Free and legal MP3: Loma

Steady and dramatic

“Half Silences” – Loma

Loma is a band that seems to enjoy giving us space as much as sound. Don’t let the pulse-like beat that you’re first hearing distract you from the song’s more idiosyncratic attributes. Listen, for instance, to how the beat is soon neutralized by a synthesizer rhythm that slows the effective pace of the song by a factor of eight. And it’s kind of a stuttering, science-fiction-y synthesizer sound at that. Creating space, as it were.

When singer Emily Cross checks in, at 0:31, she delivers a long and careful melody line, half-time to the underlying pulse, which further works to draw the ear to the alluring expanse in which the piece unfolds. The aforementioned synth accents seem slowly to be morphing into wordless vocals by around 0:55; and by 1:16 this background vocalizing, nearly medieval in vibe, becomes the song’s signature accompaniment. Cross, meanwhile, holds the center with her unhurried, slightly smoky mezzo. I love how much drama the song creates without Cross herself having to do anything dramatic–the tension of the beat, the solemnity of the vibe, and a variety of subtle musical flourishes do the work for her. It seems a corollary of Charlie Chaplin’s famous (and effective) acting advice: if the thing you’re doing is funny, you don’t need to try to “act funny” while you’re doing it; here, the song itself is dramatic, and so Cross doesn’t need to sing dramatically to serve the music. Perhaps more singers should figure this out.

Loma is the trio of Cross, Jonathan Meiburg (front man of the band Shearwater), and Dan Duszynski.  Cross and Duszynski had been a duo together, opening for Shearwater; Meiburg was taken with their sound and attracted to the idea of relinquishing the spotlight for a while. They got together for what was to be a one-off project, resulting in a self-titled 2018 album. A second album was not in the original plan, but the three of them found themselves drawn back together, perhaps partially due to some supportive words on BBC Radio 6 from none other than Brian Eno that made their way back to the band.

“Half Silences” is the third track of 11 on Loma’s second LP, Don’t Shy Away, which was released on Sub Pop Records back in October. (Note that Eno was eventually invited to contribute to the album; he is credited with “additional synths and drum programming” on the album’s closing song, “Homing.”) The band was previously featured on Fingertips in March 2018, around the time of their debut. MP3 via KEXP. You can listen to the whole album, and buy it, via Bandcamp.

Free and legal MP3: Baula (potent Scandinavian rock’n’roll)

Echoes of ’60s spy-movie music are just a part of the charm, and are woven into something that feels different and organic.

Baula

“Nova” – Baula

“Nova” grows in potency with repeated listens. Sly echoes of ’60s spy-movie music are just a part of the charm, and are woven into something that feels at once innovative and organic. This is music to sink into, music to remind us that the world remains a beautiful place, even when you find yourself living in a country with leaders who are fucked up beyond all repair, and where innocent people pay the dreadful price, over and over.

I digress. Listen to Karolina Thunberg’s sweet, clear-throated voice, with its understated vibrato, and then listen to how snugly Ísak Ásgeirsson’s blends in. Listen to the lonely, resonant guitar tones, redolent of empty spaces and purple skies. Listen to the evocative drumming, with its preference for rumbling over crashing. This is marvelous new music, from beginning to end, using an aural palette that evokes classic rock without sounding tired or derivative in any way. One of my favorite moments, small but impactful, is the guitar line in the middle of the chorus (first heard at 1:01-1:03), tracing a nifty chord progression without showing off. And this moment comes directly on the heels of another favorite moment, which is the way Thunberg has lyrics that repeat themselves (“In the end, no one will know”: beginning at 0:54), via musical notes that repeat themselves, but she alters the phrasing the second time through, pausing this time on the word “end.” It’s a soft change, but a suggestive one.

And can I say that among the smaller but still important reasons to love and admire the Scandinavian countries is their commitment to rock’n’roll as an ongoing, vibrant, multi-faceted genre. As corporate America continues to foster a marketplace that squashes heart and expression in favor of fad and compression, I for one heartily support cultures that recognize that humanity comprises far more than commercial concerns.

Based in Gothenburg, Sweden, the half-Swedish, half-Icelandic duo Baula formed in 2015. This is their third single; I look forward to more. Check out their stuff on SoundCloud. Thanks to the band for the MP3.


photo credit: Greta Maria Asgeirsdottir

Free and legal MP3: Auditorium (dramatic vocal layers, acoustic setting)

As off-kilter as you might imagine a song entitled “My Grandfather Could Make the World Dance” would be. Also, bold and captivating.

Auditorium

“My Grandfather Could Make the World Dance” – Auditorium

The 2015 indie music scene is full of creative types who come from all sorts of idiosyncratic backgrounds. Even among his heterogeneous cohorts, however, Spencer Berger stands out for his unusual back story: from the ages of nine through 12, he was an opera singer, performing at the Metropolitan Opera with the likes of Luciano Pavarotti. And while you might not immediately guess “child opera singer” when “My Grandfather Could Make the World Dance” starts up, I’m pretty sure you can see that something muscular and expansive is going on here vocally, both in terms of Berger’s singular tone and his penchant for dramatic layering.

And so it turns out that this is as off-kilter as you might imagine a song entitled “My Grandfather Could Make the World Dance” would be; likewise is it bold and captivating. Berger’s penchant for stagy vocalizing is all the more convincing for its being matched, against expectation, with the simplest of accompaniments—acoustic guitars, a touch of piano, and a small helping of percussion is all that’s going on here, instrumentally. Musically, the song is dominated by descending melody lines, punctuated by intermittent yelping leaps; the overall effect is a kind of optimistic melancholy that helps give the whole thing the feel of a lonely suburban afternoon in 1972. I can’t pinpoint why but to me this seems quite clear.

Based in Los Angeles, Spencer Berger has been recording music as Auditorium since 2011, when his debut album, Be Brave, was released. (You can check that one out via Bandcamp.) “My Grandfather Could Make the World Dance” is a single released earlier this month. Thanks to Insomnia Radio for the link.

Free and legal MP3: Johnny Delaware (Boss-like bravura meets New Romantic ardor)

“Primitive Style” arrives to us fully grown, independent of time and place; it seems not to have been written at all—it just is.

Johnny Delaware

“Primitive Style” – Johnny Delaware

“Primitive Style” arrives to us fully grown, independent of time and place; it seems not to have been written at all—it just is. Lacking the semblance of novelty that tends to entice the hive mind, “Primitive Style” will likely attract no particular blog buzz but is in fact a deeply satisfying rock’n’roll song, a wondrous commingling of Springsteen-esque bravado and New Romantic ardor, complete with engaging dynamic shifts, well-placed suspended chords, and a killer chorus.

Tying it all together is Delaware himself, whose voice all but croons, successfully, in the softer verses while opening comfortably into full-fledged rocker mode during the chorus. He sounds like someone with something to say, which in rock’n’roll is really more than half the battle. And pay attention if you would to the deft switch to 6/4 in the fifth measure of the chorus (heard for the first time in and around 1:04, on the word “primitive”). The best songs, to my ear, find some way to tweak the relative simplicity of the pop music form, and in so doing aim for the possibility of depth and resonance while remaining accessible to the ear.

Delaware (his real name? seems unlikely) was born in South Dakota and spent time in Nashville, Albuquerque, and Austin before landing in Charleston to partner with producer Wolfgang Zimmerman (himself last heard around these parts as part of the awesome band Brave Baby, featured in December 2012). “Primitive Style” is from Delaware’s debut album, Secret Wave, set for official release in October—but you can already listen to it in full on Bandcamp.