KNBA - KBC

Tom Moon

Countless bands perform a variation on the medium-uptempo edge-of-rage eruption perfected by the likes of the Pixies and Green Day. It's become so ubiquitous, you almost don't have to listen: It's possible to get a headline-news sense of the song without fully apprehending the words. The spike in the guitar attack and the rawness of the vocal help telegraph the outline of a narrative: Here we are in the aftermath of a relationship in turmoil. Trust is broken. Someone's been wronged. Wounds are fresh.

You can tell a lot about a songwriter by what occurs in the space between verses. Many writers — hacks and gifted souls alike — will treat an instrumental expanse as a kind of please-stand-by strumming wallpaper, a palate cleanser for the ear. In this strategy, derived from folk music, the focus remains forever on the narrative; the "action" in a song directly depends on the voice.

Bryan Ferry Slinks Home

Nov 18, 2014

The opening groove in "Loop De Li," the first song on Bryan Ferry's new album, Avonmore, might as well be a "Welcome Home" sign.

In typically grandiose fashion, Pink Floyd has created its own requiem.

The Sunday-school singalong "You Are My Sunshine" is the rare evergreen that seems to withstand all manner of musical abuse.

A clue about the scruffy aesthetic of Sukierae arrives at the 2:27 mark of "World Away," one of 20 (!) songs on the first family-band album from Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. Until this point, the tune — a variation on the Bo Diddley beat strummed on acoustic guitar, with Tweedy's sleepy voice distantly implying a blues cadence — has been fairly straightforward.

"You know I love you, but you're mean."

Here's one of those eternal refrains. Nobody owns it; it's been in the air since forever. Maybe it was initially uttered by a songwriter toiling deep in the Brill Building, or first sung by a girl group.

To music obsessives of a certain age, the current generation of listeners sometimes appears as lightweight grazers at the Internet smorgasbord who seem unwilling (possibly unable) to focus attention at depth on a single piece of music. The summary dismissal: The kids today, they can't handle all of what somebody like a Frank Zappa (or a band like King Crimson) throws at them.

Two minutes and 11 seconds into "They Dream," from Bear in Heaven's fourth album Time Is Over One Day Old, the music takes a strange turn. The band has been shuttling along at a riveting adventure-movie clip, with Jon Philpot's reverb-swaddled voice functioning as the primary distinct element in a sleek blur. Then, abruptly, the tempo stops. A wash of Space Mountain synths dissolves slowly — the set has been struck. When Philpot begins to sing again, he's the sole occupant of the spotlight.

"The madness runs in cycles," Tom Clarke sings forebodingly in "The Glow," one of the highlights of the U.K. duo Cloud Boat's second album. The music rushes along, propelled by the high-efficiency tick of a drum loop, but there's no trace of madness or even anxiety in his voice. Instead, Clarke radiates priestly calm as he gives listeners a set of vague, odd instructions: "Take some of these candles," he intones darkly, as if calling from some Middle Ages theater. "The glow will guide you."

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