This Week’s Finds: April 6-12 (Jane Vain & The Dark Matter, The Old Haunts, Nik Freitas)

“C’mon Baby Say Bang Bang” – Jane Vain and the Dark Matter

I like songs that bother to lay down a full-fledged instrumental melody—i.e. when an instrument (typically a guitar, sometimes a piano, sometimes something else) plays a melody that is not the same melody the lyrics have in either a verse or in the chorus. That’s what we’re greeted with right away here (0:00-0:14); and, as a bonus, we immediately get that same melody repeated by a high, squeaky, but somehow endearing instrument that is either a high-pitched guitar or a guitar-like synthesizer and as much as I keep listening I can’t tell which it is.

That high-pitched guitar-like thing returns at 1:42, when we are shown how the opening instrumental melody weaves into the main body of the song, which turns out to be in the verse. And while, okay, this sort of thing is not the be-all and end-all of songwriting, the craft and attention it takes to do something like this speaks of a band conscientious about the musical atmosphere it seeks to create. Atmosphere does seem to be Jane Vain and the Dark Matter’s specialty, from their fanciful name to the slidey, slinky rhythm to the smoky singing of Jamie Fooks (there is in fact no “Jane Vain”) to, most of all, the subtle dynamism of the musical landscape which unfolds along the way here. While the word “atmospheric” in music writing refers typically to spacey washes of psychedelia or shoegaze, these guys create atmosphere in a solider, truer sense of the word, via rhythm and harmony and texture and variety and a most satisfying, if somewhat dreamlike, acuity. The violin that adds some nifty drama between 2:55 and 3:05 had actually sneaked on the scene back around 2:20, without fanfare, and fades away afterwards without a trace. This is that kind of song.

Jane Vain and the Dark Matter are a quartet from Calgary. “C’mon Baby Say Bang Bang” is from the band’s debut CD, Love Is Where the Smoke Is, which was released in January.

“Volatile” – the Old Haunts

CBGBs may be dead and gone, but here’s a trio from Olympia, Washington that has at least one foot firmly planted in 1977. Combining the pretty-yet-prickly guitar lines of Television with the earnest-yet-comic punk drive of the Ramones, “Volatile” seems simultaneously well-crafted and slapped together, if such a thing is possible. What attracts me most about the song is its offhandedly industrious character: the band just keeps on plugging away, twiddly guitar leading the way, creating the most wonderful, busy-sounding thereness in the background that actually seems more the heart of the song, in a way, than do the melody and lyrics. This sensation is reinforced by the lyrics themselves, which aren’t really about very much other than the narrator assuring us that he’s “volatile,” and literally spelling it out to be sure we understand.

The stringy, nasally vocal stylings of singer/guitarist Craig Extine bring Tom Verlaine directly to mind, accentuating the Television-like sensibility; the fact that this anxious-sounding character, so clear about his emotional turbulence, bothers both to spell the word he’s singing (a concept usually reserved for more positive attributes like r-e-s-p-e-c-t and l-o-v-e) and take lovely little “ah-ah-ah” breaks in his singing is both charming and, basically, funny. The trio also includes drummer Tobi Vail, ex- of Bikini Kill, the pioneering ’90s “riot grrl” outfit. “Volatile” is a song off the band’s new CD, Poisonous Times, coming out this week on Kill Rock Stars. MP3 via Kill Rock Stars, which is in fact the name of a record company, if you were wondering.

“Sun Down” – Nik Freitas

From Kill Rock Stars to Team Love we go—Team Love being another unlikely record company name, pointing in the opposite direction, and co-founded by Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes). With its delicate but determined chug and wistful vocalizing, “Sun Down” is the sort of brisk, contemplative guitar and piano piece that you would have heard back on a Paul Simon record in the ’70s. Check out that evocative electric guitar he’s using—listen at 1:41 in particular; now that’s just a wonderful, decades-old sound you don’t hear much on a ’00s indie-rock platter (and I don’t guess I should be calling it a “platter” but that’s how nostalgic the sound is). This song offers pleasures which are so low-key they might have slipped right past me were it not for the song’s eminently pleasing center of gravity—I won’t call it a hook because it’s not quite that, but the way the melody takes that three-note ascent at the end of the verse (first heard at 0:24) is the kind of beautiful, slightly unexpected songwriting touch that goes a long way towards nailing an entire song into place.

“Sun Down” is the title track from Freitas’s forthcoming CD, his fourth, and his first for Team Love. Freitas–one-time staff photographer for Thrasher magazine–recorded the CD pretty much on his own, in a studio he pretty much built himself in a shed in his Los Angeles backyard. It’s slated to hit the streets next month. MP3 via Team Love.

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