Free and legal MP3: Light Pollution (short, bashy, melodic)

“Oh Ivory!” – Light Pollution

While apparently muddier, mix-wise, than the usual Fingertips fare–the very-bashy drums are up front, the vocals buried halfway down–“Oh Ivory!” succeeds through the giddy force of its melodic energy and the quirky chemistry of its not-really-that-muddy-after-all production. There’s something old-school at work here, something that puts me in the mind of the ’60s, though I can’t put my finger on it. And anyway, by the time I think I’m getting it, the song is over. It’s nice and short.

And yet, although just 2:29, check out how the tune meanders for more than 40 seconds in an orchestrally interesting but melodically static interlude–featuring the not often used but always engaging combination of classical stringed instruments and rock percussion. On the one hand it goes on a little too long but on the other hand if it didn’t go on that long the payoff wouldn’t be quite so stirring. And stirring those final 30 seconds are, featuring now a shouted, one-note melody over an engaging parade of chords. In the end, this brief song has an offbeat but resonant structure, giving it the feeling of a much longer journey.

Light Pollution is a quartet from Chicago; “Oh, Ivory!” is a track from the band’s debut album, Apparitions, which is set for release next month on Carpark Records. MP3 via Spinner.

Free and legal MP3: Stanley Ross (slow & swingy w/ a nod to bygone styles)

“Bicycle” is fetchingly slow and swingy in a way that tips its hat to bygone stylings such as doo-wop and torch songs and the Rolling Stones trying to do country. And yet the music is at the same time entirely un-nostalgic–it is performed simply, without affect, with a grounding organ line, some nice back-porch guitar work, and a winning smidgen of idiosyncrasy in the guise of Nick Meiers’ slightly neurotic (I mean that in a good way) tenor.

“Bicycle (Take So Long)” – Stanley Ross

“Bicycle” is fetchingly slow and swingy in a way that tips its hat to bygone stylings such as doo-wop and torch songs and the Rolling Stones trying to do country. And yet the music is at the same time entirely un-nostalgic–it is performed simply, without affect, with a grounding organ line, some nice back-porch guitar work, and a winning smidgen of idiosyncrasy in the guise of Nick Meiers’ slightly neurotic (I mean that in a good way) tenor. None of this would work, I don’t think, with a more straightforward singer. But Meiers has an edgy voice that gives the impression of being more wavery than it actually is, an effect that–I like to imagine–is being generated by his shaking his head so deeply in time to the music’s slow-burning groove that he’s sometimes missing the microphone. This is no doubt an inaccurate conjecture but I’ll stick with it anyway.

Stanley Ross is another one of those “hm; is this a person taking on a stage name or is this a band?” acts. Press material is shifty on the matter. I do know that Meiers, the Chicago-based front man and singer/songwriter, has himself called Stanley Ross his “band,” and the Facebook page lists three “members” so let’s stick with band. In any case, “Bicycle (Take So Long)” is a song from Stanley Ross’s third release, an EP called MN-EP, which follows two previous full-length albums. The EP is out this week and may be downloaded in its entirety for free via the netlabel RockProper.com.

Free and legal MP3: Judson Claiborne (Americana flavored, timeless)

“Song For Dreaming” – Judson Claiborne

A pleasantly droopy piece of Americana-flavored indie rock, with a sharp sense of melody and nicely integrated guitar work. Not only do the acoustic and electric guitars play beautifully in and around each other—the ear even loses track, somehow, of which is which at some points–but the lead electric lines are central to the song’s development. You don’t hear a lot of that kind of instrumental integration these days–what we hear instead all too often is a lot of what might be called instrumental hipsterism, when sounds are used merely to be unusual—and it lends something deep and timeless to this casually-paced song.

Judson Claiborne is a stage name adopted by the singer/songwriter Chris Salveter, of Chicago, who previously sang and played guitar for the band Low Skies. But the name also seems, maybe, to have turned into the band’s name; half the material I find online refers to Judson Claiborne as a band, an impression aided by current press material showing five people in a photo labeled Judson Claiborne. In any case, it’s Salveter up front, singing a melody with wistful leaps that accentuate both the warmth and idiosyncrasies of his informal, slightly quivering voice. He’s got a touch of Jim James in there, a touch of Roy Orbison even, for crying out loud, but he never goes too far, always retreats into seeming more like a guy who happened to wander up to a microphone and who’s happy just to play guitar than any kind of self-styled crooner.

The pseudonym and/or band name by the way comes from combining a first name his father had wanted to name him (his mother: nope, “too redneck”) and a last name from ancestors on his father’s side of the family. “Song For Dreaming” is from Time and Temperature, slated for release next month on La Société Expéditionnaire, a Pennsylvania-based label. MP3 via La Soc. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.

Free and legal MP3: Gold Motel(new Chicago band w/ ’60s flair)

Gold Motel

“Don’t Send the Searchlights” – Gold Motel

With a clipped, fleet Motown beat, an expansive girl-group-style sing-along chorus, and an oh-so-classic length of two minutes fifty seconds, “Don’t Send the Searchlights” has one eye quite obviously on our musical past. But at the same time there’s something lovely and casual going on that allows the music to transcend its influences; Greta Morgan, the band’s singer, songwriter, and keyboard player, has the sound of someone just kind of happening upon this song rather than sweating the historical details, and “Don’t Send the Searchlights” jumps and swings accordingly.

I think a good part of the song’s flair arises from the melodic intervals Morgan builds into both the verse and the chorus. You can hear an example when she sings “before we hit the dawn” at 0:18–from the “we” she jumps down a fifth to “hit” and then back up a fifth to “dawn.” This larger-than-normal interval creates a sense of movement and freedom, and in so doing reflects the lyrics, which on the surface extol the benefits of breaking off a relationship so it won’t turn sour (“Always leave before tomorrow comes/All the greatest loves are the unfinished ones”). But don’t believe everything she says. There’s something wistful playing at the edges of the song’s breeziness, and once again a melodic interval comes into play: the leaps she takes while singing both “goodbye” and “good guy” turn on the half-step difference between the first and second “good,” which turns the chord from major to minor. She may not be as happy as she’d like to believe she is. And the chorus ends musically unresolved–not typically a sign that all is well.

Formerly of the Hush Sounds (2005-2008), Morgan assembled the five-piece Gold Motel in 2009. “Don’t Send the Searchlights” is one of five songs on the band’s self-released, self-titled debut EP, which came out in December. Expect a full length in June. MP3 via the band’s site.

Free and legal MP3: Cameron McGill & What Army (straightforward sound, wonderful song)

“Madeline, Every Girl” – Cameron McGill & What Army

A truly wonderful song from beginning to end. But a funny thing: every time the tempo falters, because of how the song is constructed, I find myself almost annoyed because of how much I was digging the forward-moving energy that’s now interrupted. And it happens in the chorus, just when I might be expecting more rather than less motion. But then each time the tempo picks back up with the new verse, I realize that maybe I’m enjoying the faster-paced section precisely because of the repeated way it pulls back. Life is like that too. Oh, and check out how, the second time we hear the chorus, McGill picks up the tempo before the end (2:00). Feels very satisfying somehow. But the third time is the best–he kicks it up for just a moment (3:22), and somehow that’s most satisfying of all.

While Cameron McGill & What Army often play music with a definite folk-rock or folk-pop feel, “Madeline, Every Girl” is, in this age of micro-genres, maybe too straightforward for any workable label: it’s just guitar and bass and drums playing together without any particular fuss or special flavor. Some songs depend upon their instrumentation and arrangement for their very existence, and other songs, like this one, exist so strongly as things unto themselves that you could probably play them on a toy xylophone and they would still shine through.

Cameron McGill is a Chicago-based singer/songwriter who released an album called Warm Songs for Cold Shoulders, his fourth, back in April on Parasol Records. “Madeline, Every Girl” is the a-side of a three-song digital single released last month called Two Hits and a Miss, which is available via iTunes. MP3 courtesy of Parasol.