I have decided that composure is drastically underrated in the realm of rock’n’roll.
Ah if only all songs were as immediately interesting and engaging as “Don’t Come to Me.” This blog would write itself.
First we have the odd, sparse, toy-piano like pre-introduction, which folds itself underneath a descending guitar melody with a deceptively involved cadence—which, in turn, folds itself into a flowing yet syncopated arrangement with a vaguely islandy ambiance. The lyrics, starting up, have an affable, run-on quality even as they resist any kind of spilling-out feeling. All in all a measured jauntiness is in the air, and that’s what really delights me. Here is a song that bops with a spry bounce (it’s great to desk-dance to; try it!), yet with an abiding sense of control. I am deciding on the spot that composure is way underrated in the general realm of rock’n’roll. You can have most of those guttural screams and overheated guitar solos and such; me, I’m enchanted by restraint and discipline. And so naturally enough we end up here with a most disciplined and easy-going guitar solo (1:35) and a climax featuring nothing more or less than a serious of truly interesting chord changes (1:55). All this in service of a song with a chorus anchored by the lyric “Don’t come to me with your bullshit excuses.” I mean, isn’t control in this context deeper and more interesting than wild-ass bedlam? Maybe?
Nick Jaina is a Portland, Ore.-based musician, composer, and essayist. He has composed music for ballet, theater, and film. “Don’t Come to Me” is a song from his new album, Primary Reception, which will be released later this month on Fluff & Gravy Records, a record label and recording studio also based in Portland. It is his eighth album, not counting a release featuring music he wrote for the play Girl Who Drew Horses; all are available via Bandcamp, including an album of interesting covers he recorded that is available in its entirety for free. Another good song from the new album, “Strawberry Man,” is available as a free download from his web site. Jaina was previously featured on Fingertips in 2008
Bright smart pop w/ movement and charm
“My Heart is a Drummer” – Allo Darlin’
So we should be clear by now, class, that there is no formula here, no checklist that leads, guaranteed, to a great song. But if I were forced to identify one characteristic that gives a song a leg up, that sends a song soaring skyward rather than plummeting earthward, it might be this: movement. (For those who thought I might say a ukulele, no, but I like how you’re thinking.) A song becomes too easily dreary or dull without a sense of movement; while a song that moves is a song you are more likely to want to hear again, a song that warms and nourishes and reminds you of that all-important, often-overlooked detail: you are alive.
Movement does not have to mean speed. But movement means we do not, as a listener, feel we are stuck, and we do not feel we are waiting very long for something to happen (this is pop music, after all, not a Brahms Symphony). Something, rather, is almost always happening—the melody goes from here to there to there, chords shift and shift and shift again, the band finds its groove without veering into a rut, the singer sounds ever so slightly breathless or edgy or even as if he or she is in some way making the words up on the fly.
Needless to say, “My Heart is a Drummer”—a song that is itself about a certain sort of movement—moves. (That there is no introduction gets us off on the right foot.) The melody leaps and prances and yet also resolves with fluid ease, while the fetching Elizabeth Morris delivers her lines in natural yet idiosyncratic rhythms. The band plays along with such locked-in elasticity you almost don’t notice they’re there; this is one of those songs that sounds less arranged than discovered. But if you get around to it, notice how the guitar plays with great judicious ease—I especially like the high, ringing countermelody it offers beginning with the second verse (around 0:44).
Allo Darlin’ is a half-Australian, half-British quartet based in London (leader Morris one of the Australians). “My Heart is a Drummer” is a song from the band’s self-titled debut album, released in June in the UK, and this week in the US, on the Fortuna Pop label.