Free and legal MP3: The Vaccines (catchy lo-fi goodness)

The Vaccines

“If You Wanna” – The Vaccines

Joy Division meets—somehow—the Ramones. Don’t ask, just listen, it works. This is not a “composition”‘; this is not complex; it’s muddy and lo-fi (the band says it’s a demo, actually) but the spirit is shiny and polished and yikes is it catchy in the best possible way. And can I take a moment to rant about how badly the word “catchy” is misused in the age of internet music writing? Something isn’t “catchy” just because the singer repeats himself over and over, or just because the tune is like a nursery rhyme. Just because something gets stuck in your head doesn’t mean it’s catchy; it could be irritating and do that too. Something is catchy if the melody is smart, reasonably short, and somewhat familiar-sounding. Of course it’s a fine line between familiar-sounding and same-old, same-old. Catchy songs usually walk that razor’s edge with flair.

Oh and let’s underline the “smart” part. Others may disagree, but here in Fingertipsland, being dumb or badly-written disqualifies a song from being catchy. (And I mean dumb dumb, not smart dumb, like the Ramones were.) To me, catchy is a glowing word, the sign of a pure pop song; I don’t debase the word by using it on dumb shit. So, okay, “If You Wanna”: brilliantly gloriously catchy. With noisy guitars. The chorus sounds like an old friend but there’s a twist in the air here. Maybe it has to do with how the rhythm shifts from the Raveonettes-like drive of the verse, with its equally distributed beat, to the backbeat-heavy chorus, with such a strong emphasis of the two and four beats that you feel blown halfway back to a far more innocent time than ours (“It’s got a backbeat/You can’t lose it…”). Note how this shift coincides with the audible innocence of the song’s narrator, who seems certain that all be well should his lost lover, who obviously left of her own accord, suddenly decides she made a mistake. He sings hopefully; you the listener know there’s no hope.

The Vaccines are a brand new band from the U.K.; I can find no specific information about them anywhere—they just joined Facebook last week, for crying out loud. Thanks muchly to the fine fellows at Said the Gramophone for the head’s up on this one. MP3 via the band, at Soundcloud.

Free and legal MP3: Pugwash (Beatlesque and XTC-like catchiness)

“Apples” – Pugwash

Here on 9/9/09, with big marketing news regarding both the Beatles and Apple Computer in the air, how can I resist a Beatlesque/XTC-like piece of pop entitled “Apples”? Resistance, clearly, is futile. I love in fact how the XTC-isms and Beatle-isms here are so consistently interdependent as to be inextricable. Because let me interrupt here to note that XTC remains, to this day, the great, largely unacknowledged link between the Fab Four and the entire alternative/indie rock explosion of the last two-plus decades; they were the one band that took what the Beatles did and alchemized it into something truly their own. I’ll go as far as to suggest that they gave us a hint of what the Beatles themselves might have come to sound like had they stayed together a bit longer.

And so: that cheery little ascending motif at the end of the first two verse lines (first heard at 0:12)? Nicely, intertwiningly related to both great British bands. Likewise the effortless weaving of guitar effects, string-like effects, and vocal effects in such a sharp and focused pop song. Note too how Irishman Thomas Walsh tends towards a Lennon-ish timbre but phrases his words in quite the Andy Partridge-like manner. (And isn’t Pugwash itself a sort of XTC-ish word?) The coda-like touches near the end–this song has a definite ending, it doesn’t just stop–is further evidence, if required, of both seminal influences.

And now it turns out that Pugwash–which pretty much is Walsh, plus some friends and guests who help him out when he records–has been signed to Partridge’s own Ape Records, which is why we’re hearing “Apples” now, although originally released in 2002. Ape is first releasing a compilation of the best songs from the band’s four existing albums. “Apples” is the lead track on that album, entitled Giddy, which will be out later this month.