This Week’s Finds: February 24-March 1 (Batteries, 13ghosts, Monade)

“Childproof” – Batteries

Slinky, dark, and peculiarly catchy, “Childproof” sparks such conflicting retro vibes in my music memory that I couldn’t immediately figure out what it was reminding me of—usually a sign that the influences are being integrated into something fresh and tasty. So I hung in there, kept listening, and sure enough some seductively—and chronologically—divergent sonic elements revealed themselves to my dissecting ear: there’s a ’60s garage rock feel to the guitar sound, yet also something spiky and Television-like (late ’70s); there’s a Doors-like organ (’60s again) and a Morphine-like saxophone (hmm: ’90s); and then there’s a lead singer (one Dave Frankenfeld) with a shivery, nasally, talky croon that sounds something like Stephen Malkmus (still current) trying to sing lead for a mid-’70s Steely Dan album. While somewhat recognizable when teased apart this way, the cool thing is how briskly and matter-of-factly “Childproof” weaves them together.

And what about that recurring “hide your eyes”/”hide and hide” part? That has a mysterious appeal to me in a this-is-really-familiar-but-not-quite sort of way that sometimes happens with new songs that stick in my head. When I first heard this song, in fact, I actually had to check to see if it was a cover version of an older song, such déjà vu was I experiencing. For all I know, this part in particular does come straight out of some older song but for the life of me I can’t place it. (Feel free to let me know if you know what I thought I was thinking of.)

A five-piece whose members come from the north country of Minnesota and Wisconsin, Batteries put out a debut CD late last year entitled That Great Grandsuck of the Sea—and no, I don’t know what that means, either. “Childproof” is third song on the album, which was self-released.

“Beyond the Door” – 13ghosts

Phased, psychedelic vocals mixed with crisp, George Harrison-y rhythm guitar give this one an immediate trippiness that might seem mere affect were it not for the terrific melody lurking at the heart of the chorus. For all its sonic largeness, “Beyond the Door” all but shimmers with focus and restraint. I like, for instance, how the chorus, when we first hear it, is delivered (0:29) as the instrumental accompaniment pulls back, everything seemingly run through the same distortion the vocals are undergoing. So we don’t actually receive the full effect of that great melody the first time it arrives–we hear it, but we don’t really hear it. This is a most excellent songwriting trick but it only works with an excellent song. (“Beyond the Door” qualifies without reservation.) And so, you see, when the chorus returns (1:12), its full power hits us all the harder. Note that the band still throws us a bit of a curveball—listen to that guitar line that drones through the first half of the melody in the chorus and feel the extra depth that dissonance can bring to music, at least when we’re in the hands of talented musicians. (Otherwise, alas, it may simply be noise.)

13ghosts, from Birmingham, Alabama, is one of those fortunate bands that contain two strong singer/songwriters–in this case, Brad Armstrong (who sang the last time Fingertips featured the band) and Buzz Russell. Russell is out front this time around, and his interest in swirly, spacey aural space is paired, happily, with unusually sharp pop chops. Normally, folks who want to take us on a space ride forget to give us something to sing along with. Russell, however, has melody, nice chord changes, and smiley-harmonies pouring right out of him here, all in the service of a song about death, and the possibility of life thereafter. The gracefully modulating “oohs” that you hear after the chorus, by the way, were, according to Russell, “supposed to create the effect of taking a Xanax or something to ease the anxiety”–the anxiety of facing the possibility of an afterlife, he says.

“Beyond the Door” is a song from the band’s forthcoming CD, The Strangest Colored Lights, to be released next month on Birmingham-based Skybucket Records.

“Regarde” – Monade

Bordeaux-based multi-instrumentalist Lætitia Sadier, one half of the band Stereolab, has had her own side project going now for the better part of the last decade (Stereolab, a “post-rock” pioneer, has been around since 1990). She calls it Monade in part for a concept taken from 20th-century Greek philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis, referring to the undifferentiated psyche (before the id, ego, and superego break apart), and also for how it is rooted in the word “mono,” which in turn is related to the word “stereo,” and thus neatly implies her working on her own, apart from her more well-known band. And right away, if nothing else, I appreciate the depth of a European education.

As for the music, the suave yet playful “Regarde” launches off an alternating minor/major chord motif, and unfolds as a kind of cool, Euro-march for the lounge crowd, driven by Sadier’s husky, Chrissie Hynde-meets-Brigitte Bardot voice (and yes, sports fans, Chrissie Hynde did in fact mention Brigitte Bardot in a song once; small world!). Plus, there’s a trombone, which is apparently one of Sadier’s main instruments. Halfway through, the song abruptly slows to a slumberous waltz (1:50), begins to pick up speed and orchestral drama (2:40), then melts precipitately back into the original tempo and rhythm (3:01) in a manner at once awkward and—I have no idea why—exceedingly charming. Don’t miss it.

“Regarde” is from Monade’s third album, Monstre Cosmic, which was released last week on Too Pure Records. MP3 via Pitchfork.

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