“Smile” – Whoop

Charming, charged indie rock

“Smile” – Whoop

Right away the intro hints at this song’s crooked charm: what kind of guitar tone is that, and is it even in tune or on the beat? We don’t have long to ponder these inscrutable questions, as the song is overtaken, at 0:08, by the distinctive presence of Fal, the band’s one-named leader. With a voice that sounds at once like a whisper and a shout, she massages words and syllables into enjoyable new shapes, lyrical lines running into and over each other, enthusiasm bleeding into urgency and back again. The song is worth a listen for Fal alone.

At the same time let’s not give the fellows here short shrift. Playing together only since the fall of 2020, the band seems quickly to have fused into one of those units that can sound like they’re flying apart precisely as they’re pulling tightly together. A tell-tale sign of Whoop’s sharp musicianship is the space they leave for themselves in the mix—often here we get not much more than drum and bass; and when the guitar shows up it’s more to blurt and wobble into the texture than to steal the spotlight. Even the solo (1:58) is a woozy affair, half off the beat, grabbing only 15 seconds of your time, but not before nailing a brief vivid lick, heretofore unheard, into the onrushing tumble of Fal’s narration.

Whoop is based in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Smile” is a track from the band’s exclamatory, self-titled album, Whoop!, which was released in November. You can check out the whole thing, and buy it, via Bandcamp.

Free and legal MP3: New God (melodic grandeur in rough-edged package)

Brian Wilson goes lo-fi; what is lacking here in polish is made up for with melodic grandeur.

New God

“Motorcar” – New God

“Motorcar” is brief, slightly undeveloped, and rough-edged—but convincing where it counts, with its luminous, 16-measure melody and those Beach Boys-go-to-(lo-fi-)heaven harmonies. Those of you with an aversion to electronic percussion may want to sit this one out, but me, I can overlook some sonic crudeness in service of melodic grandeur. The chords are the classic I-IV-V chords but something majestic is achieved through how they are manipulated. In the first eight measures, we alternate between the I and the V chords, no IV chord to be heard, with the melody beginning on the third note of the I chord; we do not in fact hear the root note of a chord until the last note in the melody’s first half (first example at 0:38). This creates a particularly satisfying pivot point and is what allows the melody to double in length. In the second half the elusive IV chord makes its necessary appearance (your ear required it, whether you realized it or not), and at last, as the melody closes out, we get the chords in the “right” order: I-IV-V.

As usual, the theory stuff sounds stilted and dull in written description but for whatever reason I find that knowing how songs work like this adds to my pleasure in listening. Your mileage, as they used to say, may vary. And all that said, “Motorcar” may still sound somewhat more like a demo than a song, and yeah it could maybe stand to offer us more than two chorus-free, bridge-free verses. But every time I go back to this to listen with any kind of “Wait, maybe I don’t like this after all” skepticism, it wins me over anew with its insistent lovableness, rough edges and all.

New God is a brand new band, with zero internet presence. There’s a guy named Kenny Tompkins, from “the foggy mountains of Western Maryland,” there’s a debut album to be released next month on his own label (RARC), and that’s about all there is to report. The band hasn’t played any live dates yet, so Tompkins hasn’t had to decide who’s officially in it at this point. The guy in the picture with him is his brother, Curt, who is either part of the band or who was hanging out with him when the photo was shot (by Lindsey S. Wilson, while we’re naming names). MP3, obviously, via Tompkins. And no worries about the “dropbox” URL, this one’s fully legal.