Free and legal MP3: Ward White (art-y & stylish but very approachable)

“Sabbath” is as arch and distinctive as a rock song can hope to be in the year 2014 without sounding fey or contrived.

Ward White

“Sabbath” – Ward White

With sly hints of the old Hot Chocolate nugget “Every 1’s a Winner,” “Sabbath” chugs off the launch pad with delicious authority, featuring the splendid songwriting trick of beginning your lyric with the word “And.” I’m kind of a sucker for that one. And Ward White’s rounded, art-y tenor, a less adenoidal version of someone like David Byrne, it turns out I’m kind of a sucker for that too.

“Sabbath” is as arch and distinctive as a rock song can hope to be in the year 2014 without sounding fey or contrived. The verses feel like we’re already in the middle of the song, and lead us into a section (0:47) that bridges us without hurry to the chorus, accumulating lyrical lines while not quite coalescing musically; and the chorus, when it arrives (1:02), turns out to be less a chorus than a single sentence, rendered memorable by a vivid chord change in the middle (on the words “in front of my face,” at 1:08). The lyrics, meanwhile, feel rich and involving without easily forming a narrative. But any song that can include these lines—

And what of all these women?
They come and go but mostly go
And when they come believe me I’m the last to know

—is surely doing something right. And then, as word-oriented as White appears to be, he unexpectedly closes the song out with an increasingly scintillating minute-and-a-half of droning guitars and bashing drums. Fun!

The Brooklyn-based White has been releasing stylish, accomplished recordings since the late ’90s, floating around the edges of the NYC music scene without quite breaking through, even to the blogosphere. Which may also mean the man is doing something right. “Sabbath” is a song from his eighth solo album, Ward White is the Matador, released earlier this month. MP3 via Magnet Magazine.

Free and legal MP3: Liam Singer (beautiful, intelligent, unusual, accessible)

A complex, expertly composed pop song, as artful as it is accessible.

Liam Singer

“Stranger I Know” – Liam Singer

Gifted and accessible, Liam Singer is the kind of musician for whom Fingertips exists. We are assaulted by endless sound, we are inundated by generic, laptop-fueled creations, we have abandoned meaning for virality and melody for sensation, and yet even here, in this crazed inferno, exist some (hat tip to old friend Italo Calvino) who are not inferno. I try to find these folks every week or so, to give them space and help them endure, and Liam Singer pretty much epitomizes the mission.

Here’s a guy who can begin with a keyboard refrain all but Bachian in its playful convolution (in what appears to be 6/4 time no less), find a melody to sing on top of the refrain, add a chorus too severely syncopated ever to sing along with, float woodwinds and angelic backing vocals through the artfully conceived soundscape, use a cello without showing off, and wrap the whole enterprise up in less than three minutes. And it’s seriously beautiful. As the lyrics glide in and out of comprehension, there’s an air of something out of time here. The title refers not to a “stranger I know” but is the beginning of a sentence addressing this stranger, and as such conveys the flavor of some centuries-old ballad (an impression reinforced by the apparent use of the pronoun “thy”). At the same time there’s something not only modern but brand-new seeming in the song’s sprightly lift and distinctive construction. A winner start to finish.

“Stranger I Know” is the first track made available from the album Arc Iris, which is scheduled for release in July by Hidden Shoal Recordings. Singer was born in Oregon and is based in Queens, NY; this will be his fourth album. He was previously featured on Fingertips in September 2010. MP3 via Hidden Shoal.

Free and legal MP3: Slaraffenland (inventive Danish art-pop, w/ horns)

“Meet and Greet” – Slaraffenland

The enigmatic Danish art-popsters Slaraffenland return to Fingertips with a brisk, deceptively restless composition that incorporates some of the most delightful and inventive horn charts I’ve heard in a pop setting, not to mention some gratifyingly precise and rumbly percussion. This is the kind of song that, if you sink into it on its own terms, has you rethinking what a three- or four-minute rock song might be able to do. I don’t hear any standard hooks here and yet not for a moment does my attention or spirit sag.

And do check out those horns. There’s the splendid bit of syncopated layering we hear from them in their first concentrated appearance, from 1:14 to 1:36, but then listen to how they come back in the same extended instrumental section (now 1:48), this time playing in a blurry, sliding/pulsing sort of chorus, and yet still with their own rhythmic integrity. This is extremely wonderful, to my ears. Eccentric, but extremely wonderful.

For some interesting notes on the band’s name, read the review from the last time they were here. “Meet and Greet” is the lead single from the forthcoming album, We’re On Your Side, slated for a September release on the Portland, Ore.-based Hometapes label.

[The link is no longer direct, but the song is still available as a free and legal download, via Stereogum.)