Fingertips Flashback: The Fauves (October 2004)

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.

This was always one of my favorite, power-poppy Fingertips finds. Glad to see it’s still around, as, apparently, is the band.

“The Dirt-Bike Option” – the Fauves

[from “This Week’s Finds,” Oct. 24-30, 2004]

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.

ADDENDUM: The band has definitely been active since 2004. Their most recent album came out in the fall of 2008, and late that year they played a few gigs, including a special 20th-anniversary show in Melbourne. They seem to be laying low since then.

Fingertips Flashback:Emily Haines (from September 2006)

Snow won’t stop the music this week. I just wish the music could stop the snow already. Here’s a melancholy bit of social commentary for you, a song at once gorgeous and unsettling.

[from “This Week’s Finds,” Sept. 24-30, 2006]

“Doctor Blind” – Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton

Lead singer for the band Metric and one-time member of the ramshackle Broken Social Scene ensemble, Emily Haines strips things down here for a haunting, piano-based reverie with a pointed message. I’m immediately attracted to the time-signature challenges in the chorus, which lend a meaty flavor to an already tuneful piece–I think she abuts a measure of 5/4 to a measure of 7/4, but I could be wrong; it’s beautifully articulated and engaging in any case, with Haines singing in a weary, not-quite-deadpan voice. Everything is draped in lamentation (listen to how the strings sound when they join those ghostly echo-noises in the background), which is perhaps as it should be when the subject turns, as it seems to here, to our society’s sickening reliance on pharmaceutical products for our quote-unquote well-being. And actually I’m loving those echo-noises, whatever they are (unearthly guitars? distorted vocal samples?); they acquire a more prominent place in the background during the last minute or so, sounding like a chorus of alien ghosts trying to warn us, through a some sort of interdimensional doorway, about something we wouldn’t understand anyway. “Doctor Blind” is a song from the CD Knives Don’t Have Your Back, coming out this week on Last Gang Records.

ADDENDUM: Haines is still very much active at the head of Metric, a band whose Fantasies album was among my favorites in 2009.

Fingertips Flashback: Low (from February 2005)

Last week’s Flashback was apparently snowed out, but it’s back this week with an uncharacteristically rousing song from the veteran “slowcore” band Low.

[from “This Week’s Finds,” February 20-26, 2005]

“California” – Low

How much to keep sounding the same and how much to evolve and explore is a question that faces all bands that manage to stay together for more than a few years. Remain too much the same and risk staleness (“There’s a fine line between a groove and rut,” as Christine Lavin once sang); change too much and risk alienating fans who like how you sound already, thank you very much. And in the indie rock world, any change that smacks of “accessibility” is treated with the harshest of scorn, for reasons I have never quite figured out. In any case, here’s Low, a band from northern Minnesota that cultivated a devoted following through the ’90s while giving new depth of meaning to the word “slow” in the so-called “slowcore” genre. And here’s a song from their latest CD, The Great Destroyer (Subpop Records) that moves with a nice crunchy, toe-tappy bounce. This is not the first upbeat song the band has recorded by any means, but so far they remain indelibly associated with their brooding, slow-burning material. Me, I’m enjoying the grit and intensity a band that knows slow brings to a peppier number. On the one hand, I love the big, fat, but still ambiguous chords that open the song, and drive its center; but on the other hand, check this out: right at the moment in the song where songs that have these kind of big, fat chords will break into a bashing, cathartic instrumental break (at around 2:00 here), Low, slyly, retreats into quiet–instead of big bashes we get a slow, ringing guitar and gentle harmonies, which simmer slowly together before delivering a final almost-bash. Pretty cool. The MP3 is available on the Subpop web site; the CD was released in January.

ADDENDUM: “To this day, Low continues to create and record interesting and unique music,” says the band’s web site. The trio has not, however, put out an album since 2007. In fact, two of the three members–vocalist/guitarist Alan Sparhawk and bassist Steve Garrington–are currently doing business as another trio, Retribution Gospel Choir. That band’s second album just came out in January.

Fingertips Flashback: Tessitura (from December 2005)

This week we flash back to December 2005, and a solo effort from a member of Cincinnati’s fine, ongoing ensemble, the Spectacular Fantastic. A lovely song, worth hearing again, or for the first time.

“Nervous” – Tessitura

[from “This Week’s Finds,” December 11-17]

Jonathan Williams sings in a warm, buzzy voice, rendered warmer and buzzier by his fetching tendency to sing in octave harmonies with himself. He further accompanies himself with clean, patient acoustic guitar licks; there’s something of Pink Floyd’s stately acoustic side in the air here, particularly when Williams spins out a line with such a haunting convergence of melody and lyric as this one: “Even in a dream/Things could seem far too real.” There, I think, we arrive at the song’s center of gravity, its point of pure allurement–it’s not just the nice chord he reaches on the word dream, it’s the way the word “dream” stretches out almost unaccountably, with a mysterious, standing-still sort of rising and falling. This is a real song, not just a guy with a nice voice strumming a nice guitar. (Not enough people these days seem to be able to differentiate between beautiful-sounding and actually beautiful, says me, and there we are yet again back at Ives’ great distinction between manner and substance, but I’ll steer clear of that particular soapbox for now.) Tessitura is a side project for Williams, who is otherwise a member of the fine, endearingly-named Cincinnati-based ensemble The Spectacular Fantastic. “Nervous” is a song on a new free-to-download split single featuring both bands; it can also be found on Tessitura’s recently released free-to-download full-length CD, On the Importance of Being Confused.

ADDENDUM: Seemingly impossible to find out any new information on Williams. Tessitura appears to have been a one-off effort. But I still love this song, should’ve been much more widely heard. Fortunately, it’s not too late.

ADDENDUM 2: Actually, I heard from Williams in August 2011, and he informs me that Tessitura remains alive, that he writes and records regularly, although has been more often playing in the band For Algernon in recent years. He was however getting ready for his first official gig as Tessitura later that month. So he’s definitely still around.

Fingertips Flashback: Le Reno Amps(from October 2005)

Okay, the second installment of the Fingertips Flashback returns us to the year 2005 and a song that I thought never got the attention it so richly deserved. Fortunately, Le Reno Amps still seem to be active, and this song is still available online.

“Once You Know” – Le Reno Amps

[from “This Week’s Finds,” Oct. 9-15, 2005]

Scotland’s answer to They Might Be Giants, Le Reno Amps are two guys (Scott and Al) from Aberdeen with an idiosyncratic sense of song, playful ideas about making lo-fi production come to life, and an enviable knack for melody. The modus operandi is stripped-down, always geared around their two voices and two guitars. But there’s goofiness in the air too, lending an ineffable magic to the aural landscape. “Once You Know” sounds like it was recorded in a gym, with bouncing balls and/or stamping feet ingeniously employed as the rhythm section for this sharp and sprightly down-home ditty. The song gets off to a great start based on melody alone; when the “percussion” kicks in with the second verse, ably accented by some hardy background “hey!”s, the song is unstoppable. The fully-whistled verse that starts at 1:14 appears at that point both a crazy surprise and utterly inevitable. “Once You Know” is from Le Reno Amps’ archly-titled debut CD LP, released under their own (ha-ha) Vanity Project imprint last year. The MP3 is up on the band’s site. A second CD is apparently in the works for these guys, due out some time in 2006.

ADDENDUM: “We try to write with all the fat cut out so you can savour their buttery goodness,” says Scott Maple, who founded the band with Al Nero. Hard not to like that. Turns out the band’s second album did not emerge until 2007, but the good news is these guys still exist, and put their third album out just last year. The band’s name, mysterious as it sounds, is simply a pluralized anagram of the names Maple and Nero.

Fingertips Flashback: A. Graham & the Moment Band (from May 2005)

Fingertips has been reviewing free and legal MP3s since mid-2003, which first of all means yikes, that’s a lot of songs by now. And second of all this means no way anyone following this site in 2010 has read all the reviews and listened to all the songs lo these many years.

Some of them, by now, and alas, are gone with the digital wind, free and legal no more. The older they are, the more likely is this to be true. But a good many of them are still available, against all odds, and what I plan to do once a week is revisit an old post, complete with the link to the still-existing free and legal MP3. Let’s say we call it the Fingertips Flashback. Or Flashback Friday, as I’m planning on doing this every Friday, pretty much. Could be Fingertips Flashback Friday for that matter. Or we don’t have to call it anything at all, as the names are sounding goofy. But it is going to need a name. I’ll work on it.

This will be a feature-in-progress but the idea is to present the original review and the link, and then maybe follow it up with a few words looking back at the past through the lens of the present, because we are all older and wiser now and have so much more interesting things to say than we used to say. In theory. Here we go, the first Fingertips Flashback:

[from “This Week’s Finds,” week of May 8-14, 2005]

“Glorious” – A. Graham and the Moment Band

There are certain sorts of on-and-off-pitch voices that are so immediately friendly and unassuming that they welcome you in like an old friend handing you a beer. Andy Graham has one of those voices. Then again, this entire song is kind of like an old friend handing you a beer, most of all the loose-limbed, sing-along chorus, featuring four of the English language’s finest words–“Glorious/ Triumphant/ Optimistic/ Transcendent”– woven together with spot-on pedal steel accents. Like Doris Henson, A. Graham and the Moment Band are another endearing, worthy band from Kansas City, Kansas. “Glorious” is the lead track on the band’s 2004 CD This Tyrant is Free, released on Sonic Unyon Records. The MP3 is available via, one of the better (if also unassuming) local/regional music resources on the web.

ADDENDUM: Well, even Google can’t seem to inform me of the fate of this crazy little band from the heartland. Nothing, apparently, has been recorded since their 2004 release. In its listing on, the band claims to be “alive and kicking” but there are no signs of it I can see. The song remains as friendly and approachable as ever. I don’t always feel those four words but this song reminds me it’s never out of the question.