Free and legal MP3: The Argument (mysteriously appealing organic electronica)

“Goodbye” – The Argument

A mysteriously appealing and almost mystically engaging piece of organic electronica. With a brisk, manufactured beat and circular melody, “Goodbye” unfolds in a lyrical haze, the song’s narrator offering a series of deadpan observations in a voice at once wavery and steadfast. Through a precise combination of concrete imagery and vague scenarios, the words themselves beckon to the unconscious, leaving the conscious mind lost in the song’s upward-climbing, downward-resolving tune.

A hint of how this works comes in the second verse: “And lights will start to fade/A car goes by and a window breaks/And scatters thoughts across the floor/They’re keeping me awake/They’re keeping me awake.” The window breaks, causing thoughts to scatter across the floor: the line between the external and the internal is blurred to the point of nonrationality. Note also the blurred aural line between acoustic and electric, and how the song, churning along with a homemade sort of charm, overlays clear musical resolution with lyrical elusiveness. And while I don’t usually connect to songs with long, noodly outros, the spacey but poignant last 80 seconds or so seems perfectly designed to help a listener integrate what he or she has just absorbed.

The Argument is a duo from Sweden, about which not much information is available; their names are Marcus and Niklas and that’s about all I can tell you. “Goodbye” is from their new self-released CD, Everything Depends, their second effort. The MP3 link above is not direct; you’ll have to click the words “Download Track” once you get to the page. The entire album is in fact available as a free and legal download, and is worth checking out.

Free and legal MP3:Bishop Allen (jaunty, curious, and likable)

“The Ancient Commonsense of Things” – Bishop Allen

The Brooklyn-based duo Bishop Allen is one of the most likable bands in the kooky and sometimes unlikable world of indie rock. They are, indeed, likable at every level of activity, from the general vibe of their songs to the individual musical components employed to, even, the band’s sense of graphic design and their collective prose voice.

“The Ancient Commonsense of Things”: even a likable song title, yes? Makes you kind of relax, stop Twittering for a minute and just breathe. We were human beings before we chained ourselves to one sort of keyboard or another. As the lyrics offer the merest of sketches, the music quickly envelops you with its at once cheerful and intimate presence–it’s a soft song that sounds loud, a fast song that feels easy-going. Bright and lively percussion drive the piece–mostly sticks and clicks and xylophone–while the minimalist lyrics compare time-tested objects (a hammer, a clothespin, a cork) to the power of a soul mate. And it works, in part because of singer Justin Rice’s quizzical voice, which does both plain-spoken and buoyant equally well. The song might have benefited from one more verse, but Rice’s repetition of the titular phrase is so simultaneously jaunty and curious that I’m kind of digging the “less is more” approach. And whether that’s a bass solo or a guitar solo there at 1:40, I like its plucked sparseness–just these particular notes, in this particular order, over that clicky-clacky-chuggy-chimey background.

While Rice and Christian Rudder, who met at Harvard, are the two-man core of the group, Bishop Allen performs with other musicians, who are at least informally band members while the recording and touring goes on (a current video shows a band of five, in fact). “The Ancient Commonsense of Things” can be found on Grrr…, the band’s new CD, being released this week on Dead Oceans. MP3 via the band’s site.

Free and legal MP3: Joker’s Daughter (pastoral folk pop, via the Twilight Zone)

“Worm’s Head” – Joker’s Daughter

If Gnarls Barkley can refer to themselves as the “odd couple” (as per their 2008 album), then what to make of this pairing of Helena Costas, a London-born singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist of Greek Cypriot extraction, and Danger Mouse (himself half of Gnarls Barkley)? A really really odd couple?

And what to make of this odd-couply music, part pastoral airiness, part Twilight Zoney strangeness? There are uncanny lyrics—“The horses turn into cows/And sheep lie on the edge of the road”—and an off-kilter heaviness to a beat that kind of wants to be lilting but isn’t, really. There are warm acoustic instruments and wayward keyboards and electronic effects that sound like a combination of a theremin and an old-fashioned radio dial trying to tune in a station. Through it all, Costas—a classically trained violinist, among other things—sings with an unperturbed, slightly breathy sweetness, almost as if no one has told her exactly what she’s singing about. Not that I have any idea either. And how short this is! Just when you’re ready to sink into the mystery of it all, it’s over. Rendering it all the more mysterious, I suppose.

“Worm’s Head” came out as a digital single in November, a 7-inch vinyl record in December, and will be on the debut Joker’s Daughter album, The Last Laugh, when it comes out in February, on Team Love Records. MP3 via Team Love.

Free and legal MP3: The Rosebuds (ominous groove, easy-going melody)

“Life Like” – the Rosebuds

The Rosebuds, a Raleigh-based duo, are an elusive band, rather willfully avoiding a defining sound over the course of three CDs released between 2003 and 2007 (they were a trio until last year). As such, I’ve managed neither to get a strong grip on them musically nor to latch onto one particular song to feature. Until now.

With an insistent, somewhat ominous groove and easy-going melody, “Life Like” has plenty to recommend it. Such as, for instance, that very juxtaposition: ominous groove and easy-going melody. When pop music succeeds, it often does so through this type of aural paradox, the combining of contradictory elements into a cohesive whole. (A pop song by definition doesn’t have a lot of time to work with, so if it’s shooting for depth, it has to work with layers within the time frame.) You may not know why a song is sticking, why it’s affecting you, and many times it’s because of this sort of maneuver. With the Rosebuds, the vocal pairing of Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp is a sort of mirror of the effect: two very different vocal vibes, blending, alternating, and weaving in and around each other. Their work as dual lead vocalists has in fact been the one consistent element to the band’s music and it works glowingly well here; I love how Crisp keeps herself at a distance in the verses, harmonizing around the edges, but injects herself into the center of the mix in the chorus.

“Life Like” is the title track to the Rosebuds’ fourth CD, which is scheduled for release next month on Merge Records. MP3 via Merge.

Free and legal MP3:The Last Town Chorus (idiosyncratic, dreamy lap steel pop)

“Loud and Clear” – the Last Town Chorus

And this, oddly enough, is the second song called “Loud and Clear” now featured on Fingertips (the first being one from the duo Pink and Noseworthy), for those keeping score at home. This “Loud and Clear” is particularly well-named, because Megan Hickey, who plays lap steel guitar and sings, has a sweet, clear-toned voice and a round, indelible sound, as she plays her instrument using effect pedals not typically employed, creating both dreamy textures and memorable lead lines in the process. This is not your Grand Ole Opry lap steel. Hickey has an instinctive feel for just how much to glide and bend her notes, avoiding country cliches while invigorating the song with inventive shapes and sounds.

Although originally a duo, the Last Town Chorus has since 2004 been the Brooklyn-based Hickey playing with a changing ensemble of musicians. “Loud and Clear” is a single from an as-yet untitled CD, to be released at some as-yet unspecified date by Hacktone Records. MP3 via Hacktone.