Free and legal MP3: Claude Fontaine (hazy neo-bossa nova)

Claude Fontaine

“Pretending He Was You” – Claude Fontaine

“Pretending He Was You” sweeps you immediately into a world in which hazy neo-bossa-nova feels like a natural, contemporary means of expression—a world in which a dreamy, whispery female singer commands so much unequivocal authority you wonder why anyone ever has to shout.

The vibe is impeccable, and so is the songwriting. Heeding not in the least today’s call to truncate songs for battered attention spans, “Pretending He Was You” lopes to a sultry beat, its languid melody line spreading itself out over 15 measures—notable both for its general length and its ability to wrap itself up so smoothly at that odd moment, structurally speaking. (Most melody lines in rock’n’roll genres carry on for four or eight measures, or very occasionally for 16.) The effect is beguiling and effortless.

A singer/songwriter based in Los Angeles, Fontaine discovered vintage tropical music by accident one day in a record store while living in London for a year, and it literally changed her life. The store was Honest Jon’s, on Portobello Road, and, as she tells it, she began badgering them daily to play for her as many records from tropical genres and sub-genres as they had. Which led her, first, to start writing songs in bygone styles like rocksteady and tropicalia; and then—a testament to her obsession—she enlisted, to record with her, session players with authentic experience, including, for instance, on this track, drummer Airto Moreira, who played in the ’70s with Astrud Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, among many others.

“Pretending He Was You” is the sixth of 10 tracks on her very groovy self-titled debut, released in April. The record is consciously divided into the Jamaica side (first five songs) and the Brazil side (second five). “I hope this record will transport people,” Fountaine has said. “I wanted it to feel like those lost records, like it got lost in the bottom bin of some world music store in London because that’s how I felt when I walked in to that record store. I wanted it to be its own world.”

MP3 via KEXP. Do yourself a favor and listen to the whole album, via Bandcamp. You can buy it there too, including a vinyl version, which I am feeling very tempted right now to indulge in.

Free and legal MP3: The Black Hollies (groovy neo-garage rock)

“Gloomy Monday Morning” – the Black Hollies

A deeply groovy shot of neo-garage rock, “Gloomy Monday Morning” is both steeped in nostalgia and alive with freshly-minted energy. Sure, there’s a big-time Animals/Zombies/’60s-Kinks vibe at work here, but it’s almost like this New Jersey quartet is using the bygone sound as an instrument they’re playing rather than as a straitjacket limiting their buoyancy, if that makes any sense.

The song consistently works at two different, typically contradictory levels. For instance, while blatantly backbeat driven and cymbal heavy, “Gloomy Monday Morning” also employs subtle keyboard accents and a frisky bass line to catch the ear nearly below the level of conscious awareness. Even the backbeat isn’t as straightforward as it seems, working with a kind of stutter that both accentuates and deflects the two and four beat accent. Listen, also, to how a simple maneuver–that upward turn of melody that we first hear at 0:49 in the chorus, and then also in the third line of the second verse (1:08)–serves to break the song open. And what’s with that cymbal sound? It’s so persistent during the chorus and the bridge that it sounds less like an organically played cymbal than a sample played from a keyboard, and is used as a sort of wall-of-sound whitewash at that point more than percussion–a tactic that is, characteristically, somehow, at once heavy-handed and enigmatic. Even the title seemingly contradicts the song’s groove.

“Gloomy Monday Morning” is from the band’s third full-length album, Softly Towards the Light, which was released this week by the Brooklyn-based Ernest Jenning Record Co. MP3 via EJRC.