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.
“Cars Can’t Escape” – Wilco
While Wilco fans await A Ghost is Born (the next CD, due out in June), here comes a nugget left from the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sessions. While this may not grab your attention if you don’t already love this seriously great band (okay, I already love them), there’s a lot to hear here if you relax with it. To begin with, there’s Jeff Tweedy’s gift for meandering melody, and his perfectly matched lazy-but-insistent voice. (Has enough been made of Tweedy’s unexpected but gratifying resemblance to the Kinks’ Ray Davies?) This song is also a showcase for the band’s unparalleled capacity to blend the acoustic and the electric, here most effectively embodied by the way a recurring melodic theme is passed from one sound to another. Based on the opening acoustic chords, the theme is developed into a melody by an unstable penny-whistle-ish synthesizer break, then handed to a banjo, which proceeds to pick it out against an increasingly cacophonous background of swirling, unidentifiable noises. In and around the musical nuances, lyrical phrases emerge here and there, hinting at hidden emotions and untold stories (“In my sleepless head our love’s been dead a week or two”). Me, I’m looking forward to the new CD a whole lot. (Thanks to our friends at Glorious Noise for the heads up on this one.)
“Just Another Number” – the Cribs
In less than three minutes, this trio of brothers from West Yorkshire has done something subtly magical, uniting past and present sounds so seamlessly as to concoct something solid and memorable out of the union. While the song is driven by a high-pitched, crinkly guitar sound that brings the Strokes obviously and immediately to mind, the Cribs have done the brilliant service here of taking the Strokes’ sound out of the well-worn Velvet Underground-Television family tree and cross-fertilizing it with less obvious influences, adding in particular a welcome dose of new wave pop (I’m thinking a band like the Teardrop Explodes) into the mix. You know this song is going in an interesting direction when the lead singer breaks into some good old “ooh-oohs” during the bridge-like chorus. And then there’s the unexpected shift into unresolved, open chords as the guitar heads down into a normal register during the chorus-like bridge, and that wonderful point where the harmonies go into alluring octaves (“I disappear for hours/Over the smallest things, yeah”), followed by even more unanticipated “ba-da-ba-da-da”s, and okay at this point it’s probably better to hear it than to have me describe it but it’s pretty cool. This comes from the band’s eponymous debut CD, released this month on Wichita Recordings, a small London-based label.