Relaxed wonderfulness, from Australia
Can I tell you why some slow-ish songs bore with their lethargic pace and underdeveloped ideas while others beguile with their relaxed know-how? I don’t think I can. Can I tell you what Nullarbor means? That’s easier. The Nullarbor Plain is huge, semi-arid stretch of remote countryside in southern Australia. The name comes from the Latin meaning “no trees.” (For a sense of the scrubby flat endless-road landscape, check out the video, below.)
“Nullarbor” the song, meanwhile, presents the listener with a long, ambling introduction—not semi-arid per se but entirely without either vocals or, even, the sense that vocals are planning to arrive. A guitar strums, another guitar noodles an imprecise melody, a brushed snare keeps a gentle beat, and the world seems a serene if slightly baggy kind of place. I find myself in no hurry to get anywhere with this introduction, and maybe that’s what a slow song that’s beguiling rather than boring does most of all: it slows you down so that you join its world, rather than feeling like an annoying drag on your world. The singing, when it starts, is worth the wait: Al Montfort speak-sings with offhanded, oddly affecting aplomb, often letting the guitar lines suggest the melody he’s not quite articulating. All in all, the concise tale told here of a love gone missing has the quizzical, haphazard feel of a Basement Tapes song, but with a warmer, more personal air about it. I could listen to this all night, and might just yet.
Lower Plenty is a quartet from Melbourne, and also the name of a Melbourne suburb. “Nullarbor” is one of nine shorts songs on the band’s debut album, Hard Rubbish. The song’s wonderfully spontaneous sound has a lot to do with the fact that the album was recorded onto eight-track, reel-to-reel tape, often in one take. Hard Rubbish was released last year in Australia; it comes out next month here on Fire Records. You can download the MP3 via the link above, or through the SoundCloud page. Thanks to the indomitable Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.
There’s something in the vibe here, at once relaxed and kinetic, and the instrumental mix (note the lack of a rock-style drum kit), that feels like nothing a purely American or British band would create or deliver.
An Italian, a Mexican, and an Austrian walk into a bar…well, okay, not a bar, but a music school, in London. And so this is not the beginning of a joke but the beginning of the band Vadoinmessico, a multi-national quintet that remains based in the UK. And you can really hear the non-English-speaking sensibility here, even as front man Giorgio Poti (the aforementioned Italian) sings in English. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something in either the vibe, at once relaxed and kinetic, or the instrumental mix (note the lack of a rock-style drum kit), or both, that feels like nothing a purely American or British band would create or deliver.
And wow I’ve been bumping into these songs with banjos and/or pedal steel guitars in them lately and here’s another one, this time with both, and if some blogger somewhere calls this a country song I shall emit an electronic scream. Vadoinmessico offers up the self-description of “mediterranean alternative folk,” and sure, why not? I love the easy-going assurance of the melody, which is at once amorphous and ear-grabbing. There’s not a clear hook, there’s no immediately obvious verse/chorus division, and what does in the end amount to the chorus (heard just twice, the first time from 1:00 to 1:15) slips by without fuss and without resolution. What’s more, the verses themselves are hard to differentiate, and seem to center upon a repeated melody that is launched off the second beat of the measure with a string of repeated notes. The wonderful allure of the piece has first of all to do with the slight variations this melody undergoes after the consistency of the opening two measures, and then to do with the cumulative, almost hypnotic effect of this not-quite-repetition.
Note in particular the new melodic upturn we hear first at around 1:17, with a match at 1:25. We take it in as pleasant enough at that point, but when this particular variation returns as Poti sings (2:38) “Everybody please wait for me here by the river,” with the half-step ascent on the words “here by the,” we seem somehow to have arrived at the muted epicenter of the song. It feels like a payoff as long as you don’t concentrate too much, like something you can see only with peripheral vision.
“Teeo” is the third single released by the band, which has yet to put out an official album or EP.
Here we have another duo, but that’s about all “Safe and Sound” has in common with “Hung Out.” Instead of sculpted noise and a simple verse-chorus-verse structure we here get a carefully conceived instrumental palette, a sweet-voiced singer, and a three-sectioned song linked by a chorus we hear only twice. This song sounds at once very relaxed and very precise, which is an engaging combination; every sound carries the weight of purpose, from the reverberant tom-tom of the intro to the acoustic rhythm guitar that is given a quiet 10 seconds of playing by itself in the middle of the song, to the gentle, clap-driven gospel swing that drives the song but below the level of conscious awareness until the keyboard joins it halfway through. While electronica is at the root of the band’s approach, this song replaces overt glitchiness with something that seems very much like organic warmth and is no worse for the wear.
Jacksonville is home base for Ben Cooper and Alex Kane, who have been doing business as Electric President since 2003. (Their first album, released in 2006, was called S/T: “Self-Titled.”) They do most of what they do jointly and electronically, while Ben is the aforementioned sweet-voiced singer. Their third full-length, The Violent Blue, was released this week on the small New Haven, Conn.-based label Fake Four Inc.