If you happen to know that Hamilton Leithauser is the lead singer for the perpetually underrated New York City band The Walkmen, you may also happen to know that he doesn’t usually sound like what you hear when “Here They Come” starts. Typically Leithauser presses against the upper range of his vocal register, with a scuffed-up sort of zeal that does battle with the band’s bashy atmospherics.
This starts as another thing entirely: we hear a growly baritone, accompanying a finger-picked guitar. This goes on for 35-some-odd seconds, at which point, if you listen carefully, something in the background lightens up—you can kind of hear a higher vocal harmony in the distance, and the elusive sound of maybe a melodica? Then, just after his voice turns growliest, on the lines “all my candy’s gone” (1:02), bang: Leithauser converts to his familiar upper register, the music acquires a ramshackle beat, and off we go into the epitome of a sing-along chorus. This is, I feel, impossible not to like, but maybe that’s just me.
The verse returns at 1:26, now swinging along in the song’s revised setting. Leithauser’s transformed voice, just this side of hoarse, is for me the source of the song’s deepest charms—despite the tale of woe recorded here, something about a friend who can’t cope with the messy realities of life, the music’s effervescence coaxes a smile. Maybe that’s the point.
From the album The Loves of Your Life, released last month. MP3 again via KEXP. Note that the Walkmen have been on hiatus since 2014 but have not officially broken up. Old-timers may remember that that the band have been featured twice on Fingertips, in 2004 and 2008.
Buried in the substructure of this ramshackle forkful of indie rock goodness is a full-fledged classic rock song that’s just kind of messing with us.
Buried in the substructure of this ramshackle forkful of indie rock goodness is a full-fledged classic rock song that’s just kind of messing with us. The melody is casually awesome. The same-note harmonies accentuate the song’s effortless catchiness. The chorus does that half-time thing that is as pleasant as it is elusive. There are not one but two off-kilter a capella breaks. There’s the way that the titular lyrical phrase scans properly for speaking but awkwardly (in an endearing way) for singing.
Best of all, there’s that gut-level, lower-register guitar riff that introduces the song and then waits its turn for reappearance. And waits. It partially returns in the chorus, first at 0:45, but in slightly altered, truncated form. The third time around we hear it nearly fully formed, at 2:26, enough to feel like an old friend, but still mixed down and incomplete. And so somehow this beefy, ’70s-tinged guitar riff is at once the backbone of the song and its missing piece. Nice trick!
“Love This Feelin'” is a song from Cheshires’ self-titled debut album. The L.A.-based trio is billed as a kind of resurrection of the ’90s indie band Remy Zero, as it features Remy Zero himself (birth name Shelby Tate), singer/songwriter Louis Schefano (original Remy Zero drummer), and multi-instrumentalist Leslie Van Trease, who put time in with Remy Zero when they toured. The album was released earlier this month. You can listen to it via SoundCloud and buy it via iTunes.
“The Value of Nothing” glows with the energy of something unfussed over.
With his throwaway stage name and kick-ass growl, Tucson-born, Seattle-based Eddie Spaghetti is not quite the rock’n’roller you’d expect to be writing a song based on an Oscar Wilde quotation he had just read (“What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”) But I surely will not discourage serendipitous cultural intermingling; that’s kind of all I do here week after week.
Spaghetti reports that he read the quote while in Australia, knew it was a song, then wrote the thing back in his hotel room in about 20 minutes. “The Value of Nothing” glows with the energy of something unfussed over—uncomplicated on the one hand, highlighted on the other by the supplemental, unaffected touches that can happen when a creator isn’t over-thinking things. The song launches off a lonesome-prairie vibe produced by adding harmonica flourishes to a prog-rock-y electric guitar; after this, the ramshackle vigor is generated largely by a hoedown style acoustic guitar and dry, snare-filled drumming. (I like the little yelp that gets things going at 0:50.) Accentuating the itchy drive are lyrics sung largely in between the beats. But check out the chorus, and how he empowers offhanded phrases by now re-aligning with the beat:
You know the price of everything, don’t you honey
But it ain’t about, it ain’t about the money
I find something slippery attractive in the rhyming of the tossed-off half of these lines. One more sneaky-good thing here is how the electric guitar insinuates itself back into the song, culminating in a snaky solo (2:08) that feels like we’ve wandered into a trippy Outlaws song.
Spaghetti was born Edward Carlyle Daly III, and has been known previously as front man for the cowpunky garage rock band the Supersuckers. “The Value of Nothing” is the title track of his fourth solo album, but first album featuring all original songs. The new album is coming in mid-June on Bloodshot Records. You can download the song via the link above or over at SoundCloud. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.
You can just about hear the pints being raised during this rag-tag, barroom stomper.
You can just about hear the pints being raised during this rag-tag, barroom stomper. And yet it’s an easy-going barroom stomper, if there can be such a thing—no full-out, Replacements-style aggressive sloppiness for this relatively new Atlanta quintet. You can tell right away from the banjo and harmonica which make their presence known early on. These are not kick-ass instruments; they’re serious ones. So, yeah, there are gang-style sing-alongs and shout-alongs, a chugging, Stones-like rhythm guitar line, and a general feeling of lazy looseness, but something tells me these guys don’t just stumble into their songs. They work for them, and polish them, and in this case what they want to polish was something rough-hewn and loose-limbed. This is not as easy as it sounds.
Take the rousing chorus, for example, which, starting the second time we hear it, offers up not one but two separate sing-along sections—two hooks for the price of one, basically. And yet singer/songwriter Drew Beskin was crafty enough to make us wait for it, to give us one run-through without the second part. There’s a related moment at 2:12, when the end of the first verse is repeated but this time with a couple of extra lyrical lines. It’s a small thing, doesn’t necessarily register to most listeners consciously, but it speaks to the care with which the song was created, even as it flaunts its ramshackle vibe.
“Splitsville” is from the band’s debut seven-song album, Orders From…, which was self-released digitally in June 2010 but is being given a full-fledged national release next month. The whole thing remains free at the band’s Bandcamp page.
With his Joe Strummer voice, abiding love for Northern Soul, and greased Christopher Walken hair, Anders Wendin is a big-time pop star in his native Sweden, dating back to Moneybrother’s Swedish Grammy-winning debut album, 2003’s Blood Panic. If the upcoming, first-ever Moneybrother U.S. release fails to accord him similar status here (I’m not holding my breath), it’s not for lack of agreeable material. Take “Born Under a Bad Sign”–not a cover of the old Albert King song, but a rousing club-floor body-shaker that adds a compressed, 21st-century edge to the feeling of some of the Clash’s dancier numbers. I find it easy to love tightly-crafted songs that manage to maintain a ramshackle vibe, and this is surely one of those, as Wendin’s rough-edged voice and his nearly shouted, gang-style backing chorus belie the song’s nimble beat and crisp guitar licks.
After five successful releases–and a new line of eco-friendly Moneybrother tomato soup (?)–Moneybrother will see album number five, Real Control, come out here on Bladen County Press Records in April. MP3 via Bladen County Press.
Ramshackle, pseudo-Latin indie pop that may engage your ear and spirit in a way that Vampire Weekend didn’t manage to (if, that is, you happen to be among those whose ears and/or spirits were not, in fact, engaged thereby; I know some of you are out there). The music by this Brooklyn-based trio has an amiable, second-nature feel to it, while singer/guitarist Greg Sullo possesses a marvelous rock’n’roll tenor, at once lazy and insistent. He sounds like a guy who doesn’t sweat the details and yet for whom the details seem to work out pretty well most of the time.
Vendela Vida–and isn’t her name fabulously easy to say?–is a writer, and wife of the perhaps more well-known writer Dave Eggers. Not sure how the song relates–Sullo does manage to rhyme “Vida” and “read her”–but she was born to be a lyric, among her other accomplishments. You’ll find the song on the band’s debut album, Fantasy Memorial, which is scheduled for self-release in March. MP3 via Magnet. Oh and as another sign of these guys’ musical aptitude, check out the cool mixtape they made in conjunction with an interview on the Music is Art blog last summer, which connects the Kinks to Harry Belafonte to NWA to Genesis and more.