Local Tracks on the Web
By David Pence
Like their counterparts in Brooklyn, Liverpool, and Düsseldorf, a lot of musicians in Maine are uploading MP3s to MySpace and to their own Web sites. Going online helps bands generate interest among listeners in distant cities and their own hometowns. From the listener’s standpoint, it’s a sweet deal, too: with a few clicks we can hear interesting, unheralded music made in studios (and studio apartments) around the world or around the block.
Of course, listening to tunes online is different from listening to music on the home stereo or in the car. Partly this has to do with the dinky little desk speakers that bring the exotic sounds to us from our computers. More importantly, it’s about how the song is the going unit of choice.
Each month in this new column, I’ll draw your attention to a handful of songs from our collective backyard that I’ve found on the Web. The underground is so clean and easy now!
The 500s sure are fun. This song is a dreamy AM radio track from the summer of someone’s 13th year, windows down and riding endlessly to the beach, a little happy and a little sad. The track’s informality is its first invitation: peppy beat, cheesy organ, guy playing the electric guitar. Enter Jonathan Merrifield’s sweet & sour voice — shrewd and heartfelt at once — meandering around the instruments, pouring a dusky, elegant melody into your mind’s deeper ear. All of these sounds grow from a guiding principle: feeling trumps virtuosity. Direct and tangy, “Hole in My Pocket” carries melancholic overtones that stay with you.
How should you take a rock guy with a gaggle of ideas, serious chops on several instruments, and what seems to be a continuous intravenous drip from late-’60s-era San Francisco? Well, I suppose you take him however you can get him. So click above to hear Barry Burst and friends play a miniature masterpiece with organ, guitars, drums, and bass. It’s got a sturdy little frame; it’s spooky, yet funny (“the children were warned not to step into the forest of eyes”); and it boasts several zesty stylistic touches. Listening to this track is a bit like watching a gifted athlete work out. Barry B. makes tricky stuff seem effortless, the bastuhd.
A smooth, dark homebrew from the deeper woods beyond Big Pink. Eldemur Krimm sets aside the heavy riffs and the roar to deliver a backporch tune with wailing pedal steel, acoustic guitars (some fingerpicked!), bass, banjo, drums brushed and struck, cymbal splashes, and deftly blended vocals from Fred Dodge and Jason Marshall. The song’s story takes you on a trip that seems doomed from the start, but who cares? “Two days, we’re not even half way back / They have to burn down the shack, so pass the jug, please.” Dodge’s vocal, as usual, is the portal to a slightly insane rural kingdom.
Here’s the deal with uploading music to the Web: it’s wicked easy. You can make something in, like, 11 or 12 minutes, and then just post it. So here’s a tune – fast tempo via keyboard drum machine, dopey synth sound, in-your-face flat vocal… is this an independent study project from the School of Naïf? In its best moments, this fellow’s (outsider art) singing hints at Mayo Thompson. However, you may find yourself thinking, “Come on, you can hit the notes, you poser!” But by gawd, there’s a song underneath the self-consciousness, and it’s really catchy.
This instrumental track will clear your palate and agitate your nerves. It’s a snappy two-step with lots of reverb on the guitars, plus percussion. That’s it, but Arlet convinces you anything else would be excessive. It’s not surf, but it’s salty; it’s not punk, but it’s aggressively unselfconscious. Whatever you call it, it probably starts with the prefix psycho-. (On his MySpace page, Arlet terms it “Nu-Jazz” as well as “local gypsy jazzabilly.”) Listening to “Walk’n on Hot Rocks,” you will find yourself transported to a headspace where Joe Meek, Dick Dale, and the Ventures are all milling around. More! More!
David Pence is the host of Radio Junk Drawer, heard Wednesdays from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. on community radio station WMPG (90.9 and 104.1 FM; wmpg.org).