Free and legal MP3: EERA

Shoegazey goodness

“Ladder” – EERA

Fuzzy, bass-heavy, and replete with unresolved chords, “Ladder” offers us a sharp, 2020s update on one of indie rock’s foundational sub-genres. In addition to its somewhat awkward name, shoegaze is a kind of betwixt and between category in that while it was never entirely in fashion it subsequently has never entirely gone out of fashion, either.

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Anna Lena Bruland is who we’re hearing from here, in the guise of her musical project EERA. With “Ladder,” Bruland seems inherently to understand what’s largely overlooked about the appeal of shoegaze, which is that for all the fuzz and reverb and distortion, most shoegaze songs have a backbeat holding them up. (Remember what the backbeat is: rock’n’roll’s defining rhythm, which stresses the second and fourth beats of a four-beat measure.) Here, the backbeat provides the structural solidity behind the song’s idiosyncratic chord patterns, as well as the propulsion underneath the droning guitar that plays here with a muted fury that never fully unleashes, sounding like someone playing extra-loud but in a room down the hall.

For all the sound happening around her, Bruland sings in a semi-blasé tone as the verse melody alternates between extended same-note repetitions and unexpected intervals; the short, insistent chorus, one phrase repeating, finds her in her lower register, sounding nearly like a different singer. The guitar arrives soon enough to sweep us back up into a backbeated wall of sound that seems to include some wordless male vocals but this could also be an interesting aural illusion. Crank it up and see what you think.

Born in Norway, Bruland is based in Berlin. “Ladder” is a track from her forthcoming album, Speak, due out in December on Just Dust Recordings. Her first album, Reflection of Youth, was released in 2017. You can check her out on Bandcamp. MP3 via KEXP.

Free and legal MP3: Sløtface (wistful midtempo rocker)

So yes I guess every now and then I am engaged by a song’s lyrics, however much that is not normally the case for me here.

“New Year, New Me” – Sløtface

“New Year, New Me,” already pithily arranged, strips down even further, shortly after the halfway point, allowing front woman Haley Shea to draw attention to the following lyrics:

I keep playing my own therapist
And I’m convinced I’m good at it

Packed into these lines is the layered theme of this appealing midtempo rocker. With a blasé crispness suited to the matter at hand, Shea initially sings of the inevitable disappointments of unfulfilled new year’s resolutions. But this isn’t a cynical pity party. If, yes, we annually set ourselves up for failure by making new year’s resolutions in the first place, then maybe this inevitability is itself worth pondering. Most of us want to be better people but at some point have to confront the reality that you don’t get there via new year’s resolutions. Being convinced that one can be one’s own therapist is a poignant part of the wistful predicament, but recognizing that this is what one keeps trying to do is, maybe, a first step towards actual change. And maybe approaching the self with compassion rather than reproof offers a new hope, having nothing to do with making fated-to-fail “resolutions” (a word Shea does not in fact employ here).

So yes I guess every now and then I am engaged by a song’s lyrics, however much that is not normally the case for me here. As for the music, the first thing I like a lot is the laid-back lead guitar line, which comprises the introduction: it’s concise, melodic, and self-assured. The verse unfolds so casually as to seem spontaneous, with a couple of nicely-placed chord changes (e.g., 0:25), then launches into the chorus on a riff itself so understated as to be nearly nonexistent (0:37)—a musical reinforcement, perhaps, of the self’s predicament here: does stasis make change impossible, or is there some oh-so-gentle way to accept the self that can lead to transformation?

Sløtface is a band based in Stavanger, Norway. Although consistently identified as a punk pop (or a pop punk; is there a difference?) band, Sløtface (original name Slutface, and that’s still how you pronounce it), presents more accurately as a band that knows how to write and perform crafty, accessible rock songs, their guitar-laced volume consistently tempered by musical know-how and Shea’s approachable vocal style. Note that Shea has American parents, but grew up in Norway; the band’s other three members are Norwegian. “New Year, New Me” can be found on Sløtface’s new album, Sorry For The Late Reply, released late last month via Nettwerk/Propeller Recordings.

MP3 via KEXP.

Free and legal MP3: Elise Vatsvaag (sparse and elegiac, w/ strings)

After the real-life storm that affected so many people in the Eastern U.S. last week, we can all use a bit of restraint and sweetness.

Elise Vatsvaag

“After the Storm” – Elise Vatsvaag

This song was nearly featured last week, but it didn’t fit in the mix quite right so I put it aside for a week and now look.

Sparse and elegiac, “After the Storm” uses what sounds like a full-fledged string quartet to generate volume and intensity in a song that otherwise secures its power from restraint and sweetness. After the real-life storm that affected so many people in the Eastern U.S. last week, we can all use a bit of restraint and sweetness.

Nothing has ever been this clear before
After the storm I have no fear at all
No fear at all

Vatsvaag is Norwegian and while her lyrics occasionally betray a non-native-speaker’s tentative syntax, the overall effect, almost counter-intuitively, is one of poignant authenticity. She sings with a clear tone but also without much sustain (i.e., she doesn’t hold her sung notes for long), which lends a soft-spoken intimacy to her delivery. The song has a traditional structure—verse, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, repeat with bridge—but her tender, affecting melodies expand gently beyond the typical eight measures in the pre-chorus and again in the chorus, which then melts into the instrumental tumult provided by the strings. This shows yet again that a song cannot be reduced merely to its words, and that it’s almost always the subtle musical effects rather than simply a turn of phrase that sends the impact of a song from the head to the heart.

Vatsvaag has been releasing a series of free to download songs throughout 2012. The first four were then gathered, earlier this year, into an EP called This Is Not My Music #1; after the second four have been released (song number 8 arrives later this month), This Is Not My Music #2 will be released. “After the Storm” was the seventh song, released in October.

photo credit: Erik Sæter Jørgensen

Fingertips Flashback: Ephemera (from November 2004)

Revisiting a previously featured song, this one from 2004.

Fingertips is going into its summer hiatus, which means no new songs will be posted until July 25th (or so). I won’t be entirely absent from the internet, and there may be a certain amount of activity around here, but a lot of it will be maintenance oriented and somewhat invisible.

To ease into the slowdown, I offer you a wistful summery song from the land of ice and snow. And okay it’s actually not a cheerful song—few songs entitled “Saddest Day” would be aiming in that direction—but it’s a lovely musical breeze on a hot July day nonetheless.


“Saddest Day” – Ephemera

[from November 22, 2004]

A three-woman Norwegian band channeling Astrud Gilberto via Frente—yes, the world can be a wonderful place when we all just mingle together peacefully and see what happens. Bright, silvery, and airy, “Saddest Day” is that sweetest of pop confections: a sad song wrapped in an upbeat package. Stars in their native country (they received the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy earlier this year), Ephemera have released four CDs to date; this spring, a compilation disc called Score was released for the U.S. market. Not yet out of their 20s, Ephemera has nevertheless been together for 10 years now. “Saddest Day” was originally from the band’s 2000 CD, Sun, which was their second; it is also found on a CD called Score, a compilation released for the U.S. market this past spring. The MP3 is on the band’s web site. Thanks to visitor Jeff for the head’s up.

ADDENDUM: Although the band’s site is still online, and the MP3 is still available there, things have been quiet in Ephemera-land since 2005. Vocalist Christine Sandtorv released a solo album in 2006 (on Ifemmera Records, it should be noted); the internet’s nosy robots pick up no other sign of musical activity from any of the three bandmates since then.

Free and legal MP3: Team Me (vibrant, smartly-textured Norwegian pop)

Resplendent indie pop for people who might think that they’ve gotten a bit tired of resplendent indie pop.

Team Me

“Show Me” – Team Me

Resplendent indie pop for people who might think that they’ve gotten a bit tired of resplendent indie pop. So that once and for all we might all realize that it’s not a type of music that gets tiresome, it’s boring or uninspired music that gets tiresome. Not a genre, not a type, not a style.

But I digress. “Show Me,” from the new-ish Norwegian sextet Team Me, has a marvelous momentum to it, rooted in its smooth chord progressions and its unexpected grounding in a 12-measure verse melody. I’m not saying there’s any other connection but I will note that 12-measure melodies are uncommon in pop while of course being the prototypical construction for the blues (thus the phrase “12-bar blues”; a bar is another word for a measure). “Show Me” is not the blues, by any means. But the unfolding of a melody through 12 measures is something we tend to experience, whether we even recognize it or not, in a blues setting. And here instead is this vibrant, smartly-textured, hopeful-sounding (but not necessarily hopeful) song. I’m not sure what this means but felt it worth noting. Oh and of course in a blues setting, the melody is spare, ritualized, all but preordained, and sung by one voice, while Team Me here serves up a swooping, involved melody with harmonies, double-tracking, and the occasional gang shout. And yet, too, there is a seriousness hiding here in the ebullient flow and playful vibe. Could this be what 12 bars does? Nope, probably not. But it’s fun to consider.

“Show Me” is a track from Team Me’s debut full-length album, which came out in Norway in October and is due to arrive in the US in March on the Oslo-based label Propeller Recordings.