Stars of tomorrow ... and beyond

Free music from the next Suzanne Vega and from a European cult figure that every Beck fan should know about. Plus: What's wrong with borrowing a soul vocal trick or two from Kanye West, anyway?

By Thomas Bartlett
Published August 18, 2004 8:00PM (EDT)

Not to gloat, but whatever happened to Fantasia Barrino and "I Believe"? Even with all the hype and adoration, and the record-breaking top-of-the-charts debut, a month and a half after its release the song is nowhere to be heard. It's heartening, in a way, that not even the kind of publicity that money can't buy was enough to overcome the sheer leaden weight of a truly horrendous song and keep "I Believe" from plummeting down the charts.

I've been enjoying the kindler, gentler Nelly's "My Place," but my pure pop pleasure these days is Ashlee Simpson's "Pieces of Me." Yes, I called her and her song awful a few weeks ago, but I was young and immature then -- and unlike with politicians, no one seems too bothered when music critics change their minds.

"Beyond the Stars," Jimi Tenor, from "Beyond the Stars"
Although Jimi Tenor is something of a cult figure in Europe, he doesn't currently have U.S. distribution. However, thanks to the Internet, we can hear the title track of his new "Beyond the Stars" for free. His music mixes lounge, exotica, smooth jazz, easy-listening, big band schlock -- basically a lot of genres that few people take very seriously -- into a glitzy mélange that is inimitably Finnish in its strangeness. Fans of Beck would do well to check out Tenor's catalog, as throughout he displays a similar genre-defying brilliance and penchant for taking all things kitschy in a semi-ironic embrace. Free download: "Beyond the Stars"

"Suspicion," Dawn Landes, demo
After this weekend's New York Times profile of Regina Spektor, the smart money is on her to be the next young New York-based female artist to break out into stardom. But I'd like to put in a vote for Dawn Landes (and not just because she, unlike Spektor, isn't associated with the horrid, faux-outsider "antifolk" scene). The 22-year-old Landes performs regularly at small New York clubs and is building a following, but she deserves a much larger audience. Her music should appeal to fans of singer/songwriters like Beth Orton and Suzanne Vega, but there's also something darker and stranger in it, something that recalls the near autistic quality of Cat Power's music. All three tracks posted in the audio section of her Web page are worth downloading, but "Suspicion" is my favorite of them, and the one in which the Cat Power similarity is most pronounced, particularly when Landes double-tracks her voice. Free download: "Suspicion"

"Pencil Stick," Clogs, from "Stick Music"
It's difficult to pin a genre to Clogs' music. They like to call what they do "improvised classical music" (they're no doubt aware that that's nearly an oxymoron, given the way that most people understand the term "classical music"), but it could just as easily be called instrumental post-rock, or even avant-folk. No matter; I just wish there were more people making music like this, drawing on modern classical, folk and experimental rock, without venturing into crass "crossover" territory (Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Marc O'Connor's "Appalachia Waltz" and "Appalachian Journey" records) or being overly precious and cutesy (the Tin Hat Trio). Clogs are led by Australian composer/violist/violinist Padma Newsome, whose Web page includes free downloads of other Clogs pieces (I recommend this one), as well as other Newsome compositions, including the exceptional "St. Vitus Dance  All Falls Down," a piece for clarinet and string quartet with shades of Shostakovich. Free download: "Pencil Stick"

"3:16," Murs, from "Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition"
Attacks on commercial hip-hop by underground rappers are getting a little old -- especially when, by and large, current underground hip-hop is so much less interesting than its mainstream counterpart. It's easier to take, though, when it comes on a track this good, a collaboration between rapper Murs (of Living Legends/3 Melancholy Gypsies fame) and producer 9th Wonder. There's a wonderful, jarring effect in the toggling between a sweet soul sample and the aggressive beat, over which Murs spits his attack: "Cuz all these niggas want to act NWA/ Niggas with artillery and nothing to spray/ Just some non-writing assholes with nothing to say." Apparently 9th Wonder has gotten some flak for copping Kanye West's sped-up soul vocals trick, which is absurd. It's far too good an idea to limit its use to Kanye, and it seems natural that it should become part of the hip-hop production lexicon. Free download: "3:16"

"Arizona," The Constantines, from "The Constantines"
The Constantines, from Ontario, made enough of a splash with last year's "Shine a Light" (which I haven't heard) that Sub Pop has decided to reissue their 2001 self-titled debut, previously available only as an import. On this record, they play ferocious, ragged art-punk, entirely earnest in its intensity and with a good deal less self-consciously ironic posturing than their New York brethren (Strokes, Interpol, et al). I particularly like the way they use the spidery, interlocking, phasing guitar parts of math-rock -- as a texture in and around their straightforward, driving beats, rather than as a tricky, meter-shifting brain tease. Aside from "Arizona," two other tracks from the record, "The Long Distance Four" and "Young Offenders," are also available for free. Free download: "Arizona"

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Have an opinion about this week's downloads? Check out the Wednesday Morning Download thread on Table Talk.

Thomas Bartlett

Thomas Bartlett is a writer and musician in New York. He maintains a blog called doveman.

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