Free and legal MP3:Mattiel (irresistible, retro-current indie rock)

“Keep the Change” is a high-energy stomper that has the air of an instant classic about it, straddling with flair and sly humor that often fine line between where we’ve been and where we’re going.

Keep the Change” – Mattiel

Featured here previously last April, Mattiel is back with another irresistible slice of retro-current indie rock. “Keep the Change” is a high-energy stomper that has the air of an instant classic about it, straddling with flair and sly humor that often fine line between where we’ve been and where we’re going.

The recurring, six-note motif that launches the song through the intro is an apt aural symbol of the slightly off-kilter fun to come: on the one hand it’s got a Springsteen-esque grandeur, on the other hand it’s being plinked out on what sounds like a xylophone. When the drums join in at 0:14, the momentum is literally unstoppable, the drummer hitting every beat equally through the entire song except for a brief deviation in the pre-chorus, as lead singer Mattiel Brown sings, “When I throw my weight/I never throw it crooked/I always throw it straight” (itself an obliquely amusing thing to say). Another curveball arrives via the decision to call the song “Keep the Change,” in defiance of standard practice, which would derive the title from the song’s most often heard phrase (in this case that would be “Wasted all my time”). “Keep the change,” on the other hand, is a lyric we hear just twice (starting at 2:53) in the song’s late-arriving bridge.

And don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing laugh-out-loud funny going on here; the humor is more of that special, smile-inducing kind that music alone can create. If anything, Mattiel herself appears to favor humor of a particularly dry kind. The video for “Keep the Change” is a good example, featuring her setting about, blank-faced, on a series of inscrutable tasks, by herself, in an industrial site that has no recognizable purpose. The biggest clue that she’s having fun comes from the title she’s given the album where you’ll find “Keep the Change”—that title being Satis Factory. It took me a moment to register that. You can listen to the whole thing, and buy it in a variety of formats, via Bandcamp.

The album, her second, was released in June. She still seems to be employing Mattiel as a band name, even as her Facebook site doesn’t list band members. She/they is/are based in Atlanta. MP3 via The Current.



(Note that MP3s from The Current are available in files that are 128kbps, which is below the iTunes standard of 192kbps, not to mention the higher-def standard of 320kbps. I personally don’t hear much difference on standard-quality equipment but if you are into high-end sound you’ll probably notice something. In any case I always encourage you to download the MP3 for the purposes of getting to know a song via a few listens; if you like it I still urge you to buy the music. It’s the right thing to do.)

Free and legal MP3: Goldheart Assembly (energetic & smile-inducing)

Nothing is better than music that makes you smile not because it’s funny but just because it makes you smile.

Goldheart Assembly

“Oh Really” – Goldheart Assembly

With slinky-swingy energy of elusive provenance, “Oh Really” is irresistible well before the gang-style vocal response in the chorus makes further opposition futile. Nothing is better than music that makes you smile not because it’s funny but just because it makes you smile.

Beyond those fetching “Oh really?”s of the chorus, the song’s charms are rooted, to my ears, in the way the melodies snake in and around the 4/4 time signature; routine avoidance of the downbeat (i.e., the first beat of the measure) gives “Oh Really” the momentum of a slippery incantation. At the same time, the slightly over-modulated mix pushes the ear in a not-unpleasant way, adding to the goofily hyped-up ambiance. All in all a winner that needs to be listened to more than written about. (That’s your cue.)

“Oh Really” has been around since at least 2010 but did not appear on either of the band’s first two albums. It was officially unveiled as a single in January. Goldheart Assembly is a five-piece band based in London. Thanks to Lauren Laverne at BBC 6 for the head’s up, and to the band for the MP3.

Free and legal MP3: Jared Mees & the Grown Children (homespun hoedown w/ cosmopolitan concerns)

Engaging, homespun hoedown, with a loose, swift sense of purpose about it. But for all its back-porch, fiddle-fronted ambiance, note how the song has no obvious lyrical connection to dirt roads and rustic living beyond its title image; we hear instead contemporary words and phrases like television, red ink, lead actor, tragicomedy.

Jared Mees and the Grown Children

“Cockleburrs and Hay” – Jared Mees & the Grown Children

Engaging, homespun hoedown, with a loose, swift sense of purpose about it. But for all its back-porch, fiddle-fronted ambiance, note how the song has no obvious lyrical connection to dirt roads and rustic living beyond its title image; we hear instead contemporary words and phrases like television, red ink, lead actor, tragicomedy. Towards the end of the song, Mees rhymes “cradle-robbing capillary blocker” with “limp-wristed back-alley stalker.”

This ongoing tension between the song’s cosmopolitan concerns and its rural sound is a good part of the charm. The ensemble’s spirited, toe-tapping energy pretty much takes care of the rest. Exactly who the Grown Children are at any one time has not been made clear, it being a name for, basically, whomever shows up and plays with Mees at any given time (more than 20 players are identified, by first name, on the MySpace page). The informality of the gathering, combined with the quality of the musicianship, is, I think, what lends this song its particular flair—it doesn’t sound painstakingly rehearsed as much as spontaneously combusted.

The Portland, Ore.-based Mees originally recorded “Cockleburrs and Hay” (minus one “r”) for his 2007 solo album If You Want to Swim With the Sharks; this is a new and improved version of the song, recorded during a recent studio session and not yet on any album. The group’s first album, Caffeine, Alcohol, Sunshine, Money, was released in 2008 on Tender Loving Empire.

Free and legal MP3: The Love Language

Brisk, shuffly indie pop

“Heart to Tell” – the Love Language

This one also begins with an acoustic guitar riff, but an entirely different kind that goes in an entirely different, happy-shuffly Shins-meet-the-Left-Banke direction. A brisk slice of indie pop sparkle.

Attentive visitors may recall the Love Language from “Lalita,” a song featured here last May that ended up on the year-end “Fingertips Favorites” list. “Heart to Tell” likewise swings on a pronounced one-two rhythm, but with a gentler vibe than “Lalita.” This time around the band has jettisoned the distorted vocals and funneled its penchant for harsh guitars into one short–but memorable–instrumental break. Also jettisoned this time around, in fact, is the band itself–Raleigh-based master mind Stuart McLamb has let go of the four or five or six others (reports varied) who last time functioned as the Love Language, now doing the mad genius thing by himself, aided and abetted by producer BJ Burton. The end result is a less lo-fi Love Language, but no less loose and energetic.

“Heart to Tell” is from the Love Language’s forthcoming Merge Records debut, Libraries, slated for a July release. MP3 via the fine folks at Merge.

Free and legal MP3: MiniBoone(energetic neo-new wave, w/ harmonies)

Energetic, crisply executed fun, filled with rhythmic dissonance, echoes of 1978-ish American new wave music, and large-scale harmonies falling somewhere on a line connecting Queen to Sparks (but not, to my ear, Animal Collective, as per some of the band’s press).

“Devil In Your Eyes” – MiniBoone

Energetic, crisply executed fun, filled with rhythmic dissonance, echoes of 1978-ish American new wave music, and large-scale harmonies falling somewhere on a line connecting Queen to Sparks (but not, to my ear, Animal Collective, as per some of the band’s press). And hey I really like how effectively this shifts the mood from Hadestown‘s heavy-hearted tragedy even as it delivers a synchronistic lyrical alignment (which believe it or not I didn’t notice until I’d already laid this week’s songs out in order).

I especially love the guitars here. From beginning to end they play prickly, often rapid-fire chords that seem never to align quite with the melody either sonically or rhythmically. Listen, for instance, to the choked-neck sound you hear at the beginning, just past the organ opening: the engaging noise made by a guitar used more percussively than tonally. None of the actual notes that emerge jibe with what the song theoretically would want harmonically but the kinetic insistence of it becomes its own logic. The sound continues into the verse but note how the guitar steadily comes to life, the choked hammering giving way, around 40 seconds in or so, to fuller-fledged chord slashes that any music writer worth his or her salt would be tempted to call “angular” except maybe for how lively an atmosphere the band is churning up at this point. Typically, angular guitars are heard in a less flamboyant setting. One more example of creative guitar work comes in the chorus, when the layered harmonies take over center stage, pushing the guitar into making odd little offbeat exclamation points.

MiniBoone is a five-piece from New York City. “Devil In Your Eyes” is a song off the band’s new EP, Big Changes, which was released at the end of January on Drug Front Records. MP3 via the band’s web site.

Free and legal MP3: Old Canes(drum-fueled folk rock)

“Little Bird Courage” – Old Canes

It’s unusual for a song that feels like some kind of folk rock to have this much percussive appeal, but “Little Bird Courage” is all about the drumming from the get-go–we pretty much don’t even hear anything else until almost 20 seconds in. And this is in fact how Old Canes front man and master mind Chris Crisci envisions his songs—he records the drum tracks first, and builds the songs up from there.

Everything ends up feeling rhythmic and propulsive as a result. With its vibrant but informal energy, spurred by relentlessly strummed acoustic guitars and accentuated by Crisci’s mixed-down vocals, “Little Bird Courage” has the vibe of a happier incarnation of Neutral Milk Hotel, an impression accentuated by the homely chorus of trumpets that appears halfway through, just when the whole thing seemed to be grinding to a halt. While it’s hard to pick up a lot of the lyrics, I get the impression of something transcendent and triumphant here; the title alone speaks volumes.

Chris Crisci is perhaps better known as a member of the Appleseed Cast, the Lawrence, Kansas-based band usually identified as being a “post-rock” pioneer; Old Canes has been a side project of his dating back to 2004. “Little Bird Courage” is from Feral Harmonic, the second Old Canes album, slated for release next week by Saddle Creek Records.