This Week’s Finds: Mar. 28-Apr. 3 (Eszter Balint, Wilco, The Cribs)

“Good Luck” – Eszter Balint

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.

This Week’s Finds: March 21-27 (Elastica, Bree Sharp, Elf Power)

“Line Up” – Elastica

Okay, so every now and then I want to silence the questions; I want something I already know and love, something I don’t have to sit and listen to over and over and wonder, “Hmmm…is this really good, or really not good?” It’s such a crazy fine line, sometimes. And okay this may not be my favorite song from Elastica’s memorable debut album (geez, nine years old already), but it sure starts the disc off with a crunchy wallop. Guitars don’t squeak and squawk much more satisfyingly than Elastica’s guitars; jammed against Justine Frischmann’s bored-yet-sultry voice, the effect was captivating. There’s even something endearing about the rhythmic grunting that intermittently accompanies the crunch here. While at the time it may have seemed that Elastica arrived rather way too late (long after the original new wave), in retrospect they act as a sort of bridge between a sound that had nearly died at that point and one that seems to be in the middle of a welcome resurgence here in the new century.

“Lazy Afternoon” – Bree Sharp

A different kind of crunch is on display here—brighter, punchier, and unabashedly mainstream-oriented. “Lazy Afternoon” is a straight-ahead rocker, fueled by crisp production, classic rock harmonies, and a heavy dose of Sheryl Crow-ish-ness. Despite her polish (and despite a truly sensational name) Bree Sharp seems to be rather unfortunately betwixt and between in today’s music world: neither a teenybopper nor a baby boomer, she records like an indie rocker (i.e. she has her own label) yet sounds like Crow’s younger sister. “Lazy Afternoon” comes from her second CD, 2002’s More B.S., which probably did not receive as much attention as her 1999 debut, A Cheap and Evil Girl. That one came out on a small label (Trauma Records), and was juiced by something of a novelty song—“David Duchovny,” a love letter to the X-Files actor (featuring the memorable couplet: “David Duchovny/Why won’t you love me?”).

“Never Believe” – Elf Power

Talk about a crazy fine line—what is the fine line between celebratory mainstream pop like “Lazy Afternoon” and celebratory indie pop like this song, from a dedicated bunch of “lo-fi” musicians based in Athens, Georgia (itself something of an indie-rock center-of-the-universe)? It’s another question for the ages. Elf Power has one of those complex histories that indie fans are used to–overlapping bands with interweaving personnel and lots of funky names along the way (like Neutral Milk Hotel and the Olivia Tremor Control). Well, wherever they’ve been and whoever they are, this song is two and a half minutes of hard-driving, cathartic melody, with acoustic rhythm guitars buzzed by an advancing and retreating wall of electric fuzz and artful feedback. Singer Andrew Rieger’s voice has its own sort of solid rock vibe to it, a wonderful amalgam of, oh, maybe Paul Humphreys (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) and Justin Hayward (the Moody Blues), somehow. “Never Believe” can be found on the CD Walking With the Beggar Boys, to be released in early April on Orange Twin Records.

This Week’s Finds: March 14-20 (Abra Moore, Bishop Allen, Shutterspeed)

“I Win” – Abra Moore

A stark, hypnotic minor key piano ballad from the sweet-voiced Abra Moore, returning after a long absence from recording. Once a member of the neo-bohemian band Poi Dog Pondering, Moore released two engaging solo CDs–Sing in 1995 and Strangest Places in 1997–then disappeared. She has had quite the experience in the interim. Clive Davis took Moore with him when he left Arista to start J Records; the new label wanted to run her through the Vanessa Carlton-Avril Lavigne machine, basically, with team-based writing and production, teenybopper songs, the works. Moore was open to the experiment going in, but found she couldn’t live with the results, artistically. Despite having finished a CD called No Fear for J in 2002, the label–unusually–allowed her out of her contract, stopped the record’s release, and let her keep the masters. Moore regrouped, re-established her independent vibe, and has now emerged two years later with the aptly named CD Everything Changed, just released last week on Koch Records. Moore is an engaging musical presence; blessed with a voice that is at once lithe and hardy, her subtle variety of vocal tone and emphasis gives this simple, brooding song a great deal of weight.


“Little Black Ache” – Bishop Allen

Punchy, quirky, and catchy, this one brings you back to the Kinks in 1965, but with a Pixies-like or perhaps an Ass Ponys-like edge. The sound is at once loose and tight, and I’ll admit I’m a pushover for songs with a goofy call-and-response hook like this–“I’ve got my little black little ache”/(“What you got?”). Now Brooklyn-based, the band was founded in Cambridge; they took their name from their location on Bishop Allen Drive in Central Square (the street itself was named after Bishop Richard Allen, the founder of the African Methodist Episopal Church, if you must know). “Little Black Ache” comes from the band’s debut CD Charm School, which was self-released in May 2003. These guys have an appealing silliness to them, some of it planned (on the web site, where they present their lyrics, the band writes: “For increased prestige, we type them in Garamond”), and some not exactly (of the four members, two are named Christian but one of them is a man and one of them is a woman; go figure).


“Under Control” – Shutterspeed

Talk about bringing you back, here are five lads from Brisbane who come to you through a ’70s rush of Keith Richards riffs, horn charts, swaggering vocals, and back-up “woo-oo-oohs.” Lead singer Andrew Petersen has more than a little Southside Johnny in him, somehow–not that the decaying ambiance of an aging South Jersey beach town has anything in common with the up-and-coming subtropical splendor of Australia’s third largest city. It’s a small world after all, I suppose. While there’s always a danger Shutterspeed will lose itself under the weight of its influences, the band’s sheer brash energy pulls them through, to my ears; like Paul Weller (another guy grooving on that ’70s thing), Shutterspeed at once mimics and rises above the mimickry. “Under Control” comes from the band’s second album, Custom Made Hit Parade, released in June 2003.

This Week’s Finds: March 7-13 (The Get Up Kids, Mission of Burma, Emma McGlynn)

“Wouldn’t Believe It” – the Get Up Kids

Without a killer chorus, “Wouldn’t Believe It” might be an energetic but wispy bit of pop; on the strength of a few well-placed notes between verses, the song achieves true magnificence. While the harmonica-driven intro and Matt Pryor’s boyish vocals favorably recall the Housemartins (a great British band from the mid-’80s), the simple, clipped phrases of the first verse lack impact. But wait: as the verse ends but before the chorus begins, an unexpected sort of miniature bridge builds the harmonic tension, particularly as the keyboard starts an insistent background pounding that all but shouts “Warning: killer chorus ahead.” And it starts, Pryor singing “Did it occur to you too?” in a classic, descending fourth; then he sings “What was the worst it could do?” beginning an octave below where the chorus started, and for the word “worst” he jumps up a sixth, and there, music theory aside, that’s the hook, and it’s all happening so quickly and energetically that it leaves me breathless, as a killer chorus must, and casts a reverberant sheen on the entire song. And yikes it’s much more plodding to write about than to listen to, so check it out. The Get Up Kids are from Kansas City; “Wouldn’t Believe It” can be found on Guilt Show, their fourth CD, released last week on Vagrant Records.

“Wounded World” – Mission of Burma

Do I fear getting too soft around the edges here on Fingertips? Well, this’ll solve that, and who better to stage the aural onslaught than the obscure-but-legendary Mission of Burma, a Boston-based art-punk band from the early ’80s that finds itself together again in the 21st century. This song comes from the album ONoffON, slated to be released in May on Matador Records, and it shows the boys in fine, agitated form; from the opening lyrical sneer—“I’m a puppet, you’re a puppet too”—the song blazes out of the gate, effortlessly recalling the heady musical scene which gave birth to this particular brand of intellectual noise. And yet for all its recapitulative fury, “Wounded World” seems very present at the same time; while the brash electric texture produced by the band’s guitars and tape manipulations may be less of a crazy buzz than it was 20 years ago, there’s still exhilaration to be had in the band’s able juxtapositioning of noise and melody. The metallic bray of guitars halfway through the song is at once pure catharsis and outlandish fun.

“Impatience” – Emma McGlynn

An immediate sense of presence and personality shines through this song, which is quite a feat these days for anyone with an acoustic guitar, particularly anyone with quite so much of an Ani DiFranco fixation as Emma McGlynn. Like DiFranco, this U.K.-based singer/songwriter releases her own music on her own label, sings in a freewheeling and emotive style, and shows a lot of technical flair on her instrument. Similarities aside, McGlynn comes off as very much her own person; she’s got a spiritually softer vibe, somehow, than DiFranco—something less prickly and self-absorbed comes through, even as McGlynn has clearly borrowed more than a few tricks from DiFranco’s impressive bag of resources. “Impatience” is from an EP called 5th November that McGlynn released in 2001; a subsequent full-length CD, Kamikaze Birdie, came out last year. To download the song, right-click on the picture next to the song, then use the typical “save target as” approach to capturing the file.

This Week’s Finds: Feb. 29-Mar. 6 (Wheat, The Decemberists, The Ass Ponys)

“Off the Pedestal” – Wheat

Slinky and insistent, driven by a drone below and singer Scott Levesque’s sleepy-assured vocals above, this song gives you a glimpse of what the Massachusetts-based band Wheat was up to before “I Met a Girl” became an adult-alternative radio staple (as it appears to be right now; it may yet go the full top-40 route). “Off the Pedestal” comes from the band’s 1999 CD Hope and Adams, an album that created a buzz in indie circles as much for the band’s disinterest in publicity as for the music itself—the album not only had no pictures of the band but didn’t even list the members’ names. This song has an appealing, busy sort of fuzziness—listen for the oddly cheerful marimba-like synthesizer mixed down into the drone; it’s the kind of touch that subliminally adds texture and interest to a song that might otherwise sink from its own subtlety.


“Grace Cathedral Hill” – the Decemberists

More atmospheric and melodic magic from the Decemberists. Like XTC before them, this band has a way of putting a 19th-century veneer on rock’n’roll—truly a charming effect, the rare times someone can manage it. “Grace Cathedral Hill” can be found on Castaways and Cutouts, the band’s 2002 debut. I enjoy how the pretty turns of the melody contrast with the harshness of some of the imagery, much as singer Colin Meloy’s buzzy voice contrasts with the gorgeous lilt of the song. Eschewing the lo-fi vibe of many of its independent peers, this Portland, Ore.-based quintet creates exquisitely crafted music: from the space implicit in the opening strum of the acoustic guitar to the knowing addition of musical layers as the song develops, it’s clear that strikingly capable hands are at work here.


“All By Myself” – the Ass Ponys

Maybe it helps if you’ve lived in Cincinnati (that’s where they’re from) and already own an Ass Ponys record or two; and I’m sure it also helps if you have memories of driving around in your parent’s car just after getting your driver’s license and hearing this Eric Carmen song played incessantly on the AM radio. That said, listening to Ass Ponys’ leader Chuck Cleaver warbling ’70s pop kitsch may not be the best introduction to this quirky band’s substantial charms, but then again it could be just the thing. I’ve yet to hear their most recent two CDs, but can speak highly of Electric Rock Music, from 1996, which found the Ass Ponys on a major label, of all things. Don’t be surprised, by the way, when this song all but grinds to a standstill about two-thirds of the way through—at once an awkward and all but perfect tribute to the pop melodrama therein unfolding. Like the band notes on its web site, the song is “performed only like Eric wishes he could have done it.”

This Week’s Finds: February 22-28 (Moonbabies, The Shins, Shannon Wright)

“Sun A.M.” – Moonbabies

Blondie meets the Cardigans meets some guy with a portable home recording studio in Sweden. This one wins me over in a couple of places: first, when the male vocals kick in in the chorus, that’s a spiffy turn of melody there when said male (with the unflappable name of Ola Frick) nudges into a husky falsetto for just a syllable; second, shortly after that, when the guitars erupt like a bunch of rubbery saxophones, just about deconstructing the song on the spot, but nope, not quite, we’re right back on the beat and off we go again, soon enough with acoustic guitars gently in the mix. And yet by the time Frick is back with the chorus again, there’s now more space to hear the distant, thundery bass drums that were there last time also but I hadn’t noticed. I’m pretty well sucked into it by now, however sugary a treat this may be. Moonbabies are (is? I never know how to handle the singular plurality of a band) a Swedish duo; “Sun A.M.” comes from their second full-length CD, The Orange Billboard, released in January on Hidden Agenda records.

“Kissing the Lipless” – the Shins

Another shimmering piece of skewed pop from Albuquerque’s finest. Driven by an itchy acoustic riff, the song unfolds unusually, its melody bending back and back again as tension is introduced by a sparse, expert use of electric guitar, some brilliant instrumental accents, and lead singer James Mercer’s high-pitched expressiveness. What a great name, by the way, the Shins—what an overlooked body part, known only for being kicked, and yet rather important to our overall ability to stand on our own two feet. For a so-called indie band, these guys have a sophisticated grip on rock’n’roll dynamics. Like “So Says I,” this song comes from the band’s well-regarded 2003 release Chutes Too Narrow, on Sub Pop Records.

“Black Little Stray” – Shannon Wright

Intense, fuzzy, and compelling, “Black Little Stray” alternates between a cockeyed, big-bodied electric guitar riff and tensely quiet, nearly whispered vocal segments. Tanya Donnelly comes to mind as Wright works the edge between loud and soft; there’s also something of the great band Television in the angular, sometimes dissonant ferocity of the guitar work. Shannon Wright is a Florida-born, NYC-based singer/songwriter who once fronted the admired indie band Crowsdell in the mid-’90s. I have no idea what she’s singing about here, but the overall effect is spooky and effective. This song will be found on her new CD, Over the Sun, scheduled to be released in April on Touch and Go Records.

This Week’s Finds: February 15-21 (John Vanderslice, Spoon, Rachael Davis)

“They Won’t Let Me Run” – John Vanderslice

One of the most gifted musicians I’ve yet uncovered by seeking free and legal MP3s online, John Vanderslice is a powerful songwriter and unerring producer; the music he creates is melodic, beautifully textured, and consistently engaging. This song comes from his new Cellar Door album, released at the end of January on Barsuk Records. “They Won’t Let Me Run” tells a sorry tale with an edgy sort of elegance and restraint, and shows off Vanderslice’s gift for creating hooks not merely with melody but with instrumental accents–listen here to the repeating synthesizer motif at the end of each verse, and the stylish way it works against the beat to draw you in. If you have a chance, spend some extra time on his web site and check out his older material, including his work in the band MK Ultra. It’s like a peep-hole into some grand, alternate, undiscovered musical universe; this stuff is seriously good, but no one (relatively speaking) knows about it.

“Me and the Bean” – Spoon

The three-piece Austin band Spoon has been around since 1994; such is the frenetic pace of musical trends that in staying together for 10 years or so, the band serves as a link from a bygone sound (punk-roughened indie pop, a la the Pixies) to a newly emerging sound (emo-infused indie pop, a la Death Cab for Cutie), and does it by simply by sounding the same. If that makes sense. Anyway, this song, from the 2001 CD Girls Can Tell, is a concise, edgy confection, brought to life by the unexpected warmth of the keyboard riff and lead singer Britt Daniel’s gruff melodicism.

“Better Than Me” – Rachael Davis

A stark track, featuring voice and banjo, but the 22-year-old Davis appears to have the chops to pull it off. With a fetching resemblance to the young Shawn Colvin, this Boston-based singer/songwriter sounds fresh and inspired to me in my current state of mind. Still reeling from my annual confrontation with quote-unquote mainstream music (I really have to learn to lay off the Grammy Awards once and for all), I feel particularly engaged by this sort of song performed by this sort of 22-year-old. Mass media depictions notwithstanding, young musicians in this country are not all about harsh rhythm, schmaltz, and/or heart-stopping shallowness. This song can be found on Davis’s one and (to date) only CD, Minor League Deities, released in 2001.

This Week’s Finds: February 8-14 (The Bigger Lovers, Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer, Okkervil River)

“I Resign” – the Bigger Lovers

Ah, for the days when bands made pop songs in 6/4 time! Well, okay, actually there never were days like that, but there should’ve been. Or maybe, against all odds, we’re in them now. Here, in any case, are Philadelphia’s answer to Fountains of Wayne, the Bigger Lovers, with their own version of pure pop for now-ish people. In a week when the so-called music industry is celebrating (why?) having successfully turned joy into commerce, let those of us who still get the shivers from a wonderful melodic turn or an unexpected harmony (rather than mere vocal histrionics) take the three-minute, sixteen-second gift the Bigger Lovers have offered and sink right into every last bit of it. From the offbeat swagger of the time signature to the offhand expertise of the arrangement to the wondrous climax, two-thirds of the way in, when the bridge melts back into the first verse, but without most of the lyrics, because words are no longer necessary, this is one cool tune. You’ll find it on the band’s third CD, This Affair Never Happened…And Here are 11 Songs About It, when it comes out next month on Yep Roc Records.

“Ordinary Town” – Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer

When I wasn’t listening carefully, the music of Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer sounded like country-folk wallpaper—just another acoustic guitar, just another singer with a vague twang, nicely-enough executed, but so what. I’ll admit as well to a city person’s inherent distrust of the violin when played as a “fiddle.” But finally I’m listening carefully and as I do I’m at last hearing Carter’s incredibly well-crafted (not to mention philosophically subversive) lyrics, neatly delivered with deadpan grace by Grammer, who smoothes the way for (yes) the fiddle and darn if I kind of sort of like it in this context. I’m sorry I myself hadn’t paid more attention when they were still around; the duo was sadly cut short in its career when Dave Carter died suddenly, of a heart attack, in the summer of 2002. This song comes from their final CD, Drum Hat Buddha, released in 2001.

“End With A Fall” – Okkervil River

One of the most mysterious things in the annals of rock’n’roll is the matter of voice—how some bands or musicians can manage to develop a truly individual sound, a sound like themselves and no one else, while others struggle to emerge with a distinct voice, wearing influences a little too noticeably on their sleeves. (And then of course there are those many musicians with so generic a sound that they sound neither like themselves nor like anyone else specifically.) And yet sounding a little or even a lot like someone else, at first, is not necessarily a damning condition. Sometimes that’s what a band needs to find its voice, even as there’s no guarantee that it ultimately will. In any case, as this startlingly Wilco-like song from the Austin-based band Okkervil River illustrates, there can be a fine line indeed between a pleasing versus an uncomfortable resemblance. But despite the heavy Wilco vibe and singer Will Sheff’s Tweedy-esque vocals, this song stands firmly on its own. Right away I hear a wonderful spaciousness in the mix—a literal sense of physical space between the drums, the guitar, and the singer. Spaciousness always pulls me right in, and is only achieved by bands that really know how to use their instruments (including in this case, brilliant shadings from an organ, or maybe more than one). The melodies too are very appealing and long: eight leisurely bars—an anomaly in our melody-free age. From the 2003 CD From the River of Golden Dreams (Jagjaguwar Records), this song grows and grows on me with repeated listens.

This Week’s Finds: Feb. 1-7 (Jonatha Brooke, Kingdom Flying Club, Felix McTeigue)

“War” – Jonatha Brooke

This song, released on Brooke’s 1995 CD Plumb, was written for the last Iraq war. I forgive her somewhat heavy-handed lyrics because, heck, at least she tried. (Not many did, or do.) If she could have known back then that this one would come around again quite so specifically, she might have sounded even more exasperated than she already does. “War” is one of the three MP3s Brooke has available to download on her music-filled site, which allows you to stream every song she has recorded. (Another worthwhile MP3 is her passionate take on the Christmas hymn “Emmanuel” as well; I’d have chosen it here but it seems a bit out of season already.)

“Artists Are Boring” – Kingdom Flying Club

Ben Folds meets the Smiths in this affecting yet jaunty little number from a Columbia, Missouri-based band with two (very) small-label CDs to its name. This song comes from the band’s 2003 release, Non-Fiction, on Emergency Umbrella Records. Never mind that I’d like this for the title alone; I also like that for all its indie trappings (the not-quite-on-key-all-the-time vocals, the tinkly ambiance), there’s something quite accomplished in the vibe here. I also love the fact that I only found out about this small band from Missouri through a recommendation on a French blog. And I can’t even read French, and never would have known about the blog (called La Blogothèque) in the first place if one of the people who posts there hadn’t written about Fingertips (in French, as noted) last week. So a guy in Philadelphia finds out about an obscure band from Missouri via a blogger in France. Vive l’internet!

“El Paso” – Felix McTeigue

I don’t normally recommend MP3s with less than CD-quality audio (or at least near-CD-quality), but I also don’t like to have etched-in-stone rules about anything. So when something simple, bittersweet, and disconcertingly haunting like this song comes along, here it is, lower sound quality and all. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone who actually reminds me of Phil Ochs before, but with McTeigue it’s a gentle Ochs-ishness, without the passive-aggressive humor/anger. This song ambles along with a loopy sort of grace (“Van Halen’s on the radio/The old stuff, Diver Down/Right before David left and Sammy came around”), completely engaging me by the end. McTeigue is a NYC-based singer/songwriter with one CD to his credit, 2001’s Felix McTeigue. This comes from that, but probably sounds a little richer on the album.

This Week’s Finds: January 25-31 (The Church, Norfolk & Western, Damien Rice)

“Song in Space” – the Church

Call me nostalgic, but I can’t seem to get enough of ’80s bands that regroup and take up right where they left off, as if the ’90s never really happened. There’s something reassuring about the effort somehow. The Church is even more reassuring because they never actually broke up in the first place. So here are Australia’s redoubtable purveyors of spaced-out guitar pop, back with their 17th (!) album, the just-released Forget Yourself. “Song in Space” is an extended drone that takes you right back to something like “2000 Light Years From Home,” Marty Willson-Piper’s iridescent guitar shining as ever off Steve Kilbey’s sleepy but reverberant vocals. Not a classic but with its own subtle charms. MP3 via Better Propaganda.

“Terrified” – Norfolk and Western

If Yo La Tengo added a banjo, I might expect them to sound more than a little like this. Norfolk and Western is a project headed by a whisper-voiced Portland-based musician named Adam Selzer and sharing the talents of drummer and vocalist Rachel Blumberg (also in the band the Decemberists), among others. At first this sounded to me like it was going to veer uncomfortably off the twee scale, but the steady beat gives it body and the varied instrumentation–including a welcome touch of distorted guitar–gives it depth. The band is named after a defunct railroad line and plays music that, while not necessarily “traditional” or “folk,” displays a care and tenderness one might associate with songs dating back to the heyday of the Norfolk & Western itself. “Terrified” comes from the band’s most recent CD, Dusk in Cold Parlours, released in 2003 on Hush Records.

“Volcano” – Damien Rice

If I’m not mistaken, some industrious segment of the music industry seems bent on turning the phrase “emerging artist” into a marketable term, much the way “alternative rock” was transformed some years ago. Keep an eye on this; as with “alternative rock,” there may be something contradictory in trying to build a saleable category of music called “emerging artists,” not to mention something formula-inducing. In any case, Ireland’s Damien Rice is certainly the guy most often associated here in the U.S. with that irritating phrase in recent months. Not that he isn’t a singer/songwriter of merit–and apparently not an “emerging artist” at all in his home country, but a full-fledged star. “Volcano” is a spare and rhythmic effort, with a repetitive hook that I’ll admit I’m kind of tired of because I hear it too often on the local singer/songwriter-oriented radio station. But approached with what in yoga they call “beginner’s mind,” I think this song holds up pretty nicely. Rice’s widely-acclaimed debut album is called O and came out last year.