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Friday, October 28, 2011

After a delay for some ambient, setting-up noise, “Make It Rhyme” hits upon an insistent, minor-key groove and boom, it’s got me.

TW Walsh


After a delay for some ambient, setting-up noise, “Make It Rhyme” hits upon an insistent, minor-key groove and boom, it’s got me. Maybe it’s the jangly tone of the electric guitar, maybe it’s the snare-free drum beat, or maybe it’s that spooky organ sustain that anchors the song’s rhythm section in something both humorous and unsettling, but this one has that great combination of being both instantly likable and deeply appealing. Speaking of humorous and unsettling, take a listen to the lyrics, which chronicle a dysfunctional relationship in a series of sardonic couplets, one of which is the titular “You sing the song/But I make it rhyme.” The extra joke here is that there are a couple of lines in the song—listen carefully and you’ll catch them—in which the rhyme is actually missing.
And the extra extra joke here is that the song is very specifically about Walsh’s long-standing friendship/musical relationship with David Bazan, erstwhile leader of the band Pedro the Lion. Walsh was the only other official member of that band; he calls this song “the worst version of myself complaining about the worst version of Dave,” with the benefit of some bemused hindsight.
Born Timothy William, Walsh recorded some solo material 10 years ago or so, and also headed a project called The Soft Drugs in the mid-’00s. He has spent more time and energy in recent years on his work as an audio engineer; his specialty is mastering, which he has done for the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Gabriel Kahane, and the Mynabirds, among many dozens of others. He has at long last put himself back in front of the microphone; “Make It Rhyme” is from the album Songs of Pain and Leisure, which was released this month on Graveface Records. MP3 via Magnet Magazine.
New God


“Motorcar” is brief, slightly undeveloped, and rough-edged—but convincing where it counts, with its luminous, 16-measure melody and those Beach Boys-go-to-(lo-fi-)heaven harmonies. Those of you with an aversion to electronic percussion may want to sit this one out, but me, I can overlook some sonic crudeness in service of melodic grandeur. The chords are the classic I-IV-V chords but something majestic is achieved through how they are manipulated. In the first eight measures, we alternate between the I and the V chords, no IV chord to be heard, with the melody beginning on the third note of the I chord; we do not in fact hear the root note of a chord until the last note in the melody’s first half (first example at 0:38). This creates a particularly satisfying pivot point and is what allows the melody to double in length. In the second half the elusive IV chord makes its necessary appearance (your ear required it, whether you realized it or not), and at last, as the melody closes out, we get the chords in the “right” order: I-IV-V.
As usual, the theory stuff sounds stilted and dull in written description but for whatever reason I find that knowing how songs work like this adds to my pleasure in listening. Your mileage, as they used to say, may vary. And all that said, “Motorcar” may still sound somewhat more like a demo than a song, and yeah it could maybe stand to offer us more than two chorus-free, bridge-free verses. But every time I go back to this to listen with any kind of “Wait, maybe I don’t like this after all” skepticism, it wins me over anew with its insistent lovableness, rough edges and all.
New God is a brand new band, with zero internet presence. There’s a guy named Kenny Tompkins, from “the foggy mountains of Western Maryland,” there’s a debut album to be released next month on his own label (RARC), and that’s about all there is to report. The band hasn’t played any live dates yet, so Tompkins hasn’t had to decide who’s officially in it at this point. The guy in the picture with him is his brother, Curt, who is either part of the band or who was hanging out with him when the photo was shot (by Lindsey S. Wilson, while we’re naming names). MP3, obviously, via Tompkins. And no worries about the “dropbox” URL, this one’s fully legal.
Caged Animals


Okay, so after that, perhaps you’d like to balance things out with a superbly constructed song and a highly disciplined production? No problem. “Teflon Heart” is slinky and deliberate, written with care and performed with controlled New York City cool. I love the way front man Vincent Cacchione manages to blend a knowing, 21st-century approach to beats and lyrics with a grander vision of popular music, evoking ’50s doo-wop groups as surely as he does anything current. His words have hip-hop flair, but the mood is more reflective, the rhythm leisurely, the beat dominated by actual bass playing, the singing hinting at inner ache more than outer bravado:
I know you know I’m not bourgeois
You act like I’m a replica
A ghost inside your retina
That only you can see

Another highlight is Cacchione’s prickly guitar work, offering up almost-but-not-quite dissonant solos in between verses, deconstructing both melody and rhythm as the beat, literally, goes on. And do not overlook the effectiveness of the central metaphor, which might seem too slick for its own good but for the subtext conveyed by the singer’s plaintive conclusion “I want one too,” regarding the teflon heart in question.
Caged Animals began as a solo project for the Brooklyn-based Cacchione but has blossomed into a foursome. “Teflon Heart” is from the album Eat Their Own, released in late September onLucky Number Music. MP3 via Lucky Number. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.

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