This one starts almost before the musicians have picked up their instruments. We hear tuning, we hear the singer warming up, and then we hear the song kick in, but listen carefully–in addition to the instantly engaging and well-textured groove, you’ll hear a layer or two of ghostly electronics echoing in the aural distance. Unlike many who have explored a mix of acoustic and electronic sounds (often a simple mashing of acoustic guitar and laptop effects), Higgs uses electronics with an orchestral flair, weaving beautiful howls and altered vocal effects into a down-home mix of guitar, drums, banjo, and strings. At the song’s center are a resilient, six-measure melody (the same for both verse and chorus) and Higgs’ breathy-scratchy, bumpy-yet-frisky voice. Together they can do no wrong; interspersed with noodly sections featuring the words “I will” amidst an eddying swirl of loops, indistinct sounds, stray lyrics, and banjo, the main melody returns each time like a trusty friend. The end result is hypnotic–the song is five minutes long but might as well be two or ten, time kind of becoming elastic in the hands of this 24-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist from Halifax with a bright bright future. “Parables” is the lead track off her self-titled debut CD, given a remastered, Canada-wide release last month by Toronto-based Outside Music. (Higgs had self-released the CD in a limited release last year; the Outside version also contains two extra songs.) MP3 via Outside Music; thanks to Chrome Waves for the lead.
“Alarm Clock” – the Rumble Strips
A sprightly slice of good-humored British neo new wave pop, plus horns. The sax and trumpet deliver their old-fashioned horn chart with a slaphappy abandon that enhances the general drollery, but then here’s the twist: “Alarm Clock” is not actually a carefree song, as it concerns the unhumorous reality of having to work at a dreary job day after day. What the music reflects, however, is the spirit with which our narrator struggles with this ubiquitous misfortune–not to mention “solves” the problem of the bothersome alarm clock (“So I hit him with a hammer/And now he’s quite subdued”). Singer Charlie Waller has a bit of Andy Partridge’s spirited wail and he and his three bandmates most definitely like to bang, blow, and hit their instruments with incautious glee; at this point it’s hard to imagine that anything they sing about, however serious, will sound somber. The Rumble Strips hail from Tavistock, a small Devonshire town near the Cornwall border in southwest England; “Alarm Clock” is from their six-song Alarm Clock EP, the band’s first U.S. release, which will be out next month on Kanine Records. A shorter version of this EP came out earlier in the year in the U.K.; “Alarm Clock” can also be found on the Rumble Strips’ debut full-length, Girls and Weather, which was released in the U.K. in September on Island Records.
MP3 courtesy of Spin.
“Five O’Clock News” – Ryan Scott
This languorous, slightly jazzy ballad, in three-quarter time, is a definite grower. Scott has a distinctive, somewhat smoky, large-mouthed voice, with nice range and a pliable tone–an ideal tool, as it turns out, for this deceptively complex little song. While there appear, more or less, to be verses and a chorus and maybe a bridge, lyrically, the music slides sneakily from section to section, augmented by understated changes as sections repeat, the sneaky feeling complemented by the melody’s tendency to swing across the three-beat measures, most syllables in the lyrics stretching out for two or more beats. And then, lo and behold, the central (albeit subtle) hook, to my ears, is the one-sentence chorus, in which Scott placidly lobs a ten-syllable run in which each syllable is precisely one beat long–from the word “sweater” to the words “for me” (from 0:52 to 0:58 the first time we hear it), and does it with an appealing ascending/descending melody, finishing on the sidestep of an unresolved chord. The second time we hear this exact sentence we get fourteen straight one-beat syllables, beginning with the word “clock” (2:36), with the song ending when the sentence ends, unresolved chord still hanging in the air. Trained as a jazz guitarist, Scott moved to NYC from the Bay Area in 2001, only 18 at the time, to make his way as a singer/songwriter. “Five O’Clock News” is from the CD Smoke & Licorice, released in September by Brooklyn-based CrystalTop Music. This is officially Scott’s second CD, but features eight songs that were also on his debut CD, Five O’Clock News, which had a limited release in the middle of last year.