The Beths’ front woman Elizabeth Stokes has one of those appealing, unassuming singing voices that conveys the illusion that she’s merely talking most of the time. The fact that she accomplishes this in the midst of something so noisy and melodic makes the effect all the more fetching. At their best this New Zealand foursome is deliriously likable.
“Silence is Golden” is the Beths at their most frenetic, which right away is a bit of a wink in a song with this particular title. Stokes sings of craving quiet in a too-loud world while her band crashes their way through two minutes and fifty-five seconds of hepped-up power pop, with its emphatic, punctuating drumming and scratchy guitar work. And it’s only fitting somehow that a song about the joys of silence leads into a clamorous guitar solo (2:03): 20 seconds of madcap squalling that will make your head spin.
“Silence is Golden” is the third of 12 tracks on the Beths’ new album, Expert in a Dying Field, all of which is worth hearing. Check it out, and buy it in a variety of formats if you like it, via Bandcamp. MP3 again via KEXP.
Noisy, melodic rock’n’roll that buzzes at a higher degree of accomplishment than most of what seems to catch the internet’s ear.
Noisy, melodic rock’n’roll that buzzes at a higher degree of accomplishment than most of what seems to catch the internet’s ear. I love this song’s immediate and fervent one-two-ness, and how in particular the half-time “one-two” of that siren-y guitar lick in the introduction manages simultaneously to distract from and reinforce the faster one-two beat the song itself clocks to. All in all this opening 35 or so seconds of disciplined instrumental mayhem feels like rock’n’roll at its 21st-century best.
And with the singing, if anything, it only gets better—first of all because the melody is so urgent (all downward motion, or so it seems), second of all because the vocals are so convincing (featuring octave harmonies so subtle and hummy the ear feels them more than hears them), and lastly because underneath the singing the guitars are just about going crazy. No attempt at description will do it justice, just give a listen. “Rudderless” plows through the unsuspecting air with a kind of fevered self-restraint that feels at once hypnotic and cathartic. And don’t miss that moment almost exactly in the middle (1:56) when, for once, the melody’s relentless descent is contravened by one upward-turning phrase (coming at the end of the portentous line “And there’s no one to blame/But me and you”). Even as nothing stops or even slows down, it feels briefly like we’ve arrived at the eye of the storm. I like also what this song does in place of a bridge: two-thirds of the way through (2:28), the guitar seems to discover a new, slower, somewhat more optimistic-sounding melody, and hammers on that for 25 seconds, in way that turns rather Clash-like somehow, before returning us to our regularly scheduled program.
Division of Laura Lee is a band based in Gothenburg, Sweden that formed in 1997. “Rudderless” is the latest single from the band’s fourth full-length album, Tree, which was released back in April on the band’s own Oh, Really!? label. You can listen to it in full via Bandcamp, and buy it there as well.
A bendy, metallic swirl of guitar and drum and semi-intelligible lyrics and that manages to leave you feeling kind of smiley after all.
“Hurricanes, XO” presents a bendy, metallic swirl of guitar and drum and semi-intelligible lyrics and manages to leave you feeling kind of smiley after all. I hear something of Neutral Milk Hotel in the fuzzy/tinny hubbub, as well as in the off-kilter approach to anthemic rock’n’roll. The song creates an agreeable racket, anchored by melodies both offhanded and expert and electric guitar work that hides its monumentality behind a veneer of distortion.
Beat Radio front man and general master mind Brian Sendrowitz mixes his voice down into the middle of the storm here, which on the one hand seems appropriate—we may not be supposed to catch all the words blowing by—but on the other hand, hey, we can’t catch all the words blowing by! And they seem pretty intriguing. You can cheat by reading the lyrics yourself on Bandcamp but then again, I’m not sure the song makes any more literal sense that way. In fact, straining to understand random phrases is almost more engaging, which could be why it was produced the way it was. I don’t quite know what “And if I write a seasick waltz/Or disappear to shopping malls” means but I like the sound of it.
Sendrowitz, based on Long Island, has been recording as Beat Radio since 2005. All the while it has been less an abiding band than an occasional getting-together of friends and collaborators; right now the only official members are Sendrowitz and drummer Brian Ver Straten. “Hurricanes, XO” is the lead track from the fourth, forthcoming Beat Radio album, Hard Times, Go! I like the title’s open-ended double meaning: it’s either telling hard times to skedaddle or, maybe, telling all of us that hard times can bring it on, we can take it. The album is coming later this month on Awkward for Life Records, a label Sendrowitz runs with his wife. He describes the album as one that “sonically and thematically falls between Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town and Robyn’s Body Talk. Alright then. Note that Beat Radio was previously featured on Fingertips back in 2006.
I’m not exactly sure what one would expect a band named Mr. Gnome to sound like, but I’m pretty sure it’s not like this.
I’m not exactly sure what one would expect a band named Mr. Gnome to sound like, but I’m pretty sure it’s not like this. The beginning, maybe, with its winsome clickiness, but as soon as Nicole Barille opens her mouth, smoky and flirty as she wants to be, I’m getting a disconnect between the name and the vibe—which is no doubt part of the point, it eventually occurs to me.
Look at how the song itself changes course rather drastically, more than once. While generally the song is divided into the quiet first half and the noisy second half, “Bit of Tongue” actually has at least four distinct sections, depending on how you parse it, each of which repeats a certain number of times before moving to the next section. The opening vocal section, beginning at 0:26, is unaccountably beguiling, its thoughtful melody and purposeful momentum interrupted at the end of each extended lyrical line, only to head back and do it again, four times in all. The subsequent shift at 1:38 however is nothing compared to the rearrangement at 1:57, when pretty much all hell breaks loose. From there on we’re in the “noisy half,” as Barille, the duo’s guitarist, joins with drummer Sam Meister (who also plays piano) in a feisty, good-natured bash for about 20 seconds or so. The mood swings don’t stop there, by any means. These guys are either relentlessly creative or have very short attention spans. Or both. In any case they appear to enjoy confounding expectations at every turn. Mr. Gnome it is.
“Bit of Tongue” will be found on the Cleveland-based band’s forthcoming album, Madness in Miniature, not due out till late October, on El Marko Records.
“Lieutenant” – the Happy Hollows
I am no fan of indie music that veers too sharply into the DIY camp, as my ears will forever be jarred by sloppiness, however disguised by claims of authenticity or shred guitar prowess. When I first heard “Lieutenant,” I was attracted by its left-turn hooks but wary of its seeming disjointedness. For a five-minute song, this one unspools in an unnerving number of directions; it’s hard to get a handle on too quickly, and I was not initially convinced that there was any larger sense of purpose keeping the song from simply flying apart. (I am by and large unswayed by shredding.) And yet I surely did like lead singer Sarah Negahdari’s trilly, pixie-like (or Pixies-like?) sense of drama, the trio’s Belly-esque blend of heaviness and lightness, and the sly, quasi-martial swing of the song’s stickiest hook (first heard at 1:10).
I’m still not completely sure which side of the line between sophistication and random craziness that “Lieutenant” lands on, but the moment, probably, that won me over was this: the minute and a half in the middle of the song that features the most jumpy, unglued material climaxes, at around 4:00, with all three band members singing together and then just sort of shouting with jump-in-the-pool abandon. Weeeeeee. It cemented the song-as-journey concept, and I liked where it led: into a coda with a new, unexpectedly soothing melody. Well, okay, it gets wacky again for the last five seconds. They can’t help themselves.
“Lieutenant” is the lead track off the L.A.-based band’s second EP, Imaginary, which will be released by the band next week.