Free and legal MP3: School of Seven Bells (glistening vocals, w/ glitchy bounce)

Those of you who may be tired of the 21st-century music scene’s relentless worship of beat over musical substance might find a way out with SVIIB.

School of Seven Bells

“Secret Days” – School of Seven Bells

It was last year at this same time that School of Seven Bells unveiled their two-person versus three-person incarnation—a personnel change with more import than most since SVIIB was therein losing one of the two identical twin vocalists who together were central to the band’s indelible sound. As it turned out, one Dehaza (Alejandra stayed, Claudia left) was certainly better than none, and the band’s glistening swirl of rhythm, electronics, guitar, and voice remained intact, as we saw from “The Night,” the lead track from duo’s Ghostory, which was released in February.

Less than a year later comes an EP, Put Your Sad Down, with five new songs (four originals, plus a cover of the ’60s underground psychedelic classic “Lovefingers”). This is a band with something to say, and a singular way to say it; they take the 21st-century predilection for glitchy beats and shoegazey reverb and transmute it into something powerful and timeless. While the band has not abandoned its fondness for muscular soundscapes, there is at the same time something pleasantly minimalist about the texture this time—Dehaza’s voice feels more exposed here (listen at 1:39, for example), the instrumental layers more precise. Band mate Benjamin Curtis seems largely to have put his guitar down on this tune, opting for a boppy low end, featuring the robust bounce of a kinetic bass synthesizer. Those of you who may be tired of the 21st-century music scene’s relentless worship of beat over musical substance might find a way out with SVIIB—even as their melodies scan more like incantations than flowing tunes, they never seem to lose touch with the musical nature of, well, music. The band’s prevailing uniqueness remains itself an impressive accomplishment.

SVIIB is based in New York City, and has been previously featured on Fingertips in November 2008 and, as mentioned above, in December 2011. You can listen to the whole Put Your Sad Down EP via SoundCloud; purchase it via Amazon. MP3 via Epitonic (just like the old days!). (Note that the MP3 may not work with the Fingertips ex.fm player here but it definitely exists and can be downloaded.)

Free and legal MP3: Jonka (neo-’80s electro pop, w/ soul)

“Every Other Day” burns with the booty-shaking resolve of an old Hot Chocolate song, channeled through the ’80s electro-pop stylebook.

Jonka

“Every Other Day” – Jonka

A textbook exercise in how to construct a groove, “Every Other Day” burns with the booty-shaking resolve of an old Hot Chocolate song, channeled through the ’80s electro-pop style book, Erasure edition. Listen to how the layers coalesce—first the basic beat, itself an alluring blend of distant-seeming sounds; then the bass, all fat and old-school; then the first foreground element, a slappy, tappy percussive sound playing a jittery series of double-time flourishes. At this point, it’s cool but not necessarily awesome. Awesome arrives with the next two elements: the organ-y synthesizer (0:24) that skitters away seemingly between the beats; and, the pièce de résistance, the high, swooping “oo-oos” (0:32) that deliver the song’s first melody, wordless though it may be.

Beyond the sure groove, what sells “Every Other Day” is Jonka’s commitment to vocal harmonies. Just as the twosome blend their names—Jon Neufeld and Annika Kaye—to create the band’s name, so do they blend their voices in a plush, ongoing layering of harmony not often heard in this musical setting. From the opening lyric, the band mates (a married couple, you should know) sing every word together, and are over-dubbed so that there are at least two of each of them singing at all times. Neufeld’s soulful baritone takes the lead but Kaye’s full-bodied backing vocals are just as important a part of the song’s texture. The song’s melodies, meanwhile, percolate relentlessly upward, giving the song an almost gospel-like sense of uplift.

Neufeld and Kaye live in Brooklyn. Neufeld grew up on Staten Island and Kaye, born in Sweden, was raised in Manhattan. “Every Other Day” is the first song available from the duo’s second album, Pinks and Blues, which is arriving at some unspecified date in the reasonably near future.

Free and legal MP3: White Hinterland (mysterious-sounding, beat-driven electro-pop)

“Icarus” – White Hinterland

Arriving on the indie scene in 2006 as a precocious, Nellie McKay-ish singer/songwriter/pianist, Casey Dienel has since taken on a band name (White Hinterland), a band mate (Shawn Creeden), and a new musical setting. I for one am happy to hear it, as I believe the world can use propulsive, mysterious-sounding, beat-driven but melodic electro-pop a bit more than it needs a second Nellie McKay.

Underscored by swooshing wind-like white noise, “Icarus” has a slinky sound that gains traction via the interplay between Dienel’s airy, plaintive singing style and the clattering rhythm sticks that are placed front and center in the mix. They are unavoidable there, and are thus transformed from percussive accent into full-fledged musical statement, particularly when Dienel sings the wordless refrain of “oo-oo-oohs” that functions as a chorus-like link between verses. Check out how the clacking rhythm stutters and syncopates along the way, just enough to keep your head in the game, to keep the song from fading into over-smoothness. Time passes much more quickly because the ears aren’t being lulled to sleep; every time I get to the end–at 3:47, the song is not notably short–I feel a little startled.

Born and raised in the Boston area, Dienel studied classical voice and composition at the New England Conservatory of Music before leaving to have a go as a pop musician. She is now located in Portland, Oregon. “Icarus” will be found on White Hinterland’s second album, Kairos, which is due out in March on Dead Oceans. MP3 via Dead Oceans.