Sometimes you just get a good feeling about something—it can be anything, really, from a song to a book to a restaurant to a back road in the country. You get that good feeling and you just know everything’s going to be fine.
I had that good feeling from the moment “1not2” began, with its jaunty, overlapping keyboard motif. I can’t unscramble this entirely—maybe there are two, maybe there are three different keyboards making sounds here—but I immediately like the bell-like, percussive tones employed and especially like the way the background key completes the musical phrase of the foreground leader at the end of every second measure. The intro is both agreeable and purposeful. We are in good hands. When Steph Brown—she is Lips, all by herself—begins singing, the good feeling is confirmed. She has a lovely-yet-cheeky, plainspoken voice, the kind that can sound like she’s talking even though she’s singing, and she plunges us right into the middle of a story: “Left a note taped to the fridge:/’I’m staying with Josie.'” So it’s a breakup story—one, not two. Gotcha. How infrequently here in 21st-century indie-rock-digital-music-land do we get songs with characters and story lines and people simply doing things. After the second verse gets underway (1:16), I am putty in Brown’s hands: “Took the dog out for a walk/Bumped into Mrs. Bacon/She asked me about how you were/It was an awkward conversation.” This brings to mind some of those great Squeeze story-songs from the late ’70s and early ’80s, and her adjunct commentary underneath the lyrics, as she “acts out” the scene a bit, is casually delightful. The whole song is casually delightful, but make no mistake, as DIY as this is, it’s also very smartly constructed and performed—a pure pop song in a digital sea of blurry, aimless drivel.
Lips is the name of Steph Brown’s solo recording project; “1not2” comes from the debut release, a five-song EP called Lips Songs, available via Bandcamp. Brown is from Auckland, but has been living (where else?) in Brooklyn for the last three years, with her four keyboards. (She used to have six but sold two of them to move to the US.) She is also in a band with Deva Mahal (Taj Mahal’s daughter) called Fredericks Brown, which plays an entirely different kind of music (simmering and soulful), and has also just released an EP. The “1not2” MP3 is a Fingertips exclusive right now.