Free and legal MP3: The Bushwick Hotel (fiery new rock w/ old-school bones)

Propelled by some serious classic rock swing (wailing guitars division), “Graffiti of the Young Man’s Mind” comes to us in 2014 from another place and time.

Bushwick Hotel

“Graffiti of the Young Man’s Mind” – The Bushwick Hotel

Propelled by some serious classic rock swing (wailing guitars division), “Graffiti of the Young Man’s Mind” comes to us in 2014 from another place and time. And yet what might have seemed a retread hits my ears as an all-out re-imagining of both what rock’n’roll was and can yet be.

The key, to me, is the combination of dirty, garage-y production and some serious chops, which together accentuate the fiery, contemporary presence this band has. I have, since about 1983, been tired of bands that dial up a few basic blues riffs, add some guitar pyrotechnics, and strut around like saviors of rock’n’roll. Personally, I find a lot more potential for redemption in a band that can snake some vivid guitar work through a heavy 5/4 (!) groove and find a sticky hook in an abbreviated howl of a melody. Front man Gregory Ferreira has a blessedly unfashionable voice, cutting loose like an errant blues-rocker from 1974, minus the posturing that often afflicts the trade.

For all of the retro sound involved here, I would suggest that The Bushwick Hotel is actually offering cutting-edge music, since by now, on the digital music scene, there may be no more revolutionary stance to rummage through the vault of generic classic rock for a spirited new sound, all the while playing three-dimensional instruments in real time and space, in communion with others. And, surely, no software program is going to lead you to swing with electric guitars over a 5/4 beat. I’m not exactly sure what’s up with the extended fadeout, except to note that this is the last track on the album, so it may have more resonance in that context.

“Graffiti of the Young Man’s Mind” is the title track from the band’s debut, a seven-song, 28-minute album that came out in November, available via iTunes. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.

Free and legal MP3: The Van Allen Belt (off-kilter, extraterrestrial instrumental)

Cheery and off-kilter, a semi-angelic and vaguely extraterrestrial instrumental.

The Van Allen Belt

“Solar Crosses Stolen From Cemetery” – The Van Allen Belt

Why does this song attract me so? There seems a magnetic pull here. And there was me just a few weeks ago talking about how no one knows what to do with rock’n’roll instrumentals. This one is an entirely different animal than the Dirty Three song, arriving all cheery and off-kilter, semi-angelic and extraterrestrial (or at least Star Trekky), churning through the ether with its chimey, upturning melody. And yes, it’s not strictly speaking an instrumental in that there are vocals here, but they are wordless and choir-like. And so, to me, an instrumental. (Typically, the band does employ vocals with lyrics, via singer/multi-instrumentalist Tamar Kamin.)

The time signature—the ear-grabbing yet awkward 5/4—is central to its appeal. When the rare someone comes along who can harness 5/4’s freakishness into a flowing piece of music, we pay attention. And “Solar Crosses” does it without relying on any kind of swing or in-between beats that 5/4 and 7/4 songs often employ to sound agreeable. What we get instead is a straightforward five count and an open-ended chord progression that gives the melody an Escher-like sense of climbing ever upward. There is no time to catch one’s breath, the music just keeps piling on itself, with bonus flourishes and fluctuations along the way. I like the four-second, two-chord guitar burst at 1:37 and the factory-like drumbeat that takes over at 1:50, to name two.

The Van Allen Belt is a four-person experimental ensemble from Pittsburgh featuring music written and produced by Benjamin K. Ferris. Ferris began writing avant-garde material in the late ’90s and the band coalesced through the ’00s into its current lineup. Everything about the outfit’s background and music is too complicated to sum up succinctly; even their discography (two full-lengths and one EP to date) is muddled by the fact that the EP and their most recent album were released on the same day in January 2010. Their titles are generally too long to mention. “Solar Crosses” has a similarly involved back story, being a song featured on one of four seasonal compilations released in 2008 on the Vancouver label Peppermill Records. Bands participating had seven days to record a song, the title of which had to be taken from a headline in the news that week. (There’s more to it than that but I’m running out of space.) How it came to my attention here in 2012 is yet more complication, plus a dollop of serendipity. Let’s just be happy it did. Thanks to the band for the MP3.