Free and legal MP3: The Lawlands (sedate, assured, & poetic)

Sedate and assured, with two simple verses, no chorus, and an unexpected poetic kick.

The Lawlands

“Youth” – The Lawlands

Front man Anthony Ferraro is crooning—there’s no other word for it—but he does so with a wondrous light touch: the rare crooner who sounds like he is singing actually to communicate, rather than to hear the sound of his own voice. (Ouch, regarding all the other crooners, but true, -ish.)

The sedate, assured “Youth” plays out as two simple verses, with no chorus; each verse cycles twice through a melody that is gentle but resolute, unfolding over a double-time rhythm section and a gliding series of open chords. The song’s musical core is I think best understood and reflected by the 35-second instrumental break after the first verse, with a chiming lead guitar line landing more often than not on semi-dissonant notes, creating that open-chorded feeling. There’s a sense of flow, and exploration, and ineffable yearning, and (important) exquisite craftsmanship; I feel I could sit in this space for a long time. But the best is yet to come, as the second verse’s final lyrics open out into unequivocal poetry:

It’s strange, the child that I put to rest
Is beating on the walls of my head
And shouting I’m not finished yet

I call this poetry because any attempt to explicate the meaning would require far more words than the lyric used to get there itself. And because there’s an apprehension (both meanings) in these lines that’s almost thrilling to discover. The song finishes with Ferraro repeating one wistful question—“Where is everything I’ve read about?”—which on the one hand brings good old Morrissey (another crooner!) to mind, with echoes of a famous question he asked only in the song’s title (“How soon is now?”). But here I think we transcend that earlier song’s mopey, unripe concerns. This is pretty deep stuff.

Ferraro has been previously featured on Fingertips for a song he recorded as the one-man project Astronauts, etc., in October 2012. Note that at the time I called his voice a “soothing tenor,” but I guess that was more like a “soothing falsetto.” The Lawlands is a Bay Area band that he joined not long ago when their previous lead singer left the country. From left to right in the picture, you are looking at Drew, Alex, Shaun, and Anthony. “Youth” is available as an MP3 through the link here, or via the SoundCloud page, which also offers up the lyrics and, of course, the opportunity to comment on the song directly to the band.

Free and legal MP3: Scott Matthew (minimal yet luxurious, off-center ballad)

Scott Matthew

“Sinking” – Scott Matthew

You won’t get too far in reading about Scott Matthew without Antony Hegarty, of Antony and the Johnsons, coming up (and I, oops, have just added to the pile). But here’s the funny thing about that kind of RIYL short-cutting: its inherent superficiality, typically connecting a singer to someone else he or she sounds like, can be drastically misleading. I, for instance, don’t much care to listen to Hegarty, despite his obvious depth and talent. I don’t connect with his music, for whatever reason. But Matthew—whose theatrical, husky tenor bears a passing resemblance to Hegarty’s singular voice—is here singing a song I like a lot. Let us note once and for all that RIYL is a defective recommendation engine.

Anyway, “Sinking”: a languid, off-center ballad, at once minimal and luxurious, backed by piano, layered vocals, and the delicate strumming of a ukulele I can only, and unexpectedly, describe as lovely. The song’s unusual sense of pace is rooted in a 3/4 time signature at once deliberate and unsteady, and amplified by the drawn-out melody line, which extends to nine rather than the typical eight measures. And I would not want the Antony comparisons to distract anyone from the vividness of Matthew’s own voice, both musically and lyrically. To the extent that one can follow them, the words he croons are striking. The song is a keeper.

Born in Australia, Matthew moved to Brooklyn in the late ’90s. He was in a short-lived band called Elva Snow in 2002 with Morrissey compatriot Spencer Cobrin, then wrote music for a few movie soundtracks, including John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus. A self-titled solo debut emerged in 2008. “Sinking” is from Mitchell’s third album, Gallantry’s Favorite Son, which was released in March on Riot Bear Records.

Free and legal MP3: British Sea Power (crooning while the world burns)

“Living Is So Easy” is a splendid example of the band’s softer aspect—a confident glider, its muted electro effects and partially mechanized percussion quickly fading into ornamentation thanks to the seductive velvet of the melody, as delivered by Bowiesque lead singer Yan Scott Wilkinson (no longer just Yan, as previously).

Living Is So Easy

“Living Is So Easy” – British Sea Power

For a melodramatic, high-concept, quasi-camp, neo-post-punk band, British Sea Power has managed to develop its tamer, subtler side over the years without however abandoning its crunchier, more angular output. It’s as if Roxy Music recorded “More Than This” on the same album as “Virginia Plain.”

“Living Is So Easy” is a splendid example of the band’s softer aspect—a confident glider, its muted electro effects and partially mechanized percussion quickly fading into ornamentation thanks to the seductive velvet of the melody, as delivered by Bowiesque lead singer Yan Scott Wilkinson (no longer just Yan, as previously). Muted volume does not require muted sentiment, however; Wilkinson may croon voluptuously about the party everyone is going to, but he is taking down the partiers along the way, skewering the hollow victory of shallow consumerism via the repeated image of everyone going to this unnamed party—which is really just life in our celebrity-addled world—and how “easy” everything is. By the end I think we understand that maybe “easy” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; maybe “easy” isn’t the sole value to which we should be aspiring.

Once a quartet, BSP today features six members, including, now, a woman (Abi Fry, who plays viola and sings harmonies). The band has eased up on some of its posturey quirkiness (they’re not in WWI military uniforms in their press photos anymore, and they’ve ditched their one-name names), but the musical power and poise remain, 10 years on. “Living Is So Easy” is a song from the band’s forthcoming album, Valhalla Dancehall, arriving next month on Rough Trade Records. MP3 via Rough Trade. The album is BSP’s fifth full-length release; the band has been featured previously on Fingertips in 2003 and 2005.