Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Free and legal MP3 from Yo La Tengo (churning, string-laden craftiness from the great Hoboken trio)

"Here to Fall" - Yo La Tengo
     Half of the time I love what Yo La Tengo does, half the time I'm not sure I understand it. This falls squarely into the first half. After its odd, electro-echoey intro, "Here to Fall" simmers with that paradoxical low-level intensity that YLT consistently brings to the studio--a product, in part, of the juxtaposition of Ira Kaplan's plainspoken, softspoken vocals and the churning noise the trio can produce. And yet the noise here isn't really that noisy, featuring as it does, right in the middle of the mix, the unlikely but thoroughly agreeable addition of a small string section, which somehow brings to mind the sorts of strings we used to hear on old Elton John songs (Paul Buckmaster fans out there, anyone?).
     But don't overlook the guitar work, which is characteristically crazy brilliant without calling any attention to itself. And don't overlook the additional crazy brilliance of the unadorned melody, barely differentiating verse and chorus, which, cycling inexorably forward, attains a dark grandeur as the guitars burn and the strings melodramatize around it.
     "Here to Fall" is a song from the band's forthcoming album, Popular Songs (their twelfth), which is slated for a September release on Matador Records. MP3 via Matador.

Free and legal from the Dø (percussive, kitchen-sink indie pop w/ an expansive vibe but organic feel)

"Tammie" - the Dø
     So go ahead and listen to this song. Shrug and put it aside for two weeks or so. Listen to it again. Go: "Hm. I actually kind of like this! A lot, even." Well okay, you don't have to do any of that, but that's surely what I did. Listening to music can be a flitty and unpredictable affair.
     So, "Tammie": kitchen-sink indie pop, sweetly nutty, with the large-scale energy of the Arcade Fire school of 21st-century rock, but achieved instead via a stripped-down, organic vibe driven by hand-claps and odd vocalizations and peopled by a simple (but multinational) duo--French/Finnish Olivia Merilahti and the Parisian Dan Levy. Where the song takes off, for me, is here: when the insistent, twice-repeated minor-key melodic lines of the verse resolve in the third iteration (first heard around 0:41)--such a smooth and unexpected chord slips in right there in the middle of all the staccato insistence. Check out the next time this comes up, with those invigorating harmonies (1:24, but keep listening). Another wonderful moment is when the repeated chant of the bridge, with all its percussive drive, morphs (1:47) into an orchestral interlude, featuring an enticing influx of woodwind-like sounds.
     The Dø is pronounced like the first note of the scale ("'do' a deer," etc.)--even though the "ø" (in languages that use it) is actually pronounced more like the "u" in "hurt." And while the word "dø" means "die" in Danish and Norwegian, the band says the name comes simply from combining the letters of their first names. (D'oh!) "Tammie" can be found on their debut CD, A Mouthful, which was originally released last year in Europe, and given an American release this month on Get Down Records.

Free and legal MP3 from Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions (Mazzy Star front woman w/ satisfying, "Fade Into You"-ish ballad)

"Blanchard" - Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions
     Fronting the '90s band Mazzy Star, Hope Sandoval--she with the gauzy, achy, reverb-drenched vocals--made a much larger impact on music fans of a certain age (and gender) than the band's status as a one-hit wonder ("Fade Into You"), not to mention her terminally shy personality, might suggest. The internet is crawling with people who love her, madly.
     "Blanchard" will not disappoint them, but its graceful allure should extend beyond the hopelessly smitten, as it were. To my ears, Mazzy Star's music blurred into a nebula of echoing, almost debauched gloom too often undisturbed by an actual melody, despite Sandoval's resonant if downbeat charm as a singer. "Blanchard" echoes much of her previous band's aura, but eases off on the druggy haze--the reverb is toned down, the pace less dreary. "Blanchard" shares its ghostly 3/4-time rhythm with "Fade Into You" (itself brighter-sounding than most Mazzy Star songs) but gives us what that well-known tune never did: a chorus with a nuanced but noticeable resolution away from the relentless, open-chorded ambivalence in which the band basked. Sandoval doesn't dwell in the payoff, of course, but the shift at 1:36 is rich and heart-warming. As if, perhaps, to make up for the musical reward, the lyrics at that point become stubbornly unintelligible.
     While Mazzy Star is still officially intact, it has not released an album since 1996's Among My Swan. Meanwhile, Sandoval began recording with a backing band called the Warm Inventions in 2001; two subsequent EPs were released, rather quietly. "Blanchard" is the lead track from the CD Through the Devil Softly, which is scheduled to be out in September, on Nettwerk Records. MP3 via Stereogum (note: not a direct link).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Free and legal MP3 from Wheels On Fire (garage-y stomper w/ wheezing keys & a vivid riff)

"I'm Turning Into You" - Wheels On Fire
     There's something about the summertime that makes this sort of driving, garage-y stomper, complete with wheezing keyboards, the perfect soundtrack for warm breezes and open car windows. (And for anyone roughly in the neighborhood, what about a big shout-out for the amazing summer weather we've been having in the mid-Atlantic so far? The nicest I can possibly imagine for July: warm blue days, cool starry nights, no air conditioning necessary.)
     Front and center in the song--the first thing you hear, and what the song is framed on--is an urgent, unadorned guitar riff: five tinny chords, strummed in a relentless rhythm: one; two; three; four-five. The beauty of the great guitar riffs is that they can kind of resemble each other--this one concludes in "Sweet Jane" territory--even while banging out their own piece of the rock'n'roll rock, as it were. A great riff doesn't have to be surprising, as a great melody must at some level be, and yet it can't be nondescript either. Rhythm and chord placement is everything; the effect is more primal than intellectual (think "You Really Got Me"; think "Roadrunner"; think "Alex Chilton"). This one rocks, which is all it's trying to do, and all it needs to do on another ideal July day.
     Wheels On Fire is a four-piece from Athens, Ohio. You'll find "I'm Turning Into You" on the CD Get Famous, which was released back in February on Big Legal Mess Records, a label with a distribution deal with Fat Possum Records. MP3 via Big Legal Mess.

Free and legal MP3 from the Mummers (orchestral pop w/ touches of Bacharach & Weill)

"Wonderland" - the Mummers
     A waltzing, carnivalesque intro segues into some smooth, orchestral retro-pop that owes a bit to Burt Bacharach, a bit to Kurt Weill, and a bit to our century's relentless urge to mix and mash sounds into ear-catching concoctions. To me, "Wonderland" separates itself from a lot of the more disposable contrivances crowding the internet in our music-happy day and age via its rare combination of sweetness and sturdiness. The melodies are expansive and velvety, the arrangements unexpectedly thoughtful, even articulate. The bright-toned singer and multi-cultural multi-instrumentalist Raissa Khan-Panni, who flitted through a semi-successful solo career in the UK at the outset of the millennium, here manages at once to command center stage and to work as merely one of an idiosyncratic ensemble of musicians bowing and pumping out this breezy but slightly mysterious keeper. A whole different kind of summer song, this one is, from the Wheels On Fire track above, but a delightful summer song it nonetheless remains.
     The Mummers are an ever-changing array of 20-some-odd musicians, based in Brighton. "Wonderland" is a song from the band's debut full-length disc, Tale to Tell (Republic of Music/Universal), which was released in either April or June. (The internet is sometimes a contradictory place, information-wise.) MP3 via Fresh Deer Meat.

Free and legal MP3 from the Clientele (breezy sound with a pensive undercurrent)

"I Wonder Who We Are" - the Clientele
     With an echo of the cheerful old Aztec Camera song, "Oblivious," in the air here, what do you know, we've got yet another summery delight on our hands.
     At least, seemingly. "I Wonder Who We Are" is an upbeat song with an ostensibly carefree, kicking-around kind of vibe, and yet between the open chords, pensive vocals, and central role of acoustic instruments (guitar, violin, piano), there's a reserve bordering on melancholy that I'm hearing despite the surface-level peppiness. And sure, lead singer Alasdair MacLean is offering those airy "ba-ba-ba-ba-ba"s but they keep leading to that recurring, rather poignant question: "I wonder who we are?" So I for one am not surprised by the 20-second pause at 3:06 when everything clears away, the chugging rhythm disappears, and we're left with a bit of forlorn but lovely guitar noodling. Soon enough the "ba-ba"s come back, toes resume tapping, but I'm left with a feeling that we are being invited to ponder something the typical summer song doesn't usually get tangled up with.
     The Clientele are a London-based quartet with a recording history dating back to 2000. "I Wonder Who We Are" will be found on the band's fifth album, Bonfires on the Heath, slated for a September release on Merge Records. MP3 via Merge.

Friday, July 10, 2009

July Q&A: Local Natives

The July Q&A is now online and features Ryan Hahn and Taylor Rice of the L.A.-based band Local Natives, who take turns answering questions about the future of music in the digital age.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Free and legal MP3 from Darker My Love (shoegazey almost-power-pop w/ psychedelic flair)

"Talking Words" - Darker My Love
     I have mixed feelings about all the neo-shoegaze one is likely to hear as an active listener of new music here at the end of the century's first decade. While inherently attracted to one characteristic feature of such music--the combination of loud washes of noise with compelling melodies--I am inherently put off by another characteristic feature, which is the muddy vocals. To the rescue comes the L.A.-based quintet Darker My Love, which here offers the first without the second, so I'm all over this one.
     Thus "Talking Words" is both gigantic-noisy and kind of sweet-poppy at the same time, even as the sweet-poppiness is disguised further by the band's psychedelic tendencies. (But, truly, many of the original psychedelic bands of the '60s were nothing but pop bands in disguise as well.) Guitarist Tim Presley, who shares writing and singing duties in the band with bassist Rob Barbato, has the high, slightly strained tones of a classic power pop singer (think John Wicks from the Records, or Chris Stamey from the dBs); despite the underlying growl of guitar, Presley is never anywhere but at the center of the mix, often buoyed by some lovely Beatlesque harmonies.
     "Talking Words" is from 2, the band's (duh) second CD, which was released last summer on Dangerbird Records. The free and legal MP3, however, is new, via NME, in advance of the album's UK release next month.

Free and legal MP3 from Mew (streamlined "prog pop" that hooks with no hooks)

"Repeaterbeater" - Mew
     A Danish band that has referred to itself as making "pretentious art rock," the good-natured members of Mew here offer a chewy morsel of something that might legitimately be called "prog pop." With all the swirling, driving, off-balance magnitude of full-out prog rock, "Repeaterbeater" condenses its weighty, almost-pompous intro into seven seconds, then hits the ground running.
      Over a pulsing but irregular beat, the verse divides its melody into syncopated spurts, carving up the time signature in the process. That's an effective songwriting trick, to my ears: combining the illusion of a normal beat with a complex rhythm. The chorus is at once flowier but still oblique, with its guitar effects and a melody that's smoother but still so resolutely off the beat that we have the impression of further adventures in time signature shifting. And yet the whole chorus is actually in 4/4 as far as I can tell. Another effective songwriting trick, the opposite of the last one: making a regular time signature sound offbeat. And then maybe the best trick of all is that "Repeaterbeater," which wraps up in just two and a half minutes, catches the ear so emphatically and yet without the benefit of any sort of standard hook. It's a mysterious thing.
     "Repeaterbeater" is a song from the trio's forthcoming album, the title of which is written as a poem: No More Stories/Are Told Today/I'm Sorry/They Washed Away/No More Stories/The World Is Grey/I'm Tired/Let's Wash Away. It's due out next month on Sony BMG. Before that, the song will also be featured on the five-song No More Stories EP at the end of this month. MP3 via Spinner.

Free and legal MP3 from the Medders (sweeping, melancholy ballad w/ country-western roots)

"Gunslinger" - the Medders
     A sweeping, melancholy ballad with solid (but not annoying) country-western roots, "Gunslinger" tells a woeful tale with care, finesse, and canny harmonies. Constructed without a chorus, the song steadfastly repeats an eight-measure melody, with some instrumental breaks, all the while building in intensity both musically and lyrically. I like the great combination of deliberation and power on display, which gives this slower-paced song a vehemence normally achieved, in rock, through speed and volume. And the male-female harmonies are not just a boon but may well be the ultimate key to how well "Gunslinger" works, adding to the song's pathos and musicality simultaneously. The all-male Medders employed singer Priscilla Jeschke for the job; note she is also lead singer Cheyenne Medders' girlfriend.
     The Medders are a quartet from Nashville featuring three brothers--Cheyenne, Carson, and Will--who themselves are the sons of singer/songwriter Jule Medders. Their self-titled, self-released, and self-assured debut album is scheduled for a September release.