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Fingertips



a free and legal MP3 blog



Updated: 2017-10-29T11:36:24.123-04:00

 



This blog has been moved; update your RSS feed!

2010-08-11T13:18:15.641-04:00

This note is to remind you that the separate Fingertips blog no longer exists, but has been consolidated into the main Fingertips site, at www.fingertipsmusic.com

If you are reading this via your news reader, please update the feed address if you'd like to get back on board with the weekly Fingertips MP3 selections. The RSS feed is now located here:

http://www.fingertipsmusic.com/?feed=rss2



Now you'll be automatically redirected

2010-06-14T15:38:39.861-04:00

If you've come to find the Fingertips blog, it no longer exists here on Blogger. You will be automatically redirected to the new site within about five seconds. If you can't wait, the link is http://www.fingertipsmusic.com.

See you there...



Attention linkers: change the Fingertips URL

2010-06-11T22:43:10.059-04:00

Anyone currently linking to Fingertips using this Blogger URL is encouraged to change the link to http://www.fingertipsmusic.com. This Blogger site is no longer being updated.



Reminder about new site and new feed

2010-06-09T19:04:39.372-04:00

This week's MP3s will be posted tomorrow. Just wanted to remind everyone that Fingertips is now one site rather than two; the new site, now live at http://www.fingertipsmusic.com, incorporates the blog and the RSS feed.

Please change your feed URL through Feedburner. It's as simple as can be.

Thanks, and see you at the new site...



This week's posts now up on redesigned Fingertips site

2010-05-27T16:30:47.670-04:00

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.



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

2010-05-18T22:35:16.889-04:00

"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)

2010-05-18T22:34:17.177-04:00

"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)

2010-05-18T22:33:18.930-04:00

"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.



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

2010-05-12T15:50:44.193-04:00

"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)

2010-05-12T15:45:34.553-04:00

"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.



The Free Music Mirage (a Fingertips Commentary)

2010-05-06T09:52:28.770-04:00

Some music free, certainly; all music free, noSteadily, 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 t[...]



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

2010-05-04T15:23:24.595-04:00

"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:


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

2010-05-04T15:21:33.911-04:00

"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)

2010-05-04T15:20:09.399-04:00

"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

2010-05-04T12:35:55.392-04:00

(image) 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.



May Q&A: Greta Morgan of Gold Motel

2010-05-02T22:38:53.807-04:00

(image) 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.



Free and legal MP3 from the Silver Seas (buoyant pop w/ faux '70s-soul sheen)

2010-04-28T12:40:03.283-04:00

"The Best Things In Life" - The Silver Seas
     Effortlessly enjoyable pop with a faux '70s-soul sheen. And I mean the faux part in a good way--after all, it's not the '70s anymore (by a long shot). It's far more fun to hear a group of 21st-century popsters re-imagine this sound with a present-day oomph than to hear some slavish recreation of the distant past.
     But there's no doubting that the '70s are the musical mother lode for this Nashville-based trio. Last time we heard from them they were more in James Taylor/Jackson Browne mode; this time Daniel Tashian and company have swung, literally, into Hall & Oates territory, with a loving, twice-removed nod to the Philadelphia Sound that that duo themselves mined. It's a breezy R&B groove poised brashly between Motown and disco, and the breeziness is exactly why slavish recreation would be self-defeating. You have to sound sharp but you can't sound rigid, and these guys strut it just right, propelled by a melody that steadfastly refuses to align with the beat in a song filled with large and small pleasures. A favorite smaller moment comes with the third lead-in to the chorus (2:34). The previous two times, the chorus begins after two smooth H&O-like "oo-oos," covering four brisk measures, which is exactly what the song appears to demand. The third time, they sing the two "oo-oos" once and then repeat them, which if you're not listening carefully you might not even notice. But it's one of those great songwriting tricks, giving us a subtle, unexpected, hang-on-what's-not-quite-right delay before the final payoff.
     "The Best Things In Life" is a song from the band's new album Chateau Revenge, which was released digitally by the band this month; the physical album is due out in July. MP3 via Spinner.



Free and legal MP3 from Patrick Wolf (both channeling and reinterpreting K. Bush song)

2010-04-28T12:38:52.106-04:00

"Army Dreamers" - Patrick Wolf
     I can count on one hand the number of cover songs I've posted here on Fingertips over the years; I'm not at all against them in theory, but I don't usually feel compelled to talk about them. It's more of a "Oh, that's interesting," and on we go. But this was a no-brainer from the opening drum-and-piano salvo. How different from the original and yet immediately exactly right. Wolf here has done the near impossible with a cover version: he has revealed the depths awaiting us in a song that even its writer hadn't quite plumbed.
     And that is to take nothing away from Kate Bush, whom I love unabashedly. But she wrote and sang "Army Dreamers" for her 1980 album Never For Ever, which found her in transition between the lush, piano-based, teenaged sounds of her first two records and the more complex, Fairlight-fueled, experimental direction she would develop fully with The Dreaming and Hounds of Love. Her original was a delicate, string-filled waltz, with a hint of weird around the edges. (But, note, a #1 record in the U.K.) Wolf--an intense, theatrical character in his own right--has done nothing as much as show us how Bush herself might have recorded this once she truly hit her stride. The martial rhythm, the creative synthesizer flourishes, the inventive percussion, the ghostly backing vocal (whether real or synthesized, an obvious homage), not to mention the exotic counter-vocal, are all evident Bushisms. But perhaps Wolf's most splendid and mysterious accomplishment is singing in his shadowy baritone--not doing an imitation, not in fact remotely sounding like her--and yet all but channeling the great and mighty KB. Thirty years later, he delivers a cover that sounds at least as authentic as the original.
     "Army Dreamers" is a track from a massive compilation album put out by the Spanish music collaborative Buffetlibre in support of Amnesty International. For five euros, you get 180 MP3s from 50 musicians from around the world, including Marissa Nadler, Ra Ra Riot, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and the Antlers. All songs are exclusive and previously unreleased. Visit Buffetlibre for more information. And what the heck, you can listen to the Kate Bush original via Lala, here:

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Free and legal MP3 from Marching Band (Swedish indie pop duo)

2010-04-28T12:35:48.610-04:00

"It Will Never Slip" - Marching Band
     Marching Band is a duo. If you were Sherlock Holmes, that should tell you everything you need to know about this song, which engages and delights largely via a subtle, playful contradiction between the big and the small. "It Will Never Slip" is full of grand, large-scale gestures performed in a modest, almost intimate setting. The song is big and echoey but also small and unassuming. It opens and closes--as do any number of bloated, album-rock standards of the '80s--with an elusively familiar acoustic guitar riff. But note that otherwise you don't even hear the acoustic guitar, because, after all, there are just two guys in the band. They've got other instruments to tend to.
     And there are pretty much just two chords in the whole song. I do not believe this is because they only know two chords. Instead, consciously or not, it's another sly way of being big and small at the same time: you've got the fleet-footed melody, alternately bouncing and running up and down, but you're framing it onto those two chords--which are, in fact, C and G, perhaps the two most basic chords in the whole game. Verse and chorus, both the same two chords, but check out how they sew it all together in the chorus, between the lyrics, with that anthemic downward trio of notes (so it's like mi-re-do). That's typically heard in a huge, stadium-rock gesture, complete with slashing guitar chords. Here I think I'm hearing a banjo.
     Marching Band hails from Linköping, Sweden, a small city roughly halfway between Göteburg and Stockholm. They've been playing since 2005, and released their first album in '08. "It Will Never Slip" is from the forthcoming Pop Cycle, due out next month on U&L Records. The MP3 is another available via Spinner.



Free and legal MP3 from the Middle East (slowly unfolding, deeply engaging)

2010-04-21T12:57:36.520-04:00

"Blood" - The Middle East
     Over a stately acoustic guitar noodle that wouldn't sound out of place on a mid-career Genesis album, "Blood" unfolds slowly yet engages the ear instantly. (That's an advanced maneuver in the rock'n'roll style book, by the way.) The anticipation is delicious; the song doesn't fully cook until 2:55 but I don't think you'll be bored. Engaging musicianship, sensitive and creative arrangement, affecting vocals, intriguing and well-crafted lyrics, short-term melodies, long-term structure: this six-piece from northern Queensland offers a full arsenal, even--what the heck--a children's chorus before the thing is through.
     I read somewhere that this song tells the story of three different relationships, two ended by death, one by divorce, but don't expect to pick that up easily; the band's singer has a lovely, Bon Iver-esque tenor that functions more like an instrument than a tale-teller. We pick up the occasional sonorous phrase--"She woke up in a cold sweat on the floor"; "Burned by the sun too often when she was young"--but as the song develops musically, the words fade into the fabric of the composition, eventually to be left aside entirely once the central musical motif--a refrain first heard as a whistled melody at 2:01--rises in climactic, wordless, choral repetition two-thirds of the way through (the aforementioned children's chorus).
     Formed in 2005 in a quiet village near the Great Barrier Reef, the Middle East self-released an album entitled The Recordings of the Middle East in 2008. And then decided to break up. And eight months later decided to re-form, with some personnel changes. The original album was then given an Australia-wide re-release in abridged form as an EP by Spunk Records, an Australian label that happens also to release a lot of big-time American indie rock (Spoon, the Shins, Joanna Newsom, Okkervil River, et al). The EP made it to the U.S. late in 2009, and the band itself arrived for the first time this spring and is currently touring here. MP3 via Spinner.



Free and legal MP3 from the Love Language (brisk, shuffly indie pop)

2010-04-21T12:46:34.260-04:00

"Heart to Tell" - the Love Language
     This one also begins with an acoustic guitar riff, but an entirely different kind that goes in an entirely different, happy-shuffly Shins-meet-the-Left-Banke direction. A brisk slice of indie pop sparkle.
     Attentive visitors may recall the Love Language from "Lalita," a song featured here last May that ended up on the year-end "Fingertips Favorites" list. "Heart to Tell" likewise swings on a pronounced one-two rhythm, but with a gentler vibe than "Lalita." This time around the band has jettisoned the distorted vocals and funneled its penchant for harsh guitars into one short--but memorable--instrumental break. Also jettisoned this time around, in fact, is the band itself--Raleigh-based master mind Stuart McLamb has let go of the four or five or six others (reports varied) who last time functioned as the Love Language, now doing the mad genius thing by himself, aided and abetted by producer BJ Burton. The end result is a less lo-fi Love Language, but no less loose and energetic.
     "Heart to Tell" is from the Love Language's forthcoming Merge Records debut, Libraries, slated for a July release. MP3 via the fine folks at Merge.



Free and legal MP3 from CocoRosie (gentle, invigorating, inscrutable exotica)

2010-04-21T12:38:18.878-04:00

"Lemonade" - CocoRosie
     Ah, CocoRosie: I do not know what planet these two women live on but it is surely a richer and more exotic place than the one the rest of us inhabit. Or maybe it's just that they inhabit a far greater percentage of this planet than most of us do, being quite the globe-trotting pair of sisters. This new album of theirs alone was recorded in Buenos Aires, Paris, Berlin, New York, and Melbourne. Good thing this was before the volcano.
     Fortunately, you do not have to understand what they are trying to do, or why, to find yourself captivated by this gentle but invigorating song. A soothing, chime-filled opening measures leads to a lovely piano line, alternating major and minor arpeggios, and the tender but haltingly sung verse. Not sure if it's Sierra or Bianca here but the phrasing is odd and the words are odder, offering images but no discernible story. A fat synth joins in, and some horns, which play in slow motion but lead to the jaunty, double-time chorus, enlivened now by some deep, rubbery drums. Lyrical clues now tell us we are in childhood memory territory, but there's still no narrative, just image-moments, and a magic realism sort of sensibility ("Shot a rabbit from the backseat window"?). But with the Casady sisters, given their unusual, itinerant childhood, this could all be a simple tale of a family outing. I'm not sure I'd've wanted to be there, but I do love hearing about it.
     "Lemonade" is from the duo's new album, Grey Oceans, which is coming out next month on Sub Pop Records. MP3 via Sub Pop.



Fingertips Flashback: Vague Angels (from December 2006)

2010-04-16T14:06:14.255-04:00

I always liked this one for relatively mysterious reasons. And this seems longer ago than it was, somehow. Anyway, this never really caught on, but it's still online, so here you are.

[From "This Week's Finds," December 17-23,2006]

"The Vague Angels of Vagary" - Vague Angels
(image) Even though this came out in March and has nothing whatever to do with Christmas or the holiday season of any kind, I like featuring a song by a band named Vague Angels this week. It seems like all we can hope for these days, and maybe all we actually need. And never mind any of that: this free-flowing, structure-free song is itself extraordinarily cool. Rolling firmly to a strong yet elusive train-like rhythm, "The Vague Angels of Vagary" seems, well, vaguely to be about trains, and journeys, and searches. NYC-based singer/songwriter/novelist Chris Leo (brother of Ted) speak-sings the odd but engaging lyrics like Lou Reed with a higher voice and no leather jacket; he seems more bemused by what he sees that pissed off. What hooks me with this one: the energetic, good-natured, descending guitar riff that keeps the song afloat--relentlessly it climbs back to its apex and spills yet again downward while Leo goes on about train track tundras and the WPA and the MTA. "The Vague Angels of Vagary" is from the CD Let's Duke It Out At Kilkenny Katz' (yes there's that weird floating apostrophe in the title), released earlier in the year by Pretty Activity. The MP3 is via the Pretty Activity site; thanks to the Deli for the head's up.

ADDENDUM: It doesn't seem that the Vague Angels have been up to anything since 2006. According to a busy and difficult to read MySpace page, Chris Leo put out a solo album under his own name in 2009, but there is no other sign of it on the web. Leo had his own blog for a while but hasn't posted since January 2009. He may currently be living in Italy. He is still Ted Leo's brother.



Free and legal MP3 from Color Of Clouds (lovely blend of acoustic & electronic, nicely arranged and sweetly sung)

2010-04-13T20:10:30.078-04:00

"Brother" - Color of Clouds
     With a hint of glitch seasoning its spry intimacy, "Brother" is the work of a band with a gift for uncomplicated complexity, if that phrase makes any sense. Great pleasures await here in straightforward juxtapositions. For one immediate example, listen to how the beat glides seamlessly from a chime-like electronic stutter into a cozy 4/4 with a wistful bounce, driven by the gentlest of drumbeats. And then, without fuss, enters singer Kelli Scarr, arriving as if she'd been here all along, starting the story just about in mid-sentence, in tones of bittersweet honey. She has us at hello.
     And things only get better from here in a song blending the acoustic and electronic in a most gracious manner--the instrumental palette here is nothing short of delightful--and building towards a brilliant, light-footed chorus. I still can't tell if that's some sort of steel guitar in there or a nuanced synthesizer, but those are definitely stringed instruments that arrive for a first visit at 0:57, returning with the chorus to mesh almost heart-breakingly with that steel-guitar-ish sound and, most nimbly, that subtle persistent electronic glitch in the beat. And yes I'm afraid this is one of those songs that's far more trouble to describe than to listen to. Rest your eyes and reward your ears with repeated listens.
     All three band members were previously in the electronic band Moonraker, and Scarr has also been a frequent collaborator with Moby. "Brother" is a song from the debut Color of Clouds album, Satellite of Love, released digitally this week via Stuhr Records.



Free and legal MP3 from Colleen Brown (girl-group theatrics meets D.Springfield-style R&B, & then some)

2010-04-13T20:06:02.754-04:00

"Boyfriend" - Colleen Brown
     "Boyfriend" marches to a big, retro, triplet-driven beat, delivering a vibe that's part girl-group theatrics, part Dusty Springfield-style R&B, part something elusive and (dare I say it?) new.
     This is in fact a quality that strikes me again and again about Canadian musicians, if I may generalize (and I assume positive generalizations are somewhat less irritating than negative generalizations!): their capacity for drawing upon influences without either drowning in them or negating them through archness and irony. Here, Edmonton-based singer/songwriter Colleen Brown--with a slightly dusky voice, some sly lyrics, and an easy way with a time-shifting melody--has built a song and a sound clearly grounded in the past while managing, at the same time, to resist painting herself into a history-centric corner. I'm not exactly sure how this works up there north of the border but I appreciate it every time I hear it. In any case, "Boyfriend," with its driving stomp and gleeful vocal energy, is very much a winner in the here and now.
     You'll find the song on Brown's second solo album, Foot in Heart, which was re-released last month by Dead Daisy Records, an independent label run by Canadian singer/songwriter Emm Gryner. The album had been previously self-released in 2008. Brown has also recorded as a part of a duo called the Secretaries. MP3 via Spinner.