Free and legal MP3: Work Drugs (smooth electronics, understated urgency)

All smooth electronics on the surface, the song creates an understated urgency in a few ways.

Work Drugs

“Alternative Facts” – Work Drugs

A splendid marriage of vibe and craft, “Alternative Facts” is not the latest release from Philadelphia’s prolific Work Drugs, but is the one that has stuck with me most thoroughly.

All smooth electronics on the surface, the song creates an understated urgency in a few ways. First, there’s the recurrence of a simple, descending, two-note motif: it’s the notes the vocals start on, with the phrase “Get away,” and it’s repeated in four incarnations in the first 16 seconds. The song goes on to offer neither the comfort of an identifiable chorus nor an obvious resolution. Notice too the rhythmic structure: while the emphasis is the “on” beat (one and three) versus the backbeat (two and four), the beat is driven by a syncopated triplet rhythm with an accented second (oneTWOthree), which keeps the ear unbalanced and forward leaning. The place to hear this most clearly is right in the intro, before the vocals start, but that basic syncopated pulse continues throughout.

One last destabilizing point is how the recurring refrain is a repeat of the phrase “I’m not your happy ending,” articulated so the word “ending” is, ironically, all but inaudible—you have to realize it’s there to hear it. And when you do hear it, you may also notice that it is an echo of the repeated two-note motif previously discussed.

I do hope my efforts to bring some analytical concepts to the aural reality of a song don’t end up sounding pedantic. I’m just fascinated, in a lifelong way, by what makes music good, and refuse to believe it’s all a subjective matter, any more than are facts themselves, to bring us back to the subtle theme.

Work Drugs have been here before, featured on Fingertips in both March 2015 and September 2016. They are the duo of Thomas Crystal and Benjamin Louisiana and, as noted, they put out a rather ridiculous amount of music, as you can see if you wander over to their Bandcamp page. Additionally, if you head to SoundCloud page, you’ll find a nice assortment of their songs available for free download.

Thanks to the band for the MP3.

Free and legal MP3: Bon Iver (indie icon returns, powerfully)

“Calgary” opens as a benediction, Vernon blessing us with that aching falsetto, layered on top of itself, in a cathedral-like setting, with only an organ-like synthesizer as accompaniment.

Bon Iver

“Calgary” – Bon Iver

When last seen around here, in October 2007, Bon Iver was the obscure, self-released solo project for a guy best known as a member of a band called DeYarmond Edison. Yeah, not many people had heard of them, either. The album was released by Jagjaguwar Records in February ’08 and then in Europe by 4AD in May. Let’s say it strikes a chord with a lot of people. Within a couple of years, the guy is in the studio with Kanye West. I can’t claim to have seen that coming.

“Calgary” opens as a benediction, Vernon blessing us with that aching falsetto, layered on top of itself, in a cathedral-like setting, with only an organ-like synthesizer as accompaniment. Percussion joins in around 1:14, centered on some rumbly tom-toms, along with an extra, twangy keyboard and some hints of a fuller band. The main melody, which repeats throughout the song, acquires a beat and a momentum that it did not hint at in the church-ish opening section. This to me is the power and delight of the song—that seamless, “how’d-he-do-that?” transition from prayer to proclamation, achieved by the very careful, if casual-seeming, entering and exiting of instruments and sounds. By the time the full band arrives in earnest around 1:53, the repeating melody has acquired a whole new kind of solemnity, a solemnity based on movement and rhythm rather than incantation. The electric guitar comes out of its shell for an itchy sort of solo at 2:23, leading into a bridge during which—don’t miss it—Vernon drops the falsetto. The song ends over an acoustic guitar that was previously hidden in the mix, giving both Vernon’s voice and the song’s melody one last iteration.

“Calgary” is the first single from the long-awaited second Bon Iver album, which is self-titled, and slated for release next week on Jagjaguwar. MP3 via the record company.