Friday, August 28, 2009

Late posts this week

Sorry one and all for the late posts this week. Things went up only slightly late (Wednesday) on the main Fingertips site, but then I got waylaid and didn't have a chance to put these up on the blog till Friday night. Don't forget that the fastest way to stay in touch with the weekly selections is via the email list, if that doesn't seem too terribly quaint of an idea by 2009. You can find out more information about that here.

Free and legal MP3 from Adam Arcuragi (quirky, intelligent acoustic strummer, w/ trumpets & choral harmonies)

"She Comes to Me" - Adam Arcuragi
     At once relaxed and intent, "She Comes to Me" is an instantly likable, subtly quirky acoustic strummer. And you should know that I don't have a lot of patience for run-of-the-mill acoustic strummers, which strike me by and large as a little, shall we say, boring. Despite what you might hear being aired on those they-mean-well-but-they're-really-sometimes-kind-of-dreadful "triple A" radio stations, songs are not good or wise or sensitive just because someone's playing an acoustic guitar and has an evocative voice.
     "She Comes to Me" is good and wise and sensitive because it has movement and energy, because it's easy to listen to but difficult to pin down, because it is both aurally and structurally complex without being messy or silly. Unlike countless writers of run-of-the-mill acoustic strummers, Arcuragi here gives us a continually interesting melody, based on refreshing chord changes that don't seem to follow a predictable pattern. The melody is in fact somewhat hard to follow at first, but not in the least off-putting or strained. The typical acoustic strummer is a more lockstep affair, with easy to digest, regularly repeating chords and a plain--if not outright predictable--melody. Another worthy point of differentiation is Arcuragi's willingness to expand the instrumental palette beyond acoustic guitar, even as the acoustic guitar remains at the song's aural center. I particularly like the choir-like harmonies and the high-profile trumpets that are at once unexpected and exactly right.
     Adam Arcuragi is a singer-songwriter born in Atlanta, now based in Philadelphia. "She Comes to Me" is from his second full-length CD, I Am Become Joy, released in June on High Two Records. MP3 via High Two. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.

Free and legal MP3 from the Happy Hollows (itchy-crunchy indie rock w/ pixie-ish vocals & slashing guitar)

"Faces" - the Happy Hollows
     The L.A.-based Happy Hollows return to Fingertips with an itchy-crunchy bit of indie rock enlivened by Sarah Negahdari's pixie-ish (but full-throttled) vocals and slashing guitar work. As intermittently discussed here, the rock trio can be a wondrous beast, especially when veering towards the noisy side of things. Because even at high volume, a trio always announces itself discretely: each part--guitar, bass, drum--is unavoidably and distinctly heard, each an important third of the sound. While there is (duh) room in the rock world for larger ensembles, the trio, when properly talented (I can imagine there is on the other hand little more discouraging than a mediocre trio), has the feeling of something archetypal.
     What grabs me here in particular? Hmm. This seems to be one of those songs that I intuitively gravitate to without a conscious sense of why. Sure, I could probably retrofit an explanation but first of all that seems like cheating, and also, I think, part of the charm here is the song's holistic power. It's not one or another thing in particular, it's the everything altogether. Though, okay, I do specifically like the second line of the chorus, both the interesting chord it veers onto and the way Negahdari's voice hits a new level of vehemence just around then. It's the kind of shift that registers more unconsciously than consciously with the listener, and adds to the general sense of engagement. With this listener, at least.
     "Faces" is the opening track from the band's forthcoming full-length debut, Spells, scheduled for an October release.

Free and legal MP3 from Heroes of Popular Wars (semi-psychedelic, borderline funky, via vintage '80s equipment)

"A Bus Called Further" - Heroes of Popular Wars
     Churny, semi-psychedelic, and borderline funky in an undanceable sort of way, "A Bus Called Further" is both groovily electronic and baroquely corporeal at the same time. Now I am the furthest thing imaginable from a gearhead so I only know what the PR material says, but apparently Stephe Sykes, the brains behind HOPW, uses all sorts of "new vintage" (i.e. '80s) equipment (guitar synths, 20-year-old samplers, and the like), which is no doubt what lends "A Bus Called Further" its chuggy, homemade vibe. Applying 21st-century mixing and collaging know-how to equipment made before people did this sort of thing is its own sort of mad genius.
     And speaking of mad genius, the fact that the song title brings to (my) mind the song "Bus Called Happiness," from the great mad-genius band Pere Ubu, gives the whole thing bonus points.
     Previously Brooklyn-based, Sykes moved Heroes of Popular Wars to L.A. this summer and is still getting settled there--a process which includes his having to find people to turn HOPW into a band that can play onstage. "A Bus Called Further" is a song from HOPW's debut full-length album, Church & McDonald, which was self-released late last month, and was named, you may as well know, for an intersection in the Kensington section of Brooklyn.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Free and legal MP3s from Radiohead, the Swell Season, Elvis Perkins (vacation mode; no reviews)

Fingertips is heading into vacation mode for one more week, but so as not to leave you empty-handed this time, I'm pointing you in the direction of three notable free and legal MP3s that have come online in the last few days. These songs are well worth hearing, even though I'm not sure I will end up writing detailed reviews of them once I get back in the groove here. If you happen to follow the Fingertips Twitter stream, you'll know about these already. (And if you don't follow the Twitter stream, check it out if you're interested in daily links to free and legal MP3s and general news and information about the digital music scene.)

"These Are My Twisted Words" - Radiohead
     This was first sighted as a sort of mystery song last week, confirmed as a Radiohead tune this week, and is now available as a free download via the band's site. Note that the song is available as a zip file, which has to be extracted in the usual way you would extract a zip file. The zip file contains not only the MP3 but the lyrics and 15 pages of gnarled-branch artwork the band suggests printing out on (firm) tracing paper with this advice: "You could put them in an order that pleases you."
     The song has a long, tense intro, and a gratifying, simmering sort of rhythmic complexity, sounding like something from Amnesiac that showed up on In Rainbows by surprise.

"In These Arms" - the Swell Season
     The Swell Season is the name that Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova perform under; you may know them better as the people who sang together in the charming movie Once, and won an Oscar for the effort.
     "In These Arms" is a pensive love song; read more about it here on Spinner, which is making the MP3 available.

"Slow Doomsday" - Elvis Perkins in Dearland
     Elvis Perkins returns to Fingertips with a song from his band's forthcoming EP, to be entitled Doomsday. Loose-limbed and deliberate, this one has the vibe and spirit of a Dixieland dirge, thanks to EPiD's horn-laced lineup. MP3 via the Beggars Group. While you're at it, you might want to browse through all of the Beggars MP3s--they've been accumulating a nice collection there over the last few years. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head's up on this one.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Free and legal MP3 from the Color Turning (spacious and mellow with hints of old prog-rock but 21st-century vocals)

"Marionettes in Modern Times" - The Color Turning
     If the music here has the spacious mellowness of a certain sort of ambling old prog-rock composition--mid-career Genesis, perhaps, or later Pink Floyd--singer Steve Scavo's sweet tones add such a decisively contemporary feeling (think Ben Gibbard or Jeremy Enigk rather than Peter Gabriel or David Gilmour) that the older allusions are likely to be overlooked by most who give this a listen. The band themselves may not even be doing it on purpose, but I'm such a relentless musical integrationist that I love it when I feel two (or more) distinct rock'n'roll eras combining in the here and now.
     The thing that sells me without question on this one is the chorus. After the deeper, prog-y sounds of the intro, the verse, with its prominent acoustic rhythm and reverby synths, may strike a casual listener as an airy sort of Radiohead Lite. But this is exactly what sets us up for the chorus, the way a narrow path through the woods makes the flower-strewn meadow it leads to all the more glorious. The chorus takes the airiness of the verse and subtly but firmly focuses it both melodically and instrumentally. As soaring guitar and synth lines replace the acoustic strumming, note how the vocal melody--starting now in the second measure, nicely playing off the first measure's dreamy instrumental motif--leads us first to a resolution (1:30) and then, almost before you can register it, back into an upward-striving ambiguity (1:32-34) that floats us back into the verse. Note too how the verse, the second time around, unfolds with a few engaging differences. And yes, my description risks turning something delicate and gorgeous into something that sounds dry and technical, but there's an easy antidote: just listen to the song.
     The Color Turning is a quartet from LA. "Marionettes in Modern Times" is from the band's first full-length CD, Good Hands Bad Blood, released earlier this month on Softdrive Records, a label started in 2006 by Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland.

Free and legal MP3 from Port O'Brien (instantly likable but still slightly unusual Americana-ish rocker)

"Sour Milk/Salt Water" - Port O'Brien
     Strummy, lyrically insistent verses, with double-tracked vocals, alternate with a plaintive chorus, lyrics now moving at half the pace of the music, vocals still double-tracked but now in an almost Neil Young-like upper register. And while the whole thing is pretty simple sounding at one level it's mysteriously compelling at another--both instantly likable and slightly unusual.
     Or maybe it's not so mysterious, just well-crafted. Even as the lyrics topple out in the mode of a one-note harangue (a la "Subterranean Homesick Blues"), the music actually shifts between two notes, one-half step apart--it starts on a B, goes up to C, then back to B. Check it out and try to focus on how the underlying chords, which go back and forth from major to minor, shift each time just ahead of when the note itself changes. The end result is a wonderful sort of musical sleight of hand, delivering at once the intensity of a one-note verse and the involvement of a melody. The effect is enhanced by the way the song takes advantage of how aurally distinct two chords can be that are built around notes separated by just a half step.
     Port O'Brien is a quintet from northern California with roots in Alaska as well--founders Van Pierszalowski and Cambria Goodwin spend summers on Kodiak Island, Pierszalowski working on a commercial fishing boat with his father, Goodwin as the town baker. Suddenly the title of the song makes a bit more sense, eh? "Sour Milk/Salt Water" will be found on the album Threadbare, the band's second full-length, due out in October on TBD Records. MP3 via City Slang, a Berlin-based label that releases a lot of American indie rock in Europe. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head's up.

Free and legal MP3 from Joe Henry (deconstructed, slow-motion gospel blues, Joe Henry style)

"Death to the Storm" - Joe Henry
     A dusty, deconstructed, slow-motion gospel-blues stomp. I consistently like Joe Henry's music without really knowing why. His songs succeed through atmosphere, maybe, more than anything else, which with Henry involves a canny intermingling of his fuzzy-buzzy baritone--rich and weary in a fin de siècle sort of way--with an idiosyncratic mix of sounds and organic beats. This time around, I'm particularly enjoying Marc Ribot's unmistakable guitar lines, with their dry ghostly twang, which imply a bunch of noise they're not actually making; the subtle interplay of a tinkly piano with a quiet horn of some sort; and the continuous use of drum rolls, on at least two different types of drums, to keep things edgy and forlorn.
     Each time Henry releases an album, music writers seem to knock themselves out talking about how different it is from his last one but to my ears, everything sounds entirely Joe Henryesque. However different the music may be--and in all honesty I'm not hearing the differences others are hearing--the voice and the warm, intriguing sonic amalgam is a strong constant. If you've liked his stuff in the past, you'll like this; if you like this, go back and check out some of his older things. You'll like them too.
     "Death to the Storm" is from the album Blood From Stars, to be released next week on Anti Records. MP3 via Spinner.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Fingertips Top 10, as of right now

The Fingertips Top 10, over on the main site, is an easy way to catch up with some of the best songs that have been posted here over the last few months. I haven't blogged about it since April, and it's turned over again since then, so here you have it, as of Friday August 7th. It's something of a Scandinavian takeover, now that I think about it:

1. "What You Said" - the Decks
2. Trophy Wife" - the Winter Sounds
3. "Die Young" - the Sweet Serenades
4. "Miracle" - Sally Shapiro
5. "Goodbye" - the Argument
6. "Lalita" - the Love Language
7. "When the Devil's Loose" - A. A. Bondy
8. "Tammie" - the Dø
9. "Gold and Warm" - Bad Veins
10. "Turning Into You" - Wheels On Fire

So let's see, there are one, two, three, four Scandinavian acts in here out of ten, but I'll let you figure out which is which. The next song slated for retirement (no song can last on the current top 10 list for more than three months) is "Die Young" by the Sweet Serenades (hint: from Sweden), which will head for the archives at the end of next week.

Like everything else on Fingertips, the Top 10 is idiosyncratic and synchronicitous. No research has been harmed, never mind consulted, in the construction of this list, which is simply my way of shining an extra spotlight onto ten particularly wonderful songs at any given time. Remember, however, that Fingertips only features carefully filtered music to begin with, so you can't go wrong with any of the MP3s featured here at any time.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

August Q&A: Brian Sendrowitz, of Beat Radio

The latest musician to sit down and answer a few questions about the state of music in the digital age is Brooklyn's Brian Sendrowitz, front man and songwriter for the informal collective known as Beat Radio. The interview is now online; and if you go to the bottom you can also catch up on past interviews you might have missed.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Free and legal MP3 from Bad Veins (propulsive, nuanced indie rock w/ an unexpectedly huge chorus)

"Gold and Warm" - Bad Veins
     Propulsive and canny, "Gold and Warm" sneaks a huge, sing-along chorus into a multifaceted piece that sounds very little like standard-issue indie-rock-duo music in an age in which the duo has become oddly commonplace.
     The dreamy, retro-y orchestral intro is an immediate clue that the song may not unfold as expected. While "Gold and Warm" drives with a determined beat, it also opens itself at various points to more delicate touches, and although singer-songwriter-guitarist-keyboardist Benjamin Davis pushes his voice through something of a Strokes-like filter, he doesn't use that as an excuse to sing monotonously, which is something this particular effect typically encourages. The rich-toned Davis shows me a thing or two about the emotional range that's still possible for a filtered voice, while partner Sebastien Schultz gives the duo the gift of a human drummer, grounding the band's sound in something nuanced and organic, often putting his cymbal work more forward than the drumming in the mix. And then listen to him work the drum kit in the instrumental break that accompanies the instrumental interlude three-quarters of the way into the song (2:46)--that's just some good, old-fashioned drumming the likes of which you might have heard from Ringo way back when: patient, spacious, self-effacing, and effective precisely because it doesn't try to be intricate or show-off-y.
     "Gold and Warm" is the second track on the Cincinnati-based band's self-titled debut, released last month on Dangerbird Records. MP3 via Spinner.

Free and legal MP3 from the Blueflowers (reverb-laced and twangy, with silken vocals and dreamy melody)

"I Wasn't Her" - the Blueflowers
     Relaxed, reverb-laced tale of woe from a Detroit-based quintet that's new on the scene but features musicians with a lot of experience, including two--guitarist Tony Hamera and vocalist Kate Hinote (can that be her real name? "High note"?)--who had previously fronted Ether Aura, a dream pop band with a bit of a following in the '90s. Not to sound like a broken record on the matter, but I continue not to understand music culture's relentless focus on newcomers when music itself is so enriched by the background and experience of the players. I don't think musicians can sound simultaneously so laid-back and so compelling without years of playing under their belts.
     In any case, dream pop is ostensibly out the door this time in favor of an old-fashioned sort of Americana that offers echoes of hard-core country and western in its slo-mo twang and steel-pedal sorrow. And yet I'm hearing in the song's central hook--when Hinote, silkily, sings "You weren't everything that I wanted" in the chorus--something that comes from outside the genre in which the band appears to be operating. That is not by any means a country and western melody, and hearing it here makes me realize rather abruptly that there is in fact a musical place in which C&W and dream pop are not at all far apart, given both genres' love of reverb and dolor. Being so personally against the over-genre-ization of music, I love when the borders grow foggy, and find myself drawn again and again to songs that can't be given a simple genre tag.
     "I Wasn't Her" can be found on the band's self-released debut album, Watercolor Ghost Town, released in June. MP3 via; thanks to the blog Hits in the Car for the head's up.

Free and legal MP3 from Slaraffenland (restless, inventive Danish art-pop w/ great horns)

"Meet and Greet" - Slaraffenland
     The enigmatic Danish art-popsters Slaraffenland return to Fingertips with a brisk, deceptively restless composition that incorporates some of the most delightful and inventive horn charts I've heard in a pop setting, not to mention some gratifyingly precise and rumbly percussion. This is the kind of song that, if you sink into it on its own terms, has you rethinking what a three- or four-minute rock song might be able to do. I don't hear any standard hooks here and yet not for a moment does my attention or spirit sag.
     And do check out those horns. There's the splendid bit of syncopated layering we hear from them in their first concentrated appearance, from 1:14 to 1:36, but then listen to how they come back in the same extended instrumental section (now 1:48), this time playing in a blurry, sliding/pulsing sort of chorus, and yet still with their own rhythmic integrity. This is extremely wonderful, to my ears. Eccentric, but extremely wonderful.
     For some interesting notes on the band's name, read the review from the last time they were here. "Meet and Greet" is the lead single from the forthcoming album, We're On Your Side, slated for a September release on the Portland, Ore.-based Hometapes label.