This Week’s Finds: October 14-20 (Saturday Looks Good to Me, Hot Springs, Nada Surf)

“Make a Plan” – Saturday Looks Good to Me

Deftly built with riffs and sounds and cheery vocals, “Make a Plan” is infused with a charming sort of handmade vibe, like something modeled unexpectedly yet expertly with masking tape and cardboard. The introduction is an immediate example of the odd but sturdy construction I’m talking about—first we get the buoyant acoustic strum, straight out of a Harry Belafonte record or some such thing, then a thin slice of vague and fuzzy electric guitar, which together are capped by a low, fat, echoey line of four descending notes from a different guitar finished off with that comic book-y flanging. The net effect is simultaneously solid and odd. Then comes the kind of kooky melody, a long downward trip of doubled notes, sung with unhurried flair by SLGTM multi-instrumentalist and mastermind Fred Thomas. And how much like Ray Davies is Thomas sounding here? A lot, says me, especially for a guy from Detroit, and more especially when the song hits full Kinks mode during the bridge, from 2:05 through 2:30. I like how a piano suddenly appears at this point too, as if someone had just rolled one into the room so, okay, might as well play it. Saturday Looks Good to Me is an ensemble with a revolving lineup; Thomas has apparently worked with more than 75 people towards the end of putting SLGTM records together since 2000. “Make a Plan” is from the outfit’s fourth full-length CD, Fill Up the Room, slated for release next week on K Records. The MP3 is courtesy of K.

“Headrush” – Hot Springs

Grinding, spunky rock’n’roll from yet another intriguing band from Montreal. This quartet’s distinctive sound is immediately dominated by the throaty, quavery voice of singer/guitarist Giselle Webber, who is in full command of what she’s doing. After studying the voices of classic jazz singers, Webber found a new way to use hers. “You can contort and find these extra pockets of air in your sinuses and deep down in your gut,” she told a Montreal newspaper a couple of years ago, “and eventually I learned that you can sculpt your voice in these crazy ways by fucking up sound inside your throat. That’s my favorite way to sing.” To be honest, I can’t claim that it’s my favorite voice to listen to, but the way Webber interacts with this stop-start-y, bottom-heavy music does have a sneaky appeal, combining a comfortable classic-rock drive with something fiercer and untamed. I like the chorus in particular, with its mixture of rushed triplets and dragged-out quarter notes, skipped drumbeats, and jumbled-together words (which are hard to decipher; the first line is “These glasses have been empty for too damn long”). Often I praise lyrics that scan impeccably with the music but for the sake of vehemence there is room in rock for songs in which the drive of the music requires the words to bend to its will. This kind of thing, I think, only works when the singer has a bit of “force of nature” about him or her; from what I’m hearing, I’d say Webber qualifies. “Headrush” is from the debut Hot Springs CD, Volcano (see? force of nature), released last month, in Canada, by the band’s Quire Records imprint, via the big label DKD. The MP3 is found on the band’s site.

“See These Bones” – Nada Surf

If this song sounds like a sharp, pristine relic from some disconcertingly long-ago day when songs were songs and bands were bands, one good reason for this is that Nada Surf has been around pretty much since those days—this Brooklyn-based trio formed back in 1992. Or, as they note on their MySpace page, “Nada Surf has been a band 10 years longer than most of their living peers have been out of a car seat.” Straightforward and memorable, “See These Bones” is given an assist out of the gate by a good opening line—“Everyone’s right and no one is sorry/That’s the start and the end of the story”—that in a nutshell describes the sociopolitical impasse in which we find ourselves. The heart of this one is clearly the glowing chorus, featuring one of those classic-sounding, power-pop-affiliated melodies that seems clearly to recall some other song or two (or five) and yet eludes specific identification. The lovely, pining voice of Matthew Caws is, as ever, the ideal vehicle for the soaring bittersweetness on display. “See These Bones” is a way-early peak at the band’s next CD, which will be called Lucky and is not scheduled for release on Barsuk Records until February ’08. The MP3 is via Barsuk Epitonic.

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