“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.