Free and legal MP3: AM & Shawn Lee (sublime summertime groove)

“The instruments are played, the vocals are sung, and the songs are written.”

AM & Shawn Lee

“All the Love” – AM & Shawn Lee

Too early to nominate the Song of the Summer? Probably. But this one should stay in consideration, not only for its slinky, slidy beat, which patrols the razor’s edge between funk and disco, but for its honest, dare I say organic soundscape. These guys may construct songs while thousands of miles apart—AM is a singer/songwriter in Los Angeles, Shawn Lee a London-based multi-instrumentalist and producer—but they’re building from genuine components; as their press material puts it: “The instruments are played, the vocals are sung, and the songs are written.” It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.

The physical nature of the construction gives “All the Love” a resplendence difficult to generate digitally. Unlike our ubiquitous 21st-century beats, this is first and foremost a bass-and-guitar-driven groove. And listen to how spare and disciplined the guitar riffs are! Lesson number one: when the song is written, the players don’t have to show off, they just have to show up. Listen too to the instrumental break beginning at 2:15: you can hear the space between the bass and the drums and how the retro, space-agey synthesizer squiggles vertically down through it. And let’s not overlook what is almost always overlooked in any kind of funked-up setting: the melodies, which here are wonderfully concise and well-conceived—the verse with its carefully considered intervals, the chorus with its chugging, uphill, double-time hook.

“All the Love” is from the album La Musique Numérique, released in May on Park The Van Records. This one follows the duo’s 2011 debut Celestial Electric. Download above or via SoundCloud, which allows you to comment directly to the band, and spares me a bit of bandwidth in the process.

Free and legal MP3: The Grenadines

Sultry groove, and then some

The Grenadines

“Shake” – The Grenadines

This is one of the first songs I’ve heard urging us to “shake” that strikes me as actually sexy. We begin with an itchy disco riff that might be a cliche except that this is really not a disco tune at all when you pay closer attention. There’s a thoroughgoing blurriness at work here–disco but not disco, indie but not indie, retro but not retro–and this, to me, is the achievement and the allure. It’s an expert blend, not a single malt. What comes through most of all, beyond questions of labels and genres, is the unifying force of music being created through the palpable efforts of human beings in physical space. There is no trace of electronics or loops or anything that creates sound without physical movement–and not that there’s anything wrong with all that under many different circumstances. But here you can feel the movement that music, an ancient force, is founded upon: vibrating vocal cords (and not one but two vocalists), fingers on strings, sticks and mallets on drum skins. Shake, indeed.

And it’s done with such a sultry touch, at once as casual as a glance in a bar and as purposeful as the instinctive movement the leads here are singing about. Husband and wife Michael and Lauren Shackelford bring something arresting to the alternating boy-girl vocal thing, he with his nasally charm, she with the lower, breathier magnetism. Listen in particular to how the last verse is presented, as the singers still alternate the lead while now singing together–until the last, repeated line, when each claims, alone: “I found your weakness.” Ooh, baby. Anyone who found a lot to like in Rilo Kiley’s unfairly maligned Under the Blacklight album will likely connect to this without hesitation. The rest of you should listen, too.

The Grenadines are based in Birmingham, Alabama, and in addition to the Shackelfords employ the very capable David Swatzell on guitar and the equally praiseworthy Jesse Phillips on bass. “Shake” is the lead song on a special 7-inch vinyl release, from Birmingham-based Communicating Vessels, one of a series featuring so-called “secret songwriters from the Southeast.” Rightfully, the Grenadines may not need to be such a secret moving forward.