No new songs this week, but here’s a Flashback for your listening pleasure. Free-spirited Noe Venable has an alluring sound and an idiosyncratic career to date. It’s been a while since we’ve heard from her, but this song remains available on her web site, from way back in 2003.
[from June 13, 2005]
Atmospheric and structurally engaging, “Boots” unfolds with precision and intrigue, anchored by Venable’s able and appealing voice. While an acoustic guitar provides a centering pulse, this song moves well beyond standard singer/songwriter fare, brandishing a varied instrumental palette with great subtlety and skill, while some of the melodic turns give me goosebumps. Venable is a Bay Area musician with a loyal local following; she plays in a trio featuring keyboards, violin, and various electronic devices. “Boots” is the title track to her most recent CD, released in 2003 on Venable’s Petridish Records. The MP3 can be found on her site; thanks to 3hive for the tip.
ADDENDUM: “Boots” was already a couple of years old when featured here, and Venable has released only two albums since then, the last one coming in 2007. That was the year she entered the Harvard Divinity School for a graduate degree. She wrote a play there for her final project. She has since reformed her trio and has played some isolated concerts. A new album is apparently in the works.
Devin Davis was one of the earlier “bedroom rockers” featured here, back in the mid-’00s. I was impressed with how little his music sounds like a one-man band, and charmed by this odd but endearing song. Still am.
[from March 7, 2005]
Chicago bedroom rocker Devin Davis opens his mouth and Ray Davies all but tumbles out. This is a fine thing in and of itself, as I am kindly disposed to anyone properly inspired by the Kinks. But Davis (and isn’t come to think of it “Davies” pronounced “Davis” in the U.K.?), to my ears, has much more going for him than a Kinks fixation, a fact made clearest by his achievement as a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/arranger/engineer/producer. Technology has made it easy enough to be a one-person band in your own home studio, but rarely will you hear a bedroom rocker who sounds as loose and unfettered as Davis does. Think of it: to do all this yourself requires incredible precision and repetition; how do you then produce something that sounds so loose and alive? Playing the part here of a crestfallen turtle who appears to have lost his true, inter-species love, Davis delivers a song buzzing with spirit and life. From the quiet, bouncy-sad electric piano intro through to the heart-opening chorus, with its stirring melody and ramshackle feel, he not only transcends his influences, he transcends his technology. “Turtle and the Flightless Bird” comes from Davis’s debut CD, Lonely People of the World, Unite!, set for release on (of course) his own Mousse Records imprint next week. The MP3 is available on his web site.
ADDENDUM: Lonely People of the World, Unite! remains Davis’s sole release. His web site, however, sports a relatively new message, in crazily flamboyant colors: “Hey there!… I’m still working on the new album… I’m going to finish it! For real! Hopefully in time for the holidays…” Well, this was not to be, but the message is still encouraging. Fingers remain crossed.
A few months ago, I finally got around to seeing Jim Jarmusch’s proto-indie-film classic Stranger Than Paradise. It’s some kind of baleful, minimalist masterpiece, and Eszter Balint, only 18 at the time, shines, affect-free, at the heart of it. She did that 20 years before she recorded Mud, which was seven years ago, but sounds like it could’ve been yesterday, or the day after tomorrow.
[from “This Week’s Finds,” March 29, 2004]
A potent melting pot of scratchy avant-funk and boho folk, “Good Luck” comes from a new CD by the world’s only (I think!) Hungarian-born, NYC-based singer/songwriter/violinist/actress. From the opening syncopation of the brush-tinged drumbeat, I feel myself in good hands here, even as I’m never really sure what’s going on. There’s a bit of Suzanne Vega in Balint’s deadpan spoken-sung delivery in the verses, and a touch of latter-day Tom Waits floating around the fringes of the production, particularly in the odd aural space created by the somewhat dissonant, squonky guitar work, the wash of vibraphone in the background, and the intermittent oddity (alarm clocks?). Whereas today’s music scene encourages the often gratuitous tossing together of sounds, Balint appears to have earned the right to her idiosyncratic mish-mash, given her unusual background as the daughter of Central European avant garde theater artists. Balint’s recently-released second CD, Mud, is available on Bar/None Records.
ADDENDUM: What exactly she’s been doing since Mud is mostly unclear, although she has been playing violin for a number of recording projects, and was a member of Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog– a”free/punk/funk/experimental/psychedelic/post electronica collective”—during much of 2009. Her web site remains seemingly unchanged since ’04, even as her MySpace page tells us a new album is in the works, then refers us back to the web site for more info.
The internet has come to be home to way more one-hit wonders than AM radio ever was. And, okay, while I guess we actually aren’t talking about “hits,” it’s basically the same idea—there are countless bands who put out one really good song online and then just disappear.
The internet has come to be home to way more one-hit wonders than AM radio ever was. And, okay, while I guess we actually aren’t talking about “hits,” it’s basically the same idea—there are countless bands who put out one really good song online and then just disappear. But at least sometimes, the songs remain, even if the band vanishes. So here we have one cool song from the Berlin duo Avocadoclub; the band’s web site remains stuck in 2006, but the MP3 is still downloadable. Here’s what it sounded like to me four years ago….
[from “This Week’s Finds,” May 16, 2006]
As smooth, catchy, and vaguely disaffected as an old Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark single. This has all the earmarks of a great floaty synth-pop hit but the really cool thing is they’re not really using a heck of a lot of synthesizers; the acoustic guitars are actually more prominent. Most of the effect, I think, is coming from the layered majesty of Bendrik Muhs’ vocals, and the use of a New Order-style lower-register lead guitar line. Muhs has the ability to sound both pretty and weary, like Ben Gibbard doing a Lou Reed impression; his aching delivery of the sweeping chorus is big-time pop heaven. Avocadoclub is an English-language band from Berlin; there appear to be two guys at the heart of it, but they’ve fleshed out into a five-piece band for the debut CD. “Too Much Space to Walk Away” was the title track on the band’s second EP, released in 2002; it has shown up as well on the debut full-length, entitled Everybody’s Wrong, which was released in March on Firestation Records. Thanks much, yet again, to Getecho for the lead.
ADDENDUM: Can’t seem to find much trace of this band from either before or after 2006. Their MySpace page takes their story up through 2008, but talks of no further releases past Everybody’s Wrong. There is kind of a cool cover of the Pavement song “Newark Wilder” in the media player, however.
I am as goofily entranced by this rambling, ramshackle, homespun groove of a song now as I was a few years ago when I first came across it.
I am as goofily entranced by this rambling, ramshackle, homespun groove of a song now as I was a few years ago when I first came across it. The MP3 was initially online via Higgs but when it disappeared, which made me sad, I got in touch with her and she said it was fine if I hosted it moving forward. So this one comes courtesy of the official Fingertips media library, as very very few of the songs here actually do.
[from “This Week’s Finds,” Nov. 12, 2007]
This one starts almost before the musicians have picked up their instruments. We hear tuning, we hear the singer warming up, and then we hear the song kick in, but listen carefully––in addition to the instantly engaging and well-textured groove, you’ll hear a layer or two of ghostly electronics echoing in the aural distance. Unlike many who have explored a mix of acoustic and electronic sounds (often a simple mashing of acoustic guitar and laptop effects), Higgs uses electronics with an orchestral flair, weaving beautiful howls and altered vocal effects into a down-home mix of guitar, drums, banjo, and strings. At the song’s center are a resilient, six-measure melody (the same for both verse and chorus) and Higgs’ breathy-scratchy, bumpy-yet-frisky voice. Together they can do no wrong; interspersed with noodly sections featuring the words “I will” amidst an eddying swirl of loops, indistinct sounds, stray lyrics, and banjo, the main melody returns each time like a trusty friend. The end result is hypnotic–the song is five minutes long but might as well be two or ten, time kind of becoming elastic in the hands of this 24-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist from Halifax with a bright bright future. “Parables” is the lead track off her self-titled debut CD, given a remastered, Canada-wide release last month by Toronto-based Outside Music. (Higgs had self-released the CD in a limited release last year; the Outside version also contains two extra songs.) Thanks to Chromewaves for the lead.
ADDENDUM: After a couple of years of relative quiet, Higgs is up and running again; a new album, Odd Fellowship, appears to be on the way. A video for her new song “Drunk Love” was posted just a couple of days ago on YouTube, so what the heck, here you go:
I decided not all Flashbacks need to go spelunking too deeply into Fingertips’ cavernous past when I heard this song the other day and realized: a) how good it is; b) how it never really caught on, as far as I can tell; c) how it seems like it came out longer ago than it actually did at this point; and d) how good it is. And did I mention that it’s a really good song?
[from “This Week’s Finds,” Sept. 23, 2008]
I love the musical and lyrical drama that Pale Young Gentlemen manage to pack into not even three minutes here. We first hear only a cello, playing a jerky line with what sounds like a mysterious rhythm until we understand that it’s actually just accelerating into the right tempo for the song. Kinda fun. A crisp acoustic guitar joins in, and a violin (or maybe a viola? or both?). By the time front man Mike Reisenauer sings those not-your-typical-indie-fare opening lines—“You start to worry ’bout your health/As you reach a certain age”—this song has achieved liftoff (aided by a drum that enters with exquisite timing).
And it’s really only just starting; the rest of the way, “The Crook of My Good Arm” all but explodes with melodic vigor and instrumental dexterity: the strings play rascally melodies and rhythms, a cowbell clangs at precisely the right moments, and Reisenauer, his voice vaguely processed, handles the theatrical rhyme scheme (check out the spiffy A-B-C-C-B pattern in the verse, leading into the titular phrase) with the casual authority of someone who’s more interested in telling a story than simply singing. Sounding nothing like rock bands that are typically associated with the word, I’d say that Pale Young Gentlemen (a seven-person outfit that includes by the way three women) possess great swagger. This isn’t “Wail on the electric guitar and scream bloody murder” swagger or “Dig my blues riff and my street cred” swagger or even “Be awed by my laptop skills” swagger—it’s “We know exactly what we’re doing and don’t really sound like anyone else” swagger. The best kind, in other words.
The Gents were previously featured on Fingertips in Nov. 2007. “The Crook of My Good Arm” is a song from the band’s second CD, Black Forest (Tra La La), which will be released next month on the Madison, Wis.-based label Science of Sound. MP3 via the band.
ADDENDUM: Pale Young Gentlemen are alive and well and living in Madison, Wisconsin. There may be fewer of them now than are captured in the picture above. They are currently working on their third album. Visit them here.
Back when there used to be an “all-time” Fingertips Top 10, “Me and My 424” was on it, near the top. When I came across this song in the summer of 2003 was when I first figured that maybe I was onto something, looking for high-quality free and legal music.
[from “This Week’s Finds,” Aug. 10-16, 2003]
So it begins with this jaunty little piano line, the kind of vampy thing that most guys would work for at least eight measures, maybe even 12. Not Vanderslice; this talented indie rocker doesn’t even fully repeat the line once before he brings in an tweaky sort of electric guitar tone as a one-note counterpoint; and then, on the next repeat, in comes an unexpected, mournful string melody descending on top. Geez, the song grips you before he’s even opened his mouth. And when he does, he hooks you all the more with his reedy, early-’70s-Bowie-but-American voice. And don’t get me started on the queer but compelling way he breaks the title melodically so it sounds more like “And my 424, me/And my 424…” The song comes near the beginning of a concept album Vanderslice released last year called The Life and Death of an American Fourtracker, which is all about a young man rather too fond of home recording. (The 424 in question is a Tascam 424, a multitrack cassette recorder commonly used by musicians with home studios, at least before digital recording began to take over.)
ADDENDUM: Vanderslice has of course been writing and recording regularly since 2003. His most recent album is 2009’s excellent Romanian Names. Visit his web site for lots of information and a goodly number of free and legal MP3s.
I always liked this free-flowing, structure-free song for relatively mysterious reasons. And this seems longer ago than it was, somehow. Anyway, this never really caught on, but it’s still online, so here you are.
I always liked this one for relatively mysterious reasons. And this seems longer ago than it was, somehow. Anyway, this never really caught on, but it’s still online, so here you are.
[From “This Week’s Finds,” December 17-23,2006]
Even though this came out in March and has nothing whatever to do with Christmas or the holiday season of any kind, I like featuring a song by a band named Vague Angels this week. It seems like all we can hope for these days, and maybe all we actually need. And never mind any of that: this free-flowing, structure-free song is itself extraordinarily cool. Rolling firmly to a strong yet elusive train-like rhythm, “The Vague Angels of Vagary” seems, well, vaguely to be about trains, and journeys, and searches. NYC-based singer/songwriter/novelist Chris Leo (brother of Ted) speak-sings the odd but engaging lyrics like Lou Reed with a higher voice and no leather jacket; he seems more bemused by what he sees that pissed off. What hooks me with this one: the energetic, good-natured, descending guitar riff that keeps the song afloat–relentlessly it climbs back to its apex and spills yet again downward while Leo goes on about train track tundras and the WPA and the MTA. “The Vague Angels of Vagary” is from the CD Let’s Duke It Out At Kilkenny Katz’ (yes there’s that weird floating apostrophe in the title), released earlier in the year by Pretty Activity. The MP3 is via the Pretty Activity site; thanks to the Deli for the head’s up.
ADDENDUM: It doesn’t seem that the Vague Angels have been up to anything since 2006. According to a busy and difficult to read MySpace page, Chris Leo put out a solo album under his own name in 2009, but there is no other sign of it on the web. Leo had his own blog for a while but hasn’t posted since January 2009. He may currently be living in Italy. He is still Ted Leo’s brother.
A certain sort of confidence is required to open a song with the line â€œLetâ€™s go, and Iâ€™ll play all my songs,â€ but singer Chris Groves has such a sweet-sailing voice that he has me right thereâ€“Iâ€™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.
Here’s an innocent burst of indie-electro-something-or-another that sounds as delightful to me now as it did five-plus years ago.
[ from “This Week’s Finds,” Dec. 5-11, 2004]
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.
ADDENDUM: Founded in 1995 (wow), Dealership may, alas, no longer exist. The band’s web site shows no sign of life since 2007, and the band’s anticipated fourth album, due first in 2007 and then in 2008, seems never (yet) to have arrived. While Wikipedia has them existing to the present day, the entry itself hasn’t been updated since late ’07.
Here’s an entirely overlooked gem from 2005, with far more musical and lyrical sophistication than one dares to expect from a largely unknown band. But it’s kind of what keeps us music seekers on the prowl. You never know what you might yet find. It’s “Aptitude” from the Canadian band Novillero.
Here’s an entirely overlooked gem from 2005, with far more musical and lyrical sophistication than one dares to expect from a largely unknown band. But it’s kind of what keeps us music seekers on the prowl. You never know what you might yet find.
[from “This Week’s Finds,” June 5-11, 2005]
Anchored by a swinging piano riff, appealing chord progressions, and what seems an unusually hard-headed philosophy for a pop song, “Aptitude” is both immediately enjoyable and lastingly affecting. A quartet from Winnipeg founded in 1999, Novillero sounds like the real thing to me, capable of delivering music that is at once melodically and lyrically astute–no mean feat in our mash-up culture. The chorus is especially marvelous, rendered all the more effective for its jaunty bouncing between major and minor chords. Even better, it builds with each iteration–first delivered in a restrained vocal-and-piano setting, the chorus next arrives with the full band fleshing out the harmonics, and the third time with vocalist Rod Slaughter (he’s also the piano player) singing an octave higher, adding a keening edge to both the music and lyrics. This works particularly well as the song has now shifted its focus: what began as a world-weary warning about how we are all limited by our inherent capabilities reveals itself (if I’m hearing it right) rather poignantly as a philosophy borne from disappointment in love. Complete with nifty horn charts. “Aptitude” is on the band’s cleverly titled second CD, Aim Right For The Holes In Their Lives, which was released in the U.S. last week on Mint Records. The MP3 comes from the band’s web site.
ADDENDUM: The band has since become a quintet, and was featured again on Fingertips in 2008, when their most recent album was released. Things have been quiet on the Novillero front since their last stage appearances in Canada in mid-2009.