Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Fingertips Top 10 free and legal MP3s - update

The Fingertips Current Top 10, an ever-shifting listing of ten extra-good free and legal MP3s, has been updated. Here's what it looks like now, with new additions indicated with an asterisk:

1. "Boy With a Coin" - Iron & Wine
2. "Diamond Heart" - Marissa Nadler
3. "He Keeps Me Alive" - Sally Shapiro
4. "The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing" - I Am Bones
5. "That's That" - Cass McCombs
6. "Parables" - Rebekah Higgs*
7. "Million Dollars Bail" - Peter Case
8. "Adrenaline" - Emma Pollock
9. "Saturday Night" - Pale Young Gentlemen*
10. "Dead Sound" - the Raveonettes

The Rebekah Higgs song was added on 11/19; Pale Young Gentlemen's "Saturday Night" will officially be on the chart as of tomorrow. Songs stay on the Current Top 10 chart for a maximum of three months, but not all are so lucky. Links are direct to the MP3s (if all goes well). Visit the Top 10 page on the Fingertips web site for more information, or just for the heck of it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Free and legal MP3 goodness from Fingertips

(as featured on This Week's Finds, Nov. 25-Dec. 1)

"Saturday Night" - Pale Young Gentlemen
The Madison-based ensemble that call themselves Pale Young Gentlemen (the prominently featured cellist is a woman, however) play a singular sort of theatrical indie pop, featuring a jaunty sense of melody, a soft spot for old-timey rhythms, and something of Randy Newman's way with string-enhanced, piano-based vamping. The aforementioned cello lends an indefinable suggestion of yesteryear to the proceedings, while lead singer and pianist Mike Reisenauer--sounding like a cross between Adam Duritz and Andrew Bird, with a dusting of Chris Martin--sings with a amicable sort of semi-boozey flair; when he gets to the rollicking chorus I can all but see him doing a vaudevillian sort of backward-moving kick step and spread-hand shimmy. And I like how economically the Pale Young Gents manage the theatrics; rather than drowning us with strings or layered, Freddie Mercury-style vocals, the song gives us the feel of something orchestrated with, in fact, a minimal number of instruments, skillfully but informally played--the music has the air of something that everyone maybe just finished rehearsing half a moment before they sat down to record. Keep an ear out too for the backing vocals, sung with fine slapdash charm. "Saturday Night" is a song from the band's self-released, self-titled debut CD, which came out way back in March, but only recently came to the attention of the hard-working mail sorters in the Fingertips home office.

"Truck" - the Octopus Project
Indefatigable and gleeful instrumental pop from one of the indie world's most beloved and quirky outfits. (Note that it is difficult if not impossible to achieve beloved status in the indie world without quirkiness.) As noted the previous times the Octopus Project has graced the pages of this web site (a TWF pick in '05
here; the Select Artist Guide entry here), this Austin-based quartet has an almost magical way of converting its beepy, boopy sounds into something rich and satisfying, even to the ears of this non-instrumental-oriented listener. Here, a sprightly synthesizer comprises the not-as-simple-as-it-seems core of this fleet-footed 7/4 rave-up. As usual, the band's uncommon ability to blend the electronic, the electric, and the percussive into an organic-sounding whole is front and center (although its endearing use of the theremin is not, unfortunately, on obvious display in this song). While the 7/4 time signature is not unheard of in pop music, the band's ability to rock out, briskly, within this framework is ear-catching. Likewise ear-catching are the short bridge-like sections during which the 7/4 is abandoned for an even more off-kilter beat (for instance, from 0:20 to 0:31; could be 5/4, maybe, partly) before rejoining the seven-beat groove. Don't miss the outer space version of the bridge, from 1:32 to 1:43, when the synthesizer pairs with one ringing guitar to create, somehow, a shimmering sound that almost "out-aliens" the absent theremin, before giving way to hard-bashing 7/4 craziness the rest of the way. "Truck" is a song from the CD Hello, Avalanche, the band's third full-length disc, which was released last month on Peek-A-Boo Records.

"Falling Behind" - Dear Euphoria
Elina Johansson has a slight Sandy Denny-ish tremor in her tender, affecting voice, lending a luminous air to this song's pervading sadness--a sadness induced by the crestfallen pace, spare setting, and broken-hearted lyrics but not, interestingly, by the actual music, which is mostly comprised of major rather than minor chords. Listen carefully and you may hear how closely the verses hang on top of one of the most familiar bass lines in the 20th-century pop songbook, the one from novice-pianist-friendly "Heart and Soul"; the chorus, meanwhile, floats us into a forlorn, asymmetrical space in which Johansson's doubletracked voice sings a melodic line that repeats once too often while the drummer retreats, taking the assurance of a beat with him (or her). The plaintive ambiance ultimately forces an alternative interpretation of Dear Euphoria--bliss that is not sweet but, rather, costly. Born in Sweden, Johansson did not begin performing until she moved to Los Angeles for a while earlier in the decade; she "took it as a sign to return home when daily turning on the ac to max," according to some sketchy but evocative biographical information on her web site. Dear Euphoria is not a band but the name Johansson performs under, with, sometimes, a small circle of regular side players. "Falling Behind" is a song from the self-titled debut CD, which came out last month on London-based
Stereo Test Kit Records. This CD is a re-worked version of an album that was self-released, with a different title, in 2005; the new CD has subtracted two of the original songs and added four new ones (including "Falling Behind"). MP3 is via the Stereo Test Kit site.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Check out free and legal music from Nicole Atkins

The latest addition to the Fingertips Select Artist Guide is Nicole Atkins. Here's the entry, as found on the Select Artist Guide page of the main Fingertips site:

Nicole Atkins
The New Jersey-based Atkins has a big voice, a healthy respect for music history, and a heady command of the craft of songwriting. I'm pretty sure she's going places beyond the "This Week's Finds" page (where she has, so far, been featured
here and here). Between her first and second TWF appearance she was signed to a major label (Sony's Red Ink imprint); even so, I'm happy to report that her music still sounds great, and (even more unusually) free and legal MP3s remain online so you can hear for yourself. The only problem is the four MP3s she has available are not all in one place. Check out "Skywriters" and "Carouselle" by following the links to the TWF blurbs, earlier in this paragraph; "Party's Over" is available via Sony, here, and "Bleeding Diamonds" via the SXSW site, here (thanks to Frank at Chromewaves for gathering these together and reminding me I wanted to do this entry).

* * * * * *

The Select Artist Guide on the main Fingertips site is a list of artistically notable bands and/or musicians offering free and legal music to download on the web. "Artistically notable" is the key phrase. This is most definitely a select list, as the title indicates. There are many many (many) musicians on the web offering free and legal MP3s. Relatively few of them will be listed within the Select Artist Guide; the intent is to point you to quality artists who offer at least two (and in most cases more) free and legal MP3s online and to show you exactly where to find them. There are currently 80 artists featured, including the Arcade Fire, Neko Case, Kathleen Edwards, Midlake, Okkervil River, the Shins, and Tom Waits.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Another high-quality batch of free and legal MP3s from Fingertips

(as featured on This Week's Finds, Nov. 18-24)

"You Can't Say No Forever" - Lacrosse
Peppy, winsome, and unpretentious, "You Can't Say No Forever" launches off a nimble acoustic intro, picks up a boy-girl pair of lead singers singing maybe not exactly in tune all the time, a drum kit, an electric guitar or two, an endearing synthesizer (don't miss it), and a nice fat horn line before it's all through in a scant three minutes six seconds. The almost but not quite zany energy is the infectious result of a delightful sing-song-y melody and six musicians playing with great bustling spirit--as they get going, I can all but picture the jouncing body parts working things into a dust cloud, like some cartoon animal band, setting up the climactic moment (at 2:25) when the instruments stop on a dime and the vocalists join together for a heartfelt "ba-da-da-da-da-da," which repeats as the piece draws to its lively close. We have by the way yet another band from Sweden here--Lacrosse is from Stockholm, and are signed to
Tapete Records, the German label with an enviable habit of releasing wonderful music. "You Can't Say No Forever" is from the CD This New Year Will Be For You and Me, which was released in Europe this month. The MP3 is via the Tapete site.

"Evergreen" - Celebration
With its carnival organ, idiosyncratic drum beat, cagey structure, and elusive vocals--not only is the singer hard to understand, but you might not initially realize that a woman and not a tenor is singing--this is truly an unusual song. I've been sitting with it for quite a while already; it was one of those that fascinated me at an unconscious level, leaving my conscious mind a bit perplexed as to why I kept listening and listening. I'm still not sure I know, exactly, but it definitely has something to do with the unique texture created by the swirling instrumentation, scuttly drumming, Katrina Ford's reverberant voice, and maybe most of all the seductively repetitive melody--listen to how Ford stays centered on one note a whole lot of the time; the furtive dives she takes to lower pitches somehow serve to further emphasize the unmoving primary note. And I may be crazy but deep within the kaleidoscopic organ sound I'm sensing the beating heart of an old-time soul record, as I could swear I'm hearing a Booker T. and the M.G.s/Stax Records reference in the mix somewhere. "Celebration" is the lead track off this Baltimore-based trio's second CD, The Modern Tribe, which was released last month on
4AD Records. MP3 courtesy of Beggars Group, 4AD's parent label.

"Faster Than Cars Drive" - Kate Tucker & the Sons of Sweden
The combination of tough and lonely is an appealing one, and Tucker's got it going here, with a tough and lonely shuffle that sounds a bit like Patty Griffin trying to do a Mazzy Star imitation, with Neko Case for a teacher. Tucker's got an achy edge to her breathy voice, while her able band creates a world of subtle feeling behind her via a series of fluid changes in their reverb-laced playing. Keep your ear on the drummer in particular, who drives the one obvious, and central, change: the apparent time shift of the chorus, which isn't a time shift at all, simply an ear-arresting rhythmic trick. This outfit, by the way, is actually not from Sweden, but from the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard--which was the traditional center of the city's Scandanavian community (thus, it would seem, the band name). The Sons of Sweden, by the way, were a band called the Dark Ages before joining forces with Tucker, who has herself released one solo CD before this one. "Faster Than Cars Drive" is from the self-titled debut CD as an ensemble--a disc produced by Ryan Hadlock, who has worked with Blonde Redhead and Metric, among other bands. The CD was self-released at the end of October, on the band's Red Valise Records imprint.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Nov. 11-17

"Parables" - Rebekah Higgs
This one starts almost before the musicians have picked up their instruments. We hear tuning, we hear the singer warming up, and then we hear the song kick in, but listen carefully--in addition to the instantly engaging and well-textured groove, you'll hear a layer or two of ghostly electronics echoing in the aural distance. Unlike many who have explored a mix of acoustic and electronic sounds (often a simple mashing of acoustic guitar and laptop effects), Higgs uses electronics with an orchestral flair, weaving beautiful howls and altered vocal effects into a down-home mix of guitar, drums, banjo, and strings. At the song's center are a resilient, six-measure melody (the same for both verse and chorus) and Higgs' breathy-scratchy, bumpy-yet-frisky voice. Together they can do no wrong; interspersed with noodly sections featuring the words "I will" amidst an eddying swirl of loops, indistinct sounds, stray lyrics, and banjo, the main melody returns each time like a trusty friend. The end result is hypnotic--the song is five minutes long but might as well be two or ten, time kind of becoming elastic in the hands of this 24-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist from Halifax with a bright bright future. "Parables" is the lead track off her self-titled debut CD, given a remastered, Canada-wide release last month by Toronto-based
Outside Music. (Higgs had self-released the CD in a limited release last year; the Outside version also contains two extra songs.) MP3 via Outside Music; thanks to Chrome Waves for the lead.

"Alarm Clock" - the Rumble Strips
A sprightly slice of good-humored British neo new wave pop, plus horns. The sax and trumpet deliver their old-fashioned horn chart with a slaphappy abandon that enhances the general drollery, but then here's the twist: "Alarm Clock" is not actually a carefree song, as it concerns the unhumorous reality of having to work at a dreary job day after day. What the music reflects, however, is the spirit with which our narrator struggles with this ubiquitous misfortune--not to mention "solves" the problem of the bothersome alarm clock ("So I hit him with a hammer/And now he's quite subdued"). Singer Charlie Waller has a bit of Andy Partridge's spirited wail and he and his three bandmates most definitely like to bang, blow, and hit their instruments with incautious glee; at this point it's hard to imagine that anything they sing about, however serious, will sound somber. The Rumble Strips hail from Tavistock, a small Devonshire town near the Cornwall border in southwest England; "Alarm Clock" is from their six-song Alarm Clock EP, the band's first U.S. release, which will be out next month on
Kanine Records. A shorter version of this EP came out earlier in the year in the U.K.; "Alarm Clock" can also be found on the Rumble Strips' debut full-length, Girls and Weather, which was released in the U.K. in September on Island Records. MP3 courtesy of Spin.

"Five O'Clock News" - Ryan Scott
This languorous, slightly jazzy ballad, in three-quarter time, is a definite grower. Scott has a distinctive, somewhat smoky, large-mouthed voice, with nice range and a pliable tone--an ideal tool, as it turns out, for this deceptively complex little song. While there appear, more or less, to be verses and a chorus and maybe a bridge, lyrically, the music slides sneakily from section to section, augmented by understated changes as sections repeat, the sneaky feeling complemented by the melody's tendency to swing across the three-beat measures, most syllables in the lyrics stretching out for two or more beats. And then, lo and behold, the central (albeit subtle) hook, to my ears, is the one-sentence chorus, in which Scott placidly lobs a ten-syllable run in which each syllable is precisely one beat long--from the word "sweater" to the words "for me" (from 0:52 to 0:58 the first time we hear it), and does it with an appealing ascending/descending melody, finishing on the sidestep of an unresolved chord. The second time we hear this exact sentence we get fourteen straight one-beat syllables, beginning with the word "clock" (2:36), with the song ending when the sentence ends, unresolved chord still hanging in the air. Trained as a jazz guitarist, Scott moved to NYC from the Bay Area in 2001, only 18 at the time, to make his way as a singer/songwriter. "Five O'Clock News" is from the CD Smoke & Licorice, released in September by Brooklyn-based
CrystalTop Music. This is officially Scott's second CD, but features eight songs that were also on his debut CD, Five O'Clock News, which had a limited release in the middle of last year.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

On the main site, the Fingertips Current Top 10 has been updated. Here's what it looks like now:

1. "Boy With a Coin" - Iron & Wine
2. "The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing" - I Am Bones*
3. "Diamond Heart" - Marissa Nadler
4. "That's That" - Cass McCombs
5. "One Man" - Eulogies
6. "He Keeps Me Alive" - Sally Shapiro*
7. "Million Dollars Bail" - Peter Case
8. "Adrenaline" - Emma Pollock
9. "Pluto" - Clare & the Reasons
10. "Dead Sound" - the Raveonettes

New additions are indicated with an asterisk. Songs stay on the Current Top 10 chart for a maximum of three months. Links are direct to the MP3s. Visit the Top 10 page on the Fingertips web site for more information, and also to see the All-Time Top 10 chart, featuring ten of the best available free and legal MP3s of the decade.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Nov. 4-10

"The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing" - I Am Bones
So this is a band with a sense of humor, which can be a mixed blessing in rock'n'roll, where a conscious effort to appear "funny" often crosses the line into "hm, maybe not funny." The best way to stay on the good side of the line is, first of all, for the humor to seem self-effacing rather than obnoxious and, second (and more important), for the music itself to be delightful. The Danish quartet I Am Bones--whose first, self-released CD had the Firesign Theater-esque title of If You Really Love Me, Send Me More Medical Supplies--appears to satisfy on both counts with this splendid slice of slightly skewed, smile-inducing power pop. Listen, instantly, to the harmonies employed right out of the gate, which utilize elastic intervals that I can't discern, delivered over a twitchy guitar rhythm. The off-kilter flavor of the verse, pleasing on its own, further serves to make the straight-ahead I-IV-V brilliance of the chorus all the more appetizing. Here, front man Johannes Gammelby's voice takes on an unexpected depth, as the bottom-heavy drive of the music combines with the upward-leaning melody to lend him something of Jeff Lynne's congenial vocal power. One final key to success is succinctness: the song lasts barely longer than the title; we hear the chorus but twice, as the entire last minute of a not-very-long-anyway song is a guitar-driven instrumental coda. "The Main Thing..." is from the new I Am Bones CD, The Greater Good, the band's second for the English-speaking Danish label
Morningside Records, released last month in Europe. The MP3 is via Morningside.

"Subtle Changes" - Sambassadeur
We're staying in Scandanavia for no particular reason except that this next wonderful song sounds great after our first wonderful song. Sambassadeur is a quartet from Gothenburg, Sweden whose
previously stripped-down vibe (in the past, their recordings were done at home) has been fetchingly boosted by echoey strings, atmospheric percussion, a grand, chugging rhythm and, later on, a honking sax solo. Anna Persson, once a casual, somewhat deadpan vocalist--singing in short, talky phrases, and sounding as if she could not sing and smile at the same time--here emerges with a richer tone, partly because of the production but partly also because she's not afraid to hold her notes, to fully sing. She may not yet be smiling but she's loosened up her facial muscles and in so doing shifted away from irony and towards passion, which engenders I think much more than a subtle change in the band's sound. What they retain, however, is a nimble way with melody; listen in particular to the chorus and how beautifully the melody extends beyond the confines of a typical four-measure pop chorus--the melodic line here is actually nine measures long, which is unusual, seemingly one measure too long, and it leaves us vaguely unresolved musically, too, until the chorus repeats a second time and then hooks back into the opening chord of the verse section (compare the unfinished feeling from 1:43 through 1:46 to the resolution at 1:47). "Subtle Changes" is from Migration, Sambassadeur's first studio album, released last month, in Europe, on Labrador Records. MP3 via Labrador.

"Tree" - Hopewell
It's really hard, I think, to start a pop song this slowly; and to do so with a high-pitched, slightly nasally tenor such as Jason Russo's front and center is even harder. But his voice is not, at first, what anchors the ear here. The piano, instead, commands attention, with its simple, firm, plaintive chords. Four times the chords shift during this slow opening, and notice how, with each chord shift, Russo nevertheless comes back to settle on the same melodic note; Tyson Lewis's uncluttered, shifting chords create such a strong, if bittersweet, feeling that they trick the ear into thinking the melody is moving more than it is. When the band kicks in at 0:34, the small, careful instrumental flourishes put me in the mind of an old Band song, which the central, doleful melody reinforces, not to mention Russo's intermittent resemblance to Rick Danko. While the opening progression remains at the center of this almost inexplicably captivating song, varied textures arise along the way, building towards a louder, fuller-bodied conclusion, complete with deep rumblings underneath and an almost orchestrated feel to the band's playing. Hopewell is not from Scandanavia; Poughkeepsie, New York is the off-the-beaten path home for this talented but largely unrecognized quintet. "Tree" is from Beautiful Targets, the band's fifth CD, released in July on
Tee Pee Records.