Review: Strange Overtones

[Download Single]

I’m very anal about how I organize my music. It’s a simple system: Albums are organized by artist, and by date of release. If an album is by a artist with a proper name, say, David Byrne, it gets sorted under the last name. I even do this with MP3s. I am anal. This system is easily stymied by artist collaborations. Take for example this new single by David Byrne and Brian Eno. Does it go under “B”? Does it go under “E”? Or does it go under “D”? The traditional methodology is to alphebatize by the first name in the list, so… “B” then, right? Thing is, the last time David Byrne and Brian Eno collaborated on an album, the amazing My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, it was released with Eno’s name in front. With the parties the same, I’d like to keep these two things grouped, but I can’t because David Byrne is getting top billing here. What can I do?

All of this is distraction. It has nothing to do with the song, but it does serve a point to establish the dichotomy between Bush of Ghosts and this entirely new thing, namely the first single from the upcoming Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, set to be released on August 18th, 2008. The names may be the same, but the products are utterly different. To continue to avoid discussing “Strange Overtones,” I will explain Bush of Ghosts for the few of you unlucky enough to have never heard it or of it. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is a remarkable album of audio collage with rock music backing; a wild, experimental romp through Christian radio preachers, Arabic singers, radio DJs, world music, funk grooves, polyrhythms, and all the fun stuff we associate with David Byrne and Brian Eno.

With that in mind, if “Strange Overtones” is any indication (and if it’s being released a single, it probably is), Everything that Happens is going to be a very different record. “Strange Overtones” is remarkably poppy. It feels not unlike a lost Talking Heads track from Remain in Light with modern production and shine. Yet, the touch is very different. Lyrically, it goes where Talking Heads feared to tread… it is a love song at its core. David singing to the girl in the next apartment who is singing to herself, guiding her in the construction of a song that has some, erm… strange… overtones? Yes. Compared to Bush of Ghosts, it’s downright conventional, even pop.

That is not a four-letter word. There is nothing wrong with a damn good pop song. David Byrne’s made more than a few, both solo and with Talking Heads. Eno, too, has a few songs that could be pop if you weren’t paying attention. It’s a positively beautiful song, too. Lush and richly textured, with sensitive and lovely lyrics that really feel heartfelt. I can’t stop listening to it. There’s a few references to the music being trapped in the past, so to speak: “These beats are twenty years old,” and “Strange overtone / though they’re slightly out of fashion,” I struggle to think of any contemporary musicians working in this style and to such effect.

If you’re unconvinced, keep in mind that the single is free. All they want from you is an e-mail address and a ZIP code. You have nothing to lose, and four minutes of beauty to gain. Go try it. Me? I’ll be waiting to buy the whole thing on the 18th. The question is whether to buy the hard copy or download it.


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