With its rolling, ringing, nostalgic sheen, “That’s That” glows with an almost breathtaking sort of pure pop grace. This is one beautiful piece of work, rendered palpably touching by the self-control that characterizes the song from start to finish. For even with its crisp, head-bobbing rhythm, “That’s That” offers us a lesson in sonic restraint: guitars that withhold as much as they play, silvery melodies that ache off the swing of the beat, and subtlest but maybe best of all, that warm, rounded, tom-tom sound that keeps a hurried pulse in the background, forever implying a crashing release that never arrives. McCombs, furthermore, has a voice that sounds on the surface sweeter than it actually is–listen carefully and you’ll hear a homely, vaguely adenoidal tinge to his tone that sounds oddly enough like a benefit, offering a bit of an edge to the silky melody line, and underscoring the awkwardness of the young man/older woman affair recounted here. “That’s That” is from McCombs’ forthcoming CD, Dropping the Writ, due out next month on Domino Records. MP3 via Pitchfork.
“Everwise Muskellunge” – Rats With Wings
The Brooklyn-based band Rats With Wings has a predilection for synthesizer sounds most bands prefer to avoid: rubbery flugelhorny ones, chimey squeaky ones, cheesy tromboney ones. Let me quickly say that I might normally prefer to avoid such sounds also. And yet let me quickly also say that through some combination of vibrancy and laptop-infused invention, the whole here becomes far more than the sum of its strange, synthesized parts. With its solidly constructed melody, spacious sense of structure (note how many different chords the tune seems to feel comfortable resting on), and inscrutable lyrics, “Everwise Muskellunge” grows increasingly comfortable and engaging–but no less odd–with each listen. (A muskellunge by the way is a large fish, in the pike family; here it is apparently stuffed and mounted on the wall, from which vantage point it stares at the narrator, who both talks to it and imbues it with an unearthly sort of perspicacity.) At the heart of the band is the duo Brendan Fitzpatrick and David Hurtgen, who have played together in various guises for 15 years; they got the name for this latest incarnation from Woody Allen’s memorable description of pigeons in the movie Stardust Memories. “Everwise Muskellunge” is a song from the band’s self-released Tiny Guns EP, which came out last month, and includes a seriously striking version of Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf.” MP3 courtesy of the band.
Well okay summer has actually already ended, but just barely, and in any case the indelible complexion of late summer/early fall is delightfully embodied in the words, the music, and the spirit of this charming song. The bittersweet cello that leads into the first verse–with its singular way of sounding upbeat and sad at the same time–is just a hint of the tuneful orchestral treat the Pittsburgh-based Goldberg has in store for us, with its nicely incorporated string, woodwind, and brass parts. I like how, even so, the guitar and drums–the only “normal” rock instruments on display–are still given their due; the guitar plays an important textural role, and the drums are woven into a larger percussive sound with a nifty sort of homespun finesse. And boy was this homespun: the self-titled album from which this comes was recorded over eight months as Goldberg’s senior project as a music student at Carnegie Mellon University; all the musicians on the album (a total of 22 instruments employed) were CMU students as well. Goldberg even sang into a microphone that was custom-built by an electrical engineering student. And perhaps it took an actual college student to so evocatively capture summer’s end, with its looming, double-edged departure scenes (“I couldn’t wait to leave/But now I want to stay”). Kind of gets you right in the stomach. The CD is available via Goldberg’s web site; the MP3 is no longer available as a direct download, but you can still download it via Bandcamp for any amount of money, including none at all.