This Week’s Finds: December 16-22 (Shipwreck, Club 8, Eric Matthews)

“Walk in the Woods” – Shipwreck

As Stephen Sondheim cautioned us some time ago, going into the woods is never a straightforward enterprise. Something lurks, shadows predominate, and change—not initially for the better—is always afoot. And even though the cryptic lyrics here do not describe anything overtly terrible, “Walk in the Woods” drips omen and portent, from its itchy, hihat-driven beat to Harman Jordan’s deadpan baritone to the wailing lead guitar that quite literally becomes a siren as the plot thickens.

The latent creepiness may be rooted most of all in the song’s structure, of all things. There are verses but no actual chorus—instead, there are lyrical lines that are repeated twice in succession; the first line that’s repeated this way comes back at the end, but the other two are never heard again. On the one hand, this kind of forces us to wonder if there might not be some hidden meaning in the words (or in some cases, to wonder why we still can’t quite understand the words even hearing them twice in a row)–a feeling enhanced by the mysterious phrases that are in fact discernible: “sparrows in a yellow sky,” “thunder is a lullaby,” et al. On the other hand, we are given nothing solid to hang onto. A chorus typically grounds us in a song–in “Walk in the Woods,” the ground keeps shifting. We don’t even get much melody, as the verses are almost spoken-sung. And yet, rather marvelously, we get plenty of drama, all in a swift 3:14.

Shipwreck is a quartet from Champaign, Illinois. “Walk in the Woods” was out earlier this year on a self-released EP; it has emerged again on the band’s first full-length, entitled Rabbit in the Kitchen With a New Dress On, which was released on None Records (a so-called “sub-label” of Polyvinyl Records earlier this month. MP3 via the band’s site.

“Heaven” – Club 8

Cheerful bongos and a melodic bass line propel this dreamy, resplendent slice of Swedish pop with insouciant authority. It’s hard not to like a song with bongos (or a melodic bass line, for that matter). It’s also hard not to like a song this resolutely tuneful, particularly when said tune is delivered by Karolina Komstedt, whose voice is imbued with a sublime sort of weary vibrancy that makes me hang on her every sound–and I do mean every sound, since I’m finding I’m quite enjoying, even, the way she breathes. Listen, for instance, to her potent intake of breath at 0:45, in advance of launching into the lustrous chorus, sounding as much like a sigh as a breath–I mean, how weary/vibrant is that?

Komstedt and partner Johan Angergård have been recording as Club 8 since 1995; Angergård is also in the band Acid House Kings, which may account for the leisurely pace of Club 8 albums–The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Dreaming, on which you’ll find “Heaven,” is the duo’s sixth in these 13 years. It was released in October on the marvelous Labrador Records, based in Stockholm and Malmö. MP3 courtesy of Labrador.

“Little 18” – Eric Matthews

Open on a brooding piano vamp featuring an unsettled chord or two, cue the husky-voiced crooner (“I think I sound like the rainy half of the west coast,” he says), and settle back and listen to a pop rarity: a song with a long, long, long melody line–more than 30 measures’ worth of continually developing melody, repeated twice with an instrumental break in between. This sort of melody is largely unheard of in rock songwriting, and is pretty unusual anywhere outside of classical music. (Even back in the days of so-called pop “standards,” while longer melodies were more common, they were still rarely if ever this long.)

Eric Matthews, as it turns out, is pretty unusual himself. Classically trained on the trumpet (that’s him on the horn during the break; as a matter of fact, that’s him on all the instruments), he knows his way around actual orchestral scores, while at the same time was turned on musically, in high school, by the dark sounds of the second half of the British new wave—by bands such as Tones on Tail, Echo and the Bunnymen, and the Smiths, music that would ultimately lead him to a pop rather than a classical career. Matthews definitely has the voice for it; perhaps the main reason his protracted melody is so engaging is the well-rounded depth of his singing. And yet it’s also, I think, ear-arresting to listen to a pop lyric—Matthews is here offering some hard-headed but hardly earth-shattering advice to some unnamed young woman—unfold in this uncharacteristic musical setting.

Matthews put out his first album back in 1994, while part of the duo Cardinal; two solo albums for Sub Pop Records followed in ’95 and ’97, after which he dropped out of sight until a 2005 mini-LP for Empyrean Records. A full-length followed in ’06. “Little 18” is a track from his forthcoming album, The Imagination Stage, due out in January on Empyrean, which is hosting the MP3. Thanks to Filter for the lead.

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