Steady, rich, and resonant
At once intimate and expansive, “Tried To Tell You” simmers with nuanced allure. While grounded in an assertive backbeat, the song’s charms lie in some less obvious places. Do you hear that wobbly synthesizer that eases its way into the mix in the introduction (0:11)? That’s the kind of small, wonderful moment to expect here, much having to do with what the various keyboard sounds are doing; you’ll discover everything from foreboding bass notes to an assortment of friendly interjections if you pay close attention.
But the star of this steady, rich, and resonant song is Tamara Lindeman, the Canadian singer/songwriter who does musical business as The Weather Station. Her voice impresses with its warmth and flexibility, as she ranges between a dusky alto and a breathy soprano, an elasticity that brings to mind none other than fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell. The chorus is concise and sublime (if, again, you stop to pay attention), with brilliant phrasing and intonation. Listen to how much she does with the phrase “I tried to tell you” first heard at 0:48, its simple parade of one-syllable words enhanced by a shift in vocal tone that takes the breath away.
“Tried To Tell You” is a track from The Weather Station’s 2021 album, Ignorance, released earlier this month on Fat Possum Records. You can listen to the whole thing, and buy it (digital, vinyl, CD, cassette, you name it) via Bandcamp.
MP3 via KEXP. The Weather Station was previously featured on Fingertips in September 2011.
Confident midtempo rocker
Confident in its artful foundation, “Wolves In White” is purposefully constructed from start to finish. Listen to the way it opens: there’s 10 seconds of a barely-heard, three-note synthesizer line, tracing a classical-sounding ascending interval; another 10 seconds to establish the underlying midtempo backbeat, keyboards up front; 10 more seconds for the bass to break free from the beat (keep your ears on this instrument moving forward) as that ethereal synthesizer returns to float around the top of the mix; and only then does the guitar step in, offering a rounded, lower-register lead to ground us in a fully-formed musical landscape. I’m not usually down for long introductions, but that’s only because most long intros are repetitive vamps. This is not that.
When the vocals begin (0:46) we are treated not only to singer/guitarist Steve Yutzy-Burkey’s agreeably scuffed baritone (although he’s likely tired of the comparison there’s no overlooking his Tweedy-ish tone) but also now have a front seat for bassist Rick Sieber’s acrobatic explorations. Yutzy-Burkey likewise shares Tweedy’s gift for converting minimalism into grace, his way of altering a simple melody with improvisational-sounding shifts, along with a knack for ending melody lines without resolution. Even the song’s chorus ends up feeling elusive and unresolved: first of all, it’s heard only twice; second of all, it’s a paragon of suggestive constraint, encompassing only four basic notes and a refusal to fully land.
Keep an ear in the meantime on Sieber’s work, and the way the bass often works itself into the foreground, culminating with a nimble solo at 2:28. And if anyone can identify the likable noise we get at 3:37, I’d love to know what that is.
“Wolves in White” is the lead track from Static Shapes’ debut album, Give Me The Bad News, released in December. Listen to the whole thing via Bandcamp, where it’s available to buy in both digital and vinyl form. Based in Philadelphia, Yutzy-Burkey was previously known as the front man for the well-regarded local band The Swimmers (which featured Sieber as well). Before that, he headed up the Philly-based quartet One Star Hotel (also with Sieber), who were featured here on Fingertips way back in the innocent days of 2004. Thanks to the Yutzy-Berkey for the MP3.
“Becoming a Jackal” is not necessarily an immediate smash hit; it insinuates rather than sweeps away. Never is it uninteresting, however, and I mean that quite literally, in a moment to moment way. Great hooks are awesome, don’t get me wrong, but songs can sometimes coast a bit too much in between the hooks, not to mention that sometimes it’s a fine line between hook-y and facile, never mind hook-y and annoying. (You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever gotten a song stuck in your head that you don’t even like.) So there’s definitely a place in my pop universe for songs like this that use well-crafted indirectness, unexpected twists, and tension-building restraint to gain your trust and devotion.
Sink into the song’s small moments, let them float by and gain strength, notice the subtle shifts in accompaniment, and eventually a few become their own, quirky sorts of non-hooky hooks. The recurring phrase “I was a dreamer” at the beginning of the not-very-chorus-like chorus may be the first that sticks but a number of other melodic motifs grow in stature as the song unfolds. I like the one that first comes, at 0:26, with the lyrics “in the scene between the window frames”; when we hear it (I think for the third time) at 2:21, with the lyrics “you should wonder what I’m taking from you,” it sounds like a climactic moment, but only because of how artfully we’ve arrived there.
Villagers is the name Dubliner Conor J. O’Brien has given to his musical project, which is kind of a band but kind of not a band. “Become a Jackal” is the title track to the debut album, to be released next month on Domino Records. MP3 via Domino.