A splendid little song, incorporating the seminal Spector beat, that’s somehow both more and less quirky than it might at first seem. Yeah I don’t know how that works either.
I must first confess, or re-confess, that I am an absolute sucker for the Phil Spector beat, in just about any way it can sneak into a song. As is often the case, we hear it here right away, as the drum and bass in unison begin “Mrs. Sleepyhead” with that unmistakable rhythm: DUM! dum-dum; BOOM (or however one can best write that out; just think of the opening to “Be My Baby” and you’re there). It’s a mystery, where it came from, why it’s so perpetually affecting, and what on earth the world must have been like without it. All those thousands of years, without that beat. Staggers the imagination.
Anyway, so here we go again (DUM! dum-dum; BOOM) and in this case not ensconced in echoey melodrama, and therefore more intriguingly absorbed and defused as the song requires. The first shift happens at 0:20 when the bass breaks rank from the drumbeat, going on a little run that leads straight into the entrance of the electric guitar, the distinctively picked arpeggios of which distract the ear from the precise moment when the Spector beat gives way. As it clearly has by the chorus. The prickly guitar line remains but now the song around it swings and sways in a most luscious way, thanks to how the melody keeps waiting for the fourth beat in the measure to complete itself. The chorus is a marvel of smooth motion—me, I can’t keep my body still when I’m listening to it. All in all a splendid little song that’s somehow both more and less quirky than it might at first seem. Yeah I don’t know how that works either.
Marie Lalá (unused last name: Nilsson) is a Swedish singer/songwriter pretty much brand new to the world at large. According to her bio, she “is a former aerialist who now works with rope access on oil rigs in the North Sea.” Could be true, could be parody; we have so often rubbed out the fine line separating the two that I mostly give up trying to differentiate. “Mrs. Sleepyhead” is a track from her forthcoming debut EP, Search of Sound, which will be released next month via Platform of Joy.
“Master of Art” is no internet sensation, no technology-friendly song-as-trinket to engage those attracted, like crows, only to shiny things they can dive for and tweet about. Above and beyond the solid songwriting (and of course you do need really good songs), there’s something genuine going on here, something homemade and unprocessed that’s incredibly heartwarming.
“Master of Art” – Laura Stevenson & the Cans
I don’t tend to be very album-oriented here, as regular Fingertips visitors are well aware. I’m just looking for good (free and legal) songs week to week. I don’t seek albums; if nothing else, I just don’t have much time to listen to them.
Every now and then, however, I manage to let my guard down. An album slips through. I listen, get drawn in, and, sometimes, at least temporarily, am returned to those ancient days when that was how we processed music—album by album. Not even sure how I happened to decide to sit and listen to the entire Laura Stevenson and the Cans album, Sit Resist, but I’m really glad I did. Stevenson’s isn’t the kind of musical personality—and, to my discredit, I’ve almost forgotten such people existed—that is fully contained within the context of any one particular song. With her kittenish voice—happy with songs that swing, whisper, or stomp—and her tendency to call upon noise or gentleness from her band at a moment’s notice, she really comes to life in the context of an album’s worth of songs.
That said, “Master of Art” is itself a terrific effort, and a good introduction to what she’s up to, showing off both her pensive and her ardent sides in one four-minute package. The intro’s Phil Spector beat surely got my attention (I’m a sucker for the Phil Spector beat), but the song doesn’t wallow in it, using it as a springboard rather than a crutch. I’m still absorbing the lyrics but I think it was when I heard her sing, “You should know/That I am often difficult” (1:11) that I knew she had me. The depth of character in her voice there is unteachable.
“Master of Art” is no internet sensation, no technology-friendly song-as-trinket to engage those attracted, like crows, only to shiny things they can dive for and tweet about. Above and beyond the solid songwriting (and of course you do need really good songs), there’s something genuine going on here, something homemade and unprocessed that’s incredibly heartwarming. The album comes out later this month on Don Giovanni Records and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
A sprightly musical hodgepodge, “A Charming Man” evokes a coterie of semi-incompatible forebears, from the Beach Boys to the Decemberists via the Smiths and, geez, maybe Todd Rundgren?
A sprightly musical hodgepodge, “A Charming Man” evokes a coterie of semi-incompatible forebears, from the Beach Boys to the Decemberists via the Smiths and, geez, maybe Todd Rundgren? Something/anything indeed; the end result, in any case, is as listenable as it is indescribable, weaving an Phil Spector-ish thump in and out of a old-fashioned rock’n’roll backbeat, everything rendered slightly odd and edgy by singer/guitarist Giovanni Saldarriaga’s earnest, nasally tenor. It’s the sound of a man singing with his heart on his sleeve but keeping his sleeve inside his jacket. And maybe it’s not even his jacket.
The lyrics start out discernibly, then proceed to be ever-so-slightly buried in the mix, which is a shame on the one hand, because what we can make out at the beginning sounds like good narrative fun (“I’m just a rebel from the south/I tuck in the corners of my mouth”). On the other hand, I interpret the lyrical muddiness symbolically—this is a character who the more you know him the less he wants really wants to tell you. Anyone who has to sing “Please know I meant you no harm” quite so often is clearly protesting too much. In the meantime a line like “Take a look at my hands/They’re made for vows and not for one-night stands” is nicely suggestive, in a Colin Meloy-ish kind of way. And beyond that, the words are largely hidden below the chugging, endearing music, complete with its eventually wacky harmonies and its swingingly satisfying resolution of the Spector-beat and the backbeat.
The name We Can’t Enjoy Ourselves apparently derives both from Annie Hall (a movie originally entitled Anhedonia, which is the medical term for the inability to experience joy) and from some dialogue in Rebel Without a Cause. The band has a seven-song EP entitled One Belongs Here More Than You available as a free download on Bandcamp, and that’s where you’ll find this song.
Put Phil Spector, the Beatles, and New Order in a blender and out comes “Happy As Can Be.” (Well, it works in my blender.) There’s the spacious, bashy wall of sound, the “Please Please Me” melody, and the deadpan yet also semi-melodramatic club vibe. Oh, and maybe throw Split Enz in the blender too, since these guys are from New Zealand and lead singer Nick Johnston has a bit of a Tim Finn-ish yelp going on there, especially in the chorus. (Yeah, okay, it’s a big blender.)
I’m fascinated, as I always tend to be, by the ‘wall of sound’ sound—the overall effect is conspicuous but when you try to pick it apart, the specifics kind of scurry away. What is it that’s making the sound, anyway? A big, rumbling drum and a distinct echo is part of it; clangy but indistinct guitar sound is part of it, as is a choral-like backing noise, coming from either voices or instruments or both. Mixing a bell in with the beat–always a good touch, for some reason. Whatever’s doing it, Cut Off Your Hands is here to deliver it to us; on the quartet’s MySpace page, next to “Influences” is one name: Phil Spector.
“Happy As Can Be” is the title track to the band’s new EP, their third, scheduled for a digital release on Frenchkiss Records this week. Their full-length debut is expected out in early 2009.