Some alchemical mixture of voice, texture, and melody puts me in my happy place when I hear them.
All music fans, I’m pretty sure, have certain sounds that are so irresistible to them that bands who manage to hit that aural sweet spot have a more or less limitless appeal—just about anything they record sounds terrific. The Toronto-based quartet Alvvays (pronounced “Always”) is one of those bands for me. Some alchemical mixture of voice, texture, and melody puts me in my happy place when I hear them.
It all begins with Molly Rankin’s voice, with its enchanting blend of purity and depth, her honeyed tones retouched by the flawless application of reverb. Add in the band’s knack for finding contemporary homes for nostalgic melodies and I am smitten. Beyond these immediate characteristics, the band delivers likewise at a deeper level. Check out the juxtaposition of the staccato bass line with the ongoing wash of guitar noise, the bass guiding the ear through the indeterminate din that floats just beyond the surface prettiness; “ice cream truck jangle collides with prismatic noise pop” is how the band describes the general ambiance and sure, why not.
Then we have Alvvays’ ongoing attentiveness to the words employed within their sonic environment of choice. Despite the reverb and the noise, Rankin is rarely mixed beyond comprehension, which allows us to appreciate her heedful language. Note the way the words in the second part of the second verse mirror the words in the same position in the first verse, but altered into slant rhymes: “metaphorically” for “rhetorically,” “psychology” for “astrology,” “mood” for “moon.” Another sign of attention to language is the title selection—rather than rely on the most repeated phrase, which would be “no turning back,” the band names the song after a phrase heard (just barely) once. And speaking of “no turning back,” one of the few places in which Rankin muffles her words is here. With its delivery broken this way—“No turning/There’s no turning/There’s no turning back”—the phrase, at first, to my ears, sounded like “There’s no teddy bears.” Whether she did this on purpose or not, and I suspect she did, it adds poignancy to a tale of a love that’s disappeared.
Alvvays was previously featured on Fingertips in November 2014, some months after their debut release. The band’s second album, Antisocialites, comes out in early September on Polyvinyl Records. You can check out one other song from the new album, and purhase it, on Bandcamp. MP3 via KEXP.
A keen bit of melodic, reverb-y rock’n’roll from a reunited shoegaze pioneer.
Once the youthful leaders of Britain’s burgeoning early-’90s shoegaze movement, the band Ride went dark in 1996, thanks to compounding acrimony between their two guitarist/vocalists, Andy Bell and Mark Gardener. But with age, often, comes perspective; in 2014, the band began playing together again. And now arrives the first recorded material from Ride in 21 years.
“Charm Assault” is a keen bit of melodic, reverb-y rock’n’roll, the noise inherent to Ride’s signature sound hinting at itself around the edges, but adroitly restrained. The verses are guided by a chiming, flowing guitar line; the chorus, punctuated by time-signature shifts, acquires a psychedelic vibe. At 2:37 we veer into an extended if unsettled break—50 seconds of subdued, droning guitar over an impatient high-hat that hadn’t otherwise made its presence known.
The song is also an unexpectedly pointed piece of political protest. The band is addressing the noxious pandering that led to Brexit but may as well be talking on behalf of caring and tolerant people the world over:
Your charm assault
Has scarred the world
It looks so ugly
As your lies begin to unfurl
That’s a somewhat optimistic take, of course; so far in this country, anyway, the people taken in by the “charm assault” (which hasn’t really been too charming) seem incapable of seeing either ugliness or lies when it comes to the words and behaviors exhibited by their preferred leader. But there has been much unfurling in any case.
“Charm Assault” is from the forthcoming album Weather Diaries, the band’s fifth, due out in June. MP3 courtesy of KEXP.
Front woman Dee Dee sings with an arresting air of wounded majesty about her, not hinted at in the upbeat ditties I’ve previously heard from this promising band.
Lovely, spacious, reverb-drenched ballad with an air of old-time rock’n’roll about it—not to mention the guitar riff from “Crimson & Clover.” Front woman Dee Dee sings with a trace of wounded majesty about her, not hinted at in the upbeat ditties I’ve previously heard from this promising quartet. This is a simple song, and powerful in its simplicity. We stay rooted in the alternation of two chords (the IV and I chords, to be precise) through both the verse and most of the chorus. These two chords drive us, anchor us, move us inexorably towards the required V chord, riding the back of a stately, steadfast bass line that adds voice as much as rhythm to the proceedings.
When the harmonies arrive in the chorus, it feels like pure release, even as the melody hasn’t yet resolved. We have been set up from the beginning for the long-delayed arrival of the V chord, on the words “Lord knows” (1:15); and see how each of the three chords now feels like its own part of the resolution—the V chord at 1:15, the IV at 1:19, and the I at 1:22. Directly after this is where the “Crimson & Clover” homage enters, its landmark riff being an inverted incarnation of a I-V-IV progression. In the background, meanwhile, if you haven’t noticed yet, what’s with all the blurry noise? It’s hard to put your finger on, but contributes to the song’s weary grandeur. As do the accumulating vocal harmonies, which often themselves seem to dissolve into the backdrop. Do not miss the climactic harmony at the end of the last verse, at 2:26. Worth the price of admission.
“Lord Knows” has been bouncing around the internet since the summertime, but the EP on which you’ll find it, End of Daze, is just coming out next week, on Sub Pop Records. This is the bi-coastal band’s fourth EP; they also have two full-length albums to date, the most recent being Only in Dreams, released in September 2011, also on Sub Pop. MP3 via Sub Pop.
Large-scale, dynamic indie rock
“The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future” – Los Campesinos!
Like the rare actor who can pull off comedy and drama with equal aplomb (I’m looking at you, Meryl Streep), the Cardiff septet Los Campesinos! herein announce that they are capable of steering their large-scale, unfettered, exclamation-pointed sound in the direction of serious fare just as knowingly as they have engaged in good-natured mayhem.
In both cases they utilize the full dynamic range of music–soft to loud, uncluttered to cluttered, solo vocals and gang singing–and an inventive sense of drama and production. This time around the band produces an almost industrial racket in service of the somber, subtly seafaring mood, and yet it’s also somewhere within that noisier-than-you-realize ambiance (check out that odd, squawking sound that punctuates the rhythm at the outset of the second verse, for instance) that something redemptive emerges. Sad, but redemptive. Maybe. The lyrics seem to have to do with the singer trying to make sense of a troubled woman he probably loves. The song isn’t fun but it’s powerful, and all but demands repeated listens for full effect.
“The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future” is a song from the band’s forthcoming CD, We Are Beautiful, We Are Damned, set for an October release on Witchita Recordings.
Half of the time I love what Yo La Tengo does, half the time I’m not sure I understand it. This falls squarely into the first half. After its odd, electro-echoey intro, “Here to Fall” simmers with that paradoxical low-level intensity that YLT consistently brings to the studio–a product, in part, of the juxtaposition of Ira Kaplan’s plainspoken, softspoken vocals and the churning noise the trio can produce. And yet the noise here isn’t really that noisy, featuring as it does, right in the middle of the mix, the unlikely but thoroughly agreeable addition of a small string section, which somehow brings to mind the sorts of strings we used to hear on old Elton John songs (Paul Buckmaster fans out there, anyone?).
But don’t overlook the guitar work, which is characteristically crazy brilliant without calling any attention to itself. And don’t overlook the additional crazy brilliance of the unadorned melody, barely differentiating verse and chorus, which, cycling inexorably forward, attains a dark grandeur as the guitars burn and the strings melodramatize around it.
“Here to Fall” is a song from the band’s forthcoming album, Popular Songs (their twelfth), which is slated for a September release on Matador Records. MP3 via Matador.