Free and legal MP3: The Rebel Light (anthemic summery goodness)

This a great, must-hear summer song, now that we’re smack in the middle of summer here in the northern hemisphere.

The Rebel Light

“Where Did All The Love Go” – The Rebel Light

This a great, must-hear summer song, now that we’re smack in the middle of summer here in the northern hemisphere. The minor detail is that this song came out last summer—it fell through the cracks here, as music often does, due the unprecedented volume of recorded musical activity that entreats us in the 2010s. Apologies up front to the fine fellows of The Rebel Light, who have been dolling out delightful indie rock goodness since 2013, and were previously featured here in October 2014.

“Where Did All The Love Go” is upbeat in a languid way, has happy string riffs, is easy to sing along with, and is all about love: perfect summer song, yes? What seals the deal is that the song is not lyrically cheerful, but shot through with wistful ruminations. What is a summer song without a shot of wistfulness? Barely a summer song at all, in my book.

I like how effortlessly this trio call forth bygone musical times without caving in to pure nostalgia. There is nothing frozen here as they call forth a’70s-in-California sound; instead, they tap into the heart of anthemic pop music that knows no time or space (although has been too often kicked to the curb since the mid-’00s or so). To accentuate the song’s sing-along quality, the band gives us two different versions, lyrically, of the same chorus, and it works because they have landed on a classic-sounding melody here, leaking all sorts of references out its sides but asserting itself as its own new thing right here and now.

“Where Did All The Love Go” is a track from the band’s most recent effort, a five-song EP entitled, appropriately enough, A Hundred Summer Days, released last August on Dualtone Records. Thanks to the band for the MP3.

Free and legal MP3: Southern Boutique (brilliant lo-fi-ish, ’70s-style country-rock)

As genuine and inviting a song as you are likely to hear in our prickly times.

Southern Boutique

“Joanna” – Southern Boutique

As genuine and inviting a song as you are likely to hear in our prickly times, “Joanna” flows with a melody so effortless I have to wonder why melody has so often left the building here in the 21st century. Isn’t it just this easy?

Well, no, I suppose it isn’t. As a matter of fact, I would suggest that the overwhelming challenge presented by melody has a lot to do with why we don’t encounter that much of it anymore—an unheralded side-effect, perhaps, of the Age of Instant Gratification. It’s so simple to make and distribute songs so quickly, why sidetrack the effort worrying about a potent melody? But I am digressing, when all I intend to do is salute the Austin trio Southern Boutique, whose collective gift for timeless craftsmanship should be the envy of their peers. And yet here is a band that struggles to crack merely 100 Facebook likes, and can’t offer me even one band photo to use with this review, as they don’t have any at all. I recently by the way read an article published on a music industry web site that claimed that any band with fewer than 1,000 Likes is “not worth paying attention to.” Me, I think people who write articles like that are not worth paying attention to. Aren’t we talking about who makes the best music here? Does that really not count anymore because The Internet? Okay, I digress again.

“Joanna” is almost too good to bother to describe, but if you want a handhold into its lo-fi-ish, ’70s-style country-rock brilliance, consider a few attributes. First, we have a 12-measure verse melody, which is often the sign of a mightily constructed song. And listen to how the verse gets extended into the 12 measures via lines that feel casually added on, starting around 0:29. Only really smart songwriters know how to do this. Next, listen to the mysteriously satisfying chord progression that drives the chorus (specifically from 1:05 to 1:10 the first time around), and listen to how the melody resolves while remaining entirely off the beat. Probably only smart songwriters know how to do this as well. And then, to show their know-how extends into all aspects of presentation, check out how they manage to slide the catchy part of the instrumental break all the way down to the bottom of the mix, as the song’s bouncy bass line, now sounding tuba-like, is here augmented by what may or may not be some very good-natured wordless vocals (listen to 1:45-1:50 specifically).

Southern Boutique rose from the dissolution earlier this year of the band Tiger Waves. “Joanna” is a song from the trio’s self-titled debut album, digitally released last month and available to listen to and download, in .wav format, via SoundCloud. While you’re at it, you can give them a like on Facebook too, if that’s your thing.

Free and legal MP3: Sam Roberts Band (quasi-funky neo-psychedelia)

An assured piece of quasi-funky neo-psychedelia, complete with ear-grabbing guitar licks and a brain-sticking chorus.

Sam Roberts Band

“We’re All In This Together” – Sam Roberts Band

I would understand if Sam Roberts feels he was born in the wrong time and place. His accessible, smartly-produced, effortlessly melodic brand of rock’n’roll would’ve been all over the radio 40 years ago. Today, such music struggles for air. And it’s not like SRB is selling nostalgia; their songs have as crisp and contemporary a sound as music can have in 2014 while making no effort to pander to the EDM crowd. Good thing these guys happen to be from Canada, where they have a good strong following, and where popular taste remains admirably catholic, at least compared to what goes on here in the U.S.

“We’re All In This Together,” in any case, is an assured piece of quasi-funky neo-psychedelia, complete with ear-grabbing guitar licks, a brain-sticking chorus, and the buoyant vibe of a quintet still happy to be playing together. (I love, as one example, how the spiffy lyric “It’s a phenomenon/That goes on and on” [1:23] is so casually offered and moved on from; this is a band used to having tricks up its sleeve.) While the verses sound like a sped-up retake of David Essex’s “Rock On” (not a bad thing!), the song breaks open on the unexpectedly aspirational chorus, which—neat trick—encourages joining in both literally and figuratively, working as an almost touching reminder in our hyper-partisan times. I mean sheesh, yes. We are: in this together. How oblivious or narcissistic do you have to be to disregard this most basic truth? And sorry. Didn’t mean to get all soapboxy. It’s just a pop song. Have fun.

“We’re All In This Together” comes from the fifth Sam Roberts Band album, entitled Lo-Fantasy, which was released in February on Paper Bag Records, but lacked any free and legal downloads until recently. You can grab the song above, as usual, or download it via SoundCloud. The band was featured previously on Fingertips in 2006.

Free and legal MP3: EP’s Trailer Park (nostalgic sing-along from Sweden)

An airy, agile flute line sets the tone early, launching “Cynical Lover” into a partly-sunny haze of nostalgic piano chords, swaying melodies, and rich harmonies.

EP's Trailer Park

“Cynical Lover” – EP’s Trailer Park

An easy-going sing-along with the air of the ’70s about it. And no banjo or pedal steel at all, as those instruments were banned before the recording started. It was one of 12 “dogmatic rules” the band posted in advance, and apparently obeyed. The list is too good not to reproduce here:

1. A ban on all things Beatles
2. A ban on Pedal steel, banjo and mandolin
3. Vocals is the finest instrument
4. No alcohol or sweets in the studio
5. Acoustic instruments should go before electric
6. No guest singers or duets
7. The drums should sound like drums
8. The vocals will be sung shirtless
9. The coffee should be taken on Mellqvists and lunch at Rosen
10. Short songs should go before long songs
11. Beautiful is good
12. At least one murder ballad

An airy, agile flute line sets the tone early here, launching “Cynical Lover” into a partly-sunny haze of nostalgic piano chords, swaying melodies, and rich harmonies. Front man Eric Palmqwist sings with a fragile kind of assertiveness (I hear Rick Danko in this somewhere), and while his unschooled tenor is not the kind of voice one expects to hearing backed by close, invigorating harmonies, it all seems to work, and definitely urges all but the most impassive listeners to join in on the chorus.

Palmqwist started up EP’s Trailer Park in 1999 after his previous band, Monostar, called it quits. This new effort was designed as a kind of revolving-door ensemble, with a variety of musicians passing through the “trailer park” over the years, including Tobias Fröberg (previously featured here) and Björn Yttling from Peter, Bjorn & John. Two of Palmqwist’s three sidemen this time around remain from the last EP’s Trailer Park album, in 2010. “Cynical Lover” is from the outfit’s fourth album, which is self-titled, and was released in Sweden at the beginning of the year; the song was released as a single last month. You can listen to the full album on SoundCloud.

Free and legal MP3: Everest (mellow facade hides sharply constructed song)

Can a song be immediately engaging and sustainably appealing with neither a hook nor a discernible story? Apparently, yes.


“Raking Me Over the Coals” – Everest

Can a song be immediately engaging and sustainably appealing with neither a hook nor a discernible story? Apparently, yes.

With the lazy-brisk gait of a soft-rock classic, “Raking Me Over the Coals” has a winsome, timeless feeling. Russell Pollard’s easy-going tenor adds to the bygone vibe. And yet there’s a crispness in the air as well; beneath the mellow facade is a sharply constructed song, with persistent melody lines, an elusive chorus, and one well-placed, off-kilter chord change. That change—first heard at 0:43—leads both into and out of the expansive, unusual chorus section, which is comprised of two verse-like segments and finishes with a minor turn on the stand-alone title phrase. The chorus has a protracted, narrative-like feeling, so even as it does come up twice in the three-minute song, it’s hard to get a sense of repetition. This is no sing-along. A typical pop song gains its title from the most repeated word or phrase in the song, and that’s true here, but obliquely: we hear it first, idiosyncratically, at the end of the first section of the first verse (I kind of liked that, for some reason), and then the two more times in the chorus. Just three times in the whole song.

I said “narrative-like,” and I meant it: while the song has the ambling feel of a tale being told, I can decipher no through-line or event descriptions. Truth be told, the smooth and effortless-seeming music belies the title’s implication, and that’s part of the charm here too. Whomever or whatever is raking the narrator over the proverbial coals, he sounds pretty philosophical about it.

Pollard is a L.A.-based musician who has played with a number of notable indie bands over the years, including Sebadoh and Earlimart. “Raking Me Over the Coals” is a song from the band’s third album, Ownerless, which was released in June on ATO Records.

photo credit: Zoran Orlic

Free and legal MP3: The Raveonettes (reverbed and haunting, w/ ’70s touches)

A reverbed composition centered on an elegiac, six-note descending melody, with all sorts of vague ghosts from rock’n’roll past floating through the soundscape.

The Raveonettes

“Observations” – The Raveonettes

Off a hauntingly familiar piano riff—“Cold as Ice,” maybe, but backwards—“Observations” launches into a reverbed composition centered on an elegiac, six-note descending melody. Minor-key, of course. All sorts of vague ghosts from rock’n’roll past float through the soundscape, as typically happens when the Raveonettes come to town. (I will remind you that the duo’s very name is rooted deep-down in rock’n’roll history: The “Rave On”-ettes.) A good part of the group’s charm is that one is never sure what particular musical obsession will catch their interest at any given time. In addition to bursting on the scene with a major-label debut intent on somehow mashing together My Bloody Valentine and Buddy Holly (My Buddy Valentine?), this is a band that recorded their entire first release in the key of B-flat minor, and then their next album (the aforementioned major-label debut) all in the key of B-flat major.

This time around we appear to be in the ’70s, maybe. Beyond the inverted Foreigner riff, “Rhiannon” is in the air. At first the guitar has an Eric Clapton-ish aspect (e.g., 0:49, 1:09). But then the fuzzy/hazy guitars—nothing ’70s about them—make their entrance, and the cross-pollination begins, full of that special kind of elusive white noise that lets you know this is in any case a Raveonettes record. Male vocalist Sune Rose Wagner takes the lead here, his buzzy tenor dripping with reverb, with partner Sharin Foo floating Christine McVie-ishly in the background.

“Observations” is the semi-lead track from the band’s upcoming album, Observator, which is due out on Vice Records in September. The album is the band’s sixth, or seventh, if you count their eight-song debut as an album rather than an EP. It was recorded with producer Richard Gottehrer at Hollywood’s Sunset Sound recording studio, where any number of ’60s and ’70s classics were born, including Pet Sounds, Exile on Main Street, and albums by the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor, and Neil Young. This is the fourth time the band has been featured on Fingertips, with a first appearance dating all the way back to the dark days of 2003.

MP3 via Vice Records. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.

Free and legal MP3: Brendan Benson (multi-faceted ’70s-inflected ballad)

Recorded in an all-analog studio, “Bad For Me” oozes heart, craft, and ’70s goodness.

Brendan Benson

“Bad For Me” – Brendan Benson

And speaking of the 1970s, and Mott the Hoople, check this one out. Not really Mott this time, but Bowie-esque, certainly (he wrote “All The Young Dudes,” as some but not all may know). And that’s just the tip of the ’70s iceberg here, as attentive ears are likely to hear a splash of Rundgren, a sprinkle of ELO, and maybe even a touch of Nilsson or Eric Carmen in this one.

And Benson is not just talking the talk here. He went and made his new album, What Kind of World, at Nashville’s all-analog “Welcome to 1979” studio (“Fingers on strings, Hands on faders, Music on tape,” as they like to say). Recording in such an environment will affect not only how the music sounds but also what music one chooses to record in the first place. Sonically, structurally, and attitudinally, “Bad For Me” has little to do with standard ’10s blog-fare; equal parts heart and craft, it takes us on a four-minute adventure that ranges from intimate confessional to operatic melodrama and back again. The song even comes to a complete stop at one point (3:09). I don’t tend to get too caught up in sound-quality considerations but I adore the palpable, spacious warmth here, and how it plays out differently in the quieter versus the more expansive moments. Even something as simple as the bass player entering (0:42) seems to happen with rich, ear-opening lucidity.

Brendan Benson is an American singer/songwriter who at this point is most well-known for his association with Jack White and his membership in The Raconteurs. He does have four previous solo albums to his name. What Kind of World will be released in April on Benson’s new Readymade Records label. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead. MP3 via Better Propaganda.

Free and legal MP3: Zeus (awesome retro rock, ’70s edition)

“Are You Gonna Waste My Time?” was made to be blaring out of your car radio, especially if you happen to be driving maybe a Buick Skylark.


“Are You Gonna Waste My Time?” – Zeus

Can a piece of music sound thoroughly retro and entirely of the moment at the same time? Not if you believe the premise of that Retromania book from last year, with all of its pop-culture-is-over hand-wringing. Let’s call out that foolish book once and for all, shall we? I mean, good lord: no one knows what the future will bring based on present circumstances. And there’s always a lot of less-than-terrific stuff floating around in pop-culture-land. To assume everything has now ground to a halt is the height of baby boomer narcissism.

In any case, no one could possibly convince me that a song as sharp and well-presented as “Are You Gonna Waste My Time?” represents anything but pop culture at its finest. If the musical setting is all 1970s, if the lead singer even sounds oddly like the guy in Blues Image (“Ride Captain Ride,” anyone?), what of it? This is one groovy tune, from the fuzzy/flangey guitar to the stop-start melodic momentum to the (yes) cowbell to, what the heck, all the other guitar sounds as well. Special props go out to that connective, lower-register riff we hear in the chorus, first at 0:59; retro my ass, that thing is just timeless rock’n’roll, sports fans. This song was made to be blaring out of your car radio, especially if you happen to be driving maybe a Buick Skylark.

Zeus is a four-man band from Toronto that has otherwise in recent years been doing business as Jason Collett’s backing band. “Are You Gonna Waste My Time?” is a track from their second full-length album, Busting Visions, which arrives next month on the Arts & Crafts label. MP3 via Magnet Magazine. For those interested—and who shouldn’t be?—Rolling Stone has a free & legal MP3 of another new Zeus song, here.

Free and legal MP3: Hospitality (quirky, minimalist NYC pop)

Spunky and ineffably nostalgic, “Friends of Friends” is a New York song with a New York sound, firmly in the later ’70s.


“Friends of Friends” – Hospitality

Spunky and ineffably nostalgic, “Friends of Friends” is a New York song with a New York sound, and one that to my ears is rooted firmly in the later ’70s—music that blends an edgy Television/Talking Heads 77-ish bounce with a more playful David Johansen/Syl Sylvain-y groove and throws in a saxophone that surely has arrived through a time machine.

And yet “Friends of Friends” struts with its own, minimalist center of gravity and personality-driven sensibility. Check out the bass playing at the beginning for a conspicuous example of the band’s unembellished aesthetic, as well as the spaces, generally, that are left around the beat. As for personality, Hospitality has Amber Papini, a Kansas City-born kindergarten teacher who apparently learned to sing by copying Richard Butler on the Psychedelic Furs’ Talk Talk Talk album. (Well and who didn’t?) Here, she takes a herky-jerky melody and really works it. Neither the blurty verse nor the clipped, seemingly under-developed chorus is easy to make sense of as a singer; she pulls them off through sheer force of tone and presence.

Hospitality formed as a trio in 2007. They are now a quartet, and they have recently been signed to the consistently wonderful indie label Merge. The full-length Hospitality debut album is due in March 2012.

Free and legal MP3: Ages and Ages (sing-along w/ accumulated intensity)

While it has an unmistakable Grateful Dead meets Neil Young kind of hippie-dippie orientation (and not that there’s anything wrong with that!), there’s also something grounded and purposeful in the air here.

Ages and Ages

“Navy Parade” – Ages and Ages

With the head-bobbing backbeat and the guitar-based, sing-along vibe of a hippie anthem from 1970, “Navy Parade” is something of an antidote to the synthesized gravity of “Year Off.” Instead of two-person, California-cool digital manipulation we get a Portland-based septet recording live, singing into one microphone. But hey: the fact that each kind of song exists makes the other all the more powerful and appealing. That’s something that the diversity-averse among us never seem to understand.

But I digress. As for “Navy Parade,” while it has that Grateful Dead meets Neil Young kind of hippie-dippie orientation (and not that there’s anything wrong with that!), there’s also something grounded and purposeful in the air here. Actually, as falsetto-y front guys go, Tim Perry oozes more Thom Yorke than Neil Young; he’s got that kind of edge if you listen for it, and the song, without abandoning the central shuffle, builds in intensity. This is not merely a question of volume; the structure here is built to acquire potency as it progresses. Part of this has to do with the verse’s melody line, which extends a full 16 measures and includes a nice modulation away from resolution halfway through (first heard with the words “hour finally came” at 0:25; it’s even more satisfying the second time, when Perry sings “and that’s the worst thing that you could do,” at 1:00). The rest has to do with the song’s overall framework: there are two distinct halves, and once we arrive at the second half, featuring an accumulating repetition of ensemble singing, we do not return to the first. The linear movement can heighten a sense of climax. All those voices singing together in real time don’t hurt either.

“Navy Parade”—which carries the parenthetical words “(Escape From the Black River Bluffs)”—is from the debut Ages and Ages album, Alright You Restless, which was released back in February on Knitting Factory Records. (Okay, so the album was sitting on my desk for a little while. Better late than never.) And while “Navy Parade” was not the first single from the album, it was in fact the first video. As often noted, I’m not a great video fan but this one I’m fond of, both for the storyline and for the authentic Portland imagery, with the splendid St. Johns Bridge serving as a backdrop for the song’s climactic second half.