Fingertips Flashback:Flotation Toy Warning (from October 2005)

“Popstar Researching Oblivion” has the sort of fully-realized ecstatic sonic goofiness that MP3 collectors like to link to the Flaming Lips but harkens more firmly back to the likes of 10cc, Genesis (yes, they actually had a sense of humor), and Queen.

Various events well beyond the control of one small human being have made this a difficult week. A new update should wander online by Monday or Tuesday. So it seems a good time to go back to the archives, for another edition of the “Fingertips Flashback.” We reach back to the oddly long-ago year of 2005 for this one.

Flotation Toy Warning

“Popstar Researching Oblivion” – Flotation Toy Warning

[from October 10, 2005]

“Popstar Researching Oblivion” has the sort of fully-realized ecstatic sonic goofiness that MP3 collectors like to link to the Flaming Lips but harkens more firmly back to the likes of 10cc, Genesis (yes, they actually had a sense of humor), and Queen. One of the things this quintet from London does with much aplomb is present a straightforward melody via a crazy quilt of sounds—a neat effect not unlike the more widely acknowledged pop effect of singing sad lyrics to happy music. In this case, the end result is a satisfying confusion: the ear hears complexity and simplicity overlappingly, which somehow resolves the polarity. First, the song’s basic, recurring melody, a line of lullaby-like gentleness, is introduced via a searing guitar solo (itself an interesting juxtaposition). The same melody is then re-delivered via layers of soaring and diving sounds, some vocal and some electronic and some created by who-knows-what, weaving and interacting in ways that are specifically elusive and yet link in the ear as an organic whole. Singer Donald Drusky’s earnest British tenor, recalling a somewhat huskier version of Robert Wyatt, is the perfect vocal instrument for the dreamy loopiness of it all; the homely yet graceful horns arriving to mingle with the electronics during the second half of this strangely haunting number are yet more perfect. “Popstar Researching Oblivion” comes from the band’s debut CD, Bluffer’s Guide to the Flight Deck, released in the U.S. in August on Misra Records (the CD was originally released last year in the U.K. on Pointy Records). The MP3 is available on the Misra site.

ADDENDUM: Flotation Toy Warning is not a band in a hurry. They have been in existence since 2001. Their debut album, as mentioned above, was released in 2004 in the U.K., 2005 in the U.S. Their next release was a two-sided single that came out in 2011, featuring the songs “When the Boat Comes Inside Your House” and “A Season Underground.” At the time it was reported that the band was working on its second album, to be called The Machine That Made Us. As of last June the band reported it had eleven new songs. They remain not in a hurry; the album has yet to be released.

Fingertips Flashback: Juana Molina (from September 2008)

I’m going to nudge the weekly update into early next week from late this week, which, due to the vagaries of life, happens from time to time. But lord knows there’s any amount of old material on the site with which, I’m guessing, not everyone is entirely familiar. Thus the existence of the intermittent “Fingertips Flashback.” Here’s an oddly captivating song from 2008:

Juana Molina

“Un Día” – Juana Molina

[from September 23, 2008]

I suggest giving yourself some time and space to take this one in. Being in an altered state might help, although this song, if you open yourself to it, might help you achieve one.

A long-time Fingertips favorite, Molina returns with a crazy, churning, ecstatic daze of a song. The Argentinian former sitcom star has, as a musician, pioneered an alluring if evasive sort of folktronica, with lots of loops and repetition. “Un Día” is some of that, but also something else entirely. Despite how rigorously plotted out and worked over this sort of song construction probably is, Molina here sounds almost nuttily spontaneous and expansive, both musically and vocally. Ecstatic, yes: there seems something nearly spiritual in the air as Molina all but chants—her voice sounds freer, more unrestrained than in the past—against a marvelously textured and continually varying undercurrent of voice, electronics, horns, sounds, and percussion. As usual, for English-speaking listeners, the language adds another element of incomprehensibility, but she appears to be aiming in that direction in any case; one of the lyrics here, translated, reads: “One day I will sing the songs with no lyrics and everyone can imagine for themselves if it’s about love, disappointment, banalities or about Plato.”

“Un Día” is the title track from Molina’s forthcoming album, her fifth, due out next month on Domino Records. Can’t wait to hear the whole thing. MP3 via Stereogum.

ADDENDUM: Un Día remains Molina’s most recent release. On her web site, three concerts are listed for February 2013; this is the first sign of life on the site since 2011, so maybe she is getting ready to reemerge. In looking around for news of what she’s been up to, I saw something on her Wikipedia page I hadn’t previously come across, or didn’t remember—that she provided the voice for Elastigirl (the Holly Hunter role) in the Argentine dub of the film The Incredibles. It does not appear that she has otherwise gone back to acting since her days starring in the huge hit Juana y sus hermanas, which she cancelled at the height of its popularity in 1994.

Fingertips Flashback: Ryan Ferguson (from July 2007)

Returning to a previously featured song, it’s the Fingertips Flashback….

The songs did not quite get themselves together this week; expect three new ones early next week. In place of new material, how about a Flashback? Once again we return to the halcyon (?) days of 2007….

Ryan Ferguson

“Remission” – Ryan Ferguson

[from July 30, 2007]

Comfortably incisive from beginning to end, “Remission” is one of those blessed songs with a perfectly balanced feeling between the verse and the chorus. You know how a song can have a great chorus, but the verse is like treading water to get there; or conversely, some songs have a really interesting verse but then the chorus is flavorless. Here the verse is interesting and commanding, and yet leads to—rather than overpowers—the chorus, the brilliance of which is just subtle enough, in turn, not to overshadow the verse. The hidden trick behind all of this here, I think, is the strong working relationship between the words and the music. After that emphatic opening chord sequence—nicely textured with an added xylophone—listen carefully to the lyrics and note not merely the dramatic story line (this does not appear to be another tale of relationship woes, although it might work that way metaphorically) but how uncannily well the words scan with the music–that is, how the rhythm of the music allows the words to be sung exactly how they’re spoken, without putting any stress on odd syllables. All too many pop songwriters write without much sensitivity to how the words will scan; whether accidentally or purposefully, Ferguson—previously in the locally popular San Diego quartet No Knife—emerges in this song as a master. “Remission” is from his first full-length solo CD, Only Trying to Help, set for release next month on Better Looking Records. The MP3 is via the Better Looking site. Thanks to the guys at 3hive for the lead.

ADDENDUM: Ferguson has not released an album since this one. His web site, bearing a 2012 copyright, reports that he is working on a new solo project, to be called Brake Rider.

Fingertips Flashback: Goldrush (from February 2007)

No new songs this week but here’s a Flashback featuring one of my favorite Fingertips selections of all time. Three new free and legal MP3s return after the Labor Day holiday here in the U.S.


“Every One of Us” – Goldrush

[from February 12, 2007]

We don’t seem at a loss here in the still-young year for brilliant, glistening rock songs. Here’s another, from the fine British band Goldrush. I love how the guitars add texture and tension to the song’s galloping beat, both the wavery synth-y line that arches like a siren above and the waves of skittery feedback-like chords that fade in and out below. But maybe the best thing on display here is Robin Bennett’s voice, which I find deeply affecting—a rubbery and slightly trembly tenor that at certain moments bring Ray Davies to mind (as, happily, do the melodies). And please listen to the words, which start out poignant and then turn transcendent, as the song makes that rare, exceptional link between the socio-political and the interpersonal. What begins as a moving statement on 21st-century alienation gains depth and spirit as the perspective angles in on a single human heart: “And if nothing is the way that it was/ Well there’s one thing you can be sure of, because/ We are not the way that we were/ She will forget about you/ So forget about her.” The title phrase proceeds to assume two competing, plaintive meanings. Nice nice work. “Every One of Us” is a song from the band’s new CD, The Heart is the Place, which is set for release next week in the U.K. on Truck Records, an impressively robust label run by Bennett and his brother Joe, who is also in Goldrush. The CD has been out since mid-January on City Slang, the band’s German label. No word yet on a U.S. release date. The MP3 is available via City Slang.

ADDENDUM: There is another band on the scene right now named Goldrush, from Richmond, Virginia. This is not them. As for the Goldrush featured here, The Heart is the Place remains their most recent album; the band seems no longer to exist. The most recent news I can find about Robin and Joe Bennett has to do with the popular Truck Festival, a music festival they ran in Oxford for 14 years. The Truck had a tough year in 2011, forcing the Bennetts to bow out. The Festival was taken over by new management and has continued.

Fingertips Flashback: Ephemera (from November 2004)

Revisiting a previously featured song, this one from 2004.

Fingertips is going into its summer hiatus, which means no new songs will be posted until July 25th (or so). I won’t be entirely absent from the internet, and there may be a certain amount of activity around here, but a lot of it will be maintenance oriented and somewhat invisible.

To ease into the slowdown, I offer you a wistful summery song from the land of ice and snow. And okay it’s actually not a cheerful song—few songs entitled “Saddest Day” would be aiming in that direction—but it’s a lovely musical breeze on a hot July day nonetheless.


“Saddest Day” – Ephemera

[from November 22, 2004]

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.

ADDENDUM: Although the band’s site is still online, and the MP3 is still available there, things have been quiet in Ephemera-land since 2005. Vocalist Christine Sandtorv released a solo album in 2006 (on Ifemmera Records, it should be noted); the internet’s nosy robots pick up no other sign of musical activity from any of the three bandmates since then.

The Most-Often-Featured-Artists List

So this week, I featured a song by The Mynabirds, and earlier this month I featured a song by And in both cases I noted to myself that each artist had now been featured here on Fingertips three times. Which got me thinking.

To be featured three times here strikes me as significant. Almost any artist I feature can randomly end up releasing one more song I like a lot and therefore be featured twice. But I think there’s a line drawn after two times that becomes indicative of a band or musician consistently making the kind of quality music that I search for weekly on Fingertips. And so I wondered: who else, over the years, has been featured at least three times?

After a few minutes wandering through the Artist Index, I found my answer. You may or may not be similarly engaged, but I found it kind of fascinating. Some of the artists are pretty well-known in 21st-century indie rock circles (Okkervil River, Heartless Bastards, Yo La Tengo), others less so (Steve Goldberg, anybody?). Some I would clearly identify as among my favorite artists (Laura Veirs, Midlake, Over the Rhine, and the current all-time features leader John Vanderslice), while others kind of surprised me by their presence on the list (I did not expect to see Portugal.The Man and their unexpected period). Some of the artists would probably have more features by now but got a bit too successful to continue to offer up free and legal MP3s (I’m looking at you, Portland bands!). At least one might have had more had he survived (RIP, Joe Strummer).

I especially appreciate those who have been featured not just in a short stretch of time but who have had staying power over the years. The “winner” of this category appears to be The Ladybug Transistor, a band featured as long ago as December 2003 and as recently as March 2011.

Anyway, for the select few who might find this both interesting and helpful (perhaps a good way to check out some folks you haven’t yet listened to), here’s the list, in alphabetical order. After each name is the number of times featured to date, and then the month and year of the most recent feature.

To keep this from being too time-consuming a project, I do not offer any links on this list. Those interested are encouraged to visit the Artist Index; all the links you need are there. Apologies in advance for any links that are dead—I’m still working on cleaning that up. Talk about a time-consuming project!

Annuals – 4 – Mar 10
Asobi Seksu – 3 – Dec 10
Nicole Atkins – 3 – Oct 10
Bettie Serveert – 3 – Mar 10
Bishop Allen – 3 – Mar 09
Blonde Redhead – 3 – June 10
British Sea Power – 3 – Dec 10
Isobel Campbell – 3 – Sept 06
Decemberists – 3 – Mar 05
Eux Autres – 3 – Mar 12
Steve Goldberg & the Arch Enemies – 3 – Aug 11
Heartless Bastards – 3 – Dec 11
Innocence Mission – 3 – July 10
The Ladybug Transistor – 3 – Mar 11
Land of Talk – 4 – Aug 10
Matt Pond PA – 5 – Apr 11
Cass McCombs – 3 – Nov 11
Midlake – 3 – Feb 10
Kate Miller-Heidke – 3 – Nov 11
The Minor Leagues – 3 – Aug 11
Juana Molina – 3 – Sept 08
The Morning Benders – 3 – Feb 10
Múm – 3 – Oct 09
My Brightest Diamond – 3 – Nov 08
The Mynabirds – 3 – Mar 12
Marissa Nadler – 3 – Mar 11
Okkervil River – 5 – May 11
Over the Rhine – 6 – Jan 11
Portugal. The Man – 3 – Jun 09
The Raveonettes – 3 – Oct 08
Sambassadeur – 3 – Jun 10
Shearwater – 4 – Feb 12
The Shins – 3 – Nov 06
Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros – 3 – Jan 04
13ghosts – 3 – Oct 11
John Vanderslice – 7 – Sept 10
Laura Veirs – 3 – Sept 10
Wheat – 3 – Dec 11
Wye Oak – 3 – Jan 11
Yo La Tengo – 4 – Jul 09

Fingertips Flashback: Doris Henson (from February 2005)

A free and legal MP3 from the now-defunct band Doris Henson, which was featured on Fingertips in 2005.

The first Flashback of 2012 has emerged from the swamp.

Doris Henson

“Sidestepping” – Doris Henson

[from February 22, 2005]

From the largely ignored metropolis of Kansas City, Kansas comes this curiously named five-man band with a curious-sounding song. Over an itchy, bare-bones rhythm (drumbeat, erratically strummed guitar with some well-placed feedback), “Sidestepping” begins sketchily, singer Matthew Dunehoo’s airy, high-pitched voice kind of toying with the lyrics at first. There seems not to be a verse or chorus; instead, Dunehoo merely sings a lazy, descending melody in between instrumental breaks. But, hey: the volume and intensity of the accompaniment cranks up a notch at around 2:13 and as this subtly new soundscape unfolds, I am transfixed. Everything is the same but different: the lazy descending melody is stretched and hung now upon dramatic chord changes, and Dunehoo’s singing acquires an edgy substance that sounds appealingly to me like Brian Eno doing his best Ray Davies impersonation. “Sidestepping” comes from the band’s new CD, Give Me All Your Money, their second, which will be released later this month on Desoto Records.

ADDENDUM: Despite good material and good press, Doris Henson was through as a band by 2006. Front man Matthew Dunehoo ended up relocating to Brooklyn and putting a new band together, called Baby Teardrops. The lineup has changed once or twice but it at least temporarily solidified as a trio and released its first album, X Is For Love, in April 2011. Note that the Doris Henson MP3 has moved around over the years but it’s still up these days on The Pitch, a Kansas City alternative paper.

Fingertips Flashback:The Broken West (from January 2007)

It’s been a while since I’ve taken a ride in the Wayback Machine and dug out a song from the archives. So, it’s Friday, it’s 11/11/11 (this has nothing to do with anything but everyone seems to like the date), let’s do it.

The Broken West

“Down in the Valley” – the Broken West

[from January 22, 2007]

Big Star meets Wilco; irresistibility ensues. With its muscular tom-tom beat, feedbacky guitar, sloppy-tight harmonies, and organ solo, “Down in the Valley” walks that great great line between power pop and garage rock–a line walkable only by bands that really know what they’re doing. As a matter of fact, although the year is young, I think I’m going to be hard-pressed to find in 2007 another chorus as infectious as this one. Two things in particular make it work so well. First, the set-up: after the verse (starting at 0:38) we get a two-line lead-in before the chorus, and the chords that finally usher us in are both perfect (a classic series of resolving steps) and imperfect (they’re hardly actually there; rather they are largely implied). This is why, I think, we’re left in such a delicious state of anticipation at 0:46, waiting for the chorus to give us the resolution we crave. (It does.) Second, the harmonies, and specifically the harmony in the second line of the chorus, where the melody repeats but the vocal harmonies, has shifted. What I’m talking about: compare the sound of the harmonies on the word “sundown” (0:50-51) (the voices are singing the same note) to the harmonies on the words “no one” (0:57-59)–here the backing vocal splits off, going up a whole step while the melody goes down a third and we get that mysterious fourth interval for a note and there, that does it for me. Perhaps for you too, now that I mention it? The Broken West is a young quintet from Los Angeles who sound as broken in and familiar as an old pair of slippers. “Down in the Valley” is from the band’s disarmingly titled debut CD, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On, to be released tomorrow on the excellent Merge label.

ADDENDUM: The Broken West released one more album, Now or Heaven, in 2008, then rather quietly split up in 2009. Front man Ross Flournoy is now in a new band, Apex Manor, along with one of his Broken West band mates and a couple of new recruits. Apex Manor, you might recall, was featured on Fingertips in January of this year. Flournoy also took a shot at the Fingertips Q&A in December 2010.

Fingertips Flashback: Elanors (from November 2006)

In advance of the official end of the Fingertips summer hiatus, I will ease back into the online present with a headlong dive into the past, via a new Flashback. This one seems somehow to align itself sonically with the languorous weather in which so many of us are engulfed—there’s an air of torpor and melancholy here, but also something of a sweet escape. Lie back and be engulfed.


“She Had a Dream” – Elanors

[from November 13, 2006]

Don’t miss the opening combination of insistent drumming and sugary strings, an uncommon juxtaposition that lends a curious vibe to this idiosyncratic and gorgeous piece of music. The Chicago-based duo Elanors, featuring singer/pianist Noah Harris and wife Adriel Harris on guitar and backing vocal, paint big orchestral pictures of a familiar-seeming yet singular variety. (For the CD, Elanors have borrowed two players from the band Judah Johnson, for whom Noah plays keyboards.) Brian Wilson comes to mind, partly because of the orchestral aspirations, but mostly because of just how in-its-own-world this song seems. Having spent a certain amount of time reacquainting myself with Pet Sounds in recent weeks, I was struck anew by how thoroughly peculiar a sonic reality it presents, a peculiarity rooted somewhere in the marriage of the songs he wrote, the voice he sung them in, and the instruments he employed and how he employed them. With Elanors, a similar sort of splendid peculiarity is in the air. Note for instance the drumming again, which with or without the strings is just plain unusual, keeping up as it does a unflagging but continuously inventive triplet rhythm, three beats for each beat of the 4/4 measure, until the very end (oh and don’t miss too that point, at 3:57, when the drum actually stops, just seconds before the end of the song; it’s almost a revelation). “She Had a Dream” is a song from the band’s second CD, Movements, released last month on Parasol Records. The MP3 is via Parasol.

ADDENDUM: The band seems to have been a one-off effort; Movements was the one and only album, and there is nary a word written about them online since the days of post-album promotion.

Fingertips Flashback: Trademark (from May 2005)

I haven’t plundered the back pages for a while, so here goes, it’s a new Flashback. This one comes from six years ago to the week, and is one of those songs that in another, better world than ours would’ve been a smash hit on the radio; hearing it now should be causing all sorts of Proustian nostalgia. But, alas, most of you will probably be hearing it for the first time right now. Nostalgia will have to wait!


“Hold That Thought” – Trademark

[from May 2, 2005]

Resplendent electro-pop from an Oxford synthesizer trio that apparently wears lab coats onstage. While drawing obvious inspiration from bands like Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Trademark immediately announces its own presence with the opening synthesizer riff, featuring a deeper, buzzier, funkier tone than their ’80s forebears. The song swings along in a rapid 6/8 (maybe?) shuffle, and even as vocalist Oliver Horton’s blase, slightly nasal delivery recalls the likes of Neil Tennant (of the Pet Shop Boys), there’s something sturdier and more passionate going on here. Maybe because it was all new back then, and maybe there were serious technological limitations at the time, but ’80s synth-pop had a distinct air of preprogrammed relentlessness to it—as if the groups got going by pushing a button and letting the machines do the rest. Listen, by contrast, to the way the introduction here leads into the first verse: how the rhythm shifts and the three interweaving synthesizers are redefined around the vocals—how in fact they are played musically rather than electronically, even though they are, still, electronic instruments. It may sound on the surface like the ’80s but this is the ’00s we’re listening to, and a seriously wonderful new song. “Hold That Thought” can be found on Trademark’s debut CD, Trademark Want More, released in the U.K. last year on Truck Records. The MP3 is available via the band’s web site.

ADDENDUM: The band has not been extraordinarily active since 2004, but they still exist; they even have a Twitter feed. There was one more album after Want More—2007’s Raise The Stakes. The trio’s most recent release is the 2009 EP At Loch Shiel.