Free and legal MP3: Meshell Ndegeocello (genre-crossing minimalism, w/ conviction)

A steely conviction running through the center of this rhythmic, genre-crossing song.

Meshell Ndegeocello

“Dirty World” – Meshell Ndegeocello

After 16 seconds of indistinct, ambient background noise, we get a bass line, and a funky snaky ear-grabbing bass line it is. This is Meshell Ndegeocello; she plays bass; and this is how she plays. She had me at hello.

Listen to the mincemeat she makes of the 4/4 time signature, without ever actually leaving it. How could someone conceive of this particular rhythm, never mind add an edgy drumbeat to it, never mind write a song around it? Surely she is not singing while she’s playing here, though I guess you never know. Her smooth round voice floats, unhurried, over the knotty instrumentation of the verse, with a breathy loveliness that belies the venom of the lyrics. With the chorus, everything changes: the beat normalizes, her voice acquires first a plaintive sting and, at the end, as a kicker, plunges into a gruff lower register. As the title suggests, she isn’t singing about rainbows and flowers. There’s a steely conviction running through the center of this song.

Look, too, at how she accomplishes so much with so little. Much of the song is just bass and drums and voice. Guitar and keyboard are not an assumed part of the proceedings but are added only when deemed necessary. The chorus is not much more than the two words, “dirty world,” repeated; the substance comes from the rhythm—specifically, the subtle but definitive shift in emphasis from stressing only the word “world,” the first three times, to additionally stressing the first syllable of “dirty” the fourth time around.

Genre-crossing minimalism has been Ndegeocello’s trademark since Plantation Lullabies, her 1993 debut. “Dirty World” is a track from Weather, her ninth album, due in November on Naïve Records.

Free & legal MP3: The Minor Leagues (briskly-rendered nostalgia)

With a melodic bass line, atmospheric piano refrain, and well-placed, chimed accents, “Ghost Maps” sweeps us without resistance into its briskly-rendered nostalgia before a word is even uttered.

The Minor Leagues

“Ghost Maps” – The Minor Leagues

With a melodic bass line, atmospheric piano refrain, and well-placed, chimed accents, “Ghost Maps” sweeps us without resistance into its briskly-rendered nostalgia before a word is even uttered. Once the singing starts, Ben Walpole, with his soft-spoken, Stuart Murdoch-y croon, manages the keen trick of being both front man and band member, his voice finding its central but not over-bearing place among the guitars and chimes and female harmonies and indistinct wash of background sound, all coursing along at a near-breathless pace. On the one hand this does make the lyrics somewhat harder to discern, but on the other hand, it renders the often wistful phrases that come to the foreground all the more redolent. The whole thing feels like someone rifling through a photo album too quickly to see anything but a Kodachromatic blur of oranges and yellows at once bleached and vibrant.

“Ghost Maps” is one of two singles the band has released in advance of its next album—you can download this one here, or both of them together via a .zip file on the band’s site. The album is to be entitled North College Hill and is slated for a release some time this fall on Datawaslost Records. It’s the Cincinnati-based septet’s sixth full-length album and their first since 2009’s This Story Is Old, I Know, But It Goes On. The band has been featured on Fingertips both in 2009 and in 2006. MP3 via Datawaslost.

Free and legal MP3:The King Left (sharp, rumbling, semi-dissonant rocker)

“The Way to Canaan” – The King Left

Okay so noise is one thing. When you come right down to it, it’s easy to make noise. Never understood what the fuss was about from the rock’n’roll primitivists who glorify sheer volume. I mean, okay–turn the bloody amps up and boom. It’s noisy. Like, wow.

“The Way to Canaan” – The King Left

Okay so noise is one thing. When you come right down to it, it’s easy to make noise. Never understood what the fuss was about from the rock’n’roll primitivists who glorify sheer volume. I mean, okay–turn the bloody amps up and boom. It’s noisy. Like, wow.

Start combining noise with discipline and you begin to get my attention. Start understanding music enough to create different kinds of noise, not all of which are simply loud, and now you’ve really got something going. The King Left certainly does, playing continually along the edge of dissonance in this sharp, rumbling rocker. From the outset, we get no settled sense of tonic, a base chord to call home; instead we get slashing, clanging guitars and–key to keeping things unsettled–a dynamic bass line, running up and down and all around. The sound is at once harsh and tight. And listen to where the music goes when the lyrical line ends, at 0:27, and again at 0:40–we’re left not only without resolution but bopping itchily in a clashing key, with that bass guitar refusing to ground us in a stable place. The chorus at long last delivers an anthemic release, but–there’s a catch–buries it under a searing lead guitar, while Corey Oliver, even as he all but shouts, delivers his vocals as if now down in the basement. Nothing is easy but the hand-hold here is that it’s all very precise. Knowing you’re in good hands relaxes the ear, I think.

The band’s MySpace page lists Radiohead, The Beatles, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Nirvana, and R.E.M. as its first five influences and damned if “The Way to Canaan” isn’t some kind of crazy-brilliant amalgam of all five. The song is from the New York City quartet’s first full-length album–which is unfortunately also their last. They played their final show last week and are now no more. MP3 via the band’s site. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.