Free and legal MP3: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (succinct & jittery, w/ a power pop heart)

This time around, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah exhibits a Cars-like capacity for wrapping an edgy, synthesizer-led, contemporary vibe around old-school rock’n’roll melodicism.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

“Maniac” – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Succinct and jittery, “Maniac” does its best to disguise its power pop roots with multifaceted synthesizers and vocal effects (and affects) but the thing about power pop is in the end there’s no hiding it. The chorus gives it away pretty much by definition. So there it is, at 1:09, the power-pop heart of this otherwise anxious-seeming song.

And yes I realize that it’s anxious-seeming in good part because Alex Ounsworth, with his strangled, nasally tenor, makes David Byrne sound almost relaxed. CYHSY have in fact drawn a lot of Talking Heads comparisons in the past, for clear enough reasons, but this time around I find some unexpected linkage to a different band that arose in late-’70s New England—the Cars. “Maniac” doesn’t sound like the Cars as much as it behaves like them, for its successful wrapping of an edgy, synthesizer-led, contemporary vibe around old-school rock’n’roll melodicism. Though, on second thought, this may likewise sound more like the Cars than it might initially seem. Segue “Maniac” into “Gimme Some Slack” (Spotify users: give it a try) and you will find some wonderful resonance—not an exact fit by any means, but the echoes are there. I direct your ears in particular to the deep guitar line at 2:07, which introduces what works as a kind of an alternate chorus here, and is both very Cars-like and a beautiful power pop device. That’s really where everything comes together in this one.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is a five-man band from Brooklyn with a bit of internet history that you either know already or don’t need to know. Seriously. Forget about it. Let’s just listen to the music, sports fans. “Maniac” is a track from their upcoming album, Hysterical, which the band will self-release next month. MP3 via Magnet Magazine.

Free and legal MP3: Pepper Rabbit (off-kilter 3/4 time rocker)

“Rose Mary Stretch” seems at once relaxed and edgy, both musically and lyrically. Front man Xander Singh reinforces this sensation with a voice alternating between a summery breathiness and a Win Butlery vehemence. Even the band’s name speaks to this engaging dichotomy: spicy, but cuddly.

Pepper Rabbit

“Rose Mary Stretch” – Pepper Rabbit

The insistent one-two rhythm that opens “Rose Mary Stretch” turns quickly into something of an aural illusion, as the off-kilter emphasis of the joint notes/rhythms the guitar and drum create together masks the song’s 3/4 beat as a 2/4 melody. This is a trick more common in classical music than pop music; the effect is at once arresting and unsettling, kind of making you lean forward in your seat waiting for some solid ground. We get it at 0:26, when the drum kicks in more fully and in so doing spells out the actual three-beated measures.

But the off-kilteredness remains a central part of the song. As a listener, I feel partly able to settle into the groove, and partly perched outside of it. “Rose Mary Stretch” seems at once relaxed and edgy, both musically and lyrically. Front man Xander Singh reinforces this sensation with a voice alternating between a summery breathiness and a Win Butlery vehemence. Even the band’s name speaks to this engaging dichotomy: spicy, but soft. In the end, the song’s edge manages to merge with its groove, much the way the off-center rhythm gives the melody a cumulative swing that’s both attractive and powerful.

Pepper Rabbit is a duo based in LA but born in NOLA, a fact betrayed, to New Orleans natives, by the title of the new album, Red Velvet Snow Ball, which refers to a favorite flavor of the local frozen treat of choice, the snow ball. (The unconverted need only one trip to Hansen’s to see the light.) The band’s vaguely carnivalesque ambiance springs from the fact that Singh not only sings but plays a wide variety of instruments, including ukulele, clarinet, horns, and an assortment of analog synthesizers. (Partner Luc Larent oversees the rhythm section.)

Red Velvet Snow Ball, the band’s second album, is due out in August on Kanine Records. MP3 via Spinner.

Free and legal MP3: Jump Into The Gospel (21st-century NYC rock)

“Flagship” – Jump Into The Gospel

At once prickly and resounding, “Flagship” shows that even in 2010 there somehow remains a recognizable New York City rock-band sound. Certainly things have gotten more convoluted and diverse since the days you could trace a clear line from the Velvets to the New York Dolls to Television and the Ramones and Patti Smith, and the 21st-century alone has spawned a wide-ranging new generation of New York rockers (and note that “New York City band” does not equal “Brooklyn band,” even though Brooklyn is of course part of New York City; anyone from New York knows this intuitively). And yet, as Jump Into The Gospel demonstrates, New York City rock endures, has a distinct vibe, and will apparently survive until the day the internet, because there’s so much music here–and so much interaction and so much sharing and so much you-too-can-be-a-musician–kills music altogether. (And when that happens I suspect the New York bands will be the last to go.)

So what sounds like New York here? Front man Louis Epstein, for one, all nasally and insistent and yet also edgily vulnerable. Second, the tick-tock beat, which functions just as well during the minimalist verse as it does during the expansive chorus, and is the sound of Manhattan’s street grid, and timed traffic lights, and the unstoppable flow of pedestrians immune to the buses and taxis hurtling by. And then, New Yorkiest of all, for no reason I can articulate, that place in the chorus where the melody takes a further step down than you might initially anticipate (first heard at 0:29, on the third syllable of “situation.” (Bonus points: the drummer’s name is Chris Stein, the previous Chris Stein being Blondie’s co-founder/guitarist/songwriter. Such a good NYC rocker’s name it’s been recycled.)

“Flagship” is from the band’s debut, four-song digital EP; all four songs are available for free at the band’s site. Thanks to Some Velvet Blog for the head’s up.