Free and legal MP3: Broken Records (brisk, folk-infused, toe-tapping tragedy)

“If Eilert Loevborg Wrote A Song, It Would Sound Like This” – Broken Records

We begin with a mournful folk melody, played on cello and accordion, full of sad old-country wisdom. An added mandolin leads to a tempo shift, and now we’re tapping our toes, but we’re still sad. Music is like that sometimes. Tragedy is in the air; Eilert Loevborg (or Ejlert Løvborg) is in fact Hedda Gabler’s flawed, doomed ex-lover in the Ibsen play. I haven’t been able to discover why this seven-piece Scottish band chose to write a song from the point of view of this particular character, but ours is not to question why. Listen instead to Jamie Sutherland’s commanding, rough-edged baritone and the unerring ensemble playing, led by the swift, crestfallen cello.

There’s a Northern air about all this—some elusive mix of Nordic and Scot, perhaps—but also something Eastern European, and then dawns the realization that at heart, old-country music blends nearly into one, from many different cultures. This might have to do with the violin (or fiddle) that lives in the center of so many folk traditions, or it might have to do with something deeper and more primordial in the human spirit. All I know is this band—whose members also play piano, trumpet, and glockenspiel in addition to guitar, bass, and drums—has a full and satisfying presence, the song a cumulative power. By the time Sutherland, with convincing torment, sings, “And does your husband know the lies that we’ve kept?/And has he ever felt that warmth from your bed?” (1:31), I feel that inner shift that happens when musical notes and instruments and voices combine in a way that touches the soul. We can sometimes point out when it happens but never can we ever truly say why.

“If Eilert Loevborg Wrote…” is from Broken Records’ debut CD, Until the Earth Begins to Part, scheduled for a May release on 4AD Records. MP3 via 4AD.

Free and legal MP3: Hollowblue (brisk, noir-ish, and dadaesque)

“First Avenue” – Hollowblue

First come the blurred piano chords and crazed cello bleats. Next we hear the speaking voice of hard-bitten, semi-anarchic American novelist Dan Fante delivering the hard-bitten, semi-anarchic lyrics that he wrote for this song by the Italian band Hollowblue (however that collaboration came about). The words make sense yet the sentences don’t (“Drag your laundry down First Avenue”? “Spend some time in your drugstore mind”?), but with his voiceover-announcer-from-hell intonation, he sells it to you anyway. “I’ve got a pair of socks I like better than you”—well, okay, sure, if you say so, Dan. (And he does, twice.)

Turns out the jittery, slippery, loopy opening section is over before you can quite absorb it; at 0:27, the band fully takes over, the lyrics now reintroduced over a brisk, noir-ish Continental beat, sung in heavily accented English by the engaging front man Gianluca Maria Sorace. While Sorace’s breezy earnestness and reedy tenor brings Fante’s nutty non-narrative to a more grounded and inclusive place, in my mind it’s cellist Ellie Young who provides the heart of this likable dadaesque melodrama. First we heard those wild, horn-like blurts accompanying Fante. She returns at 0:48 with strong, gypsy-ish bowing and then uses a muscular 25-second solo in the center of the song (1:40) to make a strong argument for the cello as a rock instrument, and it’s less maybe about the solo itself than how great the song sounds when Sorace returns in full force afterward.

“First Avenue” is the lead track from Hollowblue’s CD Stars Are Crashing (In My Backyard), which was released in Europe last year on Midfinger Records, an Italian label. MP3 via the band’s site.