This Week’s Finds: July 29-August 4 (Ryan Ferguson, Owen Duff, Super Furry Animals)

“Remission” – Ryan Ferguson

Comfortably incisive from beginning to end, “Remission” is one of those blessed songs with a perfectly balanced feeling between the verse and the chorus. You know how a song can have a great chorus, but the verse is like treading water to get there; or conversely, some songs have a really interesting verse but then the chorus is flavorless. Here the verse is interesting and commanding, and yet leads to—rather than overpowers–the chorus, the brilliance of which is just subtle enough, in turn, not to overshadow the verse. The hidden trick behind all of this here, I think, is the strong working relationship between the words and the music. After that emphatic opening chord sequence—nicely textured with an added xylophone—listen carefully to the lyrics and note not merely the dramatic story line (this does not appear to be another tale of relationship woes, although it might work that way metaphorically) but how uncannily well the words scan with the music–that is, how the rhythm of the music allows the words to be sung exactly how they’re spoken, without putting any stress on odd syllables. All too many pop songwriters write without much sensitivity to how the words will scan; whether accidentally or purposefully, Ferguson—previously in the locally popular San Diego quartet No Knife—emerges in this song as a master. “Remission” is from his first full-length solo CD, Only Trying to Help, set for release next month on Better Looking Records. The MP3 is via the Better Looking site. Thanks to the guys at 3hive for the lead.

“Act of War” – Owen Duff

Electric instruments are not required for a musician to create a sense of drive and urgency, as proven ably by this unsigned Briton, who prefers in fact whenever possible to play an actual piano rather than a keyboard. Although basically an unadorned piano and guitar piece (enhanced with thoughtful sound-touches along the way, however), “Act of War” shimmers with both rhythmic and melodic exuberance, underscored by a refreshing dollop of finesse. It’s common for solo performers on the acoustic guitar to go explosive rhythmically, pounding more than strumming in an effort to prove their—I don’t know: sincerity, musical prowess, emotional depth, who knows. Duff gives us rhythmic depth without pounding, and greatly enhances his offering here with a fetching, pliable melody line, using his delicate, Sufjan-like tenor with unexpected dexterity and gusto. “Act of War” is the opening track from Duff’s seven-song debut EP, called A Tunnel, Closing In, which he released last year. The MP3 is available via his web site.

“Run-Away” – Super Furry Animals

The nutty Welshmen are back, singing in English this time, and kinda sorta just in time to provide hungry American pop fans with what is surely one of the summer of ’07’s spiffiest–albeit nuttiest–summer songs. The fuzzy background sound and Beach Boys-esque melody rockets us straight back to 1965 or so, with a side trip through the Twilight Zone, and our job is to hang on and enjoy the ride. Two keys to this song, to my ears: the two distinct drum patterns (modified Phil Spector beat in the verse; smoother, cymbally pulse in the chorus); and that swoony chorus melody with its wild dips and rises (I love the two notes you hear from about 0:41 to 0:43 in particular–a startling but perfect, Brill Building-y interval). I can’t make out the lyrics too well but the moral of the story is crystal clear: “Those who cry and run away/Live to cry another day.” The Super Furries have been making their loopy, psychedelic-ish pop since 1993. “Run-Away” is a song from Hey Venus!, their eighth CD, which is due out digitally and on vinyl near the end of August on Rough Trade Records. (The album will not be released in the U.S. on CD until 2008, apparently to coincide with the band’s U.S. tour.) Thanks to Gorilla vs. Bear for the head’s up. The MP3 is via Beggars Group, which just last week acquired Rough Trade.

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