“Forever Far Out” – Dot Dash

Succinct power pop

“Forever Far Out” – Dot Dash

One of the reassuring things about power pop, besides its indelible if elusive charm, is that it never quite goes away–largely because it never fully arrived in the first place: a relentlessly niche-y genre, power pop has yielded relatively few big hits over the decades. And although you may see a recurring set of words and phrases used in efforts to describe the sound–upbeat, melodic hooks, often of the sing-along variety; jangly and/or crunchy and/or chunky guitars; sweet-sounding vocals; concise songwriting–we always land eventually in “I know it when I hear it” territory.

So, even here in the year 2023, a good 50 years on from power pop’s formative era, the song “Forever Far Out,” from the veteran DC band Dot Dash, reads as power pop all the way: there’s the chunky guitar line, the upbeat ambiance, a lot of melodic resolution, sweet-toned vocals, and succinct craftsmanship, with the song clocking in under three minutes. Favoring melodies that repeatedly resolve is an underrated commonality among most power pop songs, and Dot Dash does that here before you know what’s hit you: the first verse unfolds in three lines, taking you from tension to resolution in 10 seconds flat. The chorus is a bit cagier on the resolution front but resolution still arrives, and is followed up with some wordless “oo-oos”–a feature, it should be noted, that is rarely out of place in power pop.

Bonus: there’s a bridge (1:39), apparently an endangered concept in 21st-century songwriting, and (extra bonus points) it’s an instrumental bridge, as in no singing. As with everything here it doesn’t waste time. That squalling guitar note that leads us back to the chorus is worth the price of admission, simply as something you pretty much never hear these days.

Dot Dash is a D.C.-based trio, formerly a quartet, with six previous albums to their name. “Forever Far Out” is the lead track from their seventh, entitled Madman in the Rain, released in November. You can check the whole thing out, and buy it, via Bandcamp. The band was previously featured on Fingertips in 2015; read the review and you’ll find out where the name came from and other fun facts. MP3 via the band.

“Champion” – Warpaint

Unique, captivating

“Champion” – Warpaint

The singular Los Angeles quartet Warpaint returns after a six-year absence with the wily, elusive “Champion.” Masters of subtle sonic intrigue, the four women in Warpaint work brilliantly together, creating a succinct, unique soundscape that is part groove, part intricate tapestry, overseen by an echoey wash of interweaving vocals singing simple but cryptic lyrics. The effect is captivating.

A great way to approach “Champion” is to focus first on drummer Stella Mozgawa, whose ability to fabricate three-dimensional textures via tone and rhythm is a marvel; to say she single-handedly redefines the concept of rock’n’roll drumming is maybe only a slight overstatement. And if the drums lead the way into the Warpaint sound, the guitars close the sale. You have to wait for them, however. First your ear will note an unhurried, circular riff (shortly past the 30-second mark) that sounds acoustic. It stays for a while, leaves, comes back, never drawing too much attention to itself. The bass edges in, almost preternaturally attuned to the percussion, 10 seconds or so after the guitar. Here is a rhythm section fully deserving of the name, steadily constructing a groove as assured as it is ingenious, sometimes composed as much of space as of sound.

Meanwhile, what about the electronics? The intro was launched by some soft synth sounds, which blend so organically into the background as the song proceeds that they seem nothing that has to be specifically played; they just exist, if that makes sense (which it doesn’t, really). And then: what you’ve been anticipating without realizing it are the electric guitars that slide into the mix around 2:30, all rhythm at first, adding new character to the groove without overwhelming the established vibe.

Finally the payoff: the instrumental coda, arising after the song nearly stops at 3:46, delivering some fuzz, some drone, and a nonchalant lower-register guitar lead à la New Order. The band’s ongoing capacity to unite instrumentally in a manner at once off-handed and disciplined is remarkable. In a world ever (moronically) chasing the latest viral sensation, we too easily neglect the power latent in musicians who have played together for a long time. This band is the real thing.

Warpaint was featured here back in 2010, at the time of their debut album, The Fool. “Champion” is a track from their forthcoming LP Radiate Like This, scheduled for release in May. It will be their first album since 2016’s Heads Up, and–for a band in existence since 2004–only their fourth full-length release to date. MP3 via KEXP.

Free and legal MP3: The Deathray Davies

Reanimated indie rock

“Oh Stars” – The Deathray Davies

“Oh Stars” launches with an understated old-school backbeat, revolving around one insistent chord that recurs with “ta-da!”-like charm; the music sounds like the feeling of something marvelous about to happen. And in a subtle way it does; “Oh Stars” may not at first knock your socks off but it succeeds with a mature “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” poise. And, it clocks in at a tidy 2:53, which is less unusual than it used to be in a Spotify/TikTok world, but in the verse-chorus-verse universe this still indicates admirable restraint.

Front man and songwriter John Dufilho, meanwhile, himself employs an understated vocal style to match the established vibe; he could surely cut loose were he not in this contemplative mood, looking at the stars and pondering life. It ends up feeling a bit like a magic trick, how Dufilho creates substance out of almost nothing I can specifically point to. Maybe it’s his melancholy but determined tone, maybe it’s the way the sing-song-y melody complements the resolute flow, or maybe it’s something as basic but unexpected as the piano which grounds the song in a series of unfussy chords that seem to be hiding in plain sight–you won’t necessarily hear them until you listen for them.

If “Oh Stars” feels like a bit of a throwback, there’s good reason for it: the Dallas-based Deathray Davies were a project born in the late ’90s, with a heyday coinciding with the heyday of indie rock in the early to mid-’00s. “Oh Stars” comes from a new album, Time Well Wasted, released last month after what Dufilho has called “a 15-year nap.” The Deathray Davies leader hasn’t himself been napping in the meantime, having been busy through the years with a series of other Dallas area musical projects, including the bands Clifffs, Cantina, and Motorcade. He was also, as of the late ’00s, absorbed into the Athens, Georgia-based musical collective Apples in Stereo, a band that itself has mostly been on hiatus for 10 years or so as well.

You can listen to Time Well Wasted, and purchase it, via Bandcamp. The band was featured once before on Fingertips, way back in 2005.

Free and legal MP3: The Innocence Mission (gorgeous, soul-stirring)

Pretty much all of their work is exquisitely crafted and touching; some of it, like this new single, is soul-stirringly gorgeous.

“On Your Side” – The Innocence Mission

The trio of Karen Peris, Don Peris, and Mike Bitts have been doing their beautiful and timeless thing, as The Innocence Mission, out there in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, since 1989. Pretty much all of their work is exquisitely crafted and touching; some of it, like this new single, is soul-stirringly gorgeous. Karen sings with a slurry, fragile power that augments the melancholy tones baked into the band’s melodies and chord changes. In her masterful hands, even a sprightly, upturned melody, such as when she here sings, “Some days we are not sure where we’re going” (0:21), can bring tears to the eyes from the poignant power of it all.

And, to be sure, this song draws on a deep well of feeling, rooted in the potency of life-long love, including love that extends beyond the grave. The song’s surface-level simplicity is its grace, that up-skipping, recurring melody its super power. Note too how intimate the recording sounds—husband and wife Karen and Don record the band in their house—yet also how well built and nimbly crafted. With care and vision and talent (and technology), The Innocence Mission manage to do this impossible thing: they make the internet seem peaceful, helpful, and generally Okay.

“On Your Side” is a song from the band’s eleventh album, See You Tomorrow, which was released last week. Listen to the whole thing and buy it via Bandcamp, where it is available digitally, on CD, and (most fittingly, to my ears) on vinyl. This is the fourth time the band has been featured here on Fingertips, dating all the way back to November 2003. MP3 via KEXP.

Free and legal MP3: Diesel Park West (classic sound, smartly crafted)

Want to know just how instantly assured and well-built “Pictures in the Hall” is? Check out the way that Diesel Park West employs a mere two-second, slashing guitar riff for an intro.

“Pictures in the Hall” – Diesel Park West

Well here’s a terrific song from a veteran band I had previously managed not to know about, despite a history dating back to the ’80s. There’s always a world of music out there awaiting discovery, and it’s not always going to come to you via algorithm.

Want to know just how instantly assured and well-built “Pictures in the Hall” is? Check out the way that Diesel Park West employs a mere two-second, slashing guitar riff for an intro; it harkens back to something the Who or the Kinks might have done in the British Invasion days, and leads to an equally classic-sounding sing-song verse. This, in turn, is the kind of thing bands tend to pound into oblivion, but these guys keep the song moving; at 0:18, the music shifts tonally into a chorus tinged with Kinks-ian melancholy, before ending with an exclamatory upturn (0:30-0:36).

A lot of ground has been covered in less than 40 seconds, at which point we head back to where we started. This time around notice the barreling guitar line down below that links the lyrics together (e.g. 0:44). It was there in the first verse as well, but now that we’re settled in it’s somehow more noticeable, as part of a general sense of mischief in the air, which is reinforced by a few other goings-on, including an early bridge section (at 1:12, before the song is even half over), an abrupt key change (1:46), and, throughout, by front man John Butler’s ever-so-slightly unrestrained vocal style. The last bit of fun comes in the guise of that original guitar lick, the aforemenioned one linking the verses together earlier, now reimagined as a repeating, melodramatic descent (e.g. 2:10). That didn’t need to happen but the end result is meatier for touches like that.

“Pictures in the Hall” is the first single from Diesel Park West’s forthcoming album, Let It Melt, to be released at the end of the week on Palo Santo Records. This is the Leicester-based band’s ninth album; three of its four members were in the lineup all the way back to the ’80s.

Free and legal MP3: Calexico (fiery, melancholy rocker in 6/8 time)

Twisting and swinging with a melancholy pang, “Voices in the Field” is propelled throughout by organic percussion, and rendered fiery by the paired guitars that blaze and gyrate with character and intensity.


“Voices in the Field” – Calexico

Boy is there something to be said for experience. You wouldn’t know it from most of the emails I receive here, touting the latest sensations, accentuating how young someone is or how quickly this or that band has racked up video streams (or both). And of course there’s always room for new talent. But there will always be an untouchable quality to the talent that can (sometimes!) develop with years of playing, years of living, years of developing a craft and a voice.

Calexico, formed by the duo of Joey Burns and John Convertino, have been at their dusty blend of cross-cultural indie rock since 1995. There’s a world of musical know-how in the sounds they make; even the way the instruments in the introduction slide in and out of the 6/8 beat here strikes me as something you can’t do if you’re out there collecting likes for a living, and that’s just in the first 20 seconds. Twisting and swinging with a melancholy pang, “Voices in the Field” is propelled throughout by organic percussion, and rendered fiery by the paired guitars that blaze and gyrate with character and intensity. The lyrics tell a poetic tale of dislocation, with enough detail not to mystify, enough obliqueness to intrigue—yet another sign of a sure, experienced hand.

“Voices in the Field” is from the album The Thread That Keeps Us, released in January on Anti Records. MP3 via KEXP. It’s the band’s tenth release, not including live and collaborative recordings. Calexico was featured on Fingertips once previously, way back in April 2004.

Free and legal MP3: Wolf Parade (passionate, Bowie-ish L. Cohen tribute)

“Valley Boy” presents with a sonic depth and acumen that belies its pop-song length.

Wold Parade

“Valley Boy” – Wolf Parade

The well-regarded Montreal quartet Wolf Parade went on an indefinite hiatus in 2010. This fall they returned, and these were the first words from them we heard:

The radio’s been playing all your songs
Talking about the way you slipped away without a care
Did you know that it was all gonna go wrong?
Did you know that it would all be more than you could bear?

The song was written about a year ago, after two profound, near-simultaneous occurrences: the death of Leonard Cohen and the election of the 45th President of the United States. Wolf Parade has ably if enigmatically linked these two adjacent events in the rolling, quirkily anthemic, Bowie-esque rocker “Valley Boy.” With a theatrical quaver, vocalist Spencer Krug sings words that conceal more than they reveal, but the opening verse, repeated once at the end, blazes with clarity and pathos, providing a foundation of meaning for an otherwise inscrutable song. I have certainly yet to figure out the centrality of the “valley boy” reference, but I’m working at it, because it so clearly means something. The best I can surmise is that the song is wondering if, after death, Cohen has finally been able to release himself from the existential angsts he spent his life pondering. It may not be the writer’s intention but it kind of works, for me.

Musically, “Valley Boy” presents with a sonic depth and acumen that belies its pop-song length. There are dissonant motifs and churning textures; there are also moments of clearing, and some attentive, Television-ish guitar interweavings. Krug has been quoted as saying, intriguingly, that “the band itself is almost a fifth member of the band,” as a way of describing and/or explaining the group’s authoritative sound. I like that.

“Valley Boy” is from the new Wolf Parade album Cry Cry Cry, the band’s first since 2010. It was released early last month on Sub Pop. MP3, again, via KEXP.

Free and legal MP3: The Afghan Whigs (stylish, urgent music from veteran band)

“Demon In Profile” is as enticing a slice of stylish, urgent rock’n’roll as I’ve heard in a good while, and is unimaginable as the product of anyone who hasn’t been at this game a good long time.

The Afghan Whigs

“Demon In Profile” – The Afghan Whigs

Boy, is there something to be said for veteran musicians who still feel the urge to create. “Demon In Profile” is as enticing a slice of stylish, urgent rock’n’roll as I’ve heard in a good while, and is unimaginable as the product of anyone who hasn’t been at this game a good long time. Actually it’s unimaginable as the product of anyone who isn’t the Afghan Whigs, a band that in its day created one of the more singular catalogs of music in the popular and semi-popular realm.

The Cincinnati-based band did have a bit of an alternative-rock cultural moment in the early ’90s, moving up from Sub Pop Records to a major-label deal with Elektra, and then in 1993 releasing the widely acclaimed album Gentlemen. The Whigs always had a distinctive if somewhat elusive sound, funneling a grunge-y crunch into a musical landscape that tipped its hat to something soulful and unrestrained. Front man Greg Dulli combined a dramatic baritone with larger-than-life bravado, all excess and attitude. Never, however, quite hitting the mainstream, they did what they did until 2001, with one personnel change along the way, at which point they broke up, amicably. Ten years later, they were back, and in 2014 released their first album since 1998. They appear to mean business in their 21st-century incarnation, which includes only Dulli and bassist John Curley from the original lineup.

“Demon In Profile” slips in with a welcoming piano refrain that harkens back to AOR radio days (Al Stewart? Journey? something), then morphs assuredly into a midtempo rocker that’s equal parts swing and menace. Horns mix with electric guitars in a very satisfying way, undergirding melodies that feel inevitable and haunting; every section of this impressively concise song feels all but perfectly conceived. Dulli, meanwhile, sounds as in command as ever, and early on delivers the especially suggestive line “It was all that I wanted/Now it’s killing me.” If an all-out rock’n’roll dude like Dulli can stomp his way through middle age without keeling over I imagine he’ll continue to have some pretty interesting things to say.

“Demon In Profile” is the third of 10 songs on the new Afghan Whigs album In Spades, which was released earlier this month. The band is back on Sub Pop Records after all these years. You can listen to and purchase the album (available in vinyl as well) via Bandcamp. MP3 via KEXP.

Free and legal MP3: The Minders (artisanal indie rock, w/ intrigue)

Launching off a concise, Buddy-Holly-ish acoustic-guitar riff, “Boiling the Ocean” bottles an elusive variety of bygone rock’n’roll sounds into an artisanal blend that feels at once comfy and idiosyncratic.


“Boiling the Ocean” – The Minders

Launching off a concise, Buddy-Holly-ish acoustic-guitar riff, “Boiling the Ocean” bottles an elusive variety of bygone rock’n’roll sounds into an artisanal blend that feels at once comfy and idiosyncratic. It’s a simple-sounding, toe-tappy song, it’s under three minutes, and yet there’s all this movement and depth about it, due to at least two elements I’ve uncovered with repeated listens.

First, the overall song structure seems normal at first (verse/chorus/verse) but bewilders (in a good way) upon closer inspection. The verses operate with two distinct and unequal parts, and after we spend time with the chorus (about more in a moment), we only revisit “part two”—part one, which opened the song, is never heard from again. The second complicating feature is the chorus itself (starting at 1:17), also in (at least) two parts, which feels like its own mini-adventure: advancing from the punchy, titular phrase and an indecipherable descending-line lyric that follows, it seems to keep receding from view, grounding itself in a notably unresolved moment (the minor chord that arrives first at 1:28 and the percussive episode that follows) before revisiting that chord (1:37) and sliding out the back door. What kind of chorus was that, exactly? No time to wonder: an assertive, repeating series of four guitar chords, with bashy drumming, provides aural slight of hand and brings us back to where we started. But not really. From here the song repeats in a truncated fashion, as we get only part two of the verse and then only part one of the chorus, with one strategic addition (the “I walk” line at 2:31) brought in from the otherwise complicated part two.

And that’s a lot of structural gobbledygook simply to say that the Minders have put together a dynamic little song here that feels both old and new, both catchy and ambiguous. And this is all a good thing.

“Boiling the Ocean” is a track that became available this spring as a download from the annual PDX Pop Now! Compilation; the song opens disc two of the 42-song offering, about which you can read more here. The album is released each year in conjunction with the PDX Pop Now! music festival, which happened last month. Note that the Minders are 20-year rock’n’roll veterans, initially springing from the renowned Elephant 6 collective. They have been based in Portland since 1998, and have a new album themselves due out next month, called Into the River. You can download a free and legal MP3 from that album, “Summer Song,” on SoundCloud.

Free and legal MP3: The Jayhawks (classy classic Americana)

The gracefully descending minor-key melody, this thing hits the ground like archetypal Jayhawks, which is more or less equivalent to archetypal Americana.


“Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces” – The Jayhawks

Have you heard this before? Of course you’ve heard this before—even if not this exact song. This is not a new sound. But my god, how sweet and solid this is, and how indicative that we lose something consequential when we demand only that everything be so friggin’ new all the time. I mean, come on: it makes no more sense to demand that everything only be new than to demand that everything only be old. Surely we desire and deserve a blend, much as we desire and deserve artists presenting visions and stories from all points on the adult human life spectrum, not just from those under the age of 25. The insidious pressure to require music to sound somehow continually “new” can always be sensed when writers approach a veteran band like The Jayhawks: if a new album is favorably viewed, there are always statements lauding the idea that the band “didn’t just revisit the past”; if unfavorably viewed, it’s either because they’re “stuck in the past” or tried too hard to reinvent themselves. You can’t win for losing when the New police are on patrol. So many witches to burn.

Anyway: that opening acoustic strum, the gracefully descending minor-key melody—this thing hits the ground like archetypal Jayhawks, which is more or less equivalent to archetypal Americana, complete with (say it with me) jangly guitars. As with a lot of Americana when it’s really good, there’s a lingering strain of ’70s country-rock in the air (think Poco, or Pure Prairie League), contributing to the music’s uncanny ability to feel mournful and jubilant at the same time. If Gary Louris’s silvery tenor shows some fetching wear around the edges, it serves merely to accentuate the beautifully crafted melodies he, yet again, sings for us.

The Jayhawks, from Minneapolis, have been playing in one incarnation or another since 1985, with one mid-’00s hiatus. The band still features two original members—Louris and bassist Marc Perlman—while the other two are veterans in their own right: keyboard player Karen Grotberg first played with the band from 1992 to 2000, then rejoined in 2009, while drummer Tim O’Reagan has been on board since 1995. “Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces” is the lead track on the new album, Paging Mr. Proust, which was produced by Peter Buck, Tucker Martine, and Louris. It was released at the very end of April and can be purchased directly from the band, if you are so inclined, via their website. MP3 via the good folks at KEXP.