This Week’s Finds: May 18-24 (The Catalysts, Soltero, and Langhorne Slim)

“Goes On Forever” – the Catalysts

Anchored by a shimmering guitar-and-harmonica sound that will take you back to the ’60s even if you were never actually there, “Goes On Forever” is one part pure breeze, one part bittersweet homage to times gone by. The relentless good nature of the solid backbeat and genial melody is counteracted by enough suspended chords in the chorus to give you the impression of clouds passing in front of the sun. The words tumble out in a sort of Dylanesque swirl; some of the ones that I can catch do in fact, either coincidentally or not, appear to refer to music from the ’60s and ’70s (“I’m a Believer,” “It’s a Beautiful Day,” and the way the title phrase comes right after the word “dream,” which calls the old Todd Rundgren song to mind).

The Catalysts is a band name, but there’s really no band at this point—just a guy named Ulric Kennedy, from Glasgow, with a history in a number of independent bands dating back to the late ’80s. Kennedy is a bass player by trade, and he lays down a particularly interesting bass line here—listen closely and you’ll hear how he plays bass more like a lead instrument than a bit player in the rhythm section: not only is the bass given the melodic lick that drives the entire song, but Kennedy also plays sustained notes that frequently drop the bass out of the rhythm altogether. It’s not the kind of thing your ear is supposed to notice consciously, but it does add subtle sonic interest to the song as it develops. And don’t miss the fake fade-out—not subtle at all, but mysteriously alluring nonetheless.

Kennedy is getting the Cloudberry Records treatment for this new Catalysts release: a three-inch CD-R three-song single, released in a hand-numbered batch of 100; “Goes On Forever” is one of the two “b-side” songs on the “Autumn Everywhere” single, due out next month. MP3 courtesy of Cloudberry.

“Out at the Wall” – Soltero

This song has an unexpectedly spacious presence for something so relatively quiet and contemplative, thanks in part to the in-the-distance production effects, which include a hammering, machine-like noise, an electronic surf sound, the whistle of a ghost train, and echoey, drop-like percussion accents, with some mysterious tinkly sounds thrown in for good measure. And it’s not just the sounds themselves that create the space, it’s the fact that these sounds are dropped behind the tidy pulse of an acoustic guitar. Note too how the reverb that Tim Howard uses on his voice feels somehow crisper than the often muddy wash of reverb we tend to hear in indie-land in this day and age; while muddy reverb veers sonically towards both the claustrophobic and the impersonal, what Howard does here feels open and vulnerable.

Quiet, contemplative songs also don’t tend to move along in this brisk and shuffly sort of way, which is another juxtaposition that enriches the vibe. Then we get that part of the song in which Howard unleashes his upper register, at which point the guitar pretty much drops out and it’s all the echoey ghostly carryings-on in the background. Cool stuff.

And the theme this week so far, unintentionally, is bands that aren’t bands, since Soltero this time around is pretty much a solo effort for Tim Howard (over the years, Soltero has sometimes been a band and sometimes not; Howard’s previous appearance on Fingertips back in ’04 was also a solo affair). “Out at the Wall” is a song from the new Soltero CD, You’re No Dream, being released this week on the Pennsylvania-based label La Société Expéditionnaire. MP3 via the label’s site.

“Rebel Side of Heaven” – Langhorne Slim

I have a soft spot for songs that start off the tonic chord–that is, songs that open on a chord that feels obviously not the song’s home base. I’m never sure how we even know this so quickly but we do. Listen to the first three or four seconds of “Rebel Side of Heaven” and you’ll hear it yourself, and then enjoy the way the song slides itself into the tonic, then—oops—out again, before settling in at 0:12, just before the singing starts.

And what singing! Langhorne Slim (nee Sean Scolnick, who grew up in Langhorne, Pennsylvania) has a high-pitched warble that manages still to be warm and approachable, kind of like if Jeff Tweedy were singing with Neil Young’s voice. With its good-natured swagger and great horn charts, the song is a rollicking good time, but unlike the vast majority of rollicking-good-time rock songs, it’s neither uncomfortably dumb nor way too long. The lyrics, in fact, are not only idiosyncratic and engaging, but feature at their heart what strikes me as a novel idea (“And though we have sinned all of our lives/We ain’t going to hell/Well we’re going to the rebel side of heaven.” Whether he got it from something he read or made it up himself, it beats the pants off the lyrics to most good-timey songs in the rock canon.

“Rebel Side of Heaven” is from the debut, self-titled Langhorne Slim full-length, released last month on Kemado Records. MP3 via Kemado.

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