This Week’s Finds: Sept. 9-15 (Marissa Nadler, Bruce Springsteen, The 1900s)

“Diamond Heart” – Marissa Nadler

Hang with this one for just a little while. Nadler sings with a distinctive sort of warble, and the song starts with her in full warble. (Nadler is often grouped with the so-called “New Weird America” and/or psych-folk movements, with the likes of Devendra Banhart and Johanna Newsom, in which unusual vocal stylings are de rigueur.) She also seems to be singing from the end of an echoey hallway; her guitar, meanwhile, vibrates with an unearthly, harp-like throb. Lyrical substance is difficult to decipher but odd prominent phrases emerge at the outset—“jezebel crown,” “reliquary eyes.” And yet somehow, quickly, the song gathers a deep, resonant beauty, like something unearthed from an ancient time with only a few scratches; even the echoey hallway ultimately adds a mysterious aural texture to what is a heart-breakingly gorgeous song. And this is folk-song gorgeous not pop ballad gorgeous (not that there’s anything wrong with that), meaning we get the unfolding gravity of timeless melody rather than a burst of hooks. By the time she reaches for the climactic words of the chorus—“Oh my lonely diamond heart”—with a sigh at-once world-weary and angelic, all thoughts of weird warbling have vanished in the presence of sheer musical wonder. “Diamond Heart” is the opening track on Nadler’s CD Songs III: Bird on the Water, which was released in the U.S. last month on Kemado Records(it had been released in the U.K. earlier in the year, on Peacefrog Records). The MP3 is courtesy of Insound.

“Radio Nowhere” – Bruce Springsteen

Hang with this one a bit also. It’s not complicated, it’s got a grinding, muddy sort of sonic sensibility, and yeah okay he’s done any number of better songs (he’s Bruce Springsteen, for crying out loud). But this song is a creeper, sticking in the head and heart after a few listens. What I like right away is that, independent of the thick rocking ambiance, this doesn’t really sound much like a Bruce Springsteen song—the melody and chord progression may be plain but they do not specifically call to mind any of the Boss’s big anthemic blasters of the past; this one even has a touch of power pop about it that strikes my ears as unexpected. I like too that it’s just three minutes seventeen seconds, as Bruce has not been known for economy of statement in recent years (or maybe ever). I love the subject matter, as the song laments the abject soullessness of satellite radio: “I was trying to find my way home/But all I heard was a drone/Bouncing off a satellite/Crushing the last lone American night.” And yes I like the music too—simple and direct it may be, but vivid and driven as well, thanks in part to his estimable compadres in the E Street Band. All in all “Radio Nowhere” feels like a reassuring rallying cry from one of our mightiest living rock legends, a guy who I might add has attempted to be a decent human being (no mean feat!) despite nearly being crushed by the “star-maker machinery” back in the ’70s and ’80s. The song comes from Springsteen’s forthcoming CD, Magic, slated for release on Columbia Records in early October (although the vinyl is coming out, actually, at the end of this month). MP3 via Spinner.

“When I Say Go” – the 1900s

Guided by a jaunty piano and sung with a Carole King-like forthrightness by Jeanine O’Toole, “When I Say Go” is a potent piece of midwestern indie pop that rewards careful listening with its inventive sense of arrangement. To begin with, this Chicago septet features three vocalists and here utilizes two of them: O’Toole is the Kingly one, singing the verses, while Caroline Donovan handles the choruses; they sound almost the same but kind of not, also. Listen as well for the careful use of strings, which intermittently lend the song a very parlor-like sensibility, other times adding the air of, almost, a hoedown. Sometimes a small touch means a lot, like the way the piano, after pounding out basic major and minor chords until then, releases, abruptly, into a somewhat thornier arpeggio (at around 1:18; sounds like maybe a major 7 chord). This may not be something you consciously note but it alters the mood on the spot, all the more so because of its subtlety. On the other hand, not subtly at all, the song breaks in the middle (starting at 1:38) for a bracing guitar solo, a scant 10 seconds of expert, squonky deconstruction that is not to be missed. “When I Say Go” is a song from the band’s debut full-length CD, Cold & Kind, slated for release early next month on Parasol Records. The MP3 is courtesy of the band’s site.

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