I am reminded of Björk’s “Bachelorette”–not in sound or feel but in the way that both of these songs are driven by the power of one confident melody.
Launched off a series of melodramatic piano chords, “My Man” blends the feeling of an old-time torch song with something unexpectedly up-to-date. If you don’t notice the subtle hints before this, check out the transition between verses from 0:38 to 0:46 and you’ll hear the sounds of a song not content with all-out nostalgia, even if nostalgia is a potent part of the mix here. A later instrumental break (1:45), concise and slightly twisted as it is, offers definitive proof.
At its heart, this is a very simple song: there is just one central melody, which swings fetchingly against the basic one-two rhythm, and with a resolution that alternates between two primary landing spots, one minor and one major. Beyond this, there are two places in the song where the melody receives a two-line addendum (first heard at 0:33), and there is the aforementioned instrumental break. Other than that, the song sticks to the business of its grounding melody, enhanced strategically by some wonderful vocal flourishes by Dayana Stoehr, the singer/songwriter who performs as Dallan. I am reminded of Björk’s “Bachelorette”—not in sound or feel but in the way that both of these songs are driven by the power of one confident melody. This is not easy to do, either because not many melodies are robust enough to support a whole song or because not many songwriters think this way. Or both.
Based in Switzerland, Dallan appears admirably disinterested in personal hype—it’s hard enough to discern her country of origin, and I wouldn’t know her real name if she hadn’t emailed me in the first place. “My Man” is a song from Dallan’s upcoming album, Overturn, which is set for release in August. Her previous release was the EP Decade, which came out in 2015; you can listen to it and purchase it via Bandcamp. You can furthermore listen to four other songs slated for the new album on her SoundCloud page. Thanks to Dayana for the MP3.
photo credit: Renato Serge Stöhr
“Everything Breaks” manages the uncommon trick of being both lovely and urgent. Each of these aspects, as it turns out, seems to hinge primarily on the song’s consistent—and subtly edgy—alteration between minor and major keys. We hear it right away in the crisp, ringing piano intro, and the minor/major shifting is only deepened and underlined by the addition of vocals. There’s a breathlessness to the proceedings, a sense that the song just has to burst out as is and be done.
And then too there’s the way the song unfolds lyrically as an elegiac litany of facts, descriptions, and/or circumstances, creating a kind of beauty-meets-tragedy atmosphere, even if it is difficult to apprehend exactly what is being sung about and why. With its graceful confluence of lyrical and melodic portent, “Everything Breaks” grabs the ear so quickly and securely that we feel grounded without even a chorus to provide its steadying influence.
The Sharp Things, previously featured on Fingertips in November 2013, are an expanding and contracting NYC ensemble, active since the ’90s, and currently in a nine-piece phase. “Everything Breaks” is the lead track on Adventurer’s Inn, released earlier this month. This album, the band’s sixth, turned out to be a personally notable and heartbreaking effort for front man Perry Serpa, as it is the last album the Sharp Things were able to record with drummer and band co-founder Steven Gonzalez, Serpa’s best friend since childhood. Gonzalez died in September from complications related to a lifelong struggle with cystic fibrosis.
Thanks to the band for the MP3.
With the succinct, thunderous drive of mid-career Blondie, “Losing to the Dark” is catchy, unrestrained, guitar-driven rock’n’roll the likes of which are not often heard here in 2014.
With the succinct, thunderous drive of mid-career Blondie, “Losing to the Dark” is catchy, unrestrained, guitar-driven rock’n’roll the likes of which are not often heard here in 2014. From the feedback-friendly, multi-part introduction through the ear-catching major-minor shift in the pre-chorus and on into the fiery guitar solo, this one is three-plus minutes of adrenaline and purpose.
La Sera is the performing name of Katy Goodman, the bass player for the recently disbanded Vivian Girls, and while in the past looking to the ’50s and early ’60s for melodic inspiration, Goodman leaves the dreaminess behind for a shot of unblinking, contemporary reality. The title scans precisely to the Adele hit “Rolling in the Deep,” and as such (it’s a stretch but bear with me) I can’t help viewing this as a punked-up bookend to that song. Both singers mourn a failed relationship. While Adele is defiant to the point of vengeful, focused on the potential that has been cast aside, Goodman sees the loss as a morality play. Her erstwhile lover consumed by bad behavior, she starts sarcastic (“How ’bout you have another drink/So you can pass out in the back seat of my car?”), offers the faux sympathy of “What a pain it must be/To have to only be with me” at the song’s emotional and melodic fulcrum (first heard at 0:48), and then just lashes out at the real enemy, which isn’t the guy at all but human frailty itself. Adele is done with her lover because she’s better than him; in this song, the narrator is just as pissed off but also, in a weird way, more understanding. There’s a feeling of “There but for the grace of God go I” in here, which makes me think that maybe it’s Katy Goodman who is actually rolling in the deep.
“Losing to the Dark” is the lead track from the third La Sera album, entitled Hour of the Dawn, which comes out next week on Hardly Art. La Sera was featured previously on Fingertips in November 2010.
Not slow this time but quite, actually, low
Built on a creamy, low-end, guitar-driven groove, “Just Make It Stop” immediately contradicts itself with music that sounds like it could pretty much keep going forever. With a prominent, recycling major-to-minor key modulation adding to the momentum, the song does not even stop to acquire a separated chorus—one melody services both chorus and verse (“I could tell the whole world/To get out of the way” indeed.)
There is something seductive here in this rich, brisk song that revels in its lower-register grace. Not only does Mimi Parker’s dusty alto dominate, but the entire piece seems to rest down below where most rock songs want to live. Rock’n’roll catharsis stereotypically happens at the shrieky end of things: guitar solos so far up the neck the fingers are really on the body; singers throwing their heads back to emit glass-shattering howls. Since its beginnings as an inadvertent “slowcore” pioneer, Low has never been about such flagrant drama, preferring to find a different kind of thrill in spaciousness of various kinds—slow tempos, thoughtful structures, uncrowded arrangements. Even as they’ve broadened their sound over the years, there remains an alluring awareness of space in the band’s music, even when the tempo in this case has us tapping our toes rather than closing our eyes. Not too many other bands would think of, never mind get away with, the skeletal instrumental break we get here after the song’s opening chorus (1:00), in which the instrumentalists play as if each waits for someone else to take the lead. The second time we get to this break (2:17), there’s what we waited for: a piano pounding out a gut-satisfying left-hand melody, grounding the song down in that deep place it’s been in the whole time. (They don’t call themselves Low for nothing.)
“Just Make It Stop” is from the album The Invisible Way, coming out next week on Sub Pop Records. Produced by Jeff Tweedy and recorded in Wilco’s Chicago studio, it is the band’s tenth album; the Duluth trio is now in their 20th year together. Longtime Low fans note that Mimi sings lead on five of 11 songs this time around—welcome news for most, as she’s usually up front for just one or two per album. MP3 via Sub Pop. If you go to Low’s page on the record label site, you’ll find eight other free and legal MP3s to download, including two that were previously featured here (in April 2011 and in February 2005).