“The New Year” – Death Cab for Cutie
The “inside joke” name (it comes from an old Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band song) implies a much harsher, more nihilistic sound than this earnest, yearning band has, by a long shot. Front man Ben Gibbard’s refreshingly pure pop voice is a wonderful antidote for anyone whose ears have been pummeled by one David Matthews sound-alike too many set loose on the marketplace over the last few years. This one’s alternative without being weird, thoughtful without being morose, and catchy in an offhand but assured way. “The New Year” comes from the band’s new CD, Transatlanticism.
“Bessie Smith” – Norah Jones
Some artists use MP3s largely for live performances, which is great if you’re already a fan but less useful if you’re trying to get a feel for a song or album. On the other hand, for musicians who do interesting covers, live MP3s offer a potential wealth of worthy material. I don’t know which I like more, Jones’ performance here on this old nugget from the Band’s catalog, or the fact that she thought to sing it in the first place. Okay, there’s no out-doing the original, with Rick Danko’s evocative falsetto harmonies and Garth Hudson’s noodly organ-playing, but I always like when someone rescues a good song from oblivion, so I’ll take Norah gladly.
“Linoleum” – Tweaker (featuring David Sylvian)
Tweaker is the name that drummer Chris Vrenna is performing under since leaving the band Nine Inch Nails. This song is a beepy-boopy-crunchy sort of thing, brought alive by David Sylvian’s rich, atmospheric singing. (One-time leader of the group Japan, Sylvian himself is a hidden rock’n’roll treasure who does not surface often enough.) This song comes from the 2001 album The Attraction to All Things Uncertain, which is largely instrumental (Vrenna doesn’t sing, but uses guest vocalists when he needs them). I’m not sure if his industrial-meets-electronica sound is up my alley, but “Linoleum” is a cool little find, putting me back in the mind of 1981, for its Bowie-meets-Ultravox vibe.