Thursday, May 27, 2010

This week's posts now up on redesigned Fingertips site

The new MP3s this week are from Sarah Harmer, Light Pollution, and Sarah Jaffe. But you won't be able to read about them here, alas.

Because the time has come to relieve Fingertips of its split personality and deliver one site where there used to be two. The newly redesigned Fingertips site is now itself much more blog-like than before, rendering the existence of this separate blog suddenly and permanently superfluous.

Weekly song picks will no longer be available here. Actually, pretty much nothing new will be available here moving forward.

But to ease the transition, I will for the time being post weekly here just to let everyone know that the new week's songs are up and to remind everyone to switch over to the new RSS feed.

You can do that via Feedburner.

I'm also working out whether the existing RSS feed can be automatically redirected. Such a thing is beyond my technological IQ but I've got some crack technicians on the job as we speak.

I will not be sorry to be off Blogger, but I will be sorry to leave my Blogger followers behind. The best way to follow Fingertips moving forward, besides simply subscribing to the new RSS feed, will be through either Facebook or Twitter or, even better, both.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Free and legal MP3 from The King Left (sharp, rumbling rocker at the edge of dissonance)

"The Way to Canaan" - The King Left
     Okay so noise is one thing. When you come right down to it, it's easy to make noise. Never understood what the fuss was about from the rock'n'roll primitivists who glorify sheer volume. I mean, okay--turn the bloody amps up and boom. It's noisy. Like, wow.
     Start combining noise with discipline and you begin to get my attention. Start understanding music enough to create different kinds of noise, not all of which are simply loud, and now you've really got something going. The King Left certainly does, playing continually along the edge of dissonance in this sharp, rumbling rocker. From the outset, we get no settled sense of tonic, a base chord to call home; instead we get slashing, clanging guitars and--key to keeping things unsettled--a dynamic bass line, running up and down and all around. The sound is at once harsh and tight. And listen to where the music goes when the lyrical line ends, at 0:27, and again at 0:40--we're left not only without resolution but bopping itchily in a clashing key, with that bass guitar refusing to ground us in a stable place. The chorus at long last delivers an anthemic release, but--there's a catch--buries it under a searing lead guitar, while Corey Oliver, even as he all but shouts, delivers his vocals as if now down in the basement. Nothing is easy but the hand-hold here is that it's all very precise. Knowing you're in good hands relaxes the ear, I think.
     The band's MySpace page lists Radiohead, The Beatles, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Nirvana, and R.E.M. as its first five influences and damned if "The Way to Canaan" isn't some kind of crazy-brilliant amalgam of all five. The song is from the New York City quartet's first full-length album--which is unfortunately also their last. They played their final show last week and are now no more. MP3 via the band's site. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head's up.

Free and legal MP3 from Sarah Blasko (smoky vocals over Morricone-ish setting)

"All I Want" - Sarah Blasko
     Nothing says "cinematic" better than a Morricone-inspired whistling introduction, but I like how down-to-earth and personal everything still manages to sound here. Often this kind of spaghetti western-ish styling opens up sweeping vistas with a certain amount of ironic winking, conjuring bleak deserts and dusty trails in an almost cartoonish way. But here Blasko takes the whistly intro, the Spanish-like guitar, and a touch of martial snare and wraps them up in her smoky, heartsore voice, singing a simple, haunting melody. By the time the strings arrive, we aren't picturing a lonesome rider in the blistering vastness of the faux Wild West; she is clearly singing about inner landscapes, not outer ones. That producer Björn Yttling (of Peter, Bjorn and John fame) has found a way to personalize a musical setting rooted in outsized gestures is a mighty part of this song's charm, but it took Blasko's distinctive husky-breathy voice to pull it off. I'm guessing her voice gave him the idea in the first place. There's something haunted and unreachable in it.
     Blasko is from Sydney, where she has a sizable following after three well-regarded albums. "All I Want" is from her third and most recent CD, As Day Follows Night, which was recorded in Stockholm with Yttling and released last year in Australia and this spring in Europe. A U.S. release is scheduled for August.

Free and legal MP3 from Pallers (graceful electronic dance-ballad)

"The Kiss" - Pallers
     This graceful electronic dance-ballad unfolds with a New Order-like majesty, but minus the melodrama. Despite the quickly established synth-driven pulse, a gentle dreaminess prevails during the song's careful build-up. There's no hurrying this song and in the end, you don't want to, because the payoff, while subtle, is deeply felt.
     So let this one happen on its own terms. The simple pulse--a robotic synthesizer line backed by a conga beat of organic simplicity--fuels an extended intro, while another synthesizer slowly plays with a melodic line that finally takes over the front of the mix nearly 50 seconds in. The singing starts at 1:06, adding a wistful melody to the carefully constructed beat. New synth lines emerge at 1:40. No one is in a hurry, remember. A new layer of percussion and previously unheard synthesizer flourishes add palpable substance around 2:30 but soon the song retreats back to its conga-and-synth origin before blossoming, from 3:00 to 3:15, into almost goose-bumpy wonderfulness the rest of the way, as the melody doubles its pace and we see now that our gentle electronic dream has transformed itself into something brisk, sturdy, and memorable.
     The Swedish duo Pallers is Johan Angergård (also a member of Acid House Kings, Club 8 and the Legends) and Henrik Mårtensson. "The Kiss" is a digital single due out next week on Labrador Records (a great Stockholm-based label, itself worth checking out). MP3 via Labrador.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Free and legal MP3 from Phosphorescent (slow-burning singer/songwriter fare w/ classic rock guitar)

"The Mermaid Parade" - Phosphorescent
     At once laid-back and expansive, "The Mermaid Parade" brings a slow-burning quality to its sauntering vibe. Singing this affecting if slightly mystical (or maybe just surreal) tale of love gone wrong, front man Matthew Houck has the knocked-around tone of a man who's been hurt a little too much; his voice has a built-in crack to it without ever really cracking, and he sings with the relaxed cadence of someone slowly draining the beer from a long-necked bottle.
     And the thing, to me, that really gives "The Mermaid Parade" its piercing quality is the electric guitar that plays like a backbone through the skeletally told story. Neither fancy nor newfangled, the guitar brings a classic-rock majesty to the singer/songwritery proceedings. The climactic lyric is plainspoken and startlingly moving: "But yeah I found a new friend too/And yeah she's pretty and small/But goddamn it Amanda/Oh, goddamn it all."
     "The Mermaid Parade" is four tracks in on Here's To Taking It Easy, the fifth full-length release from Phosphorescent, a band which is basically Houck and anyone else he can get to play with him at the time. The album is out this week on Dead Oceans, sister label to Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar. MP3 via Dead Oceans.

Free and legal MP3 from Villagers (indirect, well-crafted keeper from Ireland)

"Becoming a Jackal" - Villagers
     "Becoming a Jackal" is not necessarily an immediate smash hit; it insinuates rather than sweeps away. Never is it uninteresting, however, and I mean that quite literally, in a moment to moment way. Great hooks are awesome, don't get me wrong, but songs can sometimes coast a bit too much in between the hooks, not to mention that sometimes it's a fine line between hook-y and facile, never mind hook-y and annoying. (You'll know what I mean if you've ever gotten a song stuck in your head that you don't even like.) So there's definitely a place in my pop universe for songs like this that use well-crafted indirectness, unexpected twists, and tension-building restraint to gain your trust and devotion.
     Sink into the song's small moments, let them float by and gain strength, notice the subtle shifts in accompaniment, and eventually a few become their own, quirky sorts of non-hooky hooks. The recurring phrase "I was a dreamer" at the beginning of the not-very-chorus-like chorus may be the first that sticks but a number of other melodic motifs grow in stature as the song unfolds. I like the one that first comes, at 0:26, with the lyrics "in the scene between the window frames"; when we hear it (I think for the third time) at 2:21, with the lyrics "you should wonder what I'm taking from you," it sounds like a climactic moment, but only because of how artfully we've arrived there.
     Villagers is the name Dubliner Conor J. O'Brien has given to his musical project, which is kind of a band but kind of not a band. "Become a Jackal" is the title track to the debut album, to be released next month on Domino Records. MP3 via Domino.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Free Music Mirage (a Fingertips Commentary)

Some music free, certainly; all music free, no

Steadily, over the course of the last 10 years, the idea that recorded music "has" to be free has been transformed from a radical stance taken by those adept enough to navigate the geeky interfaces of file-sharing sites to a standard online rallying cry.

The tables have in fact been turned so entirely that anyone who dares now to suggest that people should still pay for recorded music can expect derision.

Along the way, many musicians themselves have acquiesced to the situation. Gamely, they've been willing to go along, willing to say, "Well, okay, if music has to be free, I'll figure something out, I'll get by."

But what if it's all been a figment of some overactive imaginations? What if recorded music does not in fact have to be free?

Looked at from the outside, free music is an odd conclusion to come to. To begin with, the idea originated in violation of intellectual property rights. However imperfect and in need of adjustment over time it may be, intellectual property is still a vital cultural concept. One can argue that certain aspects of intellectual property law are out of whack--such as the ridiculous copyright extensions that have been granted in recent decades--without concluding that there should be no intellectual property rights at all, or that musicians in particular should be giving their music away for no cost, all the time.

And there is also the matter of human decency. Even if you think you have good intentions, taking something for free that was not intended to be given out for free is not nice or fair. To turn around and distribute this same something to thousands of other people for free is, well, really not nice.

But of course the matter of music-sharing isn't quite so black and white. Also looked at from the outside, it should be clear that the taking and sharing of music online happens along a nuanced spectrum, including everyone from the aficionado sharing out-of-print music on a blog with fifty readers to someone who just loves a new song so much she wants to share it with a few friends to the kid stoked by ripping brand new mass-market CDs on the day of their release (or earlier) and putting them on the P2P networks.

A worthy discussion of all this might have been launched in the early '00s that accounted for the different kinds of sharing that was actually happening.

This discussion never much occurred, of course, in large part because the major record labels from the get-go have brooked no nuance, aiming to fight every instance of online file sharing, no matter the context.

It may be no coincidence that those arguing that music must be free have likewise been little interested in gray areas. Perhaps this arose as a counter-reaction to the mainstream music industry's onslaught, perhaps it's just that the free music adherents, like all good zealots, veer naturally towards extremism.

In any case, between vociferous calls to artists to stop even trying to sell actual music (they should be selling "experiences" instead; or, maybe, t-shirts) and gleeful anticipation of our imminent, cloud-based future--in which any one musician's specific songs or albums are worth fractions of pennies at best or are entirely ad-supported, and no one has to sell anything resembling either a physical product or a digital file--the free music crowd in 2010 is all but ready to declare victory.

But just because a lot of people believe something does not make it true, or right, or good. And because conversations on the internet tend to be dominated by the loudest and most self-promoting voices, it's all too easy for the true and right and good to be pushed aside.

And, bless their hearts, the free music folks have been nothing if not loud and self-promoting, convinced that they alone have a grip on reality. "Get used to it!" they explain. "Stop living in the past!" they clarify. One can all but feel their hands on one's collar, ready to yank us out of our humdrum, 20th-century-fixated lives.

But here's a news flash: it may be the free music cheerleaders who are stuck in the past.

They're the ones who are attached to the old-fashioned idea that monetary value depends on something having a three-dimensional presence.

As far as I can see, the truly future-oriented music visionary will be one with a plan that involves an industry economy that can and does attach genuine monetary value to digital entities.

Please understand that in arguing that music does not "have to be free," I am nevertheless not: a) a stooge for the major record labels; b) a believer that all music must on the other hand be paid for; c) convinced that great numbers of people will necessarily pay money for MP3 downloads per se as the future unfolds.

I understand that the technology will continue to evolve, that people may generally go in the direction of paying for access rather than ownership, and that as yet unanticipated options may arise. And I absolutely believe that there have been and will continue to be great benefits to loosening up our ideas of how and why music is distributed and paid for.

But make no mistake. Anyone who looks at the crazy, fluid, work-in-progress that is the 21st-century music scene to date and claims that the future requires all recorded music to be free both to own and to listen to is seeing things. It's a mirage. The rest of us should shake our heads, rub our eyes, and keep walking--we have an actual future to get to.

Going to Extremes

One reason the free music camp has gained credibility is because they are so resolutely opposed to an enemy already mistrusted and disliked. Few people stick up for the big record companies, for good reason. They have navigated the digital scene very badly, because--basically--they navigate badly in any arena in which fair practices must be maintained. They have consistently stood in the way of rightful progress.

But--this is the part you don't tend to hear--so have the free music proponents.

If the historical model for music revenue distribution was exploitative--which it most certainly was--then let's use this opportunity to change it. To insist that the new answer is that all recorded music must now be free is just as absurd and extremist a response to 21st-century realities as was the record companies' suing of their customers. The latter was a sort of fascist fever dream, while the former is little more than adolescent fantasy.

If nothing else, this insistence on a free music future seems an inexplicable diversion of good energy. Why are people more willing to fight for free music than to fight for a talented musician's right to earn money from his or her handiwork? Why do people jump through hoops to invent alternative scenarios for musicians to make money, rather than fight to defend the value of music itself?

These are worthy questions, not often addressed. Defending their position, some free music adherents sound like querulous children who don't want to be told they can't eat candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Many respond with belligerance to anyone suggesting there might perhaps be moral or legal or logistical problems with their grand idea.

Curiouser and Curiouser

Now I'll admit, something without physical substance is a curious circumstance for a material species such as ourselves. And this is after all the bedrock of the "music must be free" stance: that something that's just digital bits doesn't really have to cost anything.

But then here is the even more curious circumstance. If we were willing to pay for music in the past, when it was housed on a compact disc or a cassette tape or a vinyl LP, and we are not willing to pay for music now, when we can still hear it--more conveniently than ever, I should add--then the implication is clear, but startling: in the past, we were paying solely for the physical object and not a penny for the music itself.

And yet of course that's wrong. Surely we were paying for the music--in fact, I'd say the plastic and the packaging were not much on our minds as we plunked down our money. And so--it seems quite clear in this context, yes?--if we were paying for the music back then, then we should still be paying for the music now. We should be paying for it, that is, with one notable change: the music should cost quite a bit less, because there are fewer material costs involved, and fewer distribution costs.

The bits argument is intellectual sleight of hand. We should dismiss it, and ask, instead: what is it about the internet that makes us think we should not and will not pay for music?

There is one camp that believes the answer to this question is a purely economic one--an argument most famously laid out by TechCrunch's Michael Arrington, who declared in 2007 that the price of music would "inevitably" fall to zero because the marginal production costs are zero. By this he meant that it costs nothing to produce an identical digital copy of any given song.

To his credit, Arrington encouraged discussion. He didn't shy from criticism, but dismissed most of it as "emotional." He argued from the position that economic theory was as immutable a truth as the law of gravity (which I feel compelled to point out it rather obviously isn't). He noted repeatedly that this isn't about fairness.

But in that case I have to say, with all due respect, that the argument is pointless. Fairness actually does matter, as the free market has always been properly constrained and guided by legal and cultural considerations. We live in a world of moral complexity, not of abstract economic theorizing. If you beg off the question of right and wrong then you have begged off having a voice in the matter worth listening to.

What, Me Worry?

Free music proponents who don't take refuge in hard-core economics like to employ two other prominent rationales to explain why the internet means music now has to be free. And if the economic theory rationalizers sidestep the right and wrong debate, the folks using the next rationale try to confront the morality issue head-on. This is the "I'm not doing anything wrong" rationale.

There are actually a few variations of this one, but the most common is the "I'm not doing anything wrong because nothing is actually stolen" argument.

This outgrowth of the "digital bits aren't real" concept overlooks the basic idea, mentioned earlier, that if you decide not to pay for something that the owner is otherwise asking a price for, and you take possession of this thing anyway, this is wrong. As soon as you start reverse-engineering a "What, Me Worry?" morality based on interpretation and semantics and loop holes, you've already skipped over the part about taking possession of something that is somebody else's without paying for it.

What's more, the entire premise is rooted in illogic. On the one hand, the "I'm not doing anything wrong" crew has argued that they should be able to take the digital music for free because it doesn't have any real value; on the other hand, they want the music enough to have it, which means--um--that is has value.

Because of course it does. Digital files may be elusive physically but they are still very real. To claim you're not stealing anything because the owner maintains the original file is nonsense. By a similar argument, one could say there's nothing wrong with hacking into your bank account and adding money to it because "nothing is being stolen."

Already Free? Um, No

The other interesting rationale for claiming that all music must be free is the "Music is already free" rationale. By this people mean that whether it was right or wrong no longer matters, everyone can get everything they want for free via file-sharing, why are we even discussing this any more, you idiots. (Or something like that.) Note that people using this argument are often kind of angry.

"Music is already free" is a rhetorical trick--the rationale of a wily debater who wants to frame the discussion past the point of argument. But it doesn't wash. The only way music is "already free" is if you're willing to take, for free, what the owners of that which you're taking are not offering for free. By the same assumption, one could say that everything currently in stores is already free to anyone willing to steal it.

And forgetting arguments over intellectual property rights for a moment, it should also be noted that music isn't "already free" because--minor detail--lots of people are still buying it.

People still buy CDs and people still buy digital downloads, in relatively large numbers, sometimes unexpectedly so (as with the recent Sade album, never mind the Susan Boyle album). Yes, sales are way down from where they were at the height of the CD boom, but the reasons for this are many and varied--a good subject for another essay. But there is no solid evidence to suggest that all the people who no longer are buying albums are now simply accessing their music for free, just as it is specious to pretend that no one at all buys music anymore.

Another nagging way reality is at odds with the "already free" vision: musicians themselves still sell their music. And, as Glenn Peoples recently discussed in Billboard, there remain compelling reasons for them to do so.

And what about the fact that 35 percent of Americans are still not using broadband? If you don't have broadband, you're not downloading music. Music is not free for these people.

And by the way, while precise information on this remains sketchy, common sense tells us that most people who are using broadband have no particular idea how to use the P2P networks, if only because the history of home technology has shown time and again that the average computer user has no interest in using anything even a little bit complicated.

Resuscitating Value

There is one final problem with the "music is already free" assumption; it is in fact a problem that compromises all arguments put forward by all free music zealots. And it is the indisputable fact that many music fans to this day enjoy buying songs and albums from musicians they like. Not t-shirts. Not special boxed sets of b-sides and remixes. Regular songs and albums.

I am one of these fans. And I for one resent the the assumption made by the free music advocates that anyone who is into music wants nothing more than to have all the music they want for free.

I find this kind of insulting.

Why do they think it's somehow wrong or old-fashioned to want to pay musicians for their art? Is it old-fashioned to buy a painting from an artist you admire? Is it old-fashioned now, somehow, to spend money on anything that someone else created and produced?

Which leads us back to the fundamental question I asked earlier: what is it about the internet that makes us think we should not and will not pay for music? To put it another way: why have so many people been hellbent on using the existence of digital files as an excuse to undermine the idea that an individual piece of music by an individual artist has actual value?

All this talk about how music "must" be free is peculiar in the midst of a society that has hardly abandoned the concept of capitalism. The free music camp think they're somehow saving or reinventing the music industry when they're actually bringing some big shovels to the graveyard.

And hiding behind alternative revenue schemes doesn't work. All these roundabout ways that musicians might get paid--from merchandise sales to percentages of advertising on ad-supported music sites--have one thing in common, regardless of how much or how little money they generate: they all implicitly devalue the music.

Neither can we hide behind the forces of history. No historical precedent exists to justify the idea that going digital means music must be free. History is full of shifts from one type of product to another--ice cubes to refrigerators, horses to cars, film to digital photos. In all cases, the replacement product performs the old job in a new and better way, and people pay for it accordingly.

The one valid reason I can see why the blossoming of the internet as a music medium in the 21st century has provoked the idea that music must be free has nothing to do with history, nothing to do with intellectual property laws, and nothing to do with marginal production costs. It does, however, have something to do with economics--namely, the trusty, even homely theory of supply and demand.

As the internet has all but eliminated the barrier to entry for a musician to record and distribute his or her music, the market has been flooded, the drain pipes clogged beyond repair. With the supply of music all but infinite (or at least, to quote Dr. Seuss, "up in the zillions"), the price of music should, indeed, theoretically fall to all but zero.

Unless...okay, it's a crazy idea, but...unless we somehow begin to work to distinguish quality from quantity. Sure, there's an unimaginable glut of music, but there has been and always will be a much (much) smaller supply of quality music. I have no exact idea how this could play out--maybe the subject of another essay--but if we can begin to delineate between the dabblers and the virtuosos, we might be able to establish why some music is actually worth paying for, while other music is entirely suited to free distribution.

There is plenty of precedent for this. Think about home-based artists who draw or paint or sculpt just because they love to, without any desire or need to be paid for it. Their existence, however, has never implied that nobody should be paid for those painting or drawing or sculpting.

We need tiers of musical activity. We cannot allow the existence of millions of songs that do not deserve an audience beyond friends and family to negate the idea that some songs are worthy of value in the marketplace. We need not to be telling musicians that they must work harder at mastering social media. They need to be working harder to master their craft, and need to remember that no one owes a musician a living.

But neither do we owe them a swift kick in the ass while we consciously and demeaningly deny all potential value from their chosen calling. If we can shake the sand from our eyes and look hard and fast at the horizon--if we can understand what's really there and what really isn't--we may recognize that it is up to us as well. As streaming sites continue to develop, it's easier than ever to use the internet to listen, so you can make an informed decision. Then you can do the truly revolutionary thing: buy the music that you like.

Because here's the new rule: if someone else made it and you really like it, it's not supposed to be free.

Photo Credit:

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Free and legal MP3 from Hey Marseilles (rollicking 21st-century ensemble pop)

"Rio" - Hey Marseilles
     Funny, if you think about it: the 21st-century to date has arguably contributed two abiding types of music to the rock'n'roll idiom, and they're kind of the exact opposites of each other. One is the music played by a two-person band, with keyboards and synthetic sounds at the forefront; the other is the music played by a large-ish group of people (typically five or more) wielding an idiosyncratic assortment of often (but not exclusively) acoustic instruments. Not that each type of ensemble plays one precise kind of music, so I'm not really talking about two new music styles or genres as much as two new musical energies or platforms, both thriving over the last ten years or so.
     Hey Marseilles, as you can almost guess from the name, is the second type--a seven-piece band from Seattle that plays things like accordion, cello, viola, mandolin, banjo, trumpet, and (wait for it) drumbourine. Now on the one hand, just putting a bunch of musicians with a bunch of instruments together is no guarantee for sonic success, and yet one could argue on the other hand that seven people who can play non-amplified instruments well enough together to make a coherent sound have an immediate leg up over a standard, four-person electric outfit. But then on the other other hand it also happens that larger ensembles can get so caught up in merely making the sound they make that the songs themselves--melodies, chords, structures--come up lacking. Not so with these guys, however. "Rio" is a joy from the opening hand claps, a sweetly rollicking neo sea shanty with terrific interplay between music and lyrics and delightfully rich instrumental layers. You never quite know which sounds are going to match up with which other sounds as the piece bounds along. It's great fun, both light and deep.
     "Rio" is a song from the band's debut album, To Trunks and Travel, originally self-released in 2008, but which is getting a national re-release in June via Onto Entertainment. Thanks to the irrepressible Largehearted Boy for the head's up. And if you want a sense of what this musical energy is like in person, check out this live performance of "Rio" from the band's visit to KEXP:

Free and legal MP3 from the National (brisk, deliberate burner)

"Afraid of Everyone" - The National
     "Afraid of Everyone" starts spooky, slowly and surreptitiously picks up a pulse, then a driving beat, but even as it does remains tight and restrained. This juxtaposition of brisk and deliberate adds layers to the eeriness, just as the fear expressed lyrically broadens from interpersonal to existential: what begins with a reference to today's poisonous political environment ends with Matt Berninger singing, semi-imperceptibly, "Your voice has stolen my soul." Notice (this strikes me as important) that the song itself does not change tempo; what happens is that the band finally--first around 1:10 and then more fully at 1:25--picks up on the song's implicit beat, and literally drives home the frightened and frightening message. Repeated listens give this one a palpably deeper and deeper burn.
     Originally from Cincinnati, now in Brooklyn, the National has been steadily building a critical and popular following, as expansively discussed in a recent article in the New York Times. Personally, I've been reserved about them in the past, in part because I didn't give Berninger's portentous but limited (and mumbly) baritone enough time to let the intrigue of the music penetrate. Not sure if I'm in the process of full conversion, but I very much look forward to listening to the new album, High Violet, in its entirety (which you can do this week on NPR.) The album comes out officially next week on 4AD. MP3 via Pitchfork.

Free and legal MP3 from the Mynabirds (Laura Burhenn returns w/ more great retro pop)

"Let the Record Go" - the Mynabirds
     I cannot resist a repeat visit to the Mynabirds album, with this second free and legal MP3 now available (and also given what a great little set of music this comprises with the previous two selections). I just mainline this kind of sound--open my veins and inject it straight in. Laura Burhenn takes the standard blues progression and shapes it into a fiery piece of retro pop. Every last detail is exquisite, and yet the thing just plain stomps too. Right away, I love how the song starts in such a hurry it feels as if we're joining in midstream and then oops it stops at that place four seconds in for that great, conflicted "Oh!" from Burhenn.
     So many parts to like in such a short song!: the extended, melismatic "Oh" that functions as something between a verse and a chorus at 0:26; the repeated way the music stops or slows at just the right moments, without ever giving us the feeling of being interrupted; the fleeting bit of theatrical singing we hear at 1:04, as if maybe Lene Lovich has made a brief cameo; and then oh man when that opening "Oh!" comes back a third time right near the end (2:15) it completely melts my heart.
     So if you missed it the first time, please rush back and listen as well to "Numbers Don't Lie," the first Mynabirds MP3 featured back in January. And then do yourself an even greater favor and buy What We Lose In The Fire We Gain In The Flood, which was released just last week on Saddle Creek; it's a strong strong effort from a gifted musician.

New Fingertips Commentary: The Free Music Mirage

As I'm working on this week's regular song reviews, I wanted to pop in and let you know there's a new Fingertips Commentary posted on the main site, entitled: "The Free Music Mirage." Subtitled: "Putting an end to a persistent illusion." Sub-subtitled: "Some music free, certainly; all music free, no." I'll be posting it here on the blog too in the next couple of days, but anyone who wants a head start can get one via the main site.

Note that this split-personality thing is almost over, as Fingertips will be online with a new, single site in the reasonably near future. It's online now in beta form if you're curious to see where things are heading. Lots of pages and links and formatting remain less than perfect but the general look and feel is on target. In the meantime, however, we're stuck with this dual-posting thing for a little while longer.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

May Q&A: Greta Morgan of Gold Motel

This month, the Fingertips Q&A--featuring, as always, five questions about the future of music in the digital age--talks to Greta Morgan, front woman for the Chicago-based band Gold Motel. The band's song "Don't Send the Searchlights" was featured in February on Fingertips. Previously in the Hush Sounds from 2005 to 2008, Morgan assembled the five-piece Gold Motel in 2009. The band's self-released, self-titled debut EP, came out in December; their first full length is due in June.