This Week’s Finds: Dec. 5-11 (Gina Villalobos, Dealership, Jane Siberry)

“Why” – Gina Villalobos

Every now and then someone new comes along doing something not-very-new so sparklingly well that it seems new all over again. Operating in the well-worn roots/Americana corner of the rock’n’roll world, Gina Villalobos invites a “usual suspects” list of comparisons–in her case, Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams seem to be the first names out of everyone’s mouths–but I find her closest to the wondrous Kathleen Edwards, both in her rasp-inflected, emotive voice and in her capacity to channel some older and deeper rock’n’roll forces (think Neil Young in particular) and give them new life and force in the new century. From the minor key Tom Petty-ness of the intro, “Why” drives ahead with an authoritative stutter in the drum beat and a brilliant confluence and melody and voice in the second half of the verse: when she sings the phrase “If I can talk to what I see in the ceiling,” my goodness. Listen to the second syllable of the word “ceiling” and see if your heart doesn’t melt just a little. I won’t try to describe it. The song is the third track on Villalobos’ second CD, Rock’n’Roll Pony, released in June on the Kick Music label. The MP3 is one of six available on her web site, and all of them are good, including a satisfying cover of the old World Party nugget, “Put the Message in the Box.”

“Forest” – Dealership

A certain sort of confidence is required to open a song with the line “Let’s go, and I’ll play all my songs,” but singer Chris Groves has such a sweet-sailing voice that he has me right there–I’m thinking, sure, go ahead, play away. A do-it-yourself style trio from San Francisco, Dealership transcends its indie trappings through gorgeous melodicism and songwriting aplomb. The song is propelled by the juxtaposition of a jittery/infectious guitar line against a bell-like (and inexpensive-sounding) keyboard underneath a melody that cascades on itself, like noiseless fireworks arcing pattern upon pattern. When Groves arrives at the chorus, singing, “An electronic forest, a pixelated version” and then whatever he sings next (I can’t decipher the words at that point), we are in a certain sort of pop heaven. That guitarist Miyuki Jane Pinckard adds some solid yet airy (go figure) harmonies to the proceedings only adds to the feeling of being transported somewhere quite lovely, if a little bittersweet. I like how the band doesn’t waste the last minute of the song (which is when a lot of songs go into automatic pilot): listen to the edge Groves’ voice acquires at around the 2:15 point, and then feel the band pull the energy back at around 2:30 only to kick into a punched-up sprint to the finish at 2:50 or so. It’s all pretty subtle but I tend to like subtle. “Forest” is from the CD Action/Adventure, the band’s third, released in August on Turn Records; the MP3 can be found on the band’s web site.

“Hockey” – Jane Siberry

Anyone missing the hockey season yet? Well, in any case, it’s past time to get some Jane Siberry up here on Fingertips. For those unfamiliar with the work of the magical mystical Ms. Siberry, this song at least hints, in lots of small and idiosyncratic ways, at her deep and abiding allure. It’s all about childhood in-the-dying-light-of-late-afternoon-on-the-river hockey games, and Siberry’s earthy poetry evokes the scene beautifully, not just pictorially–“You skate as fast as you can ’til you hit the snowbank (that’s how you stop)”– but logistically: the song turns in part on the idea of how the game would wind down as more and more kids are called in for dinner, a subtle (that again) and masterful touch. I’m particularly enchanted by characteristic Siberry lyrical asides; I’ve never seen anyone else write lyrics like this and probably never will: “He’ll have that scar on his chin forever someday his girlfriend will say hey where…/He might look out the window…or not.” “Hockey” originally appeared on her 1989 album Bound by the Beauty; this is a slightly re-mixed version, with dog barks introduced to remove a potentially offending (but actually quite charming in context) word. You’ll find the MP3 on her self-owned record company web site.

This Week’s Finds: Nov. 28-Dec. 4 (David Byrne, Greta Gertler, Trembling Blue Stars)

Free and legal MP3s this week from David Byrne, Greta Gertler, and the Trembling Blue Stars.

“My Fair Lady” – David Byrne

There’s an almost Baroque stateliness to this churning little ditty from the estimable Mr. Byrne. While probably not a classic addition to the Byrne oeuvre (the subject matter–entrancing woman in a magazine–seems tired by now), this contribution to Wired Magazine’s Rip. Sample. Mash. Share. project has its charms, beginning with the former Talking Heads leader’s inscrutably ingratiating voice. I mean, there’s nothing about this somewhat whiny, high-pitched, more than a little nasally voice that should engage us, and yet I find above all it’s always his voice that draws me in, through all his incarnations over lo these many years. For a geeky, intellectual sort of guy he’s proven himself to be a fearless singer; maybe that’s what lends such deep appeal to the Byrne vibe. If nothing else, don’t miss the grunt at 2:38–it’s perfect. I’m also getting a kick out of how Byrne bleeds his voice directly into the synthesizer at the end. And hey there are one or two more well-delivered grunts in the last few seconds too.

“Away” – Greta Gertler & Peccadillo

The beginning of this song sounds interestingly slidey and sloppy, like a small orchestra warming up, but keep the piano’s off-kilter theme in mind–it returns very effectively later. The intro gives way to a stripped-down, beat-driven verse, followed by a simple chorus sung over an oscillating violin line, at which point this so-called “chamber pop band” (an unusual combination of strings and winds, plus Gertler’s piano and some percussion) kicks in to flesh the song out with a wonderful assortment of organic flourishes. (Check out the great, punctuating sound at the two-minute mark–I think one of the stringed instruments does that, but which one? and how?). Combining a crystalline sort of yearning quality to her voice (think Lisa Loeb) with a knack for layered vocals and striking instrumentation (think Kirsty MacColl), Gertler packs a lot into a three and a half minute pop song. While the melody is relatively modest, the package is assured and engaging; when the opening theme returns about two and a half minutes into the proceedings–that wonderful, lop-sided piano theme augmented by all sorts of knowing squeaks and squiggles from the band–I’m won over for good. “Away” comes from a brand new album, Nervous Breakthroughs, that was begun way back in 1998 but was only recently finished. The MP3 can be found on Gertler’s web site.

“Helen Reddy” – Trembling Blue Stars

Naming a song after a singer seems a particularly fetching thing to me. For all I know this stems from my lasting devotion to the Replacements’ “Alex Chilton” (one of the mysteriously great rock songs of all time), but what the heck, the world is full of strange and wonderful inter-connections. In any case, “Helen Reddy” is its own kind of good. Driven by singer Beth Arzy’s simultaneously warm-yet-distant vocals, the song succeeds in evoking the evanescent nostalgia of listening to distant radio stations at night as a child; the way certain lyrics spring forward clearly (“These nights are made for sleeping”) while others recede into the blurry aural landscape accentuates the mood and subject matter. The soft but steady beat, the subtle buzz of vague keyboard noise, and Arzy’s Georgia Hubley-ish voice all bring Yo La Tengo to mind, but there’s an airy warmth here that’s different from that band’s murkier sort of reserve. “Helen Reddy” is the lead track on the band’s latest CD, Seven Autumn Flowers, released on Elefant Records in Europe and, apparently, on Bar/None Records here in October, although the Bar/None web site still doesn’t list it anywhere. The MP3 can be found on the Elefant Records site.

This Week’s Finds: Nov. 21-27 (One Star Hotel, Stirling, Ephemera)

“Can’t Be Trusted” – One Star Hotel

At once bouncy and earnest, good-natured and serious, “Can’t Be Trusted” takes a timeless Allman Brothers rhythm and infuses it with a Wilco-informed indie-Americana spirit. Singer Steve Yutzy-Burkey (also the band’s guitarist and songwriter) has a comfortable, Tweedy-ish throatiness to his voice and an equally Tweedy-ish way of writing subtle and agreeable twists into his songs. In fact, for Wilco fans a bit befuddled by the band’s tendency to deconstruct its songs over the last two CDs, One Star Hotel may come as a comfy aural balm–Wilco without the weirdness. But this Philadelphia-based quartet has a lot more going for it than mimickry. I like the way the main melodic phrase extends into a third measure, turning upward in a way that pulls you into the center of the song. Listen also for some extra sonic treats–twinkly synthesizer flourishes, controlled use of feedback, and, I think, a touch of harmonica buried into the texture as well. “Can’t Be Trusted” can be found on the band’s new CD Good Morning, West Gordon, to be released tomorrow on Stereo Field Recordings. This is One Star Hotel’s first full-length CD; their one previous recording was a self-titled EP released last year. The MP3 can be found on

“Côte D’Azur” – Stirling

With no free and legal MP3s to be had from the new U2 CD, this one just might serve as an admirable substitute. Stirling is a band from Edmonton, relocated to Toronto, with a flair for Bono-like drama and Edge-like guitar riffs. This is the kind of song that walks the fine line between tension and bombast, but I think the bombast is held at bay by the concise, siren-like guitar line, the satisfying chord changes, and the fact that the whole thing drives by in three minutes. Never underestimate the power of keeping things short; had the band dragged this out to five minutes (the urge to do this is apparently compelling), I think my interest would have waned. Instead I find myself taken in by the urgent melodrama of it all. The song is the lead track on Stirling’s debut CD, Northern Light, released in June in Canada; the MP3 is on the band’s web site.

“Saddest Day” – Ephemera

A three-woman Norwegian band channeling Astrud Gilberto via Frente–yes, the world can be a wonderful place when we all just mingle together peacefully and see what happens. Bright, silvery, and airy, “Saddest Day” is that sweetest of pop confections: a sad song wrapped in an upbeat package. Stars in their native country (they received the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy earlier this year), Ephemera have released four CDs to date; this spring, a compilation disc called Score was released for the U.S. market. Not yet out of their 20s, Ephemera has nevertheless been together for 10 years now. “Saddest Day” was originally from the band’s 2000 CD, Sun, which was their second; it is also found on a CD called Score, a compilation released for the U.S. market this past spring. The MP3 is on the band’s web site. Thanks to visitor Jeff for the head’s up.

This Week’s Finds: Nov. 14-20 (S, Rilo Kiley, Bloc Party)

“Falling” – S

Combining a crackling edginess with a wash of electronica mystery, “Falling” feels like how the Sundays would sound with a bit too much caffeine in their system. While neither the itchy-bass-line-driven verse on the one hand nor the more expansive, open-chorded not-quite-a-chorus chorus might stand out on their own, they work niftily against each other to create more sonic drama than often contained in a mere four minutes. The effect is augmented through some distinctive electronic stitches between sections. S is the internet-unfriendly name (Google it and you’ll get more than 1 billion results) that Seattle’s Jenn Ghetto has been recording under since the late ’90s; “Falling” can be found on her new CD, Puking and Crying, released in September on Suicide Squeeze Records. The MP3 is from the Suicide Squeeze web site.

“With Arms Outstretched” – Rilo Kiley

Far more charming than any relatively straightforward steel-guitar-laced strummer has a right to be. Whereas last week we heard the Geraldine Fibbers cross indie rock with country to explore some raw and prickly territory, this week note how Rilo Kiley mixes the same genres like they want to be your best friend, and, on top of that, they know that you want them to be too. To my ears, no small amount of Rilo Kiley’s appeal–beyond intelligent songwriting and smart production skills–lies in singer/guitarist Jenny Lewis’s disarmingly direct vocal style. What can I say? I do, I want her to be my best friend. At once familiar and fresh, “With Arms Outstretched” features a leisurely and timeless-seeming melody; when Lewis is joined about two minutes in by a chorus of ragged male voices (including Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst), that does it. It’s all just too charming. The song comes from the band’s second CD, The Execution of All Things, which was released in 2001 on Saddle Creek Records; the MP3 is on the Saddle Creek site. Their third and most recent CD, More Adventurous, was recently released on Barsuk Records (go the band’s web site and you can hear it in its entirety).

“The Answer” – Bloc Party

Cross the Strokes with Joy Division, add a touch of the Jam for flavoring, and here you are. I’m not sure what they’re singing about, but you don’t have to know to know; the energy is exquisitely charged, the whole burbling thing about to blow. But wow: listen to the chords they take you through in the chorus, about a minute-twenty into the song, and the lyrics with which they take you there: “Grown in a parental fugue/Weight loss in self respect/Bomb, bomb, bomb us back together/A new way into a lost answer.” Like I said, I have no idea what they’re singing about. But my goodness they’re singing about something, aren’t they? I am encouraged to no end by a new generation of bands out there who seem to be moving intelligently into the future by being aware of the past, both musically and otherwise. Here’s what the band members themselves say, on their web site: “Suffice to say there would be no band without the efforts of guitar bands formed in British and American towns in the 70s, 80s and 90s, as well as visionary writers and artists of various kinds whose work has informed the world and culture itself as it stands.” “The Answer” comes from the band’s self-titled debut EP, released in September on Dim Mak Records. The MP3 can be found on the band’s web site.

This Week’s Finds: Nov. 7-13 (Super Furry Animals, The Geraldine Fibbers, The Brotherkite

“Ysbeidiau Heulog” – Super Furry Animals

I don’t know about you, but me, after last week, I think I really need to listen to some rock’n’roll sung in Welsh. Good thing those wacky neo-psychsters Super Furry Animals are up to the task. “Ysbeidiau Heulog” (which translates as “Sunny Intervals”) was the lone single off the band’s all-Welsh Mwng, a CD released in 2000 on Placid Casual Records. As the band itself notes, “this one went right over the heads of the chart organisation.” I find the whole thing sort of endearing–the goofy ELO-meets-Moby-at-the-cartoons vibe, the earnest cheerfulness of the incomprehensible lyrics, and, to top it all off, the translation (“I must say that we had some/Sunny Intervals, Sunny Intervals/But on the whole it was rather cloudy…”). Super Furry Animals were formed in Cardiff in 1993, and it should be noted that Mwng was not the band’s first all-Welsh effort; their debut EP–Lianfairpwllgywgyllgoger Chwymdrobwlltysiliogoygoyocynygofod (In Space)–was also sung entirely in Welsh, as was their second EP, the somewhat easier to pronounce Moog Droog. The “Ysbeidiau Heulog” MP3 can be found on an adjunct site to the band’s main web site.

“Lily Belle” – the Geraldine Fibbers

Last week also prompts a deep desire to listen to music from, oh, let’s say, the mid-’90s–back when men were men, women were women, and presidents felt our pain rather than created it. And this song really puts you through the paces, which feels necessary this week, from its mournful, viola-driven introduction through its cathartic burst of rage later on. Singer Carla Bozulich is almost scarily unrestrained, her depth-laced voice alternating between a duskier version of Tanya Donelly and full-throttled Patti Smith-ish-ness (she more or less out-Pattis Patti before this one is done). The Geraldine Fibbers played their singular brand of country-folk-punk, or some such thing, through three ’90s CDs. “Lily Belle” was the lead track on the band’s 1995 debut, Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home. I know the feeling. The MP3 can be found on Carla Bozluich’s web site, along with a nice assortment of others from both the Geraldine Fibbers and other Bozulich projects. Thanks to the good folks at 3hive for the head’s up on this one.

“The Music Box” – Thebrotherkite

And now this muscular sort of power pop with a side order of noise is just the thing to nudge me back to life as we know it. Bristling with spirit and know-how, “The Music Box” rises far above typical indie-rock offerings through Thebrotherkite’s songwriting wherewithal. After an introduction featuring a driving beat and ringing guitar theme, the song veers to the left as both the key and the time signature shift; the effect is at once unexpected and completely satisfying. The song holds its center around the tension between 6/4 and 4/4 measures, linked by a resonant melody (okay, so it’s “Evergreen”) and the recurrence of the opening guitar theme at crucial moments. Thebrotherkite is a five-piece band from Providence; what little press they’ve received so far relentlessly places them in the so-called “shoegaze” genre (one of the less wonderful coinages of recent decades, I’d say), but the band members have eclectic tastes and display an admirable sense of pre-’90s musical tradition. (For the record, I really don’t think as many bands are influenced by My Bloody Valentine as internet music writers seem to believe.) “The Music Box” comes from Thebrotherkite’s self-titled debut CD, released this summer on the Sacramento-based Clairecords. The MP3 is available on the band’s web site.

This Week’s Finds: Oct. 31-Nov. 6 (Chris Stamey/Yo La Tengo, Mull Historical Society, Pinback)

“V.O.T.E.” – Chris Stamey with Yo La Tengo
We’ll begin this week with an Election Day Public Service Announcement, courtesy of the estimable Chris Stamey and the equally estimable Yo La Tengo. “V.O.T.E.” is just a 30-second ditty, standard PSA length, and it’s as straightforward as can be: go out and vote. You can read a little more about this here. I’ve linked you to the so-called “Rockin'” version; there is also a “Fifties” version and an “Old A.M. Radio” version (follow the link in the last sentence and you’ll find those). I thank an informal group known as “Music Bloggers for Democracy” for calling my attention to this PSA and suggesting that everyone with a music blog link to it this week. If you need any more information about voting, this is a good place to start. While my own political inclination may be clear to anyone paying close attention here, let me add that this is not about who you vote for, it’s about voting. In this oh so important election, it’s crucial that the president who is elected is the actual choice of an actual majority, not the end result of low voter turnout or other circumstances that might keep voters away from the polls (or votes from being counted, for that matter). That said, back to the music…….

“The Final Arrears” – Mull Historical Society
Colin MacIntyre–doing musical business as the Mull Historical Society–is a master of the 21st-century one-man-band genre. In this day and age, creating all the music and vocals on one’s own isn’t the hard part; the hard part is making the end result listenable. To my ears, the digital sleight-of-hand utilized to become a one-man-(or woman-) band tends to shrink the space of the music, resulting in songs that sound claustrophobic within a minute or two. MacIntyre, who hails from the Isle of Mull off Scotland’s west coast (there really is a Mull Historical Society there), knows how to give us the aural equivalent of a 19th-century landscape: fertile valley, distant mountains, and more sky than seems possible to fit on a canvas. With its lush melody and gracious pacing, “The Final Arrears” succeeds most of all because the lovely touches are applied with care, always towards the goal of allowing the music to breathe and flow. As usual, this is hard to describe in words, but trust me that it’s not just about layering and layering effects. And just when we’ve heard enough, along comes a loopy orchestral break three and a half minutes in, steering the song towards an odd but engaging fade-out. “The Final Arrears” is the lead track on the Mull Historical Society’s second CD, Us (XL Recordsings/Beggars Group), released last year; the MP3 can be found on the Beggars Group U.S.A. site. A new CD called This Is Hope was released in the U.K. in July; no word yet on if it’s coming out in the U.S.

“Fortress” – Pinback
While one-man bands receive more gee-whizzy attention, there is a venerable two-man band tradition in rock’n’roll as well. This isn’t where the two guys play all the instruments, but where a band is formed around two core members (think Steely Dan), with supporting musicians shifting from album to album. Such is the history of San Diego’s Pinback, the brainchild of bassist Armistead Burwell Smith IV (honest) and multi-instrumentalist and singer Rob Crow. From the opening bass pulse and the quick drum pick-up, the song has immediate presence and energy; Crow’s pleasingly gentle vocals floating on top of the itchy and precise rhythm section help create an ambiance at once urgent and relaxed. For all of the band’s impeccable indie-rock credentials, I’d say that “Fortress” brings to mind another talented two-man band straight out of rock’s mainstream–Tears for Fears. Consider it a compliment: at their best Tears for Fears combined musical sophistication and pop know-how to great effect. When Crow heads for his upper register–particularly when repeating the words “Nobody move” about two and a half minutes in–I’m hearing “Mad World” in the back of my head. It’s a good thing. “Fortress” comes from the CD Summer in Abaddon, released this month on Touch and Go Records. The MP3 can be found on the Touch and Go web site.

“Hula Hoop” – Saratoga Park  link no longer available
I’ll admit that when I first heard the peppy-generic acoustic riff in the intro, I cringed in anticipation of a bad-local-band-nightmare sort of effort. Then an electric guitar joins in and I’m paying more attention: is it my imagination or is the electric guitar offering a discordant counterpoint to the acoustic riff? Not my imagination. Pretty cool. Then Paul Howard opens his mouth–melody spurting in all directions–and I’m hooked. Like Yo La Tengo (them again), Saratoga Park is a quirky band centered around a charmingly down-to-earth pair of husband-wife singer/songwriters who are far more accomplished than their lo-fi affinities might suggest. Be sure not to miss the electric guitar break-out around three minutes in, and how, leading back to that peppy intro, transforms it entirely into something wonderful. Here’s one local band–they’re based in Vancouver, Washington (who knew?)–that knows what they’re doing. “Hula Hoop” comes from the band’s self-released 2004 CD The Short Bus; the MP3 is available on the band’s web site.

This Week’s Finds: Oct. 24-30 (Arcade Fire, The Fauves, The New Pornographers)

“Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” – Arcade Fire

A gut-satisfying drumbeat, sleighbells, and a distinctively plucked guitar concoct a great introduction here, and that’s even before the bandoneon enters. I think this is a bandoneon; in any case, it’s a charming, plaintive accordion riff, and it goes on to form the backbone of a compelling song from an eccentric Montreal quintet. With a prominent amount of shouting and/or fuzzy-megaphone vocalizing, this song is not a smooth listen; I needed to hear it a number of times before I began to like it, so hang in there before jumping to conclusions. “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” is one of four numbered “Neighborhood” songs on the band’s Funeral album, released last month on Merge Records, to wide acclaim. I should note that the Arcade Fire’s emergence as one of the “it” bands of 2004 made me more than a little suspicious before I even heard them. I’m not normally prone to cynicism, but I mistrust pop music criticism’s flavor-of-the-month tendencies, which are prompted by fashion rather than sound. (One critic, for instance, wrote, of Arcade Fire, that “though the band utilizes nice melodies and lively arrangements, the nostalgia-steeped-indie-rock-orchestra pool was pretty much drained before the Arcade Fire dove in.” Silly! Fashion designers may feel that a certain look is “done” once it’s been too widely adopted, but musicians? An outlandish and elitist criticism. But I digress.)

“The Dirt-Bike Option” – the Fauves

Gruff but lovable guitar pop from an underappreciated Australian band. That is, in Australia they’re underappreciated; here in the U.S., they’re completely unknown. But there’s no way I for one am not going to like the heck out of a song with a sing-along chorus featuring this lyric: “Ooh, the dirt-bike option paid off/We never settled with the workers that we laid off.” The rumbly guitars balanced by spiffy harmonies in the chorus and a wonderfully cheesy organ line are further merits. Plus I am bound to be partial to a song that arose as follows: “The title came from listening to Terry [Cleaver; the bass player] bang on backstage at a gig in Bateman’s Bay about a new computer game he’d been playing; one in which he had ‘exercised the dirt-bike option’. Songs about computer games are boring so the main lyric dealt with the somewhat unrelated topic of messiah complexes and cults living in fortified compounds.” It seems poetic justic, somehow, that the world-weary, self-deprecating Fauves have now lasted longer than the early 20th-century art movement after which they named themselves. Formed in Melbourne in the late ’80s, the band scored some commercial successes in Australia in the mid-’90s, but have struggled more recently to get themselves heard–a reality implied by the name of the 2000 single (“Celebrate the Failure”) which contained “The Dirt-Bike Option” as a B-side. The MP3 is available on the band’s web site, along with a number of other enjoyable B-sides and rarities.

“Graceland” – the New Pornographers

Big and exuberant, this likable rocker showcases the New Pornographers’ enviable capacity to channel the sounds of bygone eras while still sounding fresh and catchy. “Graceland” (not the Paul Simon song) has the irrepressible drive and gleeful harmonies of, I don’t know, an old Grass Roots song maybe. Built on top of a shuffly pair of ever-irresistible four-note intervals, the whole thing brings back the early ’70s in some ineffable way. “Graceland” is posted on Insound; the song can be found on the Matador at 15 CD, which features 35 tracks spanning the 15-year history of Matador Records, released late last month.

This Week’s Finds: Oct. 17-23 (Soft, Farma, Patty Moon)

“Lucky Jam” – Soft
A brand new band from Brooklyn, Soft has emerged Athena-like, fully-formed from the head of the internet. According to the band’s John Reineck, Soft spent a year writing, rehearsing, and recording in their practice space without once playing in public or playing for anyone else at all. Not an approach that’s going to work for everyone, but I for one am enjoying the payoff in Soft’s case. It takes a certain amount of gumption and know-how to craft a compelling hook from a syncopated beat, but that’s exactly what “Lucky Jam” does from its opening notes, as a lovely, Edge-like guitar rings out against a stuttering drum beat. After that, singer Reineck barely has to open his mouth to have me completely engaged, his voice channeling a bygone time of power-pop innocence (does the band Shoes still ring a bell to anyone?) even as the musical drive feels fully of the current 21st-century moment and the band’s sophistication–for starters, listen to how guitarists Vincent Perini and Samuel Wheeler wind their instruments around one another–gives the song a subtle depth at every turn. “Lucky Jam” is posted on the band’s web site. Soft expects to have a full-length CD ready by January.

“Jody Said” – Farma  link no longer available
Here’s a beautiful, restrained, and idiosyncratic Americana-ish ballad from the formidable San Francisco quintet Farma. From a twinkly, slightly psychedelic start, “Jody Said” proceeds with great assurance over territory that would feel downright quirky if it didn’t likewise seem so familiar. The song combines the gruff delicacy of Son Volt with the jazz-inflected chord flavors of Steely Dan, fleshing out the strong melody with a lazy, soaring steel guitar and noodly keyboards. When the verse returns after an instrumental break in the middle, everything coalesces, and as the melody gets to that place where it modulates and extends beyond the frame (“I’ll be dreaming in this bar, eternally”), the enterprise levitates to that place where the effect of a song transcends the particulars of its construction. “Jody Said” will be found on the band’s self-titled EP, soon to be released on Wishing Tree Records. The MP3 is on the band’s web site.

“Second Winter” – Patty Moon
Right away the tremulous flute and drama-queen chords tell you this is borderline kitsch, and that’s even before the cinematic wash of pop-electronica sweeps in to create an eye-opening Lulu-meets-Portishead vibe. (I’ll quickly note that there’s nothing wrong with borderline kitsch; Blondie has always walked that line to great effect as well.) When Patty Moon, the singer (Patty Moon is also the name of the band; they’re from Germany) intones “I’ve been waiting all this winter for a true emotion”–gee, I hope Morrissey gets a royalty check for that line–the song defeats my resistance, winning me over on its own glorious-wacky terms: like any good pop song, it creates its own kind eternity from the forces that swirl around it here in this moment. And it will always do that. “To Sir With Love,” after all, wasn’t necessarily a great song, but it’s always listenable, and it will always evoke the British mid-’60s pop scene in a way little else will. With enough exposure (and this is not necessarily likely to get that exposure), “Second Winter” could one day evoke the mid-’00s Euro-global pop scene in a similar way. The MP3 arrives via the worthwhile German MP3 hub Tonspion; the song is on the band’s CD Clouds Inside, released this month in Europe on the Berlin-based Traumton Records.

This Week’s Finds: Oct. 10-16 (Christina Rosenvinge, High Water Marks, Folksongs for the Afterlife)

“36” – Christina Rosenvinge

Singing accented English with a sweet sort of weariness, Christina Rosenvinge muses whisperily on the strains of growing older. Against a quiet guitar lick that sounds like the Nutcracker‘s “Waltz of the Flowers” theme turned sad and lonely, “36” is a lullaby for grownups, propelled by a sing-song rhythm and an exquisitely intimate accompaniment; I particularly love the desolate, distant, slightly dissonant background tones between verses, embodying time’s doleful passage. The song comes from the Madrid-born Rosenvinge’s second English-language CD, Foreign Land, released two years ago in Europe and slated for a U.S. release on Smells Like Records “soon,” according to the SLR web site. Her first CD in English was 2001’s charming, bittersweet Frozen Pool, also on SLR. The intimate sound of these two recent CDs represents a prodigious break from her past; you’d never know that in the late ’80s, Rosenvinge was a huge pop star in Spain and Latin America as one half of the duo Alex y Christina. But she quickly tired of both the media attention and the musical constraints imposed by mass-market pop success. She left Alex behind to record three solo albums in the ’90s, the last of which was produced in Sonic Youth’s studio in New York City in 1996. Captivated by Manhattan, Rosenvinge eventually moved there and hooked back up with Steve Shelley and Lee Renaldo of Sonic Youth, who ultimately helped her create Frozen Pool. The “36” MP3 can be found on the distribution/label site

“Queen of Verlaine” – High Water Marks

Satisfying, buzzy-fuzzy pop from an unusual collaboration between American and Norwegian indie stars. Drummer Hilarie Sidney from the Apples in Stereo and Per Ole Bratset, of the Oslo-based band Palermo, began a long-distance songwriting relationship after the two met during an Apples in Stereo tour in 2002. Eventually Sidney, from Lexington, Kentucky, went to Norway to record with Bratset, in a hotel room of all places. The end result was so apparently gratifying that Bratset has since relocated to Lexington to turn the High Water Marks into a real band (the two other members also live in Kentucky). I like a lot of things about this song, beginning with the cheery, churning vibe, and including distinct elements like Bratset’s appealing voice (and geez it’s really really hard to describe voices in concrete words; that’s probably why writers often resort to comparisons to other voices) and the use of a distorted guitar wave underneath the basic drive of the song. “Queen of Verlaine” comes from the band’s debut CD, Songs About the Ocean, released last month on Eenie Meenie Records; the MP3 is on the Eenie Meenie web site.

“Did I Let You Down?” – Folksongs for the Afterlife

This duo from New York City creates an unexpectedly rich and effective sonic stew; don’t let the group’s name mislead you into expecting a simple strumming acoustic guitar and sappy lyrics. Out of the gate the song engages me with its trip-hop-meets-salsa-at-the-movies stylishness. Then Caroline Schutz’s clear and airy voice takes over, and watch out—I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word “fuck” sung with such offhanded beauty. Wait for the chorus and you’ll see what I mean. This song also highlights the timeless appeal of a well-placed xylophone solo. “Did I Let You Down?” can be found on the group’s sole full-length CD—Put Danger Back in Your Life, released last year on Parasol/Hidden Agenda. The MP3 is on the band’s site.

This Week’s Finds: Oct. 3-9 (Tom Waits, Cocteau Twins, Dan Bern)

“How’s It Gonna End” – Tom Waits

Take the songs Tom Waits was writing for albums like Rain Dogs and Frank’s Wild Years strip them of their darkly exuberant carnivalia–the raggedy clankings and tootings and snarlings–and you’re left with something slinky and creaky like “How’s It Gonna End.” The song is a fascinating study in minimalist production; driven by little more than a plucked bass, intermittent tom-tom, and what sounds like a small section of staccato, barely-blown horns, Waits delivers a grumbly series of bleak, vaguely surreal scenarios, tied together by the repetition of the title phrase. Every now and then something else happens musically–a tuba plays one note; ghostly background singers emerge for a few lines; fingers screech on metal guitar strings–but the song plunks along all but unaware. It’s almost as if he’s playing in a room full of musicians, most of whom are simply listening. The effect is at once comic and tragic, bolstered by the lyrics’ characteristic mix of skeletal storytelling and cryptic pronouncements (“The reptiles blend in with the color of the street/Life is sweet at the edge of a razor”). If you don’t love Tom Waits you might consider learning to love him. The song is found on Real Gone, to be released tomorrow on Anti Records. The MP3 is available on Indie Workshop.

“Heaven or Las Vegas” – Cocteau Twins

Vast, cascading beauty, as sparkling-sounding today as when it was released 14 years ago. Guitarist Robin Guthrie has an unearthly ability to make a droning guitar shimmer with joy, and singer Elizabeth Fraser’s fetching incomprehensibility works its usual magic, even as you can in this case actually understand words here and there. The Cocteau Twins weren’t always as accessible as this, but surely this illustrates that accessible is not always a bad thing. The song (in a longer version) was the title track of the group’s 1990 release, on 4AD Records. The MP3 is on the band’s site.

“Bush Must Be Defeated” – Dan Bern

In the spirit of debate week, here is without a doubt the goofiest angry protest song I’ve ever heard. Talk about “on message”: Dan Bern does not relent, but even as I’m positive that I do not need to hear him sing the refrain any longer (alright already! I get it!), it begins to sink in that the wacky rhymes that spill from his mouth (“Bush must be defeated/His goodbye coffee heated/His inaugural spats uncleated/His White House bed short-sheeted”) work doubly well because of the inevitability of the refrain. This is not a subtle song, but there are only a few weeks left; those inclined to agree with the message need it in the air. “Bush Must Be Defeated” comes from an EP released last month entitled My Country II (Messenger Records); the MP3 is on the Messenger Records site. For those unfamiliar with his work, Bern is worthwhile getting to know. He’s a bit erratic, but indomitable, fearless, and more than a little gifted as a Dylan-infused singer/songwriter.