This Week’s Finds: Nov. 25-Dec. 1 (Pale Young Gentlemen, The Octopus Project, Dear Euphoria)

“Saturday Night” – Pale Young Gentlemen

The Madison-based ensemble that call themselves Pale Young Gentlemen (the prominently featured cellist is a woman, however) play a singular sort of theatrical indie pop, featuring a jaunty sense of melody, a soft spot for old-timey rhythms, and something of Randy Newman’s way with string-enhanced, piano-based vamping. The aforementioned cello lends an indefinable suggestion of yesteryear to the proceedings, while lead singer and pianist Mike Reisenauer—sounding like a cross between Adam Duritz and Andrew Bird, with a dusting of Chris Martin—sings with a amicable sort of semi-boozey flair; when he gets to the rollicking chorus I can all but see him doing a vaudevillian sort of backward-moving kick step and spread-hand shimmy. And I like how economically the Pale Young Gents manage the theatrics; rather than drowning us with strings or layered, Freddie Mercury-style vocals, the song gives us the feel of something orchestrated with, in fact, a minimal number of instruments, skillfully but informally played—the music has the air of something that everyone maybe just finished rehearsing half a moment before they sat down to record. Keep an ear out too for the backing vocals, sung with fine slapdash charm. “Saturday Night” is a song from the band’s self-released, self-titled debut CD, which came out way back in March, but only recently came to the attention of the hard-working mail sorters in the Fingertips home office.

“Truck” – the Octopus Project

Indefatigable and gleeful instrumental pop from one of the indie world’s most beloved and quirky outfits. (Note that it is difficult if not impossible to achieve beloved status in the indie world without quirkiness.) As noted the previous times the Octopus Project has graced the pages of this web site (a TWF pick in ’05), this Austin-based quartet has an almost magical way of converting its beepy, boopy sounds into something rich and satisfying, even to the ears of this non-instrumental-oriented listener. Here, a sprightly synthesizer comprises the not-as-simple-as-it-seems core of this fleet-footed 7/4 rave-up. As usual, the band’s uncommon ability to blend the electronic, the electric, and the percussive into an organic-sounding whole is front and center (although its endearing use of the theremin is not, unfortunately, on obvious display in this song). While the 7/4 time signature is not unheard of in pop music, the band’s ability to rock out, briskly, within this framework is ear-catching. Likewise ear-catching are the short bridge-like sections during which the 7/4 is abandoned for an even more off-kilter beat (for instance, from 0:20 to 0:31; could be 5/4, maybe, partly) before rejoining the seven-beat groove. Don’t miss the outer space version of the bridge, from 1:32 to 1:43, when the synthesizer pairs with one ringing guitar to create, somehow, a shimmering sound that almost “out-aliens” the absent theremin, before giving way to hard-bashing 7/4 craziness the rest of the way. “Truck” is a song from the CD Hello, Avalanche, the band’s third full-length disc, which was released last month on Peek-A-Boo Records.

“Falling Behind” – Dear Euphoria

Elina Johansson has a slight Sandy Denny-ish tremor in her tender, affecting voice, lending a luminous air to this song’s pervading sadness—a sadness induced by the crestfallen pace, spare setting, and broken-hearted lyrics but not, interestingly, by the actual music, which is mostly comprised of major rather than minor chords. Listen carefully and you may hear how closely the verses hang on top of one of the most familiar bass lines in the 20th-century pop songbook, the one from novice-pianist-friendly “Heart and Soul”; the chorus, meanwhile, floats us into a forlorn, asymmetrical space in which Johansson’s doubletracked voice sings a melodic line that repeats once too often while the drummer retreats, taking the assurance of a beat with him (or her). The plaintive ambiance ultimately forces an alternative interpretation of Dear Euphoria—bliss that is not sweet but, rather, costly. Born in Sweden, Johansson did not begin performing until she moved to Los Angeles for a while earlier in the decade; she “took it as a sign to return home when daily turning on the ac to max,” according to some sketchy but evocative biographical information on her web site. Dear Euphoria is not a band but the name Johansson performs under, with, sometimes, a small circle of regular side players. “Falling Behind” is a song from the self-titled debut CD, which came out last month on London-based Stereo Test Kit Records. This CD is a re-worked version of an album that was self-released, with a different title, in 2005; the new CD has subtracted two of the original songs and added four new ones (including “Falling Behind”). MP3 is via the Stereo Test Kit site.

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