Free and legal MP3: Lemonade (sleek, slow-motion dance music)

Conclusive proof that electronic music can have heart and soul.

Lemonade

“Neptune” – Lemonade [stream]

“Neptune” is the type of sleek, slow-motion, electronics-heavy dance music made by bands that music writers and/or record labels seem to need to employ three or four different over-specialized genres to begin to describe. Lemonade’s record company, for instance, goes with: “90’s R&B, UK 2-step Garage, Balearic house, and NY freestyle.” Come on, people. Is it that tricky? This surely sounds like a Portlandia sketch waiting to happen.

Let me simplify this and say that “Neptune” is conclusive proof that electronic music can have both heart and soul. Informed by old-school R&B and filtered through a seamless 21st-century aesthetic, the song appeals not for the number of obscure genres it can claim to embody but for the lustrous sheen of its aural landscape, its canny array of percussive sounds (both organic and electronic), and its unremarkable but affecting portrayal of a heart being broken. Yeah, it’s just a guy trying to talk to the girl, “to sort this out.” And then when she finally calls him she’s at a party and he can’t even hear her. Ouch. Hung upon an unrelenting four-note synthesizer riff and the tender vocals of front man Callan Clendenin, “Neptune” is as welcoming as you want it to be—chilly background music if you’re not paying attention, a swaying, bittersweet lament if you fall into it. The central moment, to me, is the line on which the chorus fades off (1:20): “And this really won’t do/No, no,” with those despairing melismas each time on the word “no” (a melisma is when the singer extends one syllable through multiple musical notes). Note how the second one ends conclusively rather than in an unresolved place. This is probably a bad sign for our narrator.

“Neptune” is the first song made available from Lemonade’s second album, Diver, to be released in May on True Panther Sounds. MP3 via True Panther. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up. [MP3 no longer available; above link is for the stream.]

Free and legal MP3: One in a Googolplex (clattery electronics, gleeful melody energy)

Full of tweaky and and clattery and glittery and rubbery electronics, “Lilly” also bursts with such infectious melodic energy that I for one don’t really care what odd sounds Sebastian Zimmer wants to throw into the mix.

Sebastian Zimmer

“Lilly” – One in a Googolplex

Full of clattery and glittery and rubbery electronics, “Lilly” also bursts with such infectious melodic energy that I for one don’t really care what odd sounds Sebastian Zimmer wants to throw into the mix.

Not that you necessarily see the brilliance coming. From the intro through the opening verse, “Lilly” bounces modestly along as a two-chord shuffle with a vaguely island-like feel. Close listeners might enjoy the crafty dissonances one of the synthesizers insists upon carving in the soundscape, but more casual ears may remain unengaged until 0:46, when the electronic equivalent of a car crash launches us into the bubbly chorus, full of vocal leaps and dives that sound spliced together rather than sung through. But damned if the cut-and-pasted melody line isn’t its own kind of oddball hook—there’s an energy unleashed by the mashed-up-sound, accentuated by Zimmer’s feathery tenor, that transcends its electronic trappings. And then, as a sort of counter-balance to all the artifice employed to create the song’s core, we get at 2:04 an instrumental bridge featuring what sounds for all the world like honest-to-goodness stringed instruments (but are probably still synthesizers).

“Lilly” is the a-side of a digital single released this month on Alchemist Records. Zimmer has been recording as One In A Googolplex from the German state of Saarland since 2009. The name comes from the third Back to the Future movie. In his own words, Zimmer is “constantly trying to compose his songs as universally as possible in order to be able to enjoy the music even in some thousand years from now or on a different planet, where there is no money, no television, and no heartache anymore.” I want to go to there.

Free and legal MP3: Destroyer (unexpectedly smooth and saxy)

“Chinatown” sashays unexpectedly across your speakers with a jazzy spring in its step, complete with ’60s-pop female harmonies and not just a sax solo but a trumpet solo too.

Kaputt

“Chinatown” – Destroyer

“Chinatown” sashays unexpectedly across your speakers with a jazzy spring in its step, complete with ’60s-pop female harmonies and not just a sax solo but a trumpet solo too. This is an altogether smoother and more digestible environment than we have previously found Dan Bejar wandering around in; but if he has outwardly de-quirk-ified himself here, there’s something charming in the effort, and knowing, too. Because maybe the quirkiest thing of all in this freaked-out shoutfest of a world is to mellow out a bit.

Besides, once you get used to the chill groove, listen to Bejar and you’ll see he still sounds semi-crazy and mysterious, he’s just not flaunting it the way previous Destroyer songs might have. Less can be more—steering clear of his more obvious vocal kinks still allows him to show off his sweet, torn-sweater voice; his phrasing remains satisfyingly idiosyncratic and the lyrics as cryptic as ever. Unless it’s actually just about the movie Chinatown (“Forget it, Jake; it’s Chinatown”), in which case it’s still a little cryptic because he just can’t help himself. Oh and meanwhile, check out the way he manages to blend electronics and horns here. Except for those horns, just about everything else sounds non-organic. It’s spookily effective.

Bejar, from Vancouver, has been recording as Destroyer since back in 1996; he is also a founding member of the New Pornographers, and in 2006 became part of a second indie side-project/”super-group,” Swan Lake. “Chinatown” will be found on the album Kaputt, due out on Merge Records next month. MP3 via Merge. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.

Free and legal MP3: Sufjan Stevens (electronics-driven poignancy)

Stevens here brings his fragile sensibility to the oft-told tale of the jilted lover, infusing the song with the hesitant bewilderment of the unexpectedly dumped. Everything from the music’s stuttery-fuzzy foundation to Stevens’ delicate, heartbreakingly polite, broken phrasing serves the story, which is not actually recounted but reacted to.

Sufjan Stevens

“I Walked” – Sufjan Stevens

While Sufjan Stevens was having his indie moment in the mid-’00s, I stood aside. I appreciated his intelligence and sensitivity and creativity but just wasn’t connecting to the music. It was more interesting than engaging to me, more constructed than heartfelt. Clearly I was in the minority at the time, and whether he’s changed in the interim or I have, the upshot is that this offering from his upcoming album strikes me as deep and rich and true. That he’s done this by replacing the acoustic orchestral instruments he favored in the past with electronic glitchiness is one of the song’s marvelous mysteries.

Stevens here brings his fragile sensibility to the oft-told tale of the jilted lover, infusing the song with the hesitant bewilderment of the unexpectedly dumped. Everything from the music’s stuttery-crackly foundation to Stevens’ delicate, heartbreakingly polite, off-kilter phrasing serves the story, which is not actually recounted but reacted to. We don’t hear about the love affair, we don’t hear about what went wrong, we are left only with the stunned ex-boyfriend trying and failing to make sense of what doesn’t compute; he apparently bolted when he was told the news—thus, “I walked/’Cause you walked.” For a twitchy song, it develops with an unhurried and poignant elegance—a feeling fostered in part by how the verse and the chorus feature closely related melodies, both swelling and asymmetrical, reflecting the narrator’s charged but broken psyche. We don’t hear the chorus till 1:44, and don’t find ourselves at the chorus’s musical and lyrical climax till 1:59, as the melody takes echoing, upward leaps with an affirmation of the jilted lover’s paralyzing inability to face conflict (“I would not have run off/But I couldn’t bear that it’s me/It’s my fault”). It’s the sound of pure heartbreak, expressed through its non-expression.

“I Walked” is one of two new songs available as free and legal downloads via Stevens’ Bandcamp page; both are from his forthcoming album, The Age of Adz (pronounced “odds,” they’re telling us), to be released on Asthmatic Kitty Records next month. The album is loosely based on the so-called “outsider art” of an African-American sign-maker (and self-proclaimed prophet) named Royal Robertson, who died in Louisiana in 1997. Direct MP3 link courtesy of Better Propaganda. (Thanks to visitor Jon for the head’s up on the direct link.)

Free and legal MP3: Tallest Trees (gleeful, skewed, clattery pop)

Tallest Trees

“Alouette!” – Tallest Trees

With a skewed pop sensibility, pastichey zing, and a toy piano, “Alouette!” wrings more good humor out of its electronics-oriented language than one might have thought possible, given the general humorlessness of most electronics-based music. Glad that Thomas Samuel and Dabney Morris ignored the memo on that one. “Alouette!” skips with glitch and glee.

Good humor is an underrated quality in music. And I don’t mean songs that are funny per se; I mean songs in which the music itself makes you smile. “Alouette!” does this repeatedly, in an ongoing variety of ways. There’s the toy piano, sure, but there are also the sounds coaxed from synthesizers—rubbery, reverberant, yippy, squeaky—that make me wonder, as I have in the past, why electronic music isn’t in fact more smile-inducing more often. Beyond that, the arrangement itself is great fun, adhering sounds in a clattery, rhythmic gallop from start to finish. Even the vocals are part of the merry-making, from the twinkly spirit of Morris’s high-pitched tenor to the purposeful use of offbeat harmonies— check out the way the phrase “I am no hero” is sung, at: 1:18, or how the harmony vocal lags behind the melody, starting at the beginning of the second verse (0:58).

“Alouette!” was first heard late last year one the Nashville duo’s self-released EP , Hey There Little Nebula. It will get a wider release next month when the Portland, Ore.-based label Other Electricities presents the band’s full-length debut, The Ostrich or the Lark (title phrase found within this song; and “alouette,” so you know, means lark in French). MP3 via the band’s site.

Free and legal MP3: I and I (thoughtful, upbeat electronic music)

“The Bottom” – I and I

One of the downsides to a lot of electronic music, to my ears, is how inescapably aware it makes me that everything I’m listening to is being generated by, essentially, black boxes and computer screens. This awareness often lends a sort of aural claustrophobia to the music, not to mention a disspiriting sort of physical blandness. From the time of the earliest musical instruments straight through to the rock’n’roll era, one common element of playing music was the bodily movement required to send sound waves into the air. Generated without commensurate physicality, electronic music has a lot to make up for, as far as I’m concerned.

Adam Sarmiento, the multi-instrumentalist behind I and I, manages somehow to do just this. There are three key elements at work. First is how carefully he chooses his synthesizer sounds, which vary not only in tone but in texture—there’s one that sounds like a crunchy guitar, one that sounds like the desert wind, one that sounds like a funky bass guitar, and a few others I can’t begin to describe. Because of how distinct they are they work together to describe something very much like three-dimensional space. Second is how carefully he uses them—at any point during the song, you can always hear quite clearly what sounds are in play. Lastly is the playful quality of his rubbery, somewhat adenoidal tenor, which many compare to David Byrne but to me is more rightfully likened to similar but subtly different Adrian Belew, and which definitely humanizes the robotic setting.

“The Bottom” is from the second I and I album, White Noise/Black Music, which was released last month via Alchemist Records and Believe Digital France. MP3 via the I and I web site.

Free and legal MP3: Juana Molina (churning, hypnotic, expansive, ecstatic)

“Un Día” – Juana Molina

I suggest giving yourself some time and space to take this one in. Being in an altered state might help, although this song, if you open yourself to it, might help you achieve one.

A long-time Fingertips favorite, Molina returns with a crazy, churning, ecstatic daze of a song. The Argentinian former sitcom star has, as a musician, pioneered an alluring if evasive sort of folktronica, with lots of loops and repetition. “Un Día” is some of that, but also something else entirely. Despite how rigorously plotted out and worked over this sort of song construction probably is, Molina here sounds almost nuttily spontaneous and expansive, both musically and vocally. Ecstatic, yes: there seems something nearly spiritual in the air as Molina all but chants–her voice sounds freer, more unrestrained than in the past–against a marvelously textured and continually varying undercurrent of voice, electronics, horns, sounds, and percussion. As usual, for English-speaking listeners, the language adds another element of incomprehensibility, but she appears to be aiming in that direction in any case; one of the lyrics here, translated, reads: “One day I will sing the songs with no lyrics and everyone can imagine for themselves if it’s about love, disappointment, banalities or about Plato.”

“Un Día” is the title track from Molina’s forthcoming album, her fifth, due out next month on Domino Records. Can’t wait to hear the whole thing. MP3 via Stereogum.