Single File: Elvis Costello, The Vaselines, The Greenhornes, and More

The Vaselines – Sex With an X – “I Hate the 80s”

Videos by American Songwriter

With the slap of a tambourine and a breezy bass line and guitar from Bobby Kildea and Stevie Jackson (of Belle & Sebastian), The Vaselines are back, or at least the founding duo is. The voices of Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee, which long ago received a nod of approval from Kurt Cobain, seem to work together as one, with McKee’s soft pipes a sugary layer over Kelly’s husky ones. “I hate the ’80s ’cause the ’80s were shit,” they sing brightly on the jangly, ’60s-influenced song that is at once an ode to indie rock of the present and a swift jab at a preceding decade and every glam-pop band and kitschy fad that went with it.

Elvis Costello – National Ransom – “I Lost You”

Theatrical similes and metaphors load down the country twang and steady drum beat of an upbeat, warbling groove perfected by Costello’s repeated croons of “I lost you.” This steel-laden single from National Ransom, the most recent addition to Costello’s already enormous discography, was co-written with Jim Lauderdale. Together they pen yet another infectious tune, though the lyrics are simplistic, through a web of comparisons to apparitions, rich men and poor women.

The Greenhornes – ★★★★ – “Saying Goodbye”

The title might seem indicative of a down-trodden, sentimental song, and it’s true that it bears a certain nostalgia which could be due to the fact that “Saying Goodbye” is chock-full of influence from decades past (mainly early ’70s rock) or that ★★★★ is The Greenhornes’ first full-length LP in eight years (released with a performance at Nashville’s Third Man Records October 30). Either way, after the first strike of a wiry chord and the wistful sigh of the chorus amidst a rolling, tumbling mess of drums, you’ll be struck with a longing to hear it pouring from a record player.

Elf Power – Elf Power – “Stranger in the Window”

Delicate strumming and hollow percussive knocking open up a tide of beautiful lyrics both dreary and reassuring as they follow a relationship that stretches over 20, 50, then 80 years. His voice tinged with the sound of the south, Andrew Rieger sings, “It might take 50 years to reach me/I guess it all depends on what you teach me/tell me your secret/if you’d like to meet the freak inside my mind” in a winding ballad, one part lullaby, one part love song.

Superchunk – Majesty Shredding – “Digging for Something”

When an iconic ’90s indie rock band allows nearly 10 years to elapse before releasing another album, no one really knows what to expect. 15 seconds into “Digging for Something,” Superchunk fans can let out a collective sigh of relief as the familiarity of Mac McCaughan’s strangled vocals come through a grating guitar haze and the crash-and-pound percussion. It’s slow by Superchunk standards; it doesn’t progress at the warped speed of “Precision Auto,” for instance, but all the old vigor and zest is still there.

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