Free and legal MP3:The Casket Girls (bright, buzzy, unsettling)

Bright and buzzy cosmetics and solid pop instincts on top, something unsettling underneath.

The Casket Girls

“Western World” – The Casket Girls

Bright and buzzy cosmetics and solid pop instincts on top, something unsettling underneath. But what else to expect from a band called the Casket Girls, named for a group of poor but probably chaste young women sent by France to 18th-century New Orleans as prospective wives to the colonists there—and whom, over time, have been deemed by local legend to be vampires? Never mind that the band is from Savannah, and that the original casket girls got their name because they arrived with small suitcases that were called “casquettes.” Vampires make a better story for NOLA locals giving ghost tours, and Casket Girls has a disquieting ring for an indie rock band with two female lead singers.

In any case, “Western World” burbles with intent and strata, each sonic element—glitchy percussion, rubbery bass synth, blasé mirroring lead vocals, a smorgasbord of keyboards—adding fluently to the song’s overall sense of things at once coming together and falling apart. While many of the words flow past the ear in a portentous brew just beyond comprehension, one key, repeated lyric hits an insightful target: “But you know disease is like progress/You can’t escape the way it all shakes out.” The implications of this one simile give “Western World” extra oomph, while the carnival of accumulated sound gives you an excuse not to think too much about what they might actually be saying.

The Casket Girls is a band more or less spontaneously generated by the prolific and mysterious Ryan Graveface, best known as guitarist of Black Moth Super Rainbow but also in three other bands now, including Casket Girls. Graveface randomly came upon sisters Elsa and Phaedra Greene one day, singing odd songs in one of Savannah’s picturesque city squares, and pretty much decided on the spot that they would form a band, if only to help him continue to work through his obsession with the Shangri-Las, a girl group from the ’60s (“Leader of the Pack,” “Remember (Walking in the Sand),” et al.).

“Western World” is a song from a split EP the Casket Girls released (on Graveface Records; yes that’s him too) with the band Stardeath and White Dwarfs for Record Store Day back in November 2015. The band’s third full-length album is due out some time this year.

Free and legal MP3: TW Walsh (fuzzy, well-crafted rocker)

TW Walsh

“Young Rebels” – TW Walsh

I needed to hear little more than the distorted drumbeat of the song’s opening seconds to suspect impending goodness; by the time a chimey synth line is added on top (0:04) and a fuzzy bass underneath (0:12), I am all on board. On the one hand yes the intro is just 20 instrumental seconds, the song hasn’t really even started yet; on the other hand, sometimes, damn it all, you can judge the book by the cover. No one who puts together this effortlessly terrific an introduction is going to attach it to a mediocre song. It would unbalance the universe.

Ok so the introduction also lays the table for the first of the song’s two principle compositional enticements, which is the melody’s ongoing de-emphasis of the downbeat (i.e., the first beat of the measure). Check it out: the chimey synth starts up a half beat in front of the first beat, while the verse melody starts a half beat after the first beat, and later lines pick up a half beat before the measure’s last beat. And never mind whether any of this registers as a thing to you as a word description, the larger point is that all this shiftiness around the beat makes for a compelling listen, and renders the chorus (which at last begins right on the first beat; e.g., 0:56) all the more satisfying.

The second enticement is the melody’s relentless downward motion. After the melody at the beginning of the verse repeats once, to catch your attention, all melodic movement in the verse is downward from there. The chorus, likewise, is a descending melody, repeated once. This has a kind of primal appeal, much the same as the satisfaction of watching a ball you toss up in the air return back to your waiting hands.

TW Walsh is a musician and audio engineer who was last featured on Fingertips in 2011; you can read that entry for more biographical background. But know too that since then he suffered for a year and a half with a debilitating disease that was diagnosed inconclusively as chronic fatigue syndrome. Then, when he began to feel somewhat better, he broke his elbow. His 2011 album had been called Songs of Pain and Leisure. “Young Rebels” is the third track on his new album Fruitless Research, which arrives next month via Graveface Records, and was produced in collaboration with the Shins’ Yuuki Matthews (who has worked previously with Sufjan Stevens, Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, and David Bazan, among others).

Free and legal MP3: Fantasmas (noisy guitars, put to good purpose)

While the guitars are given a lot of opportunity to go at it—there’s even a guitar break in the middle of the chorus somehow—the song still manages to give us a larger feeling of space than noisy guitars alone usually convey.

Fantasmas

“No Soul” – Fantasmas

A blurry, spiky surge of noisy guitars powers this three-minute keeper from a young Brooklyn band calling themselves Fantasmas. Amidst the punk-ish ambiance I sense a great deal of poise. I like that particular juxtaposition, so here you are.

Note the long introduction (unusual for this kind of music), and note that it starts off the tonic—meaning, away from the key in which the the song is written. (Whatever that pulsating, semi-dissonant chord-like thing the guitars are slashing away at for 45 seconds is, it’s not the home chord.) This is a sneaky yet time-honored way to keep you listening, because our ears, bless their simple needs, just want to be brought home. At 0:45 (phew), we are shifted into the tonic, get 12 more seconds of slashing guitars, and only then we get to see what the song is really about. Which is pretty much more slashing guitars, but now they are sculpted around minimalist lyrics—eight pithy blurts per verse—delivered with indelible New York City-style blasé-ness by a vocalist identified only as Kam. (I especially like his nearly-spoken lines at 1:56.) While the guitars are given a lot of opportunity to go at it—there’s even a guitar break in the middle of the chorus somehow—the song still manages to give us a larger feeling of space than noisy guitars alone usually convey. Some of this probably has to do with how the guitars are dialed back during the sung parts of the chorus; we get much more tension than noise here, a seemingly small detail with a large impact on our listening experience.

Fantasmas are a relatively new quartet from Brooklyn. The name is Spanish for ghosts, and this new band is not to be confused with Fantasma (a cumbia band from Argentina) or Los Fantasmas, an obscure quintet from the Isle of Wight. “No Soul” is the second half of their debut two-sided seven-inch single, the first imprint served up by Low Life Inc., a Brooklyn-based music promotion firm that recently started a label. You can download the song as usual via the link on the title above, or via the record company’s SoundCloud page. The single came out in December, but I only recently came across it, thanks to The Mad Mackeral.

Free and legal MP3: Yo La Tengo (in all their blurry/fuzzy glory)

There’s no particular point in trying to parse this song; better to let it wash over you, repeatedly.

Yo La Tengo

“Stupid Things” – Yo La Tengo

Now then, everything I just said about elusive songwriting? Um, maybe never mind. Yo La Tengo is back in town and they are long-reigning masters of elusive pop songs. They may have partially invented the genre. The blurry singing, the fuzzy background, the vehement guitars, the incomprehensible lyrics? It’s all here. And damn if it isn’t pretty lovable somehow.

There’s no particular point in trying to parse this song; better to let it wash over you, on repeat, the way the droning guitar washes over the noodling guitar in the introduction. It’s jarring at first but it works. Over time you may register how the fleeting dissonances and the modest melodious moments congeal into one hypnotic whole. Ira Kaplan whispers his way around a tune that does its best to hide its moment of gratifying resolution. While the guitars seem often to be playing in another song altogether, it’s their long, lyric-free interlude—beginning around 3:18—that to me anchors the song, and renders its mysteries mysteriously meaningful. This episode starts as two plicky, plunking guitars soloing against each other, but at around 3:34 the lower of the two begins an anvil-like repetition of one chord, with one dissonant hiccup at 3:49. The solo guitar, at once meandering and forceful, all but stumbles into a truly satisfying resolution (4:05) and after that, the song just makes sense. The chorus melody had itself given us a taste of resolution back when first heard (1:54) but note how much richer it seems the second time (4:37), reinforced by the synthesizers that join the song for the home stretch.

“Stupid Things” is from the new Yo La Tengo album, Fade, which was released this month on Matador Records. This is their 13th studio album. MP3 via Epitonic. For those keeping score at home, Yo La Tengo has been featured on Fingertips four previous times, most recently in July ’09.

Free and legal MP3: Plates of Cake (fuzzy & jangly, w/ rhythmic hiccups)

The swift and confident “As If The Choice Were Mine” is at once fuzzy and jangly, teasing us with whiffs of the ’60s and hints of rhythmic trickery.

Plates of Cake

“As If The Choice Were Mine” – Plates of Cake

The swift and confident “As If The Choice Were Mine” is at once fuzzy and jangly, teasing us with whiffs of the ’60s and hints of rhythmic trickery. Front man Jonathan Byerly has some of Matt Berninger’s portentous grumble, but cleared of any pontifical mannerism by the song’s underlying vim, as well as the three-part harmony he sings as part of from start to finish. The song is chorus-free, with one eight-measure melody repeated three times, around instrumental breaks. This is part of what gives the tune its light-footed momentum, this not having to reorient itself for something sing-along-ier.

But it’s also the nature of the melody itself that gives the song its appeal. Listen to how it begins, unusually, on a heavily accented first beat, which both grabs the ear and kind of knocks it off kilter. It is an eight-measure melody, mostly but not completely in 4/4 time, expanding nonchalantly into 6/4 time in measures five and six (from 0:26 to 0:32). For no reason I can discern except further slyness, the introduction, which recurs as the first instrumental break, comes with 6/4 time in measure seven as well, while the second instrumental break, a different thing entirely, is but seven measures long, all in 4/4 but the seventh, which is in 6/4. And yes I’m kind of fascinated by time signature tricks and changes, so there you go.

Meanwhile, what about that title? It’s a hall-of-fame song title, with bonus points for proper use of the conditional tense, and packing so much meaning and subtext into its six words that it hardly requires any further embellishment. And in truth we don’t get much—beyond the repeated opening gambit “As if the choice were mine/And not some fated thing,” the lyrics are both sparse and elusive; after many listens, I still can’t quite make out what the “hollow angels” are doing.

Plates of Cake are a Brooklyn-based foursome with one full-length album to their name, released in 2010 on the All Hands Electric label. “As If The Choice Were Mine” is a digital single, to be officially released later this month. Go to the band’s page on its label’s web site and you can download a couple of free and legal MP3s from the debut album.

Free and legal MP3: Waters (fuzzy, thumpy, discordant, & somehow cute)

Fuzzy and thumpy and semi-discordant, “For the One” is kind of cute in spite of itself.

Waters

“For the One” – Waters

Fuzzy and thumpy and semi-discordant, “For the One” is kind of cute in spite of itself. Let’s begin with Van Pierszalowski’s somewhat strangled, not-always-exactly-on-key tenor, which for all its shortcomings also has impressive presence and charisma. I’m not at all sure what separates voices that veer off key but remain somehow true from those that are simply off key and please stop singing, but Pierszalowski falls clearly in the former category, to me. His case is assisted by the vocal company he keeps, whether it’s him layered and multi-tracked or some other folk doing the honors; the various wordless background vocals that warble in the background above the lead singing add texture and character and an odd kind of cuddliness to the proceedings.

And then there’s the crunchy guitar sound. Pierszalowski’s type of precarious tenor goes oh so naturally with heavy, crunchy guitar. Maybe Neil Young has just conditioned us to believe this. Or maybe I could come up with an impromptu theory about how our ear takes in that high and unstable voice and requires something deep and heavy and grounded to counterbalance it, to allow us to feel that all is still okay with the world. These are some deep and heavy and grounded guitars, in any case. And don’t miss what may be the one of the longer one-note solos in rock’n’roll history, from 2:24 through the end of the song. Not a solo in the sense of always being front and center, but you can hear this one note on one particular guitar all 35 seconds or so; it’s the note that eventually ends the song. (An E, if you must know.)

Pierszalowski was last seen around these parts as front man for the band Port O’Brien, featured here in 2009. Port O’Brien split in 2010; Waters is a solo project that coalesced for Pierszalowski while finding himself in Oslo, where he seems to have settled for the time being. He grew up on the California coast, and spent some formative summers in Alaska, and at this point seems to have a life story impossible to trace with any geographical certainty. “For the One” is the opening song on the debut Waters album, Out in the Light, coming out in September on TBD Records.

Free and legal MP3: Hospital Ships (fuzzy bedroom pop)

Woozy bedroom pop with a fuzzy heart and a Beatlesque soul.

Jordan Geiger

“Love or Death” – Hospital Ships

Woozy bedroom pop with a fuzzy heart and a Beatlesque soul. Without introduction, “Love or Death” dives directly into the eight-measure melody that becomes its backbone. The sound is buzzy and semi-distorted without ever losing its sense of sharpness and movement. There’s a big difference between fuzz and mud, and Jordan Geiger, Hospital Ships’ one-man band, embraces the former without getting stuck in the latter. Listen, for example, to how he processes and reverbs and layers his high-ranging tenor so that it becomes an important textured element of the music without at all losing its humanity. Listen too to that deep, cello-like synthesizer that provides a melodic bass line for the song, comingling as the song unfolds with a buzzing organ (maybe?) that manages to add both to the distortion and to the musicality.

The song’s brisk spirit is reinforced by its irregular structure. The eight-measure melody cycles through five times, each time with different lyrics; there is a break after the fourth iteration for something that might be a chorus except we hear it only once. The lyrics seem to rise and fall out of earshot, with certain phrases calling more attention to themselves than others. “Like a mirror just reflects his lonely twin” is one such line, ripe with sudden poignancy and deeper meaning—so much so that in this case, Geiger pulls the name of the whole album from this lyric: Lonely Twin.

The album is the second for Geiger as Hospital Ships, and is due out next month on Graveface Records. Geiger, from Lawrence, Kansas, was formerly in both Shearwater and the Appleseed Cast, and was front man for Minus Story. Thanks to Consequence of Sound for the lead here.

Free and legal MP3: TV on the Radio (half stompy, half mellow)

Alternating between a stompy, fuzz-tinged verse and a silky groove of a chorus, “Caffeinated Consciousness” may well be aiming to reproduce the very feel of being juiced on caffeine: there’s the oh-wow-hey-pay-attention part and then there’s the I’m-just-gliding-along-as-smooth-as-can-be part. And they kind of fit together and kind of don’t.

TV on the Radio

“Caffeinated Consciousness” – TV on the Radio

Alternating between a stompy, fuzz-tinged verse and a silky groove of a chorus, “Caffeinated Consciousness” may well be aiming to reproduce the very feel of being juiced on caffeine: there’s the oh-wow-hey-pay-attention part and then there’s the I’m-just-gliding-along-as-smooth-as-can-be part. And they kind of fit together and kind of don’t.

In any case, it’s a curiously addictive vibe. As soon as the ear gets tired of the harsh, riff-heavy, sample-fueled first part, we slip with relief into the groovy second part, with its happy blend of mellow-funky guitars and pipe-organ-y synthesizers. When that gets maybe too easy-going (I’m wired, man, I need to bust up something), squonk we go, back into the noise. But it’s kind of a happy noise in its own way—“I’m optimistic!” sing/shouts Tunde Adebimpe, over a delightfully rubbery bass and (wait for it; it’s in the second half of the verse, not the first) a stuttery, metallic, low-register guitar melody that (okay, maybe I’m hearing things) wouldn’t sound out of place on a Grateful Dead record.

TV on the Radio has been doing musical business out of Brooklyn since way back in 2001. They were one of the earlier bands featured here on Fingertips, in 2003, for a song off their first EP called “Staring at the Sun,” back when they were still a duo. (And hey, it’s still available!) They are five men strong these days. “Caffeinated Consciousness” is a track off the album Nine Types of Light, the band’s fourth full-length, due out in April on Interscope. MP3 via Magnet Magazine.

Free and legal MP3: Ceremony (putting the pop into noise pop)

Ever since My Bloody Valentine there have been no shortage of bands choosing to wallop our ears with washes of noisy guitars while teasing those same ears with muffled vocals, but not enough of them–either in the original shoegaze era or in its current “neo” phase–have bothered mixing a strong melody into the sonic assault. The duo calling themselves Ceremony, on the other hand, while making themselves inaccessible Googlistically speaking, have decided to put the “pop” back into noise pop.

“Someday” – Ceremony

Ever since My Bloody Valentine there have been no shortage of bands choosing to wallop our ears with washes of noisy guitars while teasing those same ears with muffled vocals, but not enough of them–either in the original shoegaze era or in its current “neo” phase–have bothered mixing a strong melody into the sonic assault. The duo calling themselves Ceremony, on the other hand, while making themselves inaccessible Googlistically speaking, have decided to put the “pop” back into noise pop.

Springing from the same Fredericksburg, Virginia trio–Skywave–that ended up giving birth to NYC’s A Place to Bury Strangers, Ceremony are loud, no question. But right away see how they take the noisy, rapid-fire beat and use it to as a framework for a melody both leisurely and tuneful. The first hint we get is the lilting–in fact, rather Cure-like–instrumental theme that emerges from the beat at 0:16. That’s an ear-friendly hook before the singing even starts. The vocals, when they arrive, are buzzy but not buried; you can not only understand a good number of words, but the singer–either Paul Baker or John Fedowitz (both are listed with the exact same credits: vocal, guitar, bass, drum machine)–sings like he wants to be heard; he’s got a portentous baritone, but he enunciates, while singing a catchy little tune when all is said and done. Rather audacious of him, especially on a song with this straightforward refrain: “Take my heart and my life/’Cause someday you’ll be my wife.” Borrowing a bit from a recent post by Michael Azzerad, one might argue that in a loud and angry age such as ours, using this particular aural toolbox to deliver an unironic, non-violent message of love and connection is more subversive than any effort to be just noisy.

“Someday” was released on a 7-inch single in January, and will appear on Ceremony’s debut second full-length album, Rocket Fire, to be released next month. Both releases are on Killer Pimp Records, which also hosts the MP3. Thanks yet again to the indefatigable Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.

Free and legal MP3: The Sun (a fuzzy blast of melodic noise)

“In Perfect Time” – the Sun

A fuzzy blast of melodic noise, “In Perfect Time” seems to want to be played really loud. As a matter of fact, it has a kind of sneaky effect going–the louder I turn it, the louder still I feel I need to hear it. This clearly has to do with how singer Chris Burney’s voice is mixed down, but it’s more than just that. Any number of other bands have done the mixed-down-vocals thing and it doesn’t always have my hand reaching for the volume dial (okay, not a dial anymore, but whatever). So what else is going on here?

Part of it has to do with the unerring melodicism on display. Songwriters with the talent to write this kind of strong, earnest pop melody–Matthew Sweet in his heyday had this kind of sound–typically give you the thing right out front. You don’t have to fight for it. I turn the volume up here because I’m trying to put the melody where I’m used to hearing it. But, of course, turning the volume up only turns all the background wash louder also. And the noise is not at all unpleasant, mind you. It’s bashy and tinny and crunchy. And when it gets louder, I need to turn the volume yet higher, again trying to raise the vocals to a more audible level. A losing battle in this case, especially since–strange but true–the wall of sound appears to get proportionally louder than the vocals as I increase the volume. Producer Mike McCarthy has some wacky magic going here, perhaps the after-effect of working with Spoon’s studied minimalism for so many years (he’s produced all their albums since 2001).

The Sun is a band from Columbus, Ohio that did not name themselves with Google in mind. “In Perfect Time” is the closing track on the album Don’t Let Your Baby Have All The Fun, released this week on Rock Proper. Rock Proper happens to be a so-called “netlabel,” which means that its releases are entirely digital and entirely free. You can download all the songs from the album as free and legal downloads here.