Free and legal MP3: Bachelor

Exhilarating ’90s rock update

“Stay in the Car” – Bachelor

A concise, exhilarating update of Breeders-like ’90s rock, “Stay in the Car” revs up with no intro; two chunky guitar strokes and we’re right in it. At which point three compelling things happen simultaneously: idiosyncratic lyrics about a fascinating woman watched from afar; irresistible same-note-harmony vocals from Bachelor’s two bandmates, Ellen Kempner and Melina Duterte; and a sinuous, descending verse melody that feels at once inevitable and surprising.

While the first verse rocks with a spare thumpiness, unleashed guitars provide a drony wall of sound for the chorus, and then continue to make their clamorous presence known in the second verse (but only, it should be noted, after a 12-second bass solo). I especially love the atonal stabs we hear at, say, 1:00 and 1:16. And yet: the third verse gets an acoustic guitar accompaniment, and it too sounds exactly right.

Most of all this song shows how a smart and effective song can be built on the foundation of not very much. In real life one day, Kempner saw an eye-catching woman, dressed in red, with wild hair, emerging from a car in a parking lot, yelling back to the man behind the wheel to find out what he wanted in the store: this became the song. And then, via rock’n’roll’s mysterious alchemy, a potentially mundane and impersonal encounter turns deep and indelible. “She said, ‘Stay in the car and I’ll grab what you want”: the lyric becomes the chorus–becomes, repeated, with that protracted “Ohhhh,” slyly majestic, a thing you can imagine transforming into some sort of cultural touchstone. And not that it will, but that it feels in the moment of listening exactly that powerful. In any case, “Stay in the Car” seems to get better and better the more I listen to it.

Kempner and Duterte were each previously known as separate artists with their own projects, Kempner at the front of the band Palehound, Duterte performing as Jay Som. You’ll find “Stay in the Car” on Bachelor’s debut album, Doomin’ Sun, which was released at the end of May on Polyvinyl Records. Listen to it over on Bandcamp, where you can also buy it as a vinyl record, a CD, a cassette, or the digital album. MP3 via KEXP.

Free and legal MP3: Allen LeRoy Hug

Charming, distinctive acoustic duo

“Saturnine Boy” – Allen LeRoy Hug

Sturdy and delicate at the same time, “Saturnine Boy” is a brief, distinctive song from the one-year-old LA-based duo of Tennessee Kamanski and Sarah De La Isla, doing musical business as Allen LeRoy Hug. They self-identify as a mixture of “Big Star, The Everly Brothers, Cocteau Twins, Fionn Regan and Kate Bush,” and I don’t know about you but that grabs my attention forthwith.

And I am in fact delighted by this song while being mysteriously unable to delineate any concrete reason. The duo’s voices vibrate charmingly together; acoustic guitars gambol lightly along an idiosyncratic path; the chorus is a particular enigma, comprised of one laconic lyric (“Saturnine boy things haven’t gone right”) set to an upwardly unfolding melody marked by idiosyncratic intervals. The song is sung by a narrator who appears to have fallen for someone who may not be all that outwardly lovable (“saturnine” = “gloomy and sluggish”) but has still captured her heart. I say “appears” because the lyrics are elusive and/or allusive, in quite a pleasurable way; I mean, what else can you do with a line like “Your eyes heavy luggage I carry” but love it to pieces, especially for Kamanski’s appealing phrasing (listen to how she manages nearly to rhyme “carry” with “heavy” in a most winsome way).

Allen LeRoy Hug have released just two singles to date. You can listen to both of them, and purchase them, over there at good old Bandcamp. This is apparently just the beginning: Kamanski tells me that she and De La Isla wrote and recorded “a ton of songs” throughout the lockdown, which they will be releasing as singles over the coming months. Thanks to the band for the MP3.

Free and legal MP3: The Antlers

Lovely bittersweet chamber pop

“Solstice” – The Antlers

Here’s another indie-rock darling reemerging after a hiatus. In this case, the Antlers were a group that had truly hit the big-time–glowing reviews, two appearances on The Tonight Show, etc.–and yet decided to put the enterprise on ice for quite a while.

While operating generally within their familiar soundscape–a reverby, unhurried package of tender vocals, acoustic orchestrations, and electric atmospherics–the Antlers are here in 2021 with perhaps a less angst-driven sound. “I think this is the first album I’ve made that has no eeriness in it,” front man Peter Silberman has said, of the new record, Green to Gold. No eeriness, and maybe a gentler tone overall, but there remains an underlying aura of bittersweet tension that seems all but inherent to Silberman’s wavering tenor. Even a song as pure and lovely as “Solstice” doesn’t deliver an unalloyed feeling of contentment as much as the sense of a slightly apprehensive respite and/or a determination to keep the spirits up in the face of life’s inevitable travails.

But pure and lovely this surely is: Silberman delivers a deeply gratifying verse melody, that fragile voice of his navigating strong upward and downward intervals, the melody in the process exploring the breadth of the octave–an often effective songwriting maneuver. The accompaniment here is provided by deftly arranged stringed instruments and bolstered by a digital wash blurring backing vocals into white noise. The song is little more than the bewitching verse melody and a chorus comprised of wordless vocals and the two-word lyric “Keeping bright bright bright.” And yet even this super simple chorus feels rich with craft and intention, with strings providing both rhythm and texture. A beautiful effort from beginning to end.

“Solstice” is the third track of 10 on Green to Gold, which was released in March on Anti- Records. This is the first Antlers album since 2014’s Familiars. The Antlers were previously featured on Fingertips in 2009, when the Silberman solo project first became a genuine band. MP3 via KEXP.

Free and legal MP3: Flo Perlin and Pilgrims’ Dream

Lovely, deep, timeless

“Life Lives Inside” – Flo Perlin and Pilgrims’ Dream

Lovely and solemn, “Life Lives Inside” is a hymn-like waltz that seems to flow from the depths of that timeless, intuitive place from which the great songs emerge. The melody has the majestic clarity of ages-old folk music, while the easy-going setting is scrupulously presented, but in a way that seems offhand and unfettered–just two people singing, with instruments so casually calibrated as to seem all but undetectable.

With a two-line verse that repeats only once, sung by Perlin alone, “Life Lives Inside” is almost all chorus. And a terrific chorus it is, with two expressive parts, presented in same-note male-female harmonies, Rob Ouseley buzzing low below Perlin’s affecting lead. The swaying rhythm conjures the song’s ocean-bound setting; the finely crafted lyrics hide and convey in equal measure, the words important as sounds as much as message. To my ears, as an example, the power of the couplet “We gave what we could/We couldn’t give more” is as dependent upon the pattern of its carefully repeated words as its poignant sentiment.

“Life Lives Inside,” for all its apparent simplicity, rewards many listens. As you travel through the song again you’ll notice a number of wonderful moments, such as Perlin’s evocative uplift on the word “eye” (0:39), and the wonderful hesitation she builds into the phrase “like nothing I’d heard” (1:46). The quiet instrumentation alone is worth an attentive ear, including the steady muted keyboard underscoring the chorus, with its occasional quiet run of right-hand countermelody, and the gorgeously curated percussion, involving nothing that sounds like a drum kit but rather a well-placed assortment of knocks, snaps, and claps.

Flo Perlin is a London-based singer/songwriter; Pilgrims’ Dream is the performing name employed by singer/songwriter/producer Ouseley, likewise in London. The two met at an open mic five years ago; they wrote and recorded “Life Lives Inside” in Perlin’s living room. The song was released earlier this month and appears to be their only collaboration to date. I for one would eagerly hear more from them.

Free and legal MP3: Wye Oak (gliding, gratifying rocker)

“Fear of Heights” – Wye Oak

A long-standing Fingertips favorite, the duo Wye Oak continues to produce music that feels effortless and compelling. Despite my general familiarity with their history, each new recording of theirs manages to hit my ears in unexpected ways. “Oh,” I end up saying to myself, “that’s what they sound like this time.”

The ongoing constant is Jenn Wasner’s voice—smoky, yearning, articulate, unyielding. We begin in a sparse setting, devoid of time signature, just Wasner and a few piano chords. This is striking as an opening salvo—not a standard introduction, it is in fact the song’s first verse, waded rather than plunged into. We end up in the middle of the first verse without quite realizing how we got there—perhaps an apt mirror of how someone afraid of heights has to trick herself into making the upward journey.

As the song develops lyrically, the ostensible subject transforms into a metaphor about the difficulties and rewards of a long-term relationship. The idea of being afraid of heights is, I think, easier to grasp and/or acknowledge as a physical concept than as an emotional one; as such, linking the two informs both sides of the challenge.

A potentially weighty concept? Maybe. And yet handily presented at a pop-perfection length of 3:34, gliding forth with a gratifying momentum that feels at once circular and syncopated. Building off its piano-based opening, the song juxtaposes verses with musical space between lyrics against a declarative chorus, offering one thought: “You say it’s worth it for the view.”  Wasner’s self-harmonies add gorgeous texture. A bridge section intervenes with a cascade of phrases pivoting around the recurring sentence “I am a woman.” It is mysterious and powerful. To top it off we get a Bowie-like saxophone (or sax sound, in any case) playing the song out from 3:00 onward.

Wye Oak has lately been releasing singles in lieu of albums. “Fear of Heights” came out in January, more recently available, via KEXP, as a free and legal MP3. Their latest single is “Walk Soft,” available via Bandcamp. This is the band’s fifth feature on Fingertips, dating back to 2008.

Free and legal MP3: The Milk Carton Kids (lullaby-like loveliness)

A balm to the jangled-nerve world of 2020, “The Only Ones” is two guitars and two voices, all four elements interlacing with masterful ease.

“The Only Ones” – The Milk Carton Kids

A balm to the jangled-nerve world of 2020, “The Only Ones” is two guitars and two voices, all four elements interlacing with masterful ease. The end result is a song at once gentle and sturdy, with a lullaby-like loveliness that helps nudge the lyrics over the edge from despair into something closer to hope. Weirdly enough, I’m hearing an almost Springsteen-esque conviction at the center of this un-Springsteen-like composition, something maybe in the mettle of the chorus’s descending melody, and its ambiguous but stirring lyrics.

The Milk Carton Kids are the duo of Joey Ryan (the tall one) and Kenneth Pattengale (the shorter one). Known for their impressive guitar skills, consummate harmonizing, and amusing stage banter, the Kids have, since 2011, been almost single-handedly in charge of keeping the time-honored “singing duo” concept alive in our 21st-century musical awareness. Written accounts of the Kids turn inevitably to talk of Simon & Garfunkel and the Everly Brothers, both of which have no doubt influenced these guys. But to me, the back-in-the-day musicians the Milk Carton Kids evoke far more directly is the duo Aztec Two-Step, who featured not only the gorgeous harmonizing but, crucially, the interplay of twin acoustic guitars, including some virtuosic finger-picking.

If you by the way have some time on your hands you could do much worse than to watch the Milk Carton Kids concert DVD, “Live from Lincoln Theatre,” which is streaming on YouTube. Pattengale’s facility as a lead guitarist is all but miraculous, and is almost as much of a visual treat as an aural one.

“The Only Ones” is the title track to the most recent Milk Carton Kids recording, an EP released this past October. MP3 via The Current.

(MP3s from the Minneapolis public radio station The Current are available in files that are 128kbps, which is below the established 192kbps standard, not to mention the higher-def standard of 320kbps. I personally don’t hear much difference on ordinary equipment but if you are into high-end sound you’ll probably notice something. In any case I always encourage you to download the MP3 for the purposes of getting to know a song via a few listens; if you like it I as always urge you to buy the music. It’s still, and always, the right thing to do.)

Free and legal MP3: Pure Bathing Culture (glistening indie rock w/ notable guitar work)

“All Night” – Pure Bathing Culture

I’ve got one more artist with a Fingertips track record for you this month, as the Portland duo Pure Bathing Culture returns with another glistening piece of indie rock, this their third feature here, dating back to 2012. Whereas in previous incarnations the duo presented their guitar-based material wrapped in a cloud of hazy electronics and constructed beats, they are now embracing their inner Fleetwood Mac and going all in on sprightly riffing and buoyant melodies. (Seeing them in person definitely adds to the Buckingham-Nicks vibe, Sara Versprille white-gowned and witchy up front, Daniel Hindman working guitar magic under a balding, curly-haired pate.)

“All Night” is as upbeat as these guys get; the song’s momentum receives an added push thanks to its persistently on-the-beat melody—in the verse in particular, there are a limited number of quarter or eighth notes, and little in the way of syncopation. Over time this lends a subtle breathlessness to the proceedings, reinforced by Versprille’s recurring yelp in the chorus at the end of the lyric “Till black in the sky turns blue.”

Most of all the song in particular, and Pure Bathing Culture more generally, presents an ongoing affirmation on the power and purpose of the electric guitar, despite its relegation to the scrap heap of history by 2010s mainstream pop. Sure, Hindman still tucks his licks in and around a glossy bed of bounce and reverb, but if you have any questions about the intensity of his instrumental commitment, even here in 2019, listen closely to the last 60 seconds of this song, where he out-Buckinghams Buckingham and maybe even out-Knopflers Knopfler in the process. Personally, I think he gets faded out a bit too gently and too early but even in those closing seconds you can feel the heat of his playing.

“All Night” is the sixth of 11 tracks on the band’s album Night Pass, their third, which was released in April and produced by Portland crony Tucker Marine. Listen to it and buy it, in your format of choice, via Bandcamp. There’s even a tote bag for you tote bag fans. MP3 once more via The Current.

(Note that MP3s from The Current are available in files that are 128kbps, which is below the iTunes standard of 192kbps, not to mention the higher-def standard of 320kbps. I personally don’t hear much difference on standard-quality equipment but if you are into high-end sound you’ll probably notice something. In any case I always encourage you to download the MP3 for the purposes of getting to know a song via a few listens; if you like it I still urge you to buy the music. It’s the right thing to do.)

Free and legal MP3: Better Oblivion Community Center (jangly, literate, occasionally loud)

A loose-limbed paean to 21st-century chaos.

“Dylan Thomas” – Better Oblivion Community Center

When a song comes along that’s this affable and effective, you can begin to wonder why everyone doesn’t do this. It seems so straightforward!: lay down a jangly, toe-tapping groove, add in a friendly descending melody peopled by tumbly, literate lyrics, performed by same-note, male-female harmonies, and boom—terrific song. Consider the couple of interruptions from rambunctious guitars (for instance, at 1:22) a bonus.

By their own accounts, Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers, who together comprise Better Oblivion Community Center, did in fact find this song pretty easy to write—Oberst has been quoted as calling the song a “happy accident.” It sprung from a discussion of a Reply All episode (they are both big fans of this great podcast) that had to do with the conspiracy theories online that posit, in apparent seriousness, that the current American president is only pretending to be a colossal moron. Oh and the Dylan Thomas connection seems to do with the basic fact that Oberst is himself a long-time admirer of the Irish poet.

I assume fans either of Oberst or of Bridgers individually will dig this but I myself wasn’t either in particular and I dig it too, in a whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts way. Their blended voices in this relatively upbeat setting have a delightful elan that overshadows a draggy melancholy that, to my ears, can beset both of them on their own. Not that there’s anything wrong with draggy melancholy! Sometimes that’s just the thing. But, not a thing on this loose-limbed paean to 21st-century chaos.

“Dylan Thomas” is the third track on the Better Oblivion Community Center’s self-titled debut, released in January. You can stream it as well as buy it (digital, CD, vinyl) via Bandcamp. MP3 via KEXP.

Free and legal MP3: Wye Oak(dreamy and driven)

When Jenn Wasner’s multi-tracked vocals arrive, they wash into the song in full-on School of Seven Bells fashion and, with the ongoing jig of synthesizers, conjure some sort of soaring, hopeful ache that seems to make life both challenging and worth living at the same time.

Wye Oak

“The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs” – Wye Oak

Both dreamy and driven, the title track from the new Wye Oak album chugs to a brisk, intricate-sounding 4/4 beat, propelled by an array of synth lines with enough texture and zest to support the 57-second introduction. (Listen in particular for the pentatonic arpeggios punctuated by percussive stabs and distant twiddles on top.) When Jenn Wasner’s multi-tracked vocals arrive, they wash into the song in full-on School of Seven Bells fashion and, with the ongoing jig of synthesizers, conjure some sort of soaring, hopeful ache that seems to make life both challenging and worth living at the same time.

And okay that’s a lot to put on an indie rock song, or any song for that matter. So let’s get back to the music itself, and specifically the guitar work. Do you even notice it? There in the chorus, that distorted, antic melody underpinning Wasner’s repetition of the titular phrase, that’s her partner Andy Stack on guitar. The sound is charming and inventive as it intertwines with the staccato synths and Wasner’s plain-spoken vocals, producing in its entirety a song that feels very alive, very of the moment. So…can we lay to rest, yet, the streaming-induced hand-wringing about the death of rock? Is getting three million streams the only legitimate goal in musical life? There are smart young musicians out there who find artistic merit in extending the spectrum of rock’n’roll history to include what they’re trying to say and do. Part of separating ourselves from the 21st century’s digital trance involves remembering there is more to music than virality. There’s more to everything than virality.

“The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs” is available as an MP3 via KEXP. The album was just released this past week on Merge Records. Wye Oak has been featured on Fingertips three previous times, dating back to 2008 (see the Artist Index for details).

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.


“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