Free and legal MP3: Pure Bathing Culture (Portland duo making warm & graceful music)

Here is a crafty duo from Portland—Daniel Hindman on guitar, Sarah Versprille on keys and vocals—that appears to understand the power of restraint

Pure Bathing Culture

“Pendulum” – Pure Bathing Culture

Immediately warm and welcoming, “Pendulum” punctuates its laid-back opening groove with a concise guitar riff—but only twice. It’s a sturdy, time-honored three-chord descent, the kind of riff with which a typical rock band might pound you into submission. Here, then, is a crafty duo from Portland—Daniel Hindman on guitar, Sarah Versprille on keys and vocals—that appears to understand the power of restraint; they use the riff only in the intro and in the chorus and each time we hear it repeated just the two times. Instead of walloping you with it, they caress you.

And then there’s the matter of singer Versprille, and the sweet vigor with which she sings. Even through a smeary blanket of reverb, her voice has a cloudless purity. It too feels like a kind of caress. Oh, and when we only heard the riff twice in the introduction, it was followed by an ancillary instrumental melody gliding gracefully down and partially back up a full octave. That turns out to be the climactic melody line in the chorus, and as in the intro, it follows those two iterations of the riff; but see here how the riff now weaves itself artfully below the emphatic melody line. The entire song, upon repeated listens, feels like one grand and artful weave, and Hindman’s guitar lines turn out to be just as much the cause of delight as his band mate’s vocals.

“Pendulum” is a song from the duo’s full-length debut, Moon Tides, due to arrive in August on Partisan Records. The pair previously released a four-song EP in 2012, and was featured here for the song “Ivory Coast” last May. Thanks to Lauren Laverne over at BBC Radio 6 Music for the head’s up.

Free and legal MP3: The Fine Arts Showcase (melodic Swedish pop, w/ crooning)

“London, My Town” – The Fine Arts Showcase

The hand claps you hear at the outset of “London, My Town” aren’t just an intermittent percussive accent or atmospheric frill; they’re here for the duration of the song, soon acquiring a riveting sort of desperation about them. Hand claps are usually smile-inducing but these ones, not so much; whether organic or artificial, they have the sound of palms being driven together with an almost violent tenacity. That they do so underneath a most graceful melody adds to their disconcerting vigor. Neither for that matter does front man Gustaf Kjellvander, with his crooner’s baritone, have the kind of voice you expect to hear happy-claps behind.

And so check out how the song’s second section arrives, at 0:35, and immediately something feels like a clearing or a release. Yup: it’s because the hand claps have stopped for the moment. “And I’ve given up on truth,” Kjellvander sings at this point, accompanied by a pensive slide guitar line. “‘Cause I’m running out of youth.” Aren’t we all. And then the unyielding hand claps return. The song has something to do with Kjellvander’s moving back to Malmö from London after his relationship (the “Hanna” mentioned at the song’s abrupt end) has broken up; the entire album, Dolophine Smile, in fact, offers an unsparing look at the crumbling relationship. Set to graceful melodies.

The album, the Swedish quartet’s fifth, was released back in April 2009 on Malmö-based . “London, My Town” has just been made available as a free and legal MP3 via Adrian, in advance of the Fine Arts Showcase’s imminent German tour.

[Sad footnote: Gustaf Kjellvander passed away in 2011.]

Free and legal MP3: The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra (steady, graceful, dark indie pop, but not chamber pop)

“In a Dream” – The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra

Steady, gracefully dark indie pop from Los Angeles. The verses march, almost claustrophobically, to a carefully articulated pulse; the chorus, without that much different a melody, offers a flowing, minor-key release, as clear-voiced Kellie Noftle joins buzzy-voiced front man Hunter Costeau in a bittersweet, Nancy and Lee sort of way. Don’t miss the modulation at 2:41; the change in key, a relatively pedestrian effect, feels at that point like a mini-revelation.

While there’s nothing overtly orchestral about FTO’s sound in this song–this isn’t chamber pop–there is an almost sculptural attention to sonic detail here that I find appealing. While it’s not uncommon to hear a trio that sounds like a bigger ensemble, this is one of the few times I’ve heard a sextet sound like a smaller band, thanks to the group’s joint refusal to overplay their instruments. I’m liking for example the controlled use of a xylophone (or glockenspiel?), its chimey accents plinging in and out of the listener’s awareness. I also like that choral-like synthesizer, emerging first at 1:36 and coming into its own in the last third of the song, which works unexpectedly well with both of the guitars the band uses.

A “flying tourbillon,” by the way, is a type of tourbillon (“tour-bee-yon”), which is a mechanism inside a watch, and apparently a mechanism that was very challenging to produce, especially in the days of hand-made watches. Tourbillon watches remain prized by collectors, according to my web sources. “In a Dream” is a song from FTO’s debut EP, Escapements, which was self-released this summer. An escapement, by the way, is also a mechanism in a watch, of which the tourbillon is a part. Now you know.