Free and legal MP3: Lower Plenty

Relaxed wonderfulness, from Australia

Lower Plenty

“Nullarbor” – Lower Plenty

Can I tell you why some slow-ish songs bore with their lethargic pace and underdeveloped ideas while others beguile with their relaxed know-how? I don’t think I can. Can I tell you what Nullarbor means? That’s easier. The Nullarbor Plain is huge, semi-arid stretch of remote countryside in southern Australia. The name comes from the Latin meaning “no trees.” (For a sense of the scrubby flat endless-road landscape, check out the video, below.)

“Nullarbor” the song, meanwhile, presents the listener with a long, ambling introduction—not semi-arid per se but entirely without either vocals or, even, the sense that vocals are planning to arrive. A guitar strums, another guitar noodles an imprecise melody, a brushed snare keeps a gentle beat, and the world seems a serene if slightly baggy kind of place. I find myself in no hurry to get anywhere with this introduction, and maybe that’s what a slow song that’s beguiling rather than boring does most of all: it slows you down so that you join its world, rather than feeling like an annoying drag on your world. The singing, when it starts, is worth the wait: Al Montfort speak-sings with offhanded, oddly affecting aplomb, often letting the guitar lines suggest the melody he’s not quite articulating. All in all, the concise tale told here of a love gone missing has the quizzical, haphazard feel of a Basement Tapes song, but with a warmer, more personal air about it. I could listen to this all night, and might just yet.

Lower Plenty is a quartet from Melbourne, and also the name of a Melbourne suburb. “Nullarbor” is one of nine shorts songs on the band’s debut album, Hard Rubbish. The song’s wonderfully spontaneous sound has a lot to do with the fact that the album was recorded onto eight-track, reel-to-reel tape, often in one take. Hard Rubbish was released last year in Australia; it comes out next month here on Fire Records. You can download the MP3 via the link above, or through the SoundCloud page. Thanks to the indomitable Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.

Free and legal MP3: Ezra Furman (quirky acoustic strummer, w/ woodwinds)

Quirky and intense, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” has the core of something weathered and true. Then adds a bunch of woodwinds.

Ezra Furman

“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” – Ezra Furman

Quirky and intense, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” has the core of something weathered and true—an old Dylan song, perhaps, or maybe even Woody Guthrie. (Or maybe simply the Indigo Girls; cf., “Three Hits.”) In any case, if the melody is tried and true, it is offered with such an unrelenting edge—Furman is let us say an unhinged singer—as to blossom into something as yet unheard, not to mention powerful and inexplicably moving.

The arrangement provides an able assist, as an elusive array of instruments deliver commentary and motifs in and around the acoustic-guitar backbone. I hear at the very least a variety of woodwinds, each playing careful, intriguing parts. Often when the “chamber pop” begins, indie-rockers veer towards kitchen-sink arrangements. Here we get the unusual combination of complex and restrained; Furman, in his first foray as a solo artist, has figured out a way to welcome his unorthodox background players without giving them the run of the store. If anything, he has unexpectedly expanded the sonic palette of the impassioned folk singer.

Furman has fronted his band the Harpoons since they were students at Tufts University in 2006; with three albums under their belts, they remain a going concern, even with this upcoming solo record, entitled The Year of No Returning. Previously based in Chicago, post-Boston, Furman has recently moved to San Francisco. His album will be self-released next month. It was funded via Kickstarter. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up. MP3 via Consequence of Sound.