Before getting to this week's tracks, I'd like to put in a plug for Better Propaganda, the source for this week's Ratatat song, and last week's Silent League song. It's a beautifully designed, free, legal download site, with a great selection of independent music. If you haven't yet heard the TV on the Radio tracks available for download there, grab them -- this band might rule the world someday.
Like TV on the Radio, the Veils, the French Kicks, Franz Ferdinand and Ratatat are all young bands on the make -- and Franz Ferdinand is already well on the way to world domination.
"Lavinia," the Veils, from "The Runaway Found"
The Veils, a young band from New Zealand that is fast acquiring Next Big Thing status, are all about a voice. The voice belongs to Finn Andrews, the son of XTC keyboardist Barry Andrews. And what a voice it is -- part Rufus Wainwright, part Jeff Buckley, and with the pained huskiness of a young Ryan Adams. It's especially exciting that Andrews is only 19, though his youth unfortunately shows in his largely forgettable songwriting. Still, some of the songs -- like "Guiding Light," "More Heat Than Light" and especially "Lavinia" -- are excellent and make the Veils sound like superstars in the making. "Lavinia," in a quick, smooth 6/8 (shades of Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You"), is, as far as I can make out, a heartbroken love song (like the vocalists mentioned above, Andrews has a tendency toward mushy diction). And Andrews gives the most enthralling vocal performance I've heard in a while. (iTunes)
"One More Time," the French Kicks, from "Trial of the Century"
For the last few years the French Kicks have been one of the best young bands in NYC, a band that can be counted on for a great live show. At first they were lumped in with the Strokes, presumably because they're young, cute, hip and retro, but the comparison never worked very well musically -- and the Kicks were always a lot more fun. They started out with a punky, garage-rock sound, but the pop reflexes that could be heard even then have gradually taken over, and at this point they sound like late Dismemberment Plan, but with an even more wholehearted embrace of melody. This is the first song I've heard from their upcoming record, "Trial of the Century," and it sounds as though they're better than ever. It's a sleekly arranged track of new-wave pop minimalism, with a loose but propulsive drumbeat, some glittering synthesizers and a killer section of falsetto harmonizing. Free Download: "One More Time"
"Come on Home," Franz Ferdinand, from "Franz Ferdinand"
No one likes critical consensus, but lukewarm is as far as anyone has managed to stray from the universal tone of heated adulation in discussing Franz Ferdinand. And I can't even manage to temper my praise that much. These guys are good. Perhaps not good enough to live up to their hubristic, epoch-shifting name, but good enough that, of all the self-consciously backward-looking bands of the last few years who have sought and nearly achieved world domination (the Strokes, Interpol, the White Stripes, the Rapture, etc.), only Interpol sounds as good -- and in a pinch, I'd opt for Franz's wit over Interpol's solemn cool. Frontman Alex Kapranos is irresistible. He has some of Jim Morrison's portentous swagger, some of Jarvis Cocker's fiercely articulate narrative skill and a talent for twisted, memorable phrases ("You can feel my lips undress your eyes"). And he can switch without warning into an unexpected, fragile falsetto, which he uses to great effect on the chorus of this song. "Come on Home" is my favorite track today, but the album is packed with great songs, especially "Darts of Pleasure," "Take Me Out," "40" and "Jacqueline," all of which you should download. (iTunes)
"Ruby," Tweaker, from "2 A.M. Wakeup Call"
Tweaker, aka Chris Vrenna, the former drummer for Nine Inch Nails, has pulled off the very difficult feat of making an album featuring a number of guest vocalists (seven of them, in this case) that manages to retain coherence and focus. He's done it by keeping the tone so consistent -- forcing the vocalists to adapt to his vision, rather than the other way around. It's an insomniac's record, full of ominous industrial drums and claustrophobic electronics, with a palpable air of late-night dread and loneliness. My favorite track on the album is actually its sunniest, "It's Still Happening," featuring the Walkmen's Hamilton Leithauser, yelping away like Bono at his most transcendent. There are also great contributions from Jennifer Charles (of Elysian Fields), David Sylvian and Robert Smith. But, since everyone likes free stuff, I suggest you start with "Ruby," featuring Will Oldham, which is available for free download on Tweaker's Web page. Oldham is a mysteriously great vocalist. His voice sounds unremarkable, a typical thin and strangulated indie-folk voice, but there's a strange, haunted magic to his singing that I find entirely captivating. Free Download: "Ruby"
"Seventeen Years," Ratatat, from "Ratatat"
Ratatat is an instrumental rock/electronica duo, made up of Mike Stroud, a touring guitarist for both Ben Kweller and Dashboard Confessional, and Evan Mast, who records electronic music under the moniker E*vax. As with many instrumental rock groups, you may find yourself wondering why it's taking the singer so long to join in. But once you're resigned to the presumed singer's nonexistence, you'll find there's plenty to keep you busy without him. "Seventeen Years," from the band's recently released self-titled debut, crackles with brittle, danceable energy. Over a trippy, jagged beat, guitars and keyboards intertwine with a series of boxy, motoric phrases. The opening energy is great, and would have been enough to propel the track all the way through, but Ratatat made the excellent decision to pull back a bit: The track ends with some solemn, almost hymnlike analog synth pads, with one languidly sliding note that makes all the difference. Free Download: "Seventeen Years"