This Week’s Finds: August 12-18 (Portugal. The Man, Eulogies, Joe Henry)

“Shade” – Portugal. The Man

While I don’t think much of the band name–inexplicable punctuation is a pet peeve–I’m finding this slinky, vigorous, genre-resistant song has etched itself slowly but steadily into whatever part of my mind that’s responsible for making songs stick in it. There’s something prog-rock-y about it–the fairy-tale-like guitar riff that opens the piece, for instance–as well as something more Led Zeppelin-y in lead singer John Gourley’s Plant-like yowl and Page-like guitar heaviness. Those synthesized strings floating in from above, and the band’s gift for unexpected, rhythmic melody? That’s a bit of Radiohead, perhaps. At the same time, the drum sounds are so up front and organic that it puts me in the mind of some classic rock track or another even as the overall vibe is good old ’00s indie rock. All in all an attractive and successful stew of sounds and vibe from this young trio from the Northwest. Gourley and bassist Zach Carothers grew up together in Alaska, of all places; they are based now in Portland, Oregon, which is drummer Jason Sechrist’s hometown. “Shade” is from the band’s CD Church Mouth, which was released last month on Fearless Records. The MP3 is via Spinner, the AOL indie music blog.

“One Man” – Eulogies

Listen to how “One Man” plays with us pace-wise. The melody proceeds in an unhurried way, very much in the range of what is (too often) called a “midtempo rocker” (Google that phrase and it comes up 10,000 times; two of ’em right here, I must add, in the spirit of full disclosure). But the rhythm section chugs along in double time, creating a briskness and vibrancy the famous midtempo rocker often lacks. Eulogies is a trio featuring the singer/songwriter Peter Walker (previously featured here in April 2006); the band in fact came spontaneously into existence as Walker realized on his last tour how well he and the two musicians playing with him were jelling. I was impressed last year with Walker’s sure touch as both a singer and songwriter, and am again this time around. I like the subtle but evocative hooks he has going in the chorus–first, to me, just the marvelous way his falsetto bends a bit before settling on the word “I” (and what a great, yearning note that is, too); second, how the melody deftly centers itself between the beats, creating this wonderful, bittersweet sense of movement. A bonus: the lyrics display the same subtle power. Walker sings: “I learned something/In the nick of time/I’m only one man”–and while the song doesn’t reveal enough detail to know exactly what he learned and why it was just in time, the wistful atmosphere suggests a complex sort of heartache, and a good news/bad news type of education. “One Man” is from Eulogies’ self-titled debut CD, due out in September on Dangerbird Records. The MP3 is via the Dangerbird site. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.

“Time is a Lion” – Joe Henry

Joe Henry has one of those really familiar-sounding voices for a guy who doesn’t get a whole lot of exposure in the scheme of things. Part of the lack of widespread exposure has to do with the fact that he’s spent a fair amount of time singing songs with that voice that have been purposefully arcane, oddly cluttered, and more than a little, shall we say, difficult. He has been quoted as calling his 2003 release Tiny Voices “intentionally chaotic,” saying that it was “like a Bunuel film shown on the side of a building during a rain storm.” This time around, lo and behold, he has decided to aim for clarity and if this song is any indication, he’s at least part of the way there. “Time is a Lion” has the sort of barroom swing the likes of which labelmate Tom Waits might concoct, but where Waits tends to deconstruct and croak, and Henry previously might have piled on sounds and squeezed away the melody, he this time opts for a surface-level smoothness, even as the percussion beats out a distinctive pulse and the piano alternates between music hall chords and jazzy washes. Lyrically Henry is full of resonant pronouncements and abstract narrative of the sort Bob Dylan has specialized in since the late ’90s. Good stuff. “Time is a Lion” is from Henry’s forthcoming Civilians CD, to be released next month on Anti Records. MP3 via the Anti web site.

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