Free and legal MP3: Port O’Brien (instantly likable but still slightly unusual)

“Sour Milk/Salt Water” – Port O’Brien

Strummy, lyrically insistent verses, with double-tracked vocals, alternate with a plaintive chorus, lyrics now moving at half the pace of the music, vocals still double-tracked but now in an almost Neil Young-like upper register. And while the whole thing is pretty simple sounding at one level it’s mysteriously compelling at another–both instantly likable and slightly unusual.

Or maybe it’s not so mysterious, just well-crafted. Even as the lyrics topple out in the mode of a one-note harangue (a la “Subterranean Homesick Blues”), the music actually shifts between two notes, one-half step apart–it starts on a B, goes up to C, then back to B. Check it out and try to focus on how the underlying chords, which go back and forth from major to minor, shift each time just ahead of when the note itself changes. The end result is a wonderful sort of musical sleight of hand, delivering at once the intensity of a one-note verse and the involvement of a melody. The effect is enhanced by the way the song takes advantage of how aurally distinct two chords can be that are built around notes separated by just a half step.

Port O’Brien is a quintet from northern California with roots in Alaska as well–founders Van Pierszalowski and Cambria Goodwin spend summers on Kodiak Island, Pierszalowski working on a commercial fishing boat with his father, Goodwin as the town baker. Suddenly the title of the song makes a bit more sense, eh? “Sour Milk/Salt Water” will be found on the album Threadbare, the band’s second full-length, due out in October on TBD Records. MP3 via City Slang, a Berlin-based label that releases a lot of American indie rock in Europe. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.