Free and legal MP3: Big Deal (simple, compelling rock’n’roll)

There’s something grand and achy in the big sound of the London duo Big Deal—even as it bursts with movement and purpose, I feel an undercurrent of delicious melancholy here.

Big Deal

“Swapping Spit” – Big Deal

There’s something grand and achy in the big sound of the London duo Big Deal—it bursts with movement and purpose on the one hand, serves up an undercurrent of delicious melancholy on the other. This may be rooted in something as simple and structural as the song-length use of octave male-female harmonies/lead vocals. My love for octave harmonies (i.e., the same note sung an octave apart) is long established; when they come in the guise of a lead vocal shared by a man and a woman, it’s a yummy treat times two (or three, or four; not sure math works here, actually). The fact that the harmonies culminate in the repeated line, each time the chorus comes around, “I will, I will” seals the deal: I can’t follow the song lyrically, but that “I will, I will” is an arresting aural paradox—hopeful on the surface, desperate below.

And give me a simple song, tightly conceived, over a sprawling complexity any day of the week. Or, at least, some days. “Swapping Spit” has so much happening within its apparent rock’n’roll simplicity that I listen to it over and over without tiring. The male-female octave harmonies turn out to be a perfect metaphor for the effectiveness of the entire song—it’s the same note being sung (simple) but an octave apart (complication) and by opposing genders (further complication). And so do we also in “Swapping Spit” get: a verse that has two different versions (a lower melody the first time [0:16], a higher melody the second time [1:19], and boy do I love the character of both voices in their combined upper ranges); a chorus that first of all has a pre-chorus and then, the second time around, has expanded versions of both the pre-chorus and the regular chorus; and then, slyly, a song that places its title into the extended part of the chorus. And as for that title, it too offers up compelling equivocation, as Alice Costelloe and Kacey Underwood sing words—“All the lovers swapping spit/I’ll get used to it”—that mess with our heads. Love (good thing? bad thing?) comes up as one more arresting paradox.

“Swapping Spit” is a new single upcoming from Big Deal’s second album, June Gloom, which was in fact released back in June, on Mute Records.

Free and legal MP3: Fine Times (big-bodied, synth-flavored)

Wall-of-sound-like illusions attached to a swaying, arena-friendly beat, with a soupçon of craftiness.

Fine Times

“Hey Judas” – Fine Times

Attaching wall-of-sound-like illusions to a swaying, arena-friendly beat, the synth-flavored rock’n’roll of “Hey Judas” is big-bodied from the get-go. And that’s even before we get to the wordless sing-along at the end of the chorus, which graduates from arena- to stadium-sized.

And yet note how it’s not really that easy to sing along with, that wordless sing-along part (1:16). It’s comprised of unexpected leaps and sly intervals and finishes not with a grand finale but with an evasive syncopation. It’s a large gesture at the center of a large-gestured song and yet is also some wonderfully subtle music hiding in plain sight. As such it has a kind of ripple effect on the rest of the song. I’m listening more closely. Some of it is indeed as straightforward as it seems (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). But there are synth lines here, lyrical flourishes there, melodic angles elsewhere that dance through “Hey Judas” and give this swelling, swaggering tune an intriguing soupçon of craftiness. I kinda like that.

Fine Times is the Vancouver-based duo of vocalist/keyboardist Matthew Moldowan and bassist Jeffrey Josiah Powell. Most recently together in a band called 16mm, the two emerged as a band in their own right late in 2010 and shortly thereafter, apparently, producer Howard Redekopp (The New Pornographers, The Zolas, Tegan & Sara) gave them access to his spiffy collection of vintage synthesizers. So the unmistakable ’80s keyboards here are nothing if not authentic. (For good measure, check their worthy cover of “Enola Gay,” below.) “Hey Judas” is a track from the duo’s self-titled debut, which was released this week on Light Organ Records. MP3 via Magnet Magazine.

photo credit: Mathew Smith