“Be Unhappy” – Maritime
I like how the basic, wet-blanket lyrical twist here–“Even if you find the love of your life/You could be unhappy for weeks at a time”–is mirrored in the music: at the heart of this peppy, summer-sunny tune are recurring suspended chords that block our sense of simple fulfillment (they’re laid out right in the intro, at :03 and :06), like persistent clouds on a beach day. And listen to the guitar that plays these chords–a smooth, old-fashioned-sounding thing that wouldn’t seem out of place offering insouciant licks in a jazz bar, and yet somehow, too, commingles successfully with the much itchier, vaguely punky second guitar. My ear even finds singer-guitarist Davey von Bohlen himself embodying the same aesthetic conflict, his high, graceful voice subtly contradicted by a raspiness just below the surface. That the music conveys us eventually to a bunch of “doo-doo-doo-doo”s is the culminating musical oxymoron in a song that so prettily seems to be assuring us that life isn’t always pretty. You’ll find this one on Maritime’s new CD, Heresy and the Hotel Choir, the third album from this accomplished Milwaukee quartet, which was released this month on Flameshovel Records.
The Fiery Furnaces are fully a product of the 21st century: a brother-sister duo from suburban Chicago trafficking in oblique, experimental songwriting featuring intermittent snatches of backward-looking pop-rock, with lots of stylistic leaps, sonic mayhem, and lyrical perplexities along the way. Founded officially in Brooklyn in 2000, the Furnaces tend to elicit extreme reactions–some claim Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger as Captain Beefheart-style geniuses, others urge people to throw money out windows rather than pay for what the Fiery Furnaces have recorded. Me, I’m thinking that it’s a vast knowledge of and appreciation for the music of the past that fuels their experimentation, which means, if they put their minds to it, they’re fully capable of sounding quote-unquote normal too (as, for instance, they did on “Benton Harbor Blues,” a previous TWF pick. “Ex-Guru” gives us, this time, a brisk, ironic/nostalgic piece of rock such as Beck might concoct, delivered with a blasé sort of gusto by Eleanor, who must here know that the recurring lyric “She means nothing to me now” accentuates the aural illusion that a man is singing. (The lyrics, rather plainly about, indeed, an ex-guru, are funny and also I think a little sad.) Be sure to hang around past the Stevie Wonder keyboards to see where else this one wants to go: we get, first, a heavy burst of guitar and synthesizer (1:25) that sounds like the B-52s doing Led Zeppelin, which leads somehow into a baroque-y flute, horn, and harpsichord-like keyboard trio that helps finish things off. “Ex-Guru” is from Widow City, the band’s fifth full-length, released earlier this month on Thrill Jockey Records. MP3 courtesy of
Paper Thin Walls BetterPropaganda.
“Imaginary Girl” – the Silver Seas
Easy-going, super-likeable neo-mellow rock. Singer/songwriter Daniel Tashian sounds like a cross between James Taylor and Jackson Browne, with maybe a dash of young Billy Joel thrown in, and the music he crafts with producer/keyboardist Jason Lehning is a lovingly updated version of the kind of thing that was in the air back when JT and JB and BJ were plying their 1974-ish wares–we get something of JT’s soulful swing, a bit of JB’s star-crossed ache, and an agreeable interplay between the gentle but lively piano (a la Joel), with its cascading arpeggios, and some snappy acoustic guitar work. Tashian and Lehning were until recently doing business, in Nashville, as the Bees (U.S.); when they signed with Cheap Lullaby Records they changed their name to rid themselves once and for all of the conflict with the British band the Bees. Tashian, by the way, is the son of Barry Tashian, front man for the Remains, the legendary ’60s garage rock band from Boston (best known for the single “Don’t Look Back,” a highlight off the landmark Nuggets collection). “Imaginary Girl” is from the CD High Society, originally self-released in 2006, when the band was still the Bees; it’s slated for a national re-release on Cheap Lullaby next month. MP3 courtesy of Cheap Lullaby.