Free and legal MP3: Efterklang (affecting blend of pop and classical)

“Modern Drift” – Efterklang

Beginning with compelling, quasi-minimalist piano lines, structured around two related melodic motifs, and brilliantly integrating strings and horns with electronics and percussion, “Modern Drift” is more composition than song. Consider this a good thing–a way of bringing some of classical music’s attractive complexity into pop music’s attractive brevity. Everybody wins. We just have to work on the fact that they only seem to be able to do this sort of thing in Scandinavia.

I suggest listening to this song four or five times in a row just to let it begin to make sense in a wordless way. But if you want some handholds through the process, I recommend keeping an ear on each instrument that makes an entrance after the original piano lines–the percussion, guitar, strings, horns, and electronics. Each interacts with the underlying piano spine in a particular way, and each will come front and center in the piece at a particular time–for instance, the way the guitar begins a complementary echo of the piano at 1:28, or the very satisfying horn punctuation we begin to hear at 1:47. And listen how the strings step forward at 2:27 and create an unexpected bridge to the electronics that start at 2:45, which in turn offer a beepier version of original piano line, but now it sounds like this is home, this is where it was leading. And then the electronics withdraw and leave the unusual–but, somehow, quite natural-sounding–combination of strings and drums to bring this dexterous and affecting piece to a close. Pay attention and you’ll also hear the guitar and piano return with background support.

Efterklang is a quartet from Copenhagen that has been active since 2001. The name is a Danish word that means both “reverberation” and “remembrance.” (Grieg, a Norwegian, once wrote a lyric piece for the piano called “Efterklang.”) “Modern Drift” is the opening track from the band’s third full-length album, Magic Chairs, which was released last month on the British label 4AD. MP3 via Magnet Magazine.

Free and legal MP3: Adam Arcuragi (quirky acoustic strummer, w/ trumpets)

“She Comes to Me” – Adam Arcuragi

At once relaxed and intent, “She Comes to Me” is an instantly likable, subtly quirky acoustic strummer. And you should know that I don’t have a lot of patience for run-of-the-mill acoustic strummers, which strike me by and large as a little, shall we say, boring. Despite what you might hear being aired on those they-mean-well-but-they’re-really-sometimes-kind-of-dreadful “triple A” radio stations, songs are not good or wise or sensitive just because someone’s playing an acoustic guitar and has an evocative voice.

“She Comes to Me” is good and wise and sensitive because it has movement and energy, because it’s easy to listen to but difficult to pin down, because it is both aurally and structurally complex without being messy or silly. Unlike countless writers of run-of-the-mill acoustic strummers, Arcuragi here gives us a continually interesting melody, based on refreshing chord changes that don’t seem to follow a predictable pattern. The melody is in fact somewhat hard to follow at first, but not in the least off-putting or strained. The typical acoustic strummer is a more lockstep affair, with easy to digest, regularly repeating chords and a plain–if not outright predictable–melody. Another worthy point of differentiation is Arcuragi’s willingness to expand the instrumental palette beyond acoustic guitar, even as the acoustic guitar remains at the song’s aural center. I particularly like the choir-like harmonies and the high-profile trumpets that are at once unexpected and exactly right.

Adam Arcuragi is a singer-songwriter born in Atlanta, now based in Philadelphia. “She Comes to Me” is from his second full-length CD, I Am Become Joy, released in June on High Two Records. MP3 via High Two. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.

Free and legal MP3: Dirty Projectors (Bjork meets Prince via Capt. Beefheart)

“Stillness Is The Move” – Dirty Projectors

Not every pop song gets its lyrics by combining bits of dialogue from an enchanting foreign-language movie classic with phrases from an Excel spreadsheet of pop clichés, but the free-flowing, high-minded collective known as Dirty Projectors is hardly your everyday pop band.

An experimental group masterminded by Dave Longstreth, a music major from Yale, Dirty Projectors has been releasing mind-bending, genre-defying music for the better part of the decade. “Stillness Is The Move” is one of the more accessible songs in the band’s catalog—think Björk meets Prince—and it’s still pretty prickly (think Captain Beefheart), its fat groove semi-dismantled by the fidgety melody, complex harmonies, stuttering rhythms, needly guitar lines, and eventual encroachment by a classical string section. Amber Coffman sings acrobatically and precisely, but be sure to tune as well into the meandering, often thrilling countermelodies offered in the background by Angel Deradoorian and Haley Dekle. I recommend hitting the replay button at least six or seven times, after which you won’t need me to tell you to keep going. It gains mysterious traction from repeat listens.

“Stillness Is The Move” is from Bitte Orca, the band’s fifth full-length studio album, released this month by Domino Records. MP3 via Spin; thanks to Jonk Music for the head’s up.

Free and legal MP3: Foreign Born (satisfyingly complex indie pop)

“Vacationing People” – Foreign Born

At once ambling and deceptively precise, “Vacationing People” has the satisfying pop complexity of a late-era Beatles song, without being otherwise Beatlesque in any obvious way (though come to think of it, singer Matt Popieluch has a buzzy voice that can sometimes bring George Harrison to mind). While the song does have verses and a chorus, it also employs a repeating bridge, which results—unusually—in the bridge getting more air time than the somewhat elusive verses do. This kind of thing is subtle but effective: structural intricacy, when there still is structure (versus complete free-formedness), gives a pop song an ineffable sort of richness that charms the ears.

And what I think I like best here is how the song makes a hook out of something that is not inherently hooky. And let’s see if I can explain that. I’m talking about the chorus, which we hear the first time at 1:06. It’s a sort of call and response, with Popieluch singing a simple melody that meanders, ascendingly, around a shuffly beat that is surely influenced by one sort of world music or another (the press material says benga, which is from Kenya, but I don’t know enough to corroborate that); the answering vocals offer the same four-note response each time, three of the notes simply repeating before closing with one whole-step descent. The fuzzed-up bass and some tinkling guitar lines mesh with the shifty rhythms and the whole thing far exceeds the sum of its parts, forging a hook out of not one particular thing you can point to. By the second time it comes around, it sounds like an old friend.

Foreign Born is a quartet from Los Angeles. “Vacationing People” is a song from the band’s debut CD, Person to Person, scheduled for a June release on Secretly Canadian. MP3 via Secretly Canadian.