Auralgasms: The Beat of Dis-Content
Anyone who’s read this column over time knows that I have a sweet tooth for ethereal pop. Recently, I discovered an Internet radio station that plays, what seems like, all of my favorite tracks from the past 15 years. Ranging from the British stylings of The Housemartins, Erasure, Tears for Fears, The Cure, Depeche Mode and newcomers Keane to the dreamy vocal work of The Sundays, Bel Canto, Kate Bush, Sarah McLachlan, Tara MacLean, Alison Moyet, Tori Amos, Lush, Bic Runga and many more, I’ve been streaming this “radio” station through my computer for the past couple months at every opportunity. Tune into www.auralgasms.com for a taste.
But the best thing about the site is that Auralgasms is not just an Internet radio station. The site’s founders have put together a compilation CD of 17 tracks by new artists that are frequently featured on their Internet playlist.
The Auralgasms CD, The Beat of Dis-Content opens with the chiming, shimmering sound of 24 Gone, a band that sounds lifted from the independent jangle-guitar scene of the mid-‘80s. That’s followed by another Auralgasms station favorite, Au Revoir Borealis, who offer a dreamy female vocalist atop an insistent bass throb and washes of melancholy keyboard work in “Waldorf Theft Song.” One of the disc’s highlights follows, Delirium vocalist Kristy Thirsk’s “Run Away,” a gorgeous piece of radio-ready pop that opens with a whispery verse before Thirsk’s multi-octave range blows the listener away on a pounding chorus.
Stars’ lilting “Elevator Love Letter” wakes things up shortly before Production Club’s hypnotic pairing with Tanya Donelly on “Devil’s Kiss,” a warm mix of throbbing bass, samples and Donelly’s always-entrancing whispery-to-urgently wanting vocals. Emm Gryner, who put out a richly layered album on Mercury Records a few years ago and has continued to release independent discs since parting ways with the label, offers the singalong, piano-driven “Symphonic” and Ari Hest, whose excellent debut on Columbia is just out, offers “Monsters,” an intimate singer-songwriter confessional that moves from delicate strumming to anthem-like urgency.
One of the moodiest tracks on the disc comes from Trespassers William, who with the help of the lush, angelic vocals of Anna-Lynne William and a backdrop of wispy guitars and echoing piano deliver a gem in “Lie in the Sound.”
Every song on this disc simmers with delicate beauty and soul-baring layers of poetic intensity. Other artists include Violet Indiana (which includes ex-Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie), Mark Gardener, Hungry Lucy and more. For more information, check the web site at www.auralgasms.com .
Whiskey Tango Ghosts
The third solo album from the former Belly frontwoman and ex-member of Throwing Muses and The Breeders, is her most intimate and perhaps direct disc yet. While her last disc, Beautysleep, was light on full-band anthems, favoring dreamy ethereal arrangements and her usual obliquely fascinating lyrics, Whiskey Tango Ghosts goes “unplugged” all the way, spotlighting Donelly’s waifish, vulnerable vocals with the only backing instruments usually being piano or acoustic guitar.
The urgency of her past work seems replaced this time around by a general warm acceptance of her life; this is an album celebrating the love of her husband and child – the album of a woman content. “You are the love of my life…just don’t sneak up on me and we’ll do just fine” she sings atop a slightly bluesy, jaunty electric piano on “The Center” before noting:
You are the tsunami
I am the fisher in the bay
we come together
in the most glamorous ways.
The CD opens with “Divine Sweet Divide,” a simple piano song with hints of Carole King in its melodies as Donelly asks, “are we shadows on the wall/and that’s all?”
The intensity grows slightly with the addition of strumming guitars to the trilling piano lines on the next track, “Every Devil,” where, uncluttered by drums and studio chicanery, Donelly declares:
what it comes down to
what could ever take your place
what it comes down to
honey what could take your place
not a song, not a thousand strong
you will not be turned away.
What more does any lover need to say?
Next, Donelly offers “Whiskey Tango,” the first track to include percussion. It’s still a sleepy number, with Donelly’s always inventive lyrical twists (“you’re just a freckle away from changing everything” she sings). It’s colored by Southwestern-spiced, late night acoustic guitar solos and quietly slippery pedal steel guitar backpinning.
A twang of electric country guitar melds with piano and acoustic guitars for “Just in Case You Quit Me,” and then, halfway through the album, with the throbbing bass of “Butterfly Thing,” Donelly finally delivers something that might appease fans wishing for more Belly. Though it never achieves the full band intensity of her past work, it hints at past hooks and energy. Later on “Story High,” she again hints slightly at her Belly roots with a more powerful vocal delivery, light percussion and a twangy guitar interlude.
“These days are sweet and strange,” Donelly sings on “My Life As A Ghost,” a nicely woven puzzle of taut guitar and querulous piano before she delivers “The Promise,” one of the album’s richest sounding tracks, featuring faint, falsetto vocals in the background of gentle percussive brushes and shimmering acoustic guitars.
Minimalistic, sparse, and hauntingly intimate, Whiskey Tango Ghosts displays a singer-songwriter at her most naked – and perhaps her most fulfilled.