Free and legal MP3: Six Organs of Admittance (meditative acoustic guitar prayer)

Over a gentle, deliberately descending lick, Ben Chasny floats his tremulous voice, interwoven with some elusive electronics.

Ben Chasny

“Hold But Let Go” – Six Organs of Admittance

Meditative acoustic guitar prayer, of sorts. Over a gentle, deliberately descending lick, Ben Chasny floats his tremulous voice, interwoven with some elusive electronics. The guitar, moving neither too fast nor too slow, has a palpable presence in the song; given the echoey vocal effects, the other subtle sounds in the mix, and sparse lyrics that are mere clouds of suggestion, the guitar feels like the only solid object on display—the guitar, and Chasny’s fingers as they ply the strings, which are all but visible as the string work continues.

Hands become central to the experience. The paradoxical-seeming choral directive is “Hold but let go.” Hands in prayer position come to mind. “Hold but let go” is mostly all Chasny has to say here beyond what his hands are saying, hands which hold the guitar and let go of the music latent within it. There is more to the song than the notes he plays, than the words he sings; there is a power that accrues through the deliberate repetition, the attentive playing, the life-affirming nature of the central message. We can all benefit from this, from holding but letting go.

Chasny has been recording as Six Organs of Admittance since 1998. He is based in Northern California. “Hold But Let Go” is a song from the album Asleep on the Floodplain, coming out next week on Drag City Records. MP3 via Drag City. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.

Free and legal MP3: Brandon Thomas De La Cruz

Humble, compelling, heartfelt

Brandon Thomas De La Cruz

“My Heart Came to Rest” – Brandon Thomas De La Cruz

And yet let’s not write off simplicity entirely (see Braids entry, above). When combined with honest emotion, a sense of history, and that other thing that makes you feel rather than just hear music (not sure what that thing is, however), a simple song can wow you in its own reserved way. SoCal singer/songwriter Brandon Thomas De La Cruz has a comfortable, Bright Eyes-ish thing going here, but maybe with a warmer, less mannered vibe than Mr. Oberst. At once plaintive and gracious, “My Heart Came to Rest” doesn’t innovate or blow the mind; so much of what’s good and true here nestles merely in the unpolished tremor of De La Cruz’s voice, and I mean both his singing and his writing voice. The song’s lyrical lynchpin can be found here, as he sings these unadorned lines:

We’re silent without thought
In the place where we’ve been brought
We both had so much to say
But now we’ve both forgot

Note the march of humble words: 20 of 23 of them are just one syllable, including an astounding (and cumulatively compelling) 19 in a row. Whether done consciously or unconsciously, the craft is impressive. The particular rhythm of how and where the word “both” appears, twice, and the rubber-lipped way the word bubbles from his mouth each time is worth a bit of extra attention.

“My Heart Came to Rest” is from De La Cruz’s seven-song garage-recorded debut Everything Is New, self-released digitally in November. You can buy it via Bandcamp, where one other song is also available for free.

Free and legal MP3: Sea of Bees (rumbly, minor-key goodness)

Rich, deep, and flowing, “Marmalade” has the rumble of some muddy, alt-rock classic, complete with rubbed-out vocals and a battery of guitar sounds, from fuzzy-growly to acoustic-strummy to lonesome-seering. For all the ground-level noise and minor-key darkness, however, the song lifts and soars most wonderfully. It’s an intriguing effect.

Julie Ann Bee

“Marmalade” – Sea of Bees

Rich, deep, and flowing, “Marmalade” has the rumble of some muddy, alt-rock classic, complete with rubbed-out vocals and a battery of guitar sounds, from fuzzy-growly to acoustic-strummy to lonesome-seering. For all the ground-level noise and minor-key darkness, however, the song lifts and soars most wonderfully. It’s an intriguing effect.

Julie Ann Bee’s voice is central to “Marmalade”‘s appeal. Even as she buries the brighter and quirkier aspects of her singing under the song’s portentous textures, she doesn’t give in to cliched howling–an impressive feat especially as the song features plenty of wordless “oh-oh”-ing, which lord knows could’ve been howled. Instead she plays to a dusky quality in her voice that you almost don’t hear here but in almost not hearing it’s all the more engaging. I think. Meanwhile, listen to how the various guitars combine into an almost orchestral unity of purpose. Not a sound is wasted; propelled by a swift, unstinting rhythm and its plaintive minor key, the song is a fast, involving ride, ending, each time I listen, before I quite expect it.

“Marmalade” is from Sea of Bees’ debut full-length CD, Songs For The Ravens, released last month on Crossbill Records. Sea of Bees is a musical project masterminded and performed by the Sacramento-based Bee (nee Baenzinger), with an assist from producer John Baccigaluppi and a few guests.

Free and legal MP3: Sangre Degrado (sleeper w/ something of an early ’70s vibe)

“Pearl and Oyster” – Sangre Degrado

“Pearl and Oyster” has the casual aplomb of some forgotten nugget of early ’70s rock goodness. And it’s not so much that this California trio sounds precisely like this or that long-ago band as much as that they don’t especially sound like anything I’m hearing out of my trusty desktop speakers these days. Lead singer and guitarist Dan Chejoka has a chesty baritone with an elastic range, not to mention an engaging falsetto; behind him, his twin brother Nart, on drums, and their good friend Greg Johnson, on everything else, romp with determination and spirit through this sleeper of a song that has gotten about zero attention to date from the fickle and trend-obsessed blogosphere.

And pretty much everything you need to know about this one you can hear even before Chejoka opens his mouth, in the brisk and yearning introduction with its rubbery, soaring guitar line. That’s the sound of people not just looking to fill up space before the lyrics start, it’s the sound of a band with a story to tell that transcends words (which is what good music, even if it has words, should ideally do). The easy way the song unfolds from there–the elaborate melodies in both chorus and verse and the effective instrumental building blocks in between–is both delightful and matter of fact. Listen in particular to how the dramatic, falsetto-charged chorus builds to an emotional–but, interestingly, not a musical–resolution. I don’t think that’s easy to do.

“Pearl and Oyster” is from a debut album with a great title, The Nerve of That Ending, which the band self-released in October. MP3 via the band’s site, where the entire album is in fact available for free.

Free and legal MP3: Port O’Brien (instantly likable but still slightly unusual)

“Sour Milk/Salt Water” – Port O’Brien

Strummy, lyrically insistent verses, with double-tracked vocals, alternate with a plaintive chorus, lyrics now moving at half the pace of the music, vocals still double-tracked but now in an almost Neil Young-like upper register. And while the whole thing is pretty simple sounding at one level it’s mysteriously compelling at another–both instantly likable and slightly unusual.

Or maybe it’s not so mysterious, just well-crafted. Even as the lyrics topple out in the mode of a one-note harangue (a la “Subterranean Homesick Blues”), the music actually shifts between two notes, one-half step apart–it starts on a B, goes up to C, then back to B. Check it out and try to focus on how the underlying chords, which go back and forth from major to minor, shift each time just ahead of when the note itself changes. The end result is a wonderful sort of musical sleight of hand, delivering at once the intensity of a one-note verse and the involvement of a melody. The effect is enhanced by the way the song takes advantage of how aurally distinct two chords can be that are built around notes separated by just a half step.

Port O’Brien is a quintet from northern California with roots in Alaska as well–founders Van Pierszalowski and Cambria Goodwin spend summers on Kodiak Island, Pierszalowski working on a commercial fishing boat with his father, Goodwin as the town baker. Suddenly the title of the song makes a bit more sense, eh? “Sour Milk/Salt Water” will be found on the album Threadbare, the band’s second full-length, due out in October on TBD Records. MP3 via City Slang, a Berlin-based label that releases a lot of American indie rock in Europe. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.

Free and legal MP3: Samuel Markus (quasi-psychedelic neo-folk rock?)

“Rosa” – Samuel Markus

A full-bodied helping of quasi-psychedelic neo-folk rock, or some such thing, “Rosa” treads an alluring line between the contemporary and the classic, mixing a Derek & the Dominoes-like guitar-band drive with crispier beats and 21st-century production effects.

Holding it all together—because I have to admit, that description doesn’t sound all that alluring as I read it back to myself!—is 22-year-old Samuel Markus, whose voice contains something of Grant Lee Phillips’ deep melodrama, but with a lighter touch and self-effacing tone. The song is pretty much built around a cascade of two-syllable almost-rhymes that repeat at the end of each lyrical line; Marcus wins the day with his earnest yet quizzical delivery, all but reveling in the mismatches that tumble out (e.g. “Casanova” and “composer” and “for ya”) in service of his ramshackle, bittersweet-sounding story.

Markus co-founded the N.Y.C.-based band the Rosewood Thieves (featured on Fingertips in Aug. ’06) before splitting to do his own thing out in California. “Rosa” can be found on New Dawn, a CD recorded with an ensemble he calls the Only Ones (no relation to the British new wave band of the same name, which has apparently been playing together again recently). New Dawn was released at the end of September by Yatra Media.