Free and legal MP3: The Ampersands (buzzy, stompy indie pop)

Our week of incisive songs (all under 3:35) wraps up with this buzzy, stompy bit of off-kilter indie pop.

The Ampersands

“Try This” – The Ampersands

Our week of incisive songs (all under 3:35) wraps up with this buzzy, stompy bit of off-kilter indie pop. The sing-songy, Nintendo-y keyboard riff that opens things up is no mistake—it is based, says the group, on a mis-memory of an old video game musical theme (Munchlax’s Berry Bonanza, if you must know, which is a mini-game within the Pokemon universe). And the song indeed seems at one level to be about playing video games. The processed vocals add a Game Boy-like ambiance to be sure. But there is a larger point as well, having to do not only with the repeated chorus (“Why don’t you try this or you’ll never know”) but with the key lyrical line—which the band uses as their album title—“This is your adventure too.” We must stay open-minded, and present, and perhaps, somehow, even video games can help us get there. Or, also, not.

Meanwhile, the music has a smartly-built air about it, not to mention a sneaky undercurrent of Fountains of Wayne-like power pop. (Listen to the transition from the first to the second line—from “…observing the maze” to “Keep a close eye…”; that’s a lovely, FOW-like progression.) Funny thing about the Fountains—they’re still out there making good records, but they’ve also been around long enough to be a foundational band for a new generation of indie rockers. I don’t know if that’s the case here but I’ve been hearing their influence in a few places recently so I’m floating it as a theory.

The Ampersands (clever name for a twosome, no?) are multi-instrumentalist Aaron McQuade and guitarist Jim Pace. Both sing and write the songs. They have employed some “satellite members” both in the studio and in live performance, including vocalist Evie Nagy, whom you hear here in the chorus, but the band is officially just the two of them. Aaron is based in NYC, Jim in Providence, where they originally started. This Is Your Adventure Too is the band’s second album, and is slated for release at the end of October. Do yourself a favor and check out the album’s web site, where you can not only hear the whole thing, but get a lot of engaging, liner-note-like information and graphics.

Free and legal MP3: Suit of Lights (melodic, idiosyncratic, apocalyptic)

Combining a Fountains-of-Wayne-ish gift for melody with an idiosyncratic sense of presentation.

Suit of Lights

“The Human Beings” – Suit of Lights

As homely as it is endearing, “The Human Beings” combines a Fountains-of-Wayne-ish gift for melody with an idiosyncratic sense of presentation. Over an assemblage of woodwinds huffy-puffy-ing in the background, front man Joe Darone offers up what appears to be a pathos-free elegy to the planetary tragedy that is human civilization. But, hey, at least you can sing along—well, part of the way. The verse and the chorus are as pithy and tuneful as can be; the entire lyrical section—verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/verse/chorus—wraps up in 1:40. The song plays out from there as an instrumental at once plucky and ominous, woodwinds interspersed with a muted sort of churning menace. As with the lyrics—“So they blacken the earth and blacken the ground/Now you’re not gonna find one of them around”—the music doesn’t end assuringly. My advice is to enjoy the unbridled melodicism, and find a bit of hope in a human creative urge so relentless as to feel compelled to dress up the apocalypse in such an appealing package.

Billing itself as “an indie rock manifestation,” Suit of Lights is a loose collective fronted by Joe Darone, operating out of New York City. Darone began his musical career as a teenager in the New Jersey punk band The Fiendz in the late ’80s. His Suit of Lights project began life in 2003. “The Human Beings” is a song from Shine On Forever, the third Suit of Lights album, released last month on Visiting Hours Records. You can check the whole thing out on Bandcamp, and buy it there as well. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.

Free and legal MP3: Chester French (the Zombies meet Fountains of Wayne at the disco)

“She Loves Everybody” – Chester French

Up-to-date pop pastiche-ism from a Harvard-educated, L.A.-based twosome, underscored by an affable, Fountains of Wayne-like mixture of irony, pathos, and craft. “Well she craves affection/So I use protection” could be a line straight from the Adam and Chris songbook, while the music offers up an intriguing, FoW-like blend of the ’60s, ’80s, and ’00s, and maybe a few other decades besides.

From the start, this one’s a mutt: seven seconds of string quartet tension mashes into a disco-y echo of “Time of the Season,” with sleigh bells and surf guitar. The verses strip down to a beat-driven duo-friendly groove; a melodramatic piano appears, out of the blue, to usher us into a two-part chorus that is half laptop, half pounding ’80s album rock, with lyrics simultaneously goofy and meaningful. An offbeat instrumental interlude then brings us back to the original groove. In the middle of the musical parade, note the unintentional (by the narrator) intentional (by the songwriter) irony of the central, seemingly breezy lyrical conceit: “And I know she loves me/She loves everybody.”

“She Loves Everybody” is the title track to the duo’s debut EP, released digitally this week, and on CD next week, on Star Trak/Interscope. The song first made a splash last summer when it was featured on the HBO series Entourage. The band takes its name from the sculptor Daniel Chester French, who designed the statue of John Harvard in Harvard Yard, as well as the Lincoln statue in the Lincoln Memorial.