Free and legal MP3: EP’s Trailer Park (nostalgic sing-along from Sweden)

An airy, agile flute line sets the tone early, launching “Cynical Lover” into a partly-sunny haze of nostalgic piano chords, swaying melodies, and rich harmonies.

EP's Trailer Park

“Cynical Lover” – EP’s Trailer Park

An easy-going sing-along with the air of the ’70s about it. And no banjo or pedal steel at all, as those instruments were banned before the recording started. It was one of 12 “dogmatic rules” the band posted in advance, and apparently obeyed. The list is too good not to reproduce here:

1. A ban on all things Beatles
2. A ban on Pedal steel, banjo and mandolin
3. Vocals is the finest instrument
4. No alcohol or sweets in the studio
5. Acoustic instruments should go before electric
6. No guest singers or duets
7. The drums should sound like drums
8. The vocals will be sung shirtless
9. The coffee should be taken on Mellqvists and lunch at Rosen
10. Short songs should go before long songs
11. Beautiful is good
12. At least one murder ballad

An airy, agile flute line sets the tone early here, launching “Cynical Lover” into a partly-sunny haze of nostalgic piano chords, swaying melodies, and rich harmonies. Front man Eric Palmqwist sings with a fragile kind of assertiveness (I hear Rick Danko in this somewhere), and while his unschooled tenor is not the kind of voice one expects to hearing backed by close, invigorating harmonies, it all seems to work, and definitely urges all but the most impassive listeners to join in on the chorus.

Palmqwist started up EP’s Trailer Park in 1999 after his previous band, Monostar, called it quits. This new effort was designed as a kind of revolving-door ensemble, with a variety of musicians passing through the “trailer park” over the years, including Tobias Fröberg (previously featured here) and Björn Yttling from Peter, Bjorn & John. Two of Palmqwist’s three sidemen this time around remain from the last EP’s Trailer Park album, in 2010. “Cynical Lover” is from the outfit’s fourth album, which is self-titled, and was released in Sweden at the beginning of the year; the song was released as a single last month. You can listen to the full album on SoundCloud.

Free and legal MP3: Midlake (gorgeous British folk revival sound)

Last heard in a Fleetwood Mac-ish soft rock mode (2007’s The Trials of Van Occupanther), the boys from Denton, Texas have reemerged with a renewed hankering for a more traditional-sounding British rock. But rather than the semi-psychedelic early Pink Floyd and Procol Harum-esque pageantry on display through much of Bamnan and Slivercork, their 2004 debut, the quintet takes it back a notch further to a ’60s British folk scene sound–think Steeleye Span, think Fairport Convention, think gentle, chivalrous melodies and general melancholy woebegone-edness.

“Acts of Man” – Midlake

Last heard in a Fleetwood Mac-ish soft rock mode (2007’s The Trials of Van Occupanther), the boys from Denton, Texas have reemerged with a renewed hankering for a more traditional-sounding British rock. But rather than the semi-psychedelic early Pink Floyd and Procol Harum-esque pageantry on display through much of Bamnan and Slivercork, their 2004 debut, the quintet takes it back a notch further to a ’60s British folk scene sound–think Steeleye Span, think Fairport Convention, think gentle, chivalrous melodies and general melancholy woebegone-edness.

But me, I’m eating it up because the stuff is marvelously crafted, ravishingly performed, and drop-dead gorgeous. What a vibe the band has here! Tim Smith’s medievally baritone is just the start of it. From the golden-toned acoustic guitar to the almost regal rumble of the drums to the deep and delicate flute lines and the potent minor-key melody that holds it all together, “Acts of Man” presents an aural landscape that all but makes me cry, for reasons beyond explanation. This is music working–as classical music is so often supposed to–at the level of pure emotion.

Apparently not everyone gets it. In addition to a number of supportive reviews, the new album, The Courage of Others, has gotten some notable pans, including a tone-deaf dismissal in Pitchfork. Normally I get a bit worked up over that kind of thing but this time it just occurs to me to feel badly for anyone whose head and ears can’t let them hear the beauty and worth of this album. Released last week on Bella Union, it’s only going to get better over time. MP3 via Insound.

Free and legal MP3: Ravens & Chimes (sprightly yet reserved indie rock)

Cheerful songs are usually vigorous things. Songs that seem hesitant, wavery, or otherwise introverted, on the other hand, tend to be at best wistful if not downright mournful. “Hearts of Palm” subverts the formula, and is all the more effective for it–a sprightly, hopeful-sounding song edged by an equivocal, somewhat trembling vibe.

“Hearts of Palm” – Ravens & Chimes

Cheerful songs are usually vigorous things. Songs that seem hesitant, wavery, or otherwise introverted, on the other hand, tend to be at best wistful if not downright mournful. “Hearts of Palm” subverts the formula, and is all the more effective for it–a sprightly, hopeful-sounding song edged by an equivocal, somewhat trembling vibe.

Some of this is due to the vocal qualities of Asher Lack, who sings like someone wading into cold water, at once timid and determined, while instruments chug forward around him. But listen and you’ll hear how the music yet reinforces the partially timorous atmosphere: it’s peppy, yes, but likewise stuttery, and lacking the oomph and crunch of a typical rock band. This isn’t for lack of personnel. Ravens & Chimes is a six-person outfit, but the members are busier playing things like harmonium and flute and glockenspiel to bother with the din of standard-issue rock’n’roll. And so this is how we end up with this buoyant, reserved piece of pop and I for one am happier for having heard it. I especially love the agile, islandy flute lines and the beautiful, pure-toned female harmony vocal that blends and yet doesn’t quite blend with Lack’s quasi-speak-singing in the chorus.

“Hearts of Palm” is a single from the band’s forthcoming and as-yet untitled second album. Its first CD, Reichenbach Falls, came out in 2007. Prior to the album’s release, this song is slated to be released soon as the a-side of a 7-inch single. MP3 via the band’s site.