Free and legal MP3: Muralismo (complex, engaging chamber pop)

“Wild Eyed Friend” is the mysterious out-of-towner you see across the room at a party of familiar faces and invent intriguing stories about. When you finally meet him, he turns out to be less quirky and cryptic than anticipated, but also deeper and more sincere.


“Wild Eyed Friend” – Muralismo

More a multi-faceted adventure than a simple song, “Wild Eyed Friend” is the mysterious out-of-towner you see across the room at a party of familiar faces and invent intriguing stories about. When you finally meet him, he turns out to be less quirky and cryptic than anticipated, but also deeper and more sincere. You are glad he exists, even if you will never see him again.

The good thing, of course, is that you can go and listen to “Wild Eyed Friend” as often as you’d like. And I do recommend a number of repeats; there’s a lot to take in here—the slow, slowly developing pre-introduction, with its gentle, semi-dissonant air of an awakening meadow; the subtly wonderful blend of guitar and orchestral elements in the brisker “true” introduction (1:12); the engaging, concise verse (1:38), with its drum-driven appeal and no-nonsense segue into the non-chorus-y chorus (2:05), which grabs the ear with abrupt ease. It helps that front man Mark David Ashworth has a welcoming, semi-theatrical tone, his high-ranging baritone slightly roughened and rounded by something husky and knowing. It helps too that the ensemble doesn’t throw its orchestrality (a word?) in your face; I like how the winds and flutes and strings and such kind of just weave and evanesce through the landscape here without making a big deal of their presence; best of all, they let the most interesting instrument in the room be the drums—not typical of most things that have been labeled “chamber pop” to date. Drummer Shaun Lowecki (last seen around these parts in the band The Lawlands, in January) has an up-front way of staying in the background, of guiding the music through interesting places often because of his own patterns, without ever doing things that say “Hey, look at me! I’m the drummer!” Good stuff, repeatedly.

Muralismo is based in San Francisco. Ashworth has released a few solo albums previously; Muralismo coalesced as a group project in the 2007 to 2010 time frame, as players came on board, often synchronistically, and aligned themselves into the quintet they are today. “Wild Eyed Friend” is the lead track from the group’s self-titled, eight-song debut album, which the band self-released in LP, CD, and digital formats last month. The above Dropbox MP3 link comes directly from the band. You can listen to the whole album and buy it via Bandcamp.

Free and legal MP3: Young Hunting (moody & dramatic, w/ potent drumming)

Minor-key gravitas and powerfully succinct drumming drive us all the way home.

Young Hunting

“Baby’s First Steps” – Young Hunting

Pretty great introduction to this one, yes? Some songs just wrap you up in them right away. Bonus points here for brevity: we get the tightly coordinated, rhythmic interplay between lower-register, minor-key guitar arpeggios and a pulse-like tom tom for all of about 10 seconds; then come the vocals. All too many songs hang onto notably less interesting instrumental motifs for a lot longer before deciding to get started.

“Baby’s First Steps” is a nicely dramatic song in general, with its minor-key gravitas and apparently chorus-free structure—we get a wordless vocal section in between each verse until, after the third verse, we are finally delivered the chorus. (Delayed gratification is an under-utilized pop music tool.) But what lies at the heart of the song’s drama is the drumming, which is minimal, atmospheric, and potent. Launched on the juxtaposition of a steady yet stuttering rhythm, the song somehow seems to move faster than its own beat, if that makes any sense (it might not). This central sonic paradox feeds a number of related contradictions: the song feels at once smooth and itchy, calm and ominous, moody and defiant. The drumming is incredibly succinct; most of the drum kit remains unused for most of the song—we get one cymbal bash at 1:02, another at 1:13, but then we’re back to the tom, now with a purposeful shaker of some sort anchoring the relentless beat. Cymbals don’t enter regularly until the two-minute mark, when the drummer finally opens up a bit, but we still don’t get anything that feels like “normal” rock’n’roll drumming until two-thirds of the way through the song. This is also when the guitars move at last towards the front of the mix, but we have to wait even longer, until the last 30 seconds, for the (very effective) guitar solo. That’s discipline, baby.

Young Hunting is a five-piece band from Los Angeles. “Baby’s First Steps” is a song from the band’s debut full-length album, Hazel, slated for a June release on Oakland-based Gold Robot Records. The band previously put out a seven-inch single in 2010. Thanks to Gold Robot for the MP3.

Free and legal MP3: The Mynabirds (stompy rave-up/protest song)

Stompy, sultry, vaguely threatening. A rave-up of a protest song. Prescient and relevant and delightful.

Laura Burhenn

“Generals” – The Mynabirds

Stompy, sultry, and vaguely threatening, “Generals” is a wondrous rave-up of a protest song. And given that this was released last month, and recorded however many weeks or months before that, it sounds positively prescient. They might want to be singing this one in Texas, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and everywhere else that male politicians have been medievally attempting to trample on the rights of living, breathing citizens who happen to be women. “Calling all my generals, my daughters, my revolutionaires/We’ve got strength in numbers and they’re going to pay for it.” We can only hope. And I mean pay for it in November, at the ballot box, just to be clear.

I am an unabashed fan of Laura Burhenn, the Mynabirds’ Omaha-based front woman/mastermind—two songs from the 2010 debut album were featured here, in January and May of that year. (She also stopped by, virtually, for a Q&A in April.) I love her dusky, hungry voice, and how she embraces and embodies the past to create such spirited sounds in the here and now. “Generals,” all bass and war drum, has a harder edge than anything on the debut album, even as it retains a sense of poise and playfulness. It seems at once memorable and hard to get a grip on, probably because of how the verses chug to an adamant backbeat while the chorus, without effecting a time signature change, grinds to a heavy, half-time chant of a melody; and then the catchiest part turns out not to be in either the verse or the chorus, but is that “Haven’t I paid my dues?” bit between the two. Keep listening to this one, it burrows into the soul.

“Generals” is the first track made available from the Mynabirds forthcoming album of the same name, due out on Saddle Creek Records in June. MP3 via Magnet Magazine, or Burhenn will give you the download herself if you join her mailing list.

photo credit: Shervin Lainez

Free and legal MP3: Tim Chad & Sherry (’70s funk homage, w/ spirit)

Tim Chad & Sherry

“The Love I Make” – Tim Chad & Sherry

A thick slice of faux-’70s white-boy funk, paying homage to a generous variety of that decade’s full- and part-time practitioners, from Atomic Rooster to the Average White Band to Hall and Oates to Talking Heads. Not to mention David Bowie and maybe even the Grateful Dead. And somehow it comes together, and somehow—an important point, to me—it sounds fresh without sounding ironic.

Part of it, I think, has to do with what I was talking about last week, about music that makes you smile. If a band is being ironic, they might make you smirk, or prompt a slow knowing smile; if a band is being genuine, any smile provoked is pure—it comes to the face without the brain getting in the way. I think the intro groove is just plain happy—funky, yes, but also spiffy and elaborate in the interplay between what sounds like a synthesizer (or two) and a bass, each playing a skittery, dance floor line. The next thing to listen to is the keyboard, which has a throwback organ sound, and is used once the singing starts with the lightest possible touch, deftly echoing the end of lyrical line. Just when the musical language has seemingly been established, two loud additions crash the party—the guitar, low-register and clangy, beginning at 0:49, and then the snare drum (1:02), which had been missing in the percussion until then. With the drummer now fully engaged (I like his sense of rumble and spirit) the song breathes with added fire. In the end, maybe, authenticity emerges through simple presence: through a sense that the musicians are engaged moment to moment, both individually and collectively. The trippy guitar solo (2:14 etc.) is an obvious highlight; less obvious, maybe, is the allure of the song’s sneaky lack of structure—it’s built on a series of clipped lyrical lines that use the underlying funk to rise and fall as if we are hearing verses and choruses but we probably aren’t, and give the song its ongoing feeling of play and inspiration.

Tim Chad & Sherry is a quartet (go figure) founded by Brian Kotzur, formerly of the Silver Jews. (There is no one named Tim, Chad, or Sherry in the band, by the way.) “The Love I Make” is from the group’s debut album, Baby We Can Work It Out, released this month on Cleft Records. MP3 via Cleft. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.