Equal parts noise and melody, “I Don’t Think She Knows” is an awesome slice of 21st-century rock’n’roll, from a land (Sweden) that hasn’t given up on the genre quite as much as we have here, alas.
Equal parts noise and melody, “I Don’t Think She Knows” is an awesome slice of 21st-century rock’n’roll, from a land (Sweden) that hasn’t given up on the genre quite as much as we have here, alas. But with this kind of thing still crossing the border, I can yet find my happy place—until, at least, a future president sees fit to seal everything and everyone out and all of us left here just end up shouting each other to death. Did I say shouting? I meant shooting. Or, better, shouting and shooting: that’s the American way.
But I digress. And present “I Don’t Think She Knows” as the kind of song that can (maybe) take your mind off the parade of unmitigated lunacy currently passing as normal here in the ever-amazing (not necessarily meant in a good way) United States. Launched off a yearning, fuzzed-out two-note guitar riff, scuffed up by noise and reverb, “I Don’t Think She Knows” succeeds with a lovely, minor-key verse melody, a wordless chorus, stellar guitar work, and a healthy dose of impenetrable commotion. That juxtaposition of identifiable guitar lines and blurry hubbub is, to my ears, one of the things that gives the song its sharp appeal. And don’t lose sight of the nimble bass line either; even when all hell breaks loose (e.g., 3:06), the bass keeps us grounded structurally and sonically. We know we’re in a pop song, which every now and then is still a good place to be. Especially when the shouting and shooting starts.
YAST was formed by three musicians from the Swedish city of Sandviken in 2007, and became a quintet after moving to Malmö for its more music-oriented culture (although the two new members were also, as luck would have it, from Sandviken). The band released its first single in 2012, its first album in 2013, and a second album in September 2015, called My Dreams Did Finally Come True, which is where you’ll find this song. If you want a higher-quality .wav file, visit Adrian Recordings on SoundCloud.
Via unexplained mechanisms, the Toronto-based quartet Grounders employ a familiar-sounding synth pop vocabulary to create something that strikes my ear as anomalous, and very satisfying.
Via unexplained mechanisms, the Toronto-based band Grounders employ a familiar-sounding synth pop vocabulary to create something that strikes my ear as anomalous, and a lot of fun. As the perky intro, propelled by a series of six-note descents, takes some time to establish itself, you’ll notice, if you listen, the ongoing encroachment of fuzzy noise (or, perhaps, noisy fuzz) underneath the main melody; almost as if a series of retro-futuristic machines are being variously turned on, the noise is all but constructed before our eyes (ears). Once the vocals finally start (0:52), it then provides a constant, multifaceted background throughout the song’s sung portions.
But it’s elusive, this fuzz/noise. Is it simply an extension of the bass line? Something extra going on in the synthesizer department? Something to do with that unaccountable “wa-wa” sound that cycles through the musical undergrowth? Whatever it is, it’s both always there and sometimes not quite there, and may be what gives “Bloor Street and Pressure” its intangible charm. That and the fact that for all its propulsive energy and ear-worm-ish bias, the song does not possess either a chorus or anything much to sing along with. Which is great if you can get away with it.
Grounders is a five-piece band that was previously a four-piece band and might in fact still be a four-piece band, but their current photo has five guys in it. These things can be hard to untangle. They are in any case from Toronto (where, in fact, you will find Bloor Street). Their debut self-titled album was released on Nevado Records in May. You can listen to the whole thing and buy it via Bandcamp.
MP3 courtesy of Insomnia Radio.
The fuzzy, voluminous surface can’t disguise the catchy song lurking beneath, and obviously doesn’t want to.
The fuzzy, voluminous surface can’t disguise the catchy song lurking beneath, and obviously doesn’t want to. Listen, right at the start, to how that ominous electronic swell that opens the song delivers us first into a goth-y electronic beat and then into an instrumental melody—some kind of processed guitar, maybe?—with enough soaring and plummeting desire to break your heart (and don’t miss the extended “wrong” note it almost but doesn’t quite end on, at 0:36, which seems about perfect). This melody—succinct, well-crafted, and affecting—tells you just about everything you need to know about “No Fear,” and immediately sets it apart from the endless number of tunes I hear these days with long, introspective introductions in which nothing friggin’ happens.
And okay, I’ll avoid that particular soapbox for now (just barely), and get back to the various extroverted pleasures “No Fear” offers, which include: the way front man Danny Wahlfeldt sings from within a chorally muffle of distortion, which is oddly captivating for no good reason; the way the introduction’s fetching melody returns, in abbreviated form, in the middle of the song (1:31), something you don’t hear much of today largely because few songs bother with instrumental melody lines; and the general way Grave Babies here unites a variety of disconnected rock’n’roll genres from the ’80s and ’90s and ’00s, not all of which have been known for their pop sensibilities, into something concise and accessible.
“No Fear” is from the album Crusher, the band’s second, coming later this month on Hardly Art Records. Note that Grave Babies are not to be confused with the band Brave Baby, which was featured here in December.
photo credit: Angel Ceballos
A reverbed composition centered on an elegiac, six-note descending melody, with all sorts of vague ghosts from rock’n’roll past floating through the soundscape.
Off a hauntingly familiar piano riff—“Cold as Ice,” maybe, but backwards—“Observations” launches into a reverbed composition centered on an elegiac, six-note descending melody. Minor-key, of course. All sorts of vague ghosts from rock’n’roll past float through the soundscape, as typically happens when the Raveonettes come to town. (I will remind you that the duo’s very name is rooted deep-down in rock’n’roll history: The “Rave On”-ettes.) A good part of the group’s charm is that one is never sure what particular musical obsession will catch their interest at any given time. In addition to bursting on the scene with a major-label debut intent on somehow mashing together My Bloody Valentine and Buddy Holly (My Buddy Valentine?), this is a band that recorded their entire first release in the key of B-flat minor, and then their next album (the aforementioned major-label debut) all in the key of B-flat major.
This time around we appear to be in the ’70s, maybe. Beyond the inverted Foreigner riff, “Rhiannon” is in the air. At first the guitar has an Eric Clapton-ish aspect (e.g., 0:49, 1:09). But then the fuzzy/hazy guitars—nothing ’70s about them—make their entrance, and the cross-pollination begins, full of that special kind of elusive white noise that lets you know this is in any case a Raveonettes record. Male vocalist Sune Rose Wagner takes the lead here, his buzzy tenor dripping with reverb, with partner Sharin Foo floating Christine McVie-ishly in the background.
“Observations” is the semi-lead track from the band’s upcoming album, Observator, which is due out on Vice Records in September. The album is the band’s sixth, or seventh, if you count their eight-song debut as an album rather than an EP. It was recorded with producer Richard Gottehrer at Hollywood’s Sunset Sound recording studio, where any number of ’60s and ’70s classics were born, including Pet Sounds, Exile on Main Street, and albums by the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor, and Neil Young. This is the fourth time the band has been featured on Fingertips, with a first appearance dating all the way back to the dark days of 2003.
MP3 via Vice Records. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.
A new band from Boston gives us fuzzed-up noise pop, with boy-girl harmonies.
Another short song for you this week. Not many chords this time either. Easy to fit in around your pre-holiday hubbub: you can listen, and get on with it. And hey, you get a lot of sound for the time invested here. I mean, check out the fuzzed-up bash of background noise that Earthquake Party churns up, and that heavy, decisive “mi-re-do” downward riff that anchors the song. Everything immediately feels buzzy and overheated, like someone’s pinned the recording levels too high.
Then front man Justin Lally comes along and just kind of speak-sings against the noise, neither shouting to be heard nor being drowned out by the sludge; it’s a balance I find counter-intuitive and appealing. (Note that this is a phenomenon singularly available to recorded music, not live music.) Even more appealing: when keyboardist Mallory Hestand adds harmony in the chorus, and their two voices seem to ricochet away from each other B-52s-ishly. The melody they somehow describe between them is richer and deeper than the one either of them sings. And bonus points for the pithy lyrics they sing, full of both mystery and implication: “All I want’s a pretty little hand/That’s full of pills and candy.” I like how, in the end, this song feels like pop, despite all the fuss and noise. It’s amazing what a good chorus can do for you.
Earthquake Party is a trio founded last year in Boston. “Pretty Little Hand” is one of three songs on its debut EP, vs. Pizza, that the band released on a so-called cassingle (yup, a cassette tape) last month. And I do mean self-released: they bought 200 blank cassettes for $100 via mail order, put the music on them, and then made the inserts and labels, all by themselves. You can listen to all three songs and buy the cassette and/or downloads at the band’s Bandcamp page. The cassette will come with the download codes, so you don’t really need to have a cassette player, although all the better if you do. MP3 via the band. (And don’t worry about the generic-looking URL; this is a legitimately free and legal download.)
A kitchen-sinky chunk of sped-up dream pop, “Spoon” is instantly likable even as it presents more to the ear than the ear initially can absorb.
A kitchen-sinky chunk of sped-up dream pop, “Spoon” is instantly likable even as it presents more to the ear than the ear initially can absorb. Which actually isn’t easy to do, I don’t think: package sonic overload into something brisk and immediate.
Here’s maybe the key to how Boris does it: for all the aural exuberance, “Spoon” hews to the conventional verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus design. This is why we can kind of “get” the song even when it’s offering more musical information in any given slice than we can consciously process. There are so many things to listen for here, from intermittent concrete sounds like breaking glass and cracking whips and children’s voices to ongoing threads like the singular rhythm section, which combines a stuttery drumbeat with a fluid, hyperactive bassline. That bursty drum sound does everything it can to break the song into disjointed moments, while the bass works hard to stitch it all together. Throughout, the slightly breathy lead vocal from guitarist Wata gives us something delightful to stay focused on when all else fails.
And never mind the difficult-to-absorb song—Boris itself is a difficult-to-absorb band. Together since 1992, a trio since 1996, this veteran Japanese outfit has a complex history of experimentation and genre-blending and -hopping. (The band has been identified with ambient, doom metal, drone metal, industrial, minimalist, noise rock, and punk, among quite a few others.) Its members all go by single names, which is just as well—slightly less information to process. They tour a lot and are reportedly more well known in North America than they are in Japan, having done things like open for Nine Inch Nails and appear on avant-garde film soundtracks, including one for Jim Jarmusch. The band’s 2006 album Pink was listed among the year’s best by Pitchfork, SPIN, and Blender. “Spoon” is a song from Boris’s new album called (finally, someone did it) New Album. New Album is actually (more complications) the band’s third release of 2011, this one a dream-pop-ish reworking of songs that were on the other two albums, with some new songs as well. MP3 via Pitchfork.
Sneaky great single from this increasingly impressive Baltimore duo—an elusive mix of alterna-folk and noise pop, using timelessness to unleash volume on a fulcrum of suspense. Or something like that.
Sneaky great single from this increasingly impressive Baltimore duo—an elusive mix of alterna-folk and noise pop, using timelessness to unleash volume on a fulcrum of suspense. Or something like that.
“Civilian” has a simple structure: there are four two-line verses, with a repeating instrumental break between them. There is no chorus, even as the song directly implies one. Within this simplicity, however, admirable musical drama unfolds. From the outset, we get the foot-tapping rhythm and guitar-picking backbone of an old folk song, juxtaposed with smoky-voiced Jenn Wasner’s teasingly blurred phrasing; she has mastered the Stipean trick of allowing us to discern intermittent words but few extended thoughts. The impression of ancient folkiness is deepened by the steady recurrence of one particular three-note descending guitar line that we first hear at 0:10. There is something timeless and troubadoury in this motif, which repeats every 10 seconds or so for the better part of the song. When it comes missing at around 1:02 is in fact when we know that something is up, the moment pretty much coinciding with the recognition that the open-ended verses may not be leading us to a chorus after all. The three-note motif is here replaced with a more suspenseful, more electric guitar riff that doesn’t end up transforming anything but the volume, which cranks up a few notches at 1:19, thanks to the influx of fuzzy guitars and Andy Stack’s abruptly fuller-bodied drumbeat. Any chance we had previously to decipher Wasner is gone; Stack clearly doesn’t want us to hear her now.
Meanwhile the unresolved verses keep the ear waiting, vaguely, expectantly. And who knew? What we were waiting for, arriving at 2:36, is a squealing squalling outbreak of Wasner’s guitar, which obliterates the three-note motif and pretty much everything else in its path. She returns the favor to her partner, as guitar now pretty much manhandles the rhythm section in what surely will remain one of 2011’s best solos.
“Civilian” is the title track to Wye Oak’s forthcoming album, slated for a March release on Merge Records. MP3 via Merge. Wye Oak has previously appeared on Fingertips in both 2008 and 2009.
Try as he might to scrape down the walls with a siren-y electric roar, guitarist James Hanna always leaves room for singer Yuki Chikudate to settle the ear with a bit of sweetness.
Try as he might to scrape down the walls with a siren-y electric roar, guitarist James Hanna always leaves room for singer Yuki Chikudate to settle the ear with a bit of sweetness. “Trails” is a particularly intriguing version of this NYC duo’s distinctive blending of melody and noise, as Hanna launches his attack underneath a mid-tempo ballad; he so distracted me, in fact, with his initial onslaught (say, 0:07 and what follows)—including some ear-bending dissonance (e.g. 0:30)—that the cool pop assurance of the chorus caught me by delighted surprise.
And then: check out how the guitar ferocity lets up around 2:30—we get a quieter lead line, more jangly than jarring, and a softer but now more audible snare beat. When the noise starts up again, it’s muted, and grander, almost symphonic, with choruses of echoey reverb which may or may not be voices framing the soundscape. Note too how Chikudate, who can do the breathy soprano thing with the best of them, likewise shows us a full-bodied belt in this closing section that is vivid and savory. All in all a thoroughly satisfying four minutes.
“Trails” is from the band’s forthcoming album, Fluorescence, scheduled for a February release on Polyvinyl Records. MP3 via Spinner. It’s the band’s fourth album, and second as a duo (they began life as a quartet). No strangers around these parts, Asobi Seksu was featured on Fingertips both in 2004 (for the sublime “I’m Happy But You Don’t Like Me,” no longer free and legal but always great) and 2006 (“Thursday,” still available).
Ever since My Bloody Valentine there have been no shortage of bands choosing to wallop our ears with washes of noisy guitars while teasing those same ears with muffled vocals, but not enough of them–either in the original shoegaze era or in its current “neo” phase–have bothered mixing a strong melody into the sonic assault. The duo calling themselves Ceremony, on the other hand, while making themselves inaccessible Googlistically speaking, have decided to put the â€œpopâ€ back into noise pop.
Ever since My Bloody Valentine there have been no shortage of bands choosing to wallop our ears with washes of noisy guitars while teasing those same ears with muffled vocals, but not enough of them–either in the original shoegaze era or in its current “neo” phase–have bothered mixing a strong melody into the sonic assault. The duo calling themselves Ceremony, on the other hand, while making themselves inaccessible Googlistically speaking, have decided to put the “pop” back into noise pop.
Springing from the same Fredericksburg, Virginia trio–Skywave–that ended up giving birth to NYC’s A Place to Bury Strangers, Ceremony are loud, no question. But right away see how they take the noisy, rapid-fire beat and use it to as a framework for a melody both leisurely and tuneful. The first hint we get is the lilting–in fact, rather Cure-like–instrumental theme that emerges from the beat at 0:16. That’s an ear-friendly hook before the singing even starts. The vocals, when they arrive, are buzzy but not buried; you can not only understand a good number of words, but the singer–either Paul Baker or John Fedowitz (both are listed with the exact same credits: vocal, guitar, bass, drum machine)–sings like he wants to be heard; he’s got a portentous baritone, but he enunciates, while singing a catchy little tune when all is said and done. Rather audacious of him, especially on a song with this straightforward refrain: “Take my heart and my life/’Cause someday you’ll be my wife.” Borrowing a bit from a recent post by Michael Azzerad, one might argue that in a loud and angry age such as ours, using this particular aural toolbox to deliver an unironic, non-violent message of love and connection is more subversive than any effort to be just noisy.
“Someday” was released on a 7-inch single in January, and will appear on Ceremony’s
debut second full-length album, Rocket Fire, to be released next month. Both releases are on Killer Pimp Records, which also hosts the MP3. Thanks yet again to the indefatigable Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.
I have mixed feelings about all the neo-shoegaze one is likely to hear as an active listener of new music here at the end of the century’s first decade. While inherently attracted to one characteristic feature of such music–the combination of loud washes of noise with compelling melodies–I am inherently put off by another characteristic feature, which is the muddy vocals. To the rescue comes the L.A.-based quintet Darker My Love, which here offers the first without the second, so I’m all over this one.
Thus “Talking Words” is both gigantic-noisy and kind of sweet-poppy at the same time, even as the sweet-poppiness is disguised further by the band’s psychedelic tendencies. (But, truly, many of the original psychedelic bands of the ’60s were nothing but pop bands in disguise as well.) Guitarist Tim Presley, who shares writing and singing duties in the band with bassist Rob Barbato, has the high, slightly strained tones of a classic power pop singer (think John Wicks from the Records, or Chris Stamey from the dBs); despite the underlying growl of guitar, Presley is never anywhere but at the center of the mix, often buoyed by some lovely Beatlesque harmonies.
“Talking Words” is from 2, the band’s (duh) second CD, which was released last summer on Dangerbird Records. The free and legal MP3, however, is new, via NME, in advance of the album’s UK release next month.