Free and legal MP3: Ariel Abshire (young singer/songwriter with a Neko-like air)

“Exclamation Love” – Ariel Abshire

After listening to a few too many songs and/or bands that seek to grab listeners by the collar with their quirkiness or their histrionics or their sheer volume, I find “Exclamation Love” to be a balm to the spirit. There’s nothing here but a fine song and a confident but disciplined singer. Yeah, she lets a note or two rip now and then, but it’s much more Neko Case than “American Idol”: a sweet seasoning of reverb enhancing full-throated tones of startling purity. I keep waiting for her voice to wobble, vibrate, or crack with practiced emotion but she’s having none of it. The closest Abshire gets to an emotional “trick” is at 3:40 when she starts flitting up to falsetto as she drags out the first syllable in “exclamation”–she’s just moving one whole step up but the shift in tone gives it the effect of a dire leap. The song is already two-thirds through, and at that point it’s no trick at all but a natural culmination of the journey.

And who needs histrionics when there’s this: “Why don’t you love me like you used to?” she sings at 1:36, then follows it with “I still love you like I used to” and listen to how she just plain spits out that last to. Check out, also, how the electric guitar uncorks a bit here, for playful emphasis, only to retreat into the mix thenceforth. Sometimes a little quirkiness can go a long way.

Abshire is from Austin and maybe it’s time I mention that she’s 17 years old. Apparently she’s been singing around town since she was 11. “Exclamation Love” is the title track to her debut CD, released last year on Darla Records. MP3 via SXSW.com. Thanks to Bruce at Some Velvet Blog for the head’s up.

Free and legal MP3: Okkervil River (great American indie rockers sing about being American indie rockers)

“Lost Coastlines” – Okkervil River

One of America’s best and most consistent indie bands of the ’00s, Okkervil River is on a tear, seemingly incapable of releasing anything but rousing, rigorously engaging rock’n’roll. On the heels of last year’s well-regarded CD, The Stage Names, the Austin-based quintet returns with The Stand Ins, which is in fact pretty much the second half of last year’s album—not only is the subject matter revisited, but the album covers cleverly connect to one another.

And so, once again, front man and songwriter Will Sheff is singing about an indie rocker’s life on the road, and once again he sidesteps the pitfalls of self-involvement through his engagingly evasive lyrics and his uncanny way with melody and presentation. Snappy and chorus-free, “Lost Coastlines” is built on top of an accelerated Motown groove (think “You Can’t Hurry Love”), over which Sheff sings with a rubbery, David Byrne-like quizzicality. At the same time, there’s a sense of poignancy in the air, having a lot to do with the interludes sung by Jonatahan Meiburg (at 0:41 and 2:09). Meiburg was in Okkervil River until this past spring, when he left to devote himself full-time to his other band, Shearwater (the parting was amicable). When Meiburg enters, the itchy guitar disappears, leaving his croony baritone to float against bass, percussion, and strings, injecting a dream-like vibe into the chuggy ambiance.

The Stand Ins was released last week on Jagjaguwar Records. MP3 via Jagjaguwar.