Does the inexorable sound shift that’s been made right before our eyes and ears on the pop music front in the 2010s render music that feels more organic, hand-made, and melodically inclined entirely obsolete by this oh-so-futuristic year of 2014? On the one hand, rock’n’roll does seem really most sincerely dead in many different quarters here in the mid-’10s, replaced in the hearts and minds of today’s mainstream by sounds far more polished and formulaic and beat-driven. On the other hand, against all odds, plenty of organic, hand-made, and melodically inclined music is in fact still being created and recorded and not just by the oldsters of my generation but by good-hearted folks in their 20s and 30s as well.
A marvelous case in point is the off-kilter, Randy-Newman-meets-Tom-Waits jaunt of “Cold Chicago Morning,” from the British singer/songwriter/artist/filmmaker Oly Ralfe, who performs as Ralfe Band. The opposite of glossy and beat-driven, “Cold Chicago Morning” is launched by a clever, extended piano melody that mixes time signatures and advances unexpected chords even as it keeps your head bobbing nicely along. Ralfe sings with a smoother croon than his older progenitors, while still conveying a scuffed-up sensibility. Stick around (why wouldn’t you?) and see how the piano returns (first at 1:27) to deliver the song’s singular musical moment: an ear-catching line that ascends up a non-traditional scale only to tumble back, as if down a staircase. Calling upon neither gimmickry nor condescension, the music, while not necessarily Beatle-esque, is positively Beatle-like in its straightforward inventiveness.