Free and legal MP3: Firs of Prey (odd but lovable)

Eccentric vocalizing, offbeat song structure, unorthodox instrumentation—“What You Say” has it going on, oddball-wise.

Firs of Prey

“What You Say” – Firs of Prey

Eccentric vocalizing, offbeat song structure, unorthodox instrumentation—“What You Say” has it going on, oddball-wise. Long before the trombones descend (that would be around 1:53), this song has little that might be identifiable as “normal,” little that sounds like a hook, and yet, go figure, it manages to grab the ear quickly and hangs on for dear life. There really is, even after all these years, much more that people might be doing with what is loosely called rock’n’roll than people tend to do.

Of course it’s easy enough simply to be odd. I hear plenty of odd, day to day. To my particular kind of musical preference, oddness, however potentially enticing, is never enough by itself; as a matter of fact, oddness is a special kind of attractive characteristic in that it is inherently not attractive at all. Once committing to being odd, a song has to double back on actual goodness to be worth one’s time as a listener, it seems to me. Andrew Miller, the low-profile mastermind behind Firs of Prey, doubles back and then some. The minimalist soundscape he creates sets the stage—a deep, unadorned tribal drumbeat combining with a wordless vocal melody, layered in wacky harmony is not your everyday intro. New elements are eventually woven in: the aforementioned trombones, delightfully off the beat; a layer of lower-register vocal harmonies; a pulsing, bubbling keyboard down below; and a suddenly appearing electric guitar, speaking with splendid clarity in this otherwise guitar-free zone.

Firs of Prey, based in Portland, has released one EP to date, 2009’s Keep the Lions Asleep. “He is known for doing things like being tall, speaking really loud and hugging people too hard,” Miller says, of himself, on the sparsely informative Firs of Prey site. “He hopes to one day live in a Lighthouse.” Miller is also in the band Datura Blues, which has a marginally better web presence than his solo project. “What You Say” is a song from a compilation album with the fetching title of Well, I Don’t See Why Not Vol. 3, featuring independent musicians from the Northwest. It is indeed the third in a series, all of which have been offered up by Ms. Valerie Park Distro, a self-described “small distributor of independently-created things,” based in Olympia. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead, and thanks to MVPD for permission to host the MP3 here.

Free and legal MP3: CocoRosie(gentle, invigorating, inscrutable exotica)

“Lemonade” – CocoRosie

Ah, CocoRosie: I do not know what planet these two women live on but it is surely a richer and more exotic place than the one the rest of us inhabit. Or maybe it’s just that they inhabit a far greater percentage of this planet than most of us do, being quite the globe-trotting pair of sisters. This new album of theirs alone was recorded in Buenos Aires, Paris, Berlin, New York, and Melbourne. Good thing this was before the volcano.

Fortunately, you do not have to understand what they are trying to do, or why, to find yourself captivated by this gentle but invigorating song. A soothing, chime-filled opening measures leads to a lovely piano line, alternating major and minor arpeggios, and the tender but haltingly sung verse. Not sure if it’s Sierra or Bianca here but the phrasing is odd and the words are odder, offering images but no discernible story. A fat synth joins in, and some horns, which play in slow motion but lead to the jaunty, double-time chorus, enlivened now by some deep, rubbery drums. Lyrical clues now tell us we are in childhood memory territory, but there’s still no narrative, just image-moments, and a magic realism sort of sensibility (“Shot a rabbit from the backseat window”?). But with the Casady sisters, given their unusual, itinerant childhood, this could all be a simple tale of a family outing. I’m not sure I’d’ve wanted to be there, but I do love hearing about it.

“Lemonade” is from the duo’s new album, Grey Oceans, which is coming out next month on Sub Pop Records. MP3 via Sub Pop.

Free and legal MP3: Slaraffenland (inventive Danish art-pop, w/ horns)

“Meet and Greet” – Slaraffenland

The enigmatic Danish art-popsters Slaraffenland return to Fingertips with a brisk, deceptively restless composition that incorporates some of the most delightful and inventive horn charts I’ve heard in a pop setting, not to mention some gratifyingly precise and rumbly percussion. This is the kind of song that, if you sink into it on its own terms, has you rethinking what a three- or four-minute rock song might be able to do. I don’t hear any standard hooks here and yet not for a moment does my attention or spirit sag.

And do check out those horns. There’s the splendid bit of syncopated layering we hear from them in their first concentrated appearance, from 1:14 to 1:36, but then listen to how they come back in the same extended instrumental section (now 1:48), this time playing in a blurry, sliding/pulsing sort of chorus, and yet still with their own rhythmic integrity. This is extremely wonderful, to my ears. Eccentric, but extremely wonderful.

For some interesting notes on the band’s name, read the review from the last time they were here. “Meet and Greet” is the lead single from the forthcoming album, We’re On Your Side, slated for a September release on the Portland, Ore.-based Hometapes label.

[The link is no longer direct, but the song is still available as a free and legal download, via Stereogum.)