Free and legal MP3: Papercuts (rich, delicate, orchestral)

The richly delicate “Life Among the Savages” hints at what Brian Wilson might sound like if he were a 21st-century indie rocker.


“Life Among the Savages” – Papercuts

The richly delicate “Life Among the Savages” hints at what Brian Wilson might sound like if he were a 21st-century indie rocker. Not that Papercuts front man and general mastermind Jason Robert Quever has quite as many idiosyncratic tools at his disposal as Wilson, but surely there is something Pet Sounds-y in the orchestral-minded, melodic yearning on display.

The opening verse melody, to begin with, is a concise gem of descending sweetness (0:06-0:09), and is itself part of a beautifully constructed eight-measure melody that seems simultaneously to resolve and retain suspense two or three different times. The melody is so well-developed that the song does without full-fledged instrumentation until the first iteration of the chorus at 1:08, and while the pulsing string arrangement distracts us from missing the band, when the sound does kick in, something in the ear relaxes. Combine that with a subtle uptick in vocal urgency here (listen to all the hard “c” sounds Quever hits between 1:16 and 1:22), and “Life Among the Savages” is pretty much all delight from this point onward—the verse the second time through now fully accompanied, the chorus getting an unexpected instrumental lead-in and an extra repetition, and the whole thing capped off by a tidy, dramatic coda.

The San Francisco-based Quever has been recording as Papercuts since 2004. “Life Among the Savages” is the title track to his fifth album, released earlier this month on the new L.A. label Easy Sound in the U.S., and via the London-based Memphis Industries label in the U.K. Papercuts was previously featured on Fingertips in 2011. Thanks again to Lauren Laverne at BBC 6 for the head’s up.

Free and legal MP3: Francis and the Lights (soulful postmodern funk)

One must be a gifted vocalist and songwriter both to evoke Marvin Gaye and Brian Wilson within the span of one musical breath.

Francis and the Lights

“ETC” – Francis and the Lights

Wow, just listen to how little is required to create a deeply satisfying groove: keyboard, bass, drum. It helps that the keyboard is tracing a series of elegant, Stevie Wonder-ish chords and that the bass and drum are so tightly locked as to sound like one mysterious instrument, but still, I would send anyone who thinks music is about “making beats” to the first 22 seconds of “ETC.” Music is about making music.

That said, Francis and the Lights are a special case to begin with—an elusive ensemble trafficking in soulful postmodern minimalist funk, masterminded by Francis Farewell Starlite, about which not much more is known. Lots of musicians say they want their music to speak for itself but Starlite walks the walk. He doesn’t aim to be mysterious as much as straightforward, influenced, he has been happy to admit, by the classic writer’s guide The Elements of Style; in the spirit of “omitting needless words,” Starlite does not offer an online bio nor talk much about himself because he feels it comes across as “begging.”

Of course if more artists could manage Starlite’s singular style of succinct, emotive, genre-bending music, they too might find promotional talk unnecessary. As in previous visits here in 2008, Francis and the Lights spin a compelling song out of odd, ambiguous elements: verses like overheard inner arguments, hypnotic and diaphanous; a two-part, unresolved chorus linking a throaty question (“What will we do from here?”) with a soaring, inconclusive Beach Boys reference (“And will we be happy?”). One must be a gifted vocalist and songwriter to evoke Marvin Gaye and Brian Wilson within the span of one musical breath.

“ETC” is a single, as yet unconnected to a larger release. Thanks to Francis for the MP3.

Free and legal MP3: New God (melodic grandeur in rough-edged package)

Brian Wilson goes lo-fi; what is lacking here in polish is made up for with melodic grandeur.

New God

“Motorcar” – New God

“Motorcar” is brief, slightly undeveloped, and rough-edged—but convincing where it counts, with its luminous, 16-measure melody and those Beach Boys-go-to-(lo-fi-)heaven harmonies. Those of you with an aversion to electronic percussion may want to sit this one out, but me, I can overlook some sonic crudeness in service of melodic grandeur. The chords are the classic I-IV-V chords but something majestic is achieved through how they are manipulated. In the first eight measures, we alternate between the I and the V chords, no IV chord to be heard, with the melody beginning on the third note of the I chord; we do not in fact hear the root note of a chord until the last note in the melody’s first half (first example at 0:38). This creates a particularly satisfying pivot point and is what allows the melody to double in length. In the second half the elusive IV chord makes its necessary appearance (your ear required it, whether you realized it or not), and at last, as the melody closes out, we get the chords in the “right” order: I-IV-V.

As usual, the theory stuff sounds stilted and dull in written description but for whatever reason I find that knowing how songs work like this adds to my pleasure in listening. Your mileage, as they used to say, may vary. And all that said, “Motorcar” may still sound somewhat more like a demo than a song, and yeah it could maybe stand to offer us more than two chorus-free, bridge-free verses. But every time I go back to this to listen with any kind of “Wait, maybe I don’t like this after all” skepticism, it wins me over anew with its insistent lovableness, rough edges and all.

New God is a brand new band, with zero internet presence. There’s a guy named Kenny Tompkins, from “the foggy mountains of Western Maryland,” there’s a debut album to be released next month on his own label (RARC), and that’s about all there is to report. The band hasn’t played any live dates yet, so Tompkins hasn’t had to decide who’s officially in it at this point. The guy in the picture with him is his brother, Curt, who is either part of the band or who was hanging out with him when the photo was shot (by Lindsey S. Wilson, while we’re naming names). MP3, obviously, via Tompkins. And no worries about the “dropbox” URL, this one’s fully legal.