lyrics” that is one of pop music’s special gifts to the world. The endearing, vaguely sloppy vibe here belies the precision of the song, from the well-placed, more interesting than you might realize “ba ba ba” background vocals to the short-story-like quality of the lyrics. Singer/songwriter Brendan Hangauer utilizes the slick trick of opening and closing the song with the same lines: “She’s in love with a photograph/And the idea things could last/Goddamn, I never thought of that”; and when you hear it the second time your heart kind of breaks. Fourth of July is a six-piece band from Lawrence, Kansas that came to life in 2001 as Hangauer’s solo project. “She’s In Love” is from the CD Fourth of July On the Plains, released in June on Range Life Records. The MP3 can be found on Lawrence.com.