Free and legal MP3: Talkboy

Sturdy, succinct, melodic

“Stupid Luck” – Talkboy

Sturdy, succinct, and melodic, “Stupid Luck” has everything going for it: a catchy tune, crafty textures, appealing vocals, and an outstanding development-versus-length dynamic–a concept I just made up but I like the idea of it. What I mean is that the song covers a lot of compositional ground in a short amount of time. That’s the best of both worlds from my idiosyncratic point of view. This is in fact the kind of song that can reaffirm one’s sense of faith in this whole endeavor–that is, the endeavor of a group of musicians banding together, still, and still trying to put something of interest and value out into this wounded world.

Right from the start the song soars, via an intro that channels bygone guitar tones, augmented by some space-age keyboard flourishes that then frame the shift we get with the opening verse, which begins with a half-time melody and stripped-back instrumentation as vocalist Katie Heap sings over fuzzy guitars that progress through some very satisfying chords. The verse repeats with fuller production, leading to a chorus boosted by nostalgic background “aahs” and a generally agreeable wall of subtle sound. By now this song is as sturdy as can be; that Beatlesque chord the song lands on at 1:07 is just another splendid touch.

And there’s still much to enjoy in this three-minute gem. Listen for the altered textures when the verse comes back around 1:15, the momentary guitar squeal as 1:23, the augmented backing vocals around 1:32, and the semi-psychedelic bridge (1:57) leading to an honest to goodness guitar solo (2:31). And, in one of the finer if subtler songwriting moments of the whole thing, the song revisits the verse near the end with a cleared-out musical palette that transforms the former verse into a coda that ends directly on the titular phrase–a rarely achievable and quite gratifying maneuver.

Talkboy is a six-piece band from Leeds. They were previously featured on Fingertips in February 2019. “Stupid Luck” is a single from their forthcoming EP, due for release in February 2021. Their brand new single, “Sky is Falling,” is available to listen to via SoundCloud.

Free and legal MP3: Flo Perlin and Pilgrims’ Dream

Lovely, deep, timeless

“Life Lives Inside” – Flo Perlin and Pilgrims’ Dream

Lovely and solemn, “Life Lives Inside” is a hymn-like waltz that seems to flow from the depths of that timeless, intuitive place from which the great songs emerge. The melody has the majestic clarity of ages-old folk music, while the easy-going setting is scrupulously presented, but in a way that seems offhand and unfettered–just two people singing, with instruments so casually calibrated as to seem all but undetectable.

With a two-line verse that repeats only once, sung by Perlin alone, “Life Lives Inside” is almost all chorus. And a terrific chorus it is, with two expressive parts, presented in same-note male-female harmonies, Rob Ouseley buzzing low below Perlin’s affecting lead. The swaying rhythm conjures the song’s ocean-bound setting; the finely crafted lyrics hide and convey in equal measure, the words important as sounds as much as message. To my ears, as an example, the power of the couplet “We gave what we could/We couldn’t give more” is as dependent upon the pattern of its carefully repeated words as its poignant sentiment.

“Life Lives Inside,” for all its apparent simplicity, rewards many listens. As you travel through the song again you’ll notice a number of wonderful moments, such as Perlin’s evocative uplift on the word “eye” (0:39), and the wonderful hesitation she builds into the phrase “like nothing I’d heard” (1:46). The quiet instrumentation alone is worth an attentive ear, including the steady muted keyboard underscoring the chorus, with its occasional quiet run of right-hand countermelody, and the gorgeously curated percussion, involving nothing that sounds like a drum kit but rather a well-placed assortment of knocks, snaps, and claps.

Flo Perlin is a London-based singer/songwriter; Pilgrims’ Dream is the performing name employed by singer/songwriter/producer Ouseley, likewise in London. The two met at an open mic five years ago; they wrote and recorded “Life Lives Inside” in Perlin’s living room. The song was released earlier this month and appears to be their only collaboration to date. I for one would eagerly hear more from them.

Free and legal MP3: Coco Reilly

Harrisonian pensiveness

“Oh Oh My My” – Coco Reilly

Here we have another song that gratifies through seeming simplicity. Launched off an acoustic-strummed backbeat and a verse that is no more than one lyrical line repeated four times (“Have you ever really loved?”), “Oh Oh My My” has a stately, Harrisonian pensiveness about it. Reilly sings with a reverbed languor that lends a nonchalant authority to her words, particularly as the drumming kicks in with the chorus (0:44).

Best of all, notice how Reilly employs the vaguest of words–“oh oh my my”–as a feint, allowing her to smuggle in some existential musings that strike as deeply as you allow them to go in your own head:

Do you think that you can really ever
Step outside of your mind
Long enough to step into your heart?

And while the song’s general Beatlesque-ishness is easy enough to point to, I hear a lot of Sam Phillips in here as well–the underrated Phillips being herself a master of the Beatlesque when she has wanted to be but with the supplemental oomph of her own musical and lyrical chops. There’s no point in rehashing 50-year-old music for the mere sake of imitation, but there’s always room for new talent to find inspiration in material that has captured cultural and artistic attention for a good deal longer than the latest viral stupidity sensation.

Reilly is a singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, film composer, and producer based in Los Angeles. She has been writing original music, according to one online bio, since she was 10. “Oh Oh My My” is a song from her debut album, scheduled for release later this month. You can stream a few more songs and pre-order the album via Bandcamp.

Free and legal MP3: Ya Minko

Contemplative, textured ballad

“Chambres Vides” – Ya Minko

A gentle series of piano chords lays the groundwork for this contemplative, textured ballad from the bilingual Washington, D.C. rapper/singer Ya Minko, himself not above throwing a bit of Beatles into the downbeat mix (note in particular the beginning and the end). I am admittedly a sucker for major-to-minor chord transitions, and “Chambres Vides” (translated: “empty rooms”) gives us such moments both in the verse and the chorus. An additional, more unusual transition is also employed here, which is some alternating between French and English lyrics. (Okay I guess I’m kind of a sucker for French lyrics as well.)

Born in Gabon, Ya Minko moved to the U.S. after high school. He is self-taught on ProTools, and I give him a lot of credit for (I know this is one of my key words here) the restraint he employs throughout, resisting unnecessary vocal effects and beat augmentations. Listen, as an example, to how effective that one wood-block-y percussive sound is that he injects in the chorus (first heard at 0:51): it just does its steady thing, once per measure, on the third beat, as the music tracks through its lovely chord progressions underneath the recycling melody, with its repeated, melancholy triplets . I would go as far as to say that that one percussive sound, nearly a musical note but not quite, is what gives the song’s primary major-to-minor moment (launching from 0:57) extra impact, as that sound becomes a constant against which the switch is performed.

Another nice moment comes during the second half of the chorus, which is by and large a repeat of the first run: if you listen carefully, you’ll hear, with increasing volume, a sort of string-like bass line that mimics at the bottom of the mix the melody Ya Minko is singing (it becomes more apparent starting around 1:17). Small touches, to my ear, are so much more effective than gaudy sound effects and pop-production clichés.  As for the “Strawberry Fields Forever” callback in the coda (starting at 2:30), it functions as icing on the serene and melancholy cake that the song serves up. Ya Minko tells me the instrumentation for the track was conceived by a Las Vegas producer named Mantra, so props to him here as well.

“Chambres Vides” is the lead track from Ya Minko’s four-song EP, Catharsis, which you can listen to and download, for free, via SoundCloud.

Until you get heard (Eclectic Playlist Series 7.10 – Oct. 2020)

(Note from the future–November 6, to be precise: The original post accompanying this playlist in October has gotten lost in the transition to the new hosting service and the accompanying site redesign. It’s maybe just as well–that post was a pre-election rant that, while still relevant to the extent that our country remains deeply wounded by misinformation and disinformation, we at least managed to elect a decent human being. That the horrific man currently occupying the White House wasn’t rejected by everyone is worrisome to say the least. How awful would a person have to be, now, to be obviously unworthy of elected office? Not a rhetorical question. Anyway: here’s the playlist.)

“Worried Man Blues” – The Carter Family (1930 recording)
“You Want It Darker” – Leonard Cohen (You Want It Darker, 2016)
“Don’t Talk To Me About Love” – Altered images (Bite, 1983)
“Bloodline’ – Orenda Fink (Invisible Ones, 2005)
“13 Questions” – Seatrain (Seatrain, 1970)
“Vow” – Garbage (Garbage, 1995)
“Thousands are Sailing” – The Pogues (If I Should Fall From Grace With God, 1987)
“Ole Man Trouble” – Otis Redding (Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul, 1965)
“Shark Smile” – Big Thief (Capacity, 2017)
“Bored By Dreams” – Marianne Faithfull (A Secret Life, 1994)
“Sing the Changes” – The Fireman (Electric Arguments, 2008)
“Can You Get To That” – Funkadelic (Maggot Brain, 1971)
“Everything Works If You Let It” – Cheap Trick (All Shook Up, 1980)
“Here Goes Nothing” – Jess Cornelius (Distance, 2020)
“Dusty Trails Theme” – Dusty Trails (Dusty Trails, 2000)
“Say Goodbye” – Sophie Barker (Seagull, 2011)
“Someday, Someway” – The Marvelettes (b-side, 1962)
“Put The Message in the Box” – World Party (Goodbye Jumbo, 1990)
“The Walls Are Coming Down” – Fanfarlo (Reservoir, 2009)
“I Know The End” – Phoebe Bridgers (Punisher, 2020)

Free and legal MP3: Sufjan Stevens

Insistent, electronic, humane


“Video Game” – Sufjan Stevens

Those who found Sufjan Stevens at his most engaging in his electronic-oriented, Age of Adz phase, as I somehow did, will be happy to see the idiosyncratic musical auteur back in a similar sonic setting on his new album, The Ascension. The two albums may have little in common attitudinally, but I don’t pretend to pay extra close attention to lyrics, especially when they are as generally inscrutable as Stevens’ output. It’s the sound I’m absorbing, a sound I consider more appealing somehow than the chamber pop pastiche of his acclaimed earlier albums. Apparently The Ascension‘s aural landscape was rooted in the reality of his having to put most of his musical equipment in storage after getting kicked out of his Brooklyn apartment. Lemons from lemonade in this case.

I do however heed lyrics broadly enough to understand that Stevens has over the course of the century managed to morph from something of a wide-eyed, naive mystic into someone who sees the world with the veils removed. Here in the insistent-sounding “Video Game” he seems to be employing the concept of a video game as a metaphor for our 21st-century focus on surface-level digital interaction and viral popularity. With palpable exasperation, he sings:

I don’t wanna play your video game
I don’t care if it’s a popular refrain
I don’t wanna be a puppet in a theater
I don’t wanna play your video game


Musically the song achieves a lot with a relative little. The introduction opens with a plaintive synth riff that’s given space to establish the wistful mood even when the beat kicks in. The beat itself is modest, all but mid-tempo; what propels the song is the double-time melody, with its relentless return to that central conviction: “I don’t wanna play your video game.” Regardless of the song’s actual genesis, one can imagine this born from his having received one too many random inquiries from well-intentioned but intrusive strangers. He has in any case latched onto that corrosive consequence of having transformed ourselves into a culture forever trolling for “likes.” Where in this place is there room for the purely human versus the calculatedly capitalistic? The glee with which so many people have embraced the idea of being a personal brand is discomfiting; as Stevens said in an interview with The Atlantic: “We’ve indulged in the cult of personality so far that we have a TV celebrity for a president.” And we’ve seen where that leads.

You can listen to The Ascension, and buy it in various forms, via Bandcamp. MP3 via KEXP.

Free and legal MP3: Lydia Luce

Sumptuous song, beautifully sung

“Occasionally” – Lydia Luce

Gracefully built and sumptuously presented, “Occasionally” is gorgeous from end to end. Singer/songwriter Lydia Luce entices you first with the verse’s easy-flowing melodies, then all but pierces your heart with the swelling grandeur of the chorus. There is first of all that ear-catching way she lands on the “wrong” note (but very much the right note) at 1:08, on the second syllable of “away.” This then sets up a couple of yearning upward melodic sweeps before a definitive resolution at 1:24. Luce, a classically-trained violinist and violist, uses strings with a lovely touch, adding to the rich vibe while steering clear of both cliché and sentimentality (a good example is the interlude that follows the first chorus at 1:25, with the strings first in conversation with what sounds like a chime-like synthesizer, then taking a short lead before wrapping up with enticing restraint).

And the bonus here is that Luce is a serious instrumentalist in possession of a seriously enchanting singing voice. I’m guessing that her instrumental training may be at least partially responsible for how skillfully she employs her voice’s dynamic range—not just higher and lower notes but softer and louder tones as well. Her voice has a warm depth reminiscent of k.d. lang, and while this may be most obviously on display in the chorus’s heroic moments, I’m equally impressed with how golden and welcoming she sounds when she’s barely singing at all, as for instance in the opening moments of the verse (starting at 0:12). She makes this conversational segment of the song sound both casual and deeply felt, which lends the song a rather stunning tenderness right from the outset. One last thing to notice is how aptly the title word is sung, with its second syllable drawn out just as one might for emphasis in conversation. It’s another subtle sign of just how robust a song and a performance this is.

“Occasionally” is a single released last week, and will be the opening track on Luce’s second full-length album, Dark River, which is coming in February. Her first album, Azalea, was released in 2018.

photo credit: Betsy Phillips

Free and legal MP3: The Arthur Brothers

Mid-’60s vibe

“Sun Gun” – The Arthur Brothers

Arriving in 2020 straight from 1965 or so, “Sun Gun” pays nifty homage to a variety of classic British rockers from an era when sturdy melodies poured out of rock bands like sunshine in August, tinged by an awareness of the psychedelia on the near horizon. The Zombies, the Kinks, early Pink Floyd, they’re all in here, in the jangly guitars, the sweet spacey sing-along chorus, the swell of background harmonies, and the general sense that tea was involved along the way. If you’re not careful you’ll notice a soupçon of young-ish David Bowie in the air, or maybe Marc Bolan, and in any case the Arthurs make a nice case for grounding the entirety of glam rock, by all accounts arising in the early ’70s, in those earlier mid-’60s sounds.

The trick in all this is not to sound like a tribute band, and although it’s hard to point to any one thing they’re doing that shifts things into the 21st century, I am nevertheless getting a strong whiff of present-day creativity here. At which point I should note that the original version of this song on the album is more than nine minutes long, during which it definitely becomes its own sort of trip. (Here’s a link to the full version if you’re curious and have some extra time on your hands.) Personally I didn’t think the song quite justified its length; and yet, oddly, now that I’ve been living with the shorter version, I do have a sense that it could be longer. (Some people are never satisfied it seems.)

In any case, what really sells me on “Sun Gun,” in either length, is the brilliance of the classic-sounding chorus, which gathers an impressive amount of heft as the song progresses. This is partially due to restraint—we only hear the chorus three times in this edited version. The verse melody is different but with a similar rhythm and feel so it works to reinforce and familiarize the ear while at the same time allowing the chorus when it pops in to feel extra memorable.

The Arthur Brothers self-identify as an “artistic alliance” grounded in the work of brothers Matt and Danny Arthur and songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist J.C. Wright. They are based in London. “Sun Gun” is the final track on their debut album, Nine, which was released last month. You can listen to the album and buy it via Bandcamp.

Free and legal MP3: Ailbhe Reddy

Tuneful, bittersweet, sharply paced

“Looking Happy” – Ailbhe Reddy

“Looking Happy” matches an angular guitar riff that would do 1978 proud against lyrics bemoaning the reality of seeing an ex moving on with their life on social media. (We could only dream about the existence of social media back in ’78, although perhaps they would have been nightmares.) This is perhaps the subtlest of a few intriguing juxtapositions that characterize this tuneful, bittersweet song. There’s also the way the music’s upbeat energy counters, at every moment, the disconsolate lyrics. Relatedly, if you’ve ever heard a more sorrowful vocal tone matched against a song with the word “happy” in the title I’d like to hear about it. The fact that Reddy sings with such a palpable ache in such an energetic setting is itself a notable and engaging mismatch.

Best of all, though, is the music itself: sharply paced, tightly executed, and lit up by Reddy’s elastic voice, with its affecting upward leaps in the chorus (first heard at 0:38). An especially fetching vocal moment is wordless vocal break (1:00-:04); I love the descending swoop and then the finishing two-note punctuation—and then the fact that you hear this just once and it’s gone. This is the wonderful way concise rock songs work (this one clocks in just over three minutes)—nothing is belabored, nothing overstays its welcome. Check out for instance the synthesizer blurts that enter around 2:32, punctuating the song’s closing half-minute with a “ta-da!” kind of feeling. They show up, do their thing, and we’re done.

Ailbhe Reddy is a singer/songwriter based in Dublin. “Looking Happy” is a track from Reddy’s debut album Personal History, which was released earlier this month. You can listen to the whole thing, and buy it, over at Bandcamp.

Between reality and madness (Eclectic Playlist Series 7.09 – Sept. 2020)

The famous Becket line keeps playing in my head: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” That pretty much describes my head space here in September 2020, with corruption institutionalized, the pandemic yet untamed, and democracy itself on the ballot. We’ve been stuck, somewhere between reality and madness, for months on end. Someday this will all make sense, in retrospect, like everything else. In the meantime, I invite another playlist into your lives. And I’ve done you the service of putting the song I’d most like you to hear right at the top this month, so you won’t miss it—it’s a song from the Paris-based Brit Kate Stables, who does musical business as This Is The Kit, and it’s itchy and insistent and preternaturally wonderful. (“You thought you didn’t like the banjo but you were wrong pal,” says her Bandcamp page.) “This Is What You Did” came out in June; her album is coming in October. I of course would like you to listen to all the rest of the songs too but I know how life goes. But if you happen to have the time, I hope you enjoy the latest meandering adventure through the years and the genres, this time including three from our damaged new decade. Music doesn’t help, music helps. Stay strong.

The playlist:

“This Is What You Did” – This is the Kit (single, 2020; album due in October)
“Ain’t Nothing Gonna Change Me” – Betty Everett (single, 1971)
“Wounded” – Nik Kershaw (To Be Frank, 2001)
“Mary’s Prayer” – Danny Wilson (Meet Danny Wilson, 1987)
“Lost On You” – LP (Lost On You, 2016)
“Queen of the Night” – Michel van der Aa feat. Kate Miller-Heidke (Time Falling, 2020)
“Little Red Book” – Love (single, 1966)
“She’s a Girl and I’m a Man” – Lloyd Cole (Don’t Get Weird On Me, Babe, 1991)
“No Man’s Woman” – Sinéad O’Connor (Faith and Courage, 2000)
“Lay This Burden Down” – Mary Love (single, 1967)
“Panic in the World” – Be Bop Deluxe (Drastic Plastic, 1978)
“Class” – Chicago – The Musical (feat. Bebe Neuwrith, Marcia Lewis) (1996 Broadway
Revival Cast album, 1997)
“Been Here Before” – Jeremy Enigk (World Waits, 2006)
“Hum Dono” – Joe Marriott, Amancio D’Silva Quartet (Hum Dono, 1969)
“She’s a Sensation” – The Ramones (Pleasant Dreams, 1981)
“Placeholder” – Hand Habits (Placeholder, 2019)
“Late Night Conversation” – Josh Rouse (Dressed Up Like Nebraska, 1997)
“Feels Like the First Time” – Corinne Bailey Rae (The Sea, 2010)
“Summer, Highland Falls” – Billy Joel (Turnstiles, 1976)
“I Do” – Misty Boyce (single, 2020)

Bonus explanatory notes below the widget…

* Kate Miller-Heidke is a long-standing Fingertips favorite (first featured back in 2005), not least because of her idiosyncratic range of musical interests. And of course that incisive, wide-ranging voice. Here she has hooked up with a Dutch composer named Michel van der Aa, who has previously written in “contemporary classical” mode but has a background in indie rock; this comes from his first effort to make something of a rock album–Time Falling, released back in January. Idiosyncratic and prickly, it’s apparently a bit of a concept album, circling around the concept of infinity, and inspired by the likes of Jorge Luis Borges, Federico García Lorca, Emily Dickinson, and others. Miller-Heidke handles all the lead vocals, and co-wrote two songs, including this one. You can check the whole thing out, and purchase it, on Bandcamp.

* I’m hoping that Lloyd Cole’s insistently catchy “She’s a Girl and I’m a Man” is intentionally sexist-sounding, in order to make a point, but just in case I’m reading this wrong (it was after all released in 1991), let’s run that one into Sinéad O’Connor’s blazing anti-patriarchy anthem, 2000’s underrated “No Man’s Woman.” And no, Sinéad doesn’t always write lyrics that scan, but for my ears anyway her voice makes up for it.

* Where has “Lay This Burden Down” been all my life? I only recently stumbled upon it, which I guess goes to show what great soul nuggets remain out there to be found. That chorus with the delayed melody line (i.e., how those opening lines each begin on the measure’s second beat): it’s as iconic sounding as an old soul record can be, and no doubt became so some years after its original release, on the UK Northern Soul scene. All of Mary’s original singles, most recorded for the L.A.-based Modern Records label, were first gathered onto an album in 1994, along with songs from the gospel-oriented second phase of her career, in the 1980s. A more recent version of her collected singles was released in 2014.

* Danny Wilson, from Scotland, was a band, not a person. They were originally named Spencer Tracy, but got some blowback from the actor’s estate. This was the song they were known for, although the album had some other good things. The band split with no hard feelings after two albums. Front man Gary Clark went on to a successful career as a songwriter and producer, which continues as we speak.

* At this point, the methodical, reclusive musician Jeremy Enigk seems like a figure from another time and place entirely. First coming into some renown as leader of the somewhat mysterious and influential band Sunny Day Real Estate, in the 1990s, Enigk has had a slow-moving solo career, highlighted by a long hiatus or two and the distinct lack of a public-facing persona. “Been Here Before” is a stately, gorgeous piece from his 2006 album, World Waits, released 10 years after his first album. His most recent recording is 2017’s Ghosts.

* I’ve always loved “She’s a Sensation,” a somewhat forgotten gem in the Ramones catalog. You can really hear their Brill Building fandom cooked into this one, and the way Joey funneled his adenoidal pique into something that veers into genuine tenderness by the second hook.