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Musical Maunderings in Sunni's Salon

March 2006

I've found some gems in my recent explorations of new artists. First up is one I discovered on the web: Billy Harvey (check your sound level before clicking through). I actually found his site a couple of months back, enjoyed playing around a bit, but then got distracted and forgot about him. I remembered him recently, and went back to see if I still like his music. Ohhh yeah, I like it. To be more precise: I think if I owned his CDs I might drive everyone else in the house crazy listening to them all the time. Every song I've heard has been a pleasant, clever bite of tasty music that leaves me wanting more. His auditory heroin hooked me (and my daughter) hardest on Piggyback Ride, starting with the deliciously growly bass intro. Harvey's electronically altered retro-style vocals, the sweet, quirky lyrics, and the waxing and waning of the music over the course of the song are simply delightful. If that doesn't sound like your cup of tea, try a different song; each is unique while remaining within an accessible, easy-rocking style.

I've heard several songs via his web site, which is also one of the coolest sites I've wandered to in a long time. Visitors will hear Billy's repeated takes at welcoming them to his site (you can turn it off it you don't like it); while it plays, one can click around it and watch the polaroids shift to set a new scene. I'm not sure how well the Flash-driven site works over dialup connections, but my slow, shared satlink handles the load well. For those who prefer more traditional web pages, don't bother clicking around, but let the sound continue; it'll play through all songs listed in the sidebar. Or, select videos to see Harvey play a few of his tunes. That's where I found Piggyback Ride. Other songs I like include Dope Wings, Stupid Daniel, Frozen Through, and The Weed Song. Go to Billy Harvey's online store, where you can hear a sample of each song before deciding to buy. There's also a section of full-song MP3s that aren't available on a physical disc, for just a buck a pop. There's a lot of music on my wish list, but Billy Harvey has catapulted to the top of it. That's how much I like his music, and his easy-going, quirky style.

The Muffins is a completely different delightful discovery. Although I've only heard one album -- Secret Signals 1 -- which I can't find for sale anywhere online, I enjoy it so much I've played it through three times in as many days. On the basis of what I've heard, I'd describe the Muffins as a jazz-progressive counterpart to Frank Zappa, but mostly without vocals. Like Zappa, the music is heavily improvisational, which means sometimes they create pure jamming genius, and other times it's uninspired, silly, or just flops. For me, the hits are well worth the misses. And with song titles like Amelia Earhart (from Manna/Mirage), Choombachang, The Ugly Buttling (from Double Negative), Come What Molten Cloud, and Peacocks, Leopards, and Glass (from Chronometers), it's hard to choose which one to put atop the list of their CDs to acquire.

A while back, a friend lent me his Nada Surf disc, Let Go, and even though I've long since returned it, snippets of songs continue to reverberate. Best described as pop rock, all the songs have an easy, minimalist style that belies the ample, catchy musical hooks and thought-provoking lyrics contained therein. The first track, Blizzard of '77, grabbed my attention and is one of the tunes I miss most -- the lines But in the middle of the night, I worry/I worry, it's blurry even without light resonate strongly at present. Others that stood out include Blonde on Blonde, Happy Kid, and Treading Water (treading water, treading white wine/ ... /I get these feelings that I don't have much time). The song La Pour Ça also stood out, originally because my French is so bad that at first listen I thought Matthew Caws was singing about a fish. The dreamy melody and driving rhythm guitar combine so well that I don't mind not knowing what the song's about. In learning more about the band, I see they've had a taste of fame and chose to go back to a smaller, indie label for subsequent releases — another check in the plus column for them. I know of few albums that serve well in toto as either good background music or to attend to and think about. Let Go is even rarer, in that one can choose either path and be well satisfied.

With as many musical gems as I have at my fingers, it's rare for me to miss particular artists -- I can usually find something else to satisfy my auditory cravings. But not so for these three artists. Nothing else will do. Discovering each of them gives me a lot of hope for the future of music. It's clear the corporate-controlled model is dying, and I'm happy to help hurry it along.

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