Indie Round-Up for November 03 2005: fielding, Hayley Taylor, Gentle Giant

The front page of Blogcritics bills this column as “New Indie CDs,” and that’s fine shorthand, but not entirely accurate. This week’s selection, for example, includes only one actual CD of new music. The others are 1) a set of songs available so far only at the artist’s page, and 2) a reissue of music that’s almost thirty years old. Nevertheless all three fit happily into this column’s large but friendly world: a) music that’s b) new or newly available and c) not released by a major label. Good stuff to tell you about, so read on! Here’s the

Indie Round-Up for November 03 2005

fielding, self-titled CD

fielding (a band that lives entirely in lower case) makes power-pop with a dash of punk attitude – often sunny, occasionally snotty or grim. however this is a album not to analyze but in which to lose yourself. it doesn’t matter that the lyrics are fairly abstract, as powerful lead vocalist eric b. sings them with pathos and a hard edge that makes it seem he’s living them, and the band plays with equal zeal. individual lines do flash out: “you’re beautiful when you’re on the ground”; “the jacket you wear is such a pretty color… i’m hiding under the whitest covers.” it’s all very pleasingly accessible without being too derivative. songs like “big surprise” even evoke the naivete of 1960s pop, especially with the addition of effective, affectless vocals from keyboardist beth b. eric b.’s soaring vocals on “June 5” approach the expansiveness of thom yorke, while the song itself evokes the magical-realist american kitsch of talking heads: “so come on over, and test the waters/we’re floating above apartments and quiet.” “indigo” too is very influenced by radiohead. fielding uses repetitious vocal phrases effectively in several songs, particularly “big surprise” and “slide.”

the ten songs on the cd maintain a consistent guitar-rock sound with some strong keyboard touches, sustaining interest through compositional variety. with above average vocals and songwriting and an emotionally rich but mostly happy mood, fielding’s debut on the militia group label is a winner.

Hayley Taylor, Waking (EP)

While it’s fair to ask if we really need another song about a man who can’t commit, the answer, if it’s Hayley Taylor’s haunting “Orange Tree,” is yes. This lovely minor-key tune is a small masterpiece of alt-pop. Taylor’s voice is pretty, but, like Nick Drake’s or Liz Phair’s, plainspoken to the point of discomfort – a sweetly disturbing sensation for the listener. Without remarkable strength or tone, it penetrates deep into the psyche. One almost feels one has been delivered the succinct lyrics telepathically instead of aurally:

You’ve got your orange tree
I’ve got the blues
You’ve got your easy answers but
I want the truth

The dreamy, country-tinged “Fallen” suggests what Radiohead (they’re everywhere these days, aren’t they?) might sound like with a pedal steel guitar and Aimee Mann singing. Here another frustrated lover (or perhaps the same one) seems to be sadly accepting her fate as a victim of incomplete love:

I’ll take the last train car
The one too dark to see
I’ll be the bravest heart
The missing part you need

But in the end she remains defiantly hopeful: “Love just keeps on calling/Till you start listening darling.” Here Taylor exaggerates her lazy drawl to simultaneously convey resignation, patience and a twinkle of humor, locking them down memorably with simple but sophisticated melodies.

“What I Never Said” layers a Beatle-esque tune over folky acoustic guitars to tell the tale of a volatile and doomed relationship. Taylor sounds very much like the rueful Liz Phair here, swallowing the words as if they’re nearly too painful to squeeze out. “You made me breakfast and you screamed ’cause you couldn’t cry.” Finally, “This Is It” is a catchy little waltz that evokes the Beatles’ “Hide Your Love Away.”

All four songs are enjoyable, and the best ones show an almost startling songwriting talent. They will appear on Hayley Taylor’s upcoming EP. Check her out at Myspace and make a note to buy the disc when it comes out. Very highly recommended for lovers of good songwriting and seriously sexy (or sexily serious) voices.

Gentle Giant, Interview

Re-mastered and re-released for the band’s 35th anniversary, Interview (originally released in 1976) reveals Gentle Giant at the height of its prog-rock creativity. From “Timing”‘s unexpected blues-piano interlude and the off-kilter reggae of “Give It Back,” to the gentle acoustic guitars of “Empty City” and the gristly intensity of the masterful “I Lost My Head,” this album includes some of the band’s prettiest moments as well as some of their most complex writing. Though most fans didn’t consider it among their best, this re-mastered version may be changing some minds. Fans who’ve bypassed it in the past should definitely give it another listen; I do not consider this in any way a lesser effort than Freehand or In a Glass House.

[NOTE: an earlier problem with this re-release has been fixed. The version you will now find in stores is the correctly mastered one.]