Buzzy, expansive, and richly melodic, “Elouise” is the work of shoegaze-inspired one-man band James Chapman, doing business from his Northampton (UK) home as Maps. But get this: unlike most if not all 21st-century bedroom rockers, Chapman developed his music entirely on a 16-track recorder in his apartment. Meaning he doesn’t use computers. That knowledge will change how you hear this one, as the drones and beats and keyboards which drive the evocative, anthemic “Elouise” were all laid down the old-fashioned way, not manipulated by a laptop. (Note that the strings were added later; the album ended up being produced in Iceland by Valgeir Sigurdsson, who has worked extensively with Sigur Rós and Björk.) I’m loving the chorus in particular, with its simple but memorable descending melody line, and then–I’m a sucker for this move–the addition of those two extra beats in the measure beginning at 1:18 (the lyric when he first mentions “Elouise”). Listen too to how the guitars drop out in the chorus, adding to the lushness of the sound there. Chapman churns out humming, atmospheric music that forces everyone who writes about him to mention My Bloody Valentine, but to my ears this song has a lighter and more accessible feel than, by and large, the music that seminal band produced in its day. “Elouise” is from the CD We Can Create, which was released in the U.S. in June on Mute Records. (In the U.K., the CD came out in May and was last week one of 12 albums placed on the short list for this year’s Mercury Prize.) The MP3 is available via Insound.
Friendly, strumming acoustic guitars lead us into a good-natured, back-country rave-up with an unmistakable zydeco flavor, minus the accordion. And lookee here, as unlike as this one is from the Maps song above, the zydeco feel is responsible for one distinct similarity: the measure with the two extra beats, which you can hear here as soon as singer Joey Thompson opens his mouth (at 0:23, as he sings “Hey there, Mister Boll Weevil”). And once Thompson opens his mouth, extra beats or no, I’m hooked–as a singer, he’s got one of those round, personality-laced voices that brings Ray Davies to mind, and as a songwriter he’s got a casual, John Fogerty-like knack for neighborly, classic-sounding melodies. A quartet from Austin, the Archibalds play with the real-time gusto of a band that records live (whether they do or not); “Sinking Ships” is a song from the band’s debut CD, O Camellia, which was released in March, jointly, by Breakfast Mascot Records and Austin’s Superpop Records. The MP3 is courtesy of Breakfast Mascot.
And it has inadvertently turned into Mercury Prize week, as Bat For Lashes, like Maps above, is one of the 12 finalists for the U.K.’s Mercury Prize for album of the year, as announced last Tuesday. As with Maps, Bat For Lashes also sounds like the name of a band but is one person–in this case, 27-year-old Natasha Khan. Building off an unadorned, almost awkwardly plain keyboard riff, “Horse and I” unfolds in an unhurried manner. Khan enters, singing, after half a minute; a ghostly synthesizer joins in shortly thereafter; and then, intriguingly, about halfway through, a military drumbeat takes on the rhythm of the keyboard riff, which now makes further sense in retrospect. Khan by the way has a marvelous voice–breathy and vulnerable in the lower register, achy-urgent in the upper register. The song has a fairy-tale vibe (horses, woods, destiny, etc.) that might be a bit precious were it not for the formidability of the music and arrangement. I’m especially taken by the juxtaposition of the other-worldly synthesizer and the martial beat–it’s a combination I can’t recall hearing simultaneously before (the short duet between the two sounds at 1:24 is an oddball highlight here). “Horse and I” is the lead track from the debut Bat For Lashes CD Fur and Gold, which was released last September in the U.K. on Echo Records; its U.S. release is scheduled for next week, on Caroline Records.