This Week’s Finds: Feb. 3-9 (Interiors, Dawn Landes, The Loved Ones)

“Power Lines” – the Interiors

I can’t make out what they’re singing about, and the title doesn’t necessarily imply a fun time, but the music is extremely good-natured, in an early Talking Heads-ish sort of way–the stuttering drumbeat, creative bass playing, swooping melody lines, and singer/guitarist Chase Duncan’s amiable, wide-mouthed vocal style (sounding quite a bit like Dave Matthews doing a David Byrne imitation) all contributing to that sensation. One of the things that I think makes the rhythm here so ear-catching is the dynamic interplay in the rhythm section: listen in the introduction and the verse to the stark difference between the steady, clockwork bass and the changeable drum pattern. Interestingly, the bass breaking free of its strict pulse is more or less what creates the chorus, as the melody itself does not alter that much.

On guitar, Duncan adds a handsome depth to the chuggy ambiance, with rounded, semi-drone-like tones and ringing arpeggios. No doubt he’s very happy to be doing all this, after a freak accident last year required the amputation of a fingertip. (Of all things.) This happened the day after the Chicago-based trio had signed with the record label 54°40′ or Fight. The band had to take most of last year off while Duncan, thankfully, recuperated. Their self-titled label debut is slated for an April release. MP3 courtesy of the band’s site.

“Bodyguard” – Dawn Landes

“Sultry” and “banjo” are two words not normally encountered within the same sentence. But Dawn Landes, the Louisville-born, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter, is one those 21st-century musicians who appears comfortable juxtaposing sounds, vibes, and emotions–while happily emerging with a firm voice of her own, rather than a pointless mashup. (Not all 21st-century musicians are as fortunate. Just saying.) So here, then, we get a minimalist groove, some almost trip-hoppy but organic aural space, Landes’ pretty yet matter-of-fact voice (a disarming blend of deadpan and sultry), and yes, somehow, too, a banjo.

Anchored by its deep, unhurried bass line, “Bodyguard” unfolds in its own world, both musically–beyond the banjo, don’t miss the sleighbells in the distance–and lyrically: “I had a dream that we were robbed/They took the moldings off the walls/Erased our signatures from things.” Those are remarkable opening lines, I think, for their concrete, casual leap into the surreal, beautifully served by a melody spanning a full octave. Landes here is mining an actual, terrible real-life incident (not an intentional theme, this week, honest!): her apartment was in fact broken into, and they took her stuff (though not, I imagine, the moldings), including her laptop and hard drive, which at the time contained the only copy she had of her entire new album, then ready for production. Gone and not coming back. She didn’t try to re-create it; “I just started over from scratch,” she has said. “I wrote ‘Bodyguard’ in the kitchen while waiting for the police to show up.” I hear something of the incomparable Jane Siberry both in Landes’ vocal presentation (Sib fans note her abrupt “Where’ve you been?” at 3:22) and in something inscrutable residing deep down in this strange but hypnotic song.

“Bodyguard” is from the CD Fireproof, which was recorded live in a single day in an old fire station in Brooklyn. The album will be released next month on Cooking Vinyl; MP3 via Cooking Vinyl USA.

“Sarah’s Game” – the Loved Ones

Musical genres are a funny thing. As labels, some are very broad and more or less indispensible–say, blues or jazz or reggae–in that they clearly describe a distinct universe of music, while leaving lots of room for variation. Many others make an effort to slice and dice music into narrower and narrower sub-universes (jangle pop, anyone? folktronica?), with the unfortunate end result of implying many more boundaries than there need be, especially within the broad, theoretically embracing kingdom of rock’n’roll. (To me, the only sensible boundary to make is between good music and bad music, but we’ll leave that for another time.)

I bring this up because the Loved Ones, a quartet from Philadelphia, are supposedly a punk rock band on a punk rock record label. The band’s previous releases, a 2004 EP and a 2006 full-length, were hailed as fine punk rock by people to whom such things matter. Punk rock, it turns out, is a genre particularly resistant to boundary crossing. Punk rock fans often start to get suspicious if the music gets too “catchy” or “melodic” (which is exactly, by the way, when it starts becoming actual music rather than unprocessed noise, but we’ll leave that for another time also). So I don’t know what the punk rock purists will make of “Sarah’s Game,” but to me, this is a great listen: simultaneously harsh and focused, passionate and engaging, with a powerful melody, nicely crafted lyrics (note the internal rhymes), careful musicianship (the two guitars work impressively together), and even a harmony or two. God forbid!

“Sarah’s Game” is from the CD Build & Burn, which comes out this week on Fat Wreck Chords. MP3 via Fat Wreck Chords.

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