Free and legal MP3: Pure Bathing Culture (glistening indie rock w/ notable guitar work)

“All Night” – Pure Bathing Culture

I’ve got one more artist with a Fingertips track record for you this month, as the Portland duo Pure Bathing Culture returns with another glistening piece of indie rock, this their third feature here, dating back to 2012. Whereas in previous incarnations the duo presented their guitar-based material wrapped in a cloud of hazy electronics and constructed beats, they are now embracing their inner Fleetwood Mac and going all in on sprightly riffing and buoyant melodies. (Seeing them in person definitely adds to the Buckingham-Nicks vibe, Sara Versprille white-gowned and witchy up front, Daniel Hindman working guitar magic under a balding, curly-haired pate.)

“All Night” is as upbeat as these guys get; the song’s momentum receives an added push thanks to its persistently on-the-beat melody—in the verse in particular, there are a limited number of quarter or eighth notes, and little in the way of syncopation. Over time this lends a subtle breathlessness to the proceedings, reinforced by Versprille’s recurring yelp in the chorus at the end of the lyric “Till black in the sky turns blue.”

Most of all the song in particular, and Pure Bathing Culture more generally, presents an ongoing affirmation on the power and purpose of the electric guitar, despite its relegation to the scrap heap of history by 2010s mainstream pop. Sure, Hindman still tucks his licks in and around a glossy bed of bounce and reverb, but if you have any questions about the intensity of his instrumental commitment, even here in 2019, listen closely to the last 60 seconds of this song, where he out-Buckinghams Buckingham and maybe even out-Knopflers Knopfler in the process. Personally, I think he gets faded out a bit too gently and too early but even in those closing seconds you can feel the heat of his playing.

“All Night” is the sixth of 11 tracks on the band’s album Night Pass, their third, which was released in April and produced by Portland crony Tucker Marine. Listen to it and buy it, in your format of choice, via Bandcamp. There’s even a tote bag for you tote bag fans. MP3 once more via The Current.



(Note that MP3s from The Current are available in files that are 128kbps, which is below the iTunes standard of 192kbps, not to mention the higher-def standard of 320kbps. I personally don’t hear much difference on standard-quality equipment but if you are into high-end sound you’ll probably notice something. In any case I always encourage you to download the MP3 for the purposes of getting to know a song via a few listens; if you like it I still urge you to buy the music. It’s the right thing to do.)

Free and legal MP3: Alejandra O’Leary (squonky midtempo rocker, w/ melodic twists)

Combining an assured employment of squonky guitars with satisfying melodic momentum, “Wires” quickly brings the ear back to the heyday of early ’90s alternative rock at its most accessible.

“Wires” – Alejandra O’Leary

Combining an assured employment of squonky guitars with satisfying melodic momentum, “Wires” quickly brings the ear back to the heyday of early ’90s alternative rock at its most engaging. This feels like a nice thing to hear with a fresh coat of 2019 paint. And, as with some of the best material from that era (think Belly, think Garbage), “Wires” isn’t content staying exactly in one place and phoning it in from there. Hang in through the chorus (0:50-1:05) and you get an even higher level of songwriting payout, as the melody there expands in buoyant, unexpected directions.

I love how the song feels slightly unhinged and tightly controlled at the same time, with O’Leary’s clear-toned voice steering us through its twists and turns. You may notice that the verse disappears after its second go-round, replaced by a repeating bridge-like section (1:51) that offers its own hooks. And if you’ve been patiently waiting for those crunchy guitars to break out, your dividend arrives at 2:45, when O’Leary leaves off in mid-lyric for a few moments of concluding instrumental frenzy.

O’Leary is a half-Colombian, half-Irish singer/songwriter based in Portland, Maine. “Wires” is the lead track from Everest, which will be released next week. You can listen to the album, and buy it, via Bandcamp. Her back catalog of three albums and an EP are also there and worth investigating.

Free and legal MP3: Talkboy

Sparkly, melodic indie rock

Talkboy

“Someone Else For You” – Talkboy

With its sparkly veneer and heavy undercurrent, “Someone Else For You” is two minutes and twenty-eight seconds of uprushing melody and impressive craft. Time is saved from the get-go: the song launches with no introduction, which feels like walking into a movie that’s already started. Momentum continues via a verse that essentially fakes right and goes left—the way the first line ends, with the words “into the city” (0:02), leads the ear to expect a similar pause at the end of the next line (0:05-:06). But, instead, the melody flows through an unexpected chord change, on the words “things to say” (0:08), before resolving back in a place that satisfies musically even as the lyrics suggest conflict, referring to words that “always came out wrong” (0:11). Best of all, look where we are now: just 12 seconds in, already treated to an eight-measure verse melody and lyrical intrigue before most songs have emerged from their opening vamps.

And why not? When you have a lead singer with Katie Heap’s rich tones and easy assurance, there’s no point in delaying her entry. The second verse runs through the same territory but now with a wash of wordless backing vocals layered below. The chorus arrives with an extra bashing of drums at 0:25; with its repeating, descending conclusion, it’s more concise melodically than the verse. This provides a clearing for the guitars to emerge from the background, surging first below the lyrics (0:32) and then out into the open at 0:38. The song now carries a heaviness one might not have anticipated from the head-bobbing opening.

Deft touches dot the rest of the song, from the head-clearing acoustic blip at 0:52, to the quiet iteration of the chorus the second time through (1:07), the feedback-y bridge (1:25), and, maybe best of all, Heap’s effortless octave leap at 1:47, after which she finishes the song in her impressive upper register.

Talkboy is a six-person band from Leeds. “Someone Else For You” is their third single, released earlier this month. You can download this one, as usual, from the above link, and then check the other songs out over on SoundCloud.

Free and legal MP3: Bob Mould (hard-driving yet friendly)

Bob Mould arrives in 2019 like a sudden gust of wind rearranging the porch furniture.

Bob Mould

“Sunshine Rock” – Bob Mould

Pop culture is a cruel mistress; the one uniting and unavoidable fact of life, that we all grow old, is precisely what our culture will not accept, forever worshipping the latest crop of young and pretty people at the expense of those previously worshipped, never mind those artists creating works of lasting quality. The internet has aggravated this already aggravating tendency, creating new categories of veneration (YouTuber, influencer, et al.) in which the generative talent seems mostly to do with an ability to capture attention in an age rife with attention deficits, and to do so most often in a way that older people can’t fathom and/or don’t care about. In a way it may be fitting that in this virtual age of ours the demand for an actual creative product is brushed aside for the pleasure of simply focusing on one evanescent screen moment for some uninterrupted amount of minutes (or seconds); in any case, youth worship is firmly reiterated in the process.

Bob Mould arrives on such a scene like a sudden gust of wind rearranging the porch furniture. The Hüsker Dü founder, now 58, has wandered his way through a varied career, intermittently touching base with the kind of blistering rock’n’roll for which his first band was known, other times venturing into more electronic enterprises. Here, with “Sunshine Rock,” guitars crash and ring, suspended chords suspend, a firm, stuttering beat establishes itself, and Mould comes at us with that yearning but muffled voice of his, a voice that forever sounds like it’s singing in an empty room with maybe one folding chair in it. The melody is clipped and snappy, with cascading resolutions in the verses and one or two spiffy chord changes in the chorus. It’s both hard-driving and friendly.

Now then, the title and the energetic pace suggest something optimistic, as do the strings that materialize most notably in an affirmative flourish at the end of the song. But the Bob Mould vibe is never entirely sunshine-y—even when he, by all accounts, thinks he’s being sunny (“I’m trying to keep things brighter these days as a way to stay alive,” Mould says in an accompanying press release, not the sunniest of sunny statements if you think about it). To my ears, however, to the extent that the lyrics are decipherable, “Sunshine Rock” presents as an “enjoy what you have while you have it because nothing lasts very long” kind of song, Mould singing more with fortitude than delight. In 2019, that passes for sunny.

“Sunshine Rock” is the title track from Mould’s forthcoming album, to be released next month on Merge Records. MP3 via the good folks at KEXP. This is the third time Mould has been featured here, but the first time since 2009; neither of his previous tracks are still available as free and legal downloads.

Free and legal MP3: San Mei (hazy, guitar-laced)

Stately, hazy, guitar-laced, and ear-worm-y (in a good way), “Wonder” nods at some of contemporary pop’s aural trimmings while delivering songcraft and instrumentation unlike what our 2010s popsters are usually busy offering us.

San Mei

“Wonder” – San Mei

Stately, hazy, guitar-laced, and ear-worm-y (in a good way), “Wonder” nods at some of contemporary pop’s aural trimmings while delivering songcraft and instrumentation unlike what our 2010s popsters tend to busy themselves with. San Mei—the stage name for Australian singer/songwriter/guitarist Emily Hamilton—is committed unabashedly to the guitar, so that’s an ear-opening contrast to today’s music scene right there. And yet, with its somewhat processed, clipped ambiance, this doesn’t sound like anyone’s father’s rock’n’roll either.

And, I have to say, one of the song’s ongoing pleasures is hearing Hamilton’s light and agile voice—which one can with no difficulty imagine layered over an electronic beat, with an easily conjured battery of back-up dancers—fronting a song that drapes its pop-inflected fabric over a sturdy body of guitar squonks and sirens. The opening testifies to what we’re in for: first, a hint of shimmery electronics, but, no, what’s really happening is the guitars are warming up (listen for the subtle scratch of electric guitar strings at 0:05). “Wonder” proceeds to launch off an honest-to-goodness guitar riff, and is driven throughout via a creative variety of electric guitar tones and etchings, including something of a psychedelic freakout at 2:23.

But there is more than guitar worship going on here. “Wonder” is structurally impressive, with its double-time tag in the verse, balanced by a pre-chorus slowdown, all leading to a chorus so solidly chorded that I’m tempted to call it anthemic were it not also so effortlessly presented—a kind of “Who, me?” approach to anthemic rock’n’roll.

San Mei was born as a laptop-based bedroom pop project, but Hamilton soon aimed her sights on a larger instrumental palette than a MIDI keyboard offered—by which of course I mean guitars: fuzzy, intersecting, drony guitars. After a debut EP in 2017. San Mei returned this year with the four-song Heaven EP, released in September. You can hear the whole thing over on SoundCloud.

Free and legal MP3: Johnny Marr (irresistible minor-key goodness)

Do you sometimes want to hear somebody just make music? Somebody who’s been around and knows what he or she is doing? Do you want to listen to someone who isn’t trying to be the latest sensation, who isn’t after clicks and follows?

Johnny Marr

“Hi Hello” – Johnny Marr

Do you sometimes want to hear somebody just make music? Somebody who’s been around and knows what he or she is doing? Do you want to listen to someone who isn’t trying to be the latest sensation, who isn’t after clicks and follows? If so, try this one. It’s Johnny Marr, it glides along in a lovely and slightly dark way, it’s got guitars, it’s in a minor key. What more do you need?

Johnny Marr as I assume you know used to be in the Smiths, and as such was the architect of their distinctive, minor-key-jangly-chimey sound. “Hi Hello” works a bit of that ground, but here the ground is knowingly smoothed over—mellowed with age, perhaps, and/or not as concerned with sounding so rigorously different as the Smiths were. But hell, by now, Marr has spent a whole lot more time not being in the Smiths than he spent being in them. A good amount of that time found him landing as a guitarist in a series of previously existing bands (The Pretenders, The The, Modest Mouse, et al.); outside of a 2003 album credited to Johnny Marr & The Healers, the solo efforts have only recently been sprouting up—one in 2013, one in 2014, and this new one in 2018. Which is all to say he’s still relatively new to the front-man role, still finding his I’m-the-center-of-attention voice. He does a good job here expanding his vocal range with an effortless leap into and out of falsetto that kind of slyly turns into the song’s principal hook. And I could be entirely imagining this, but the short instrumental motif we hear at 1:48 sounds like an oblique reference to the old hymn “Hey Ho Nobody Home,” which itself might not be completely irrelevant to the title and lyrics here. Or I could be entirely imagining this.

“Hi Hello” is the fourth track from Marr’s album Call the Comet, which was released in June. MP3 via The Current.

(Note that MP3s from The Current are available in files that are 128kbps, which is below the iTunes standard of 192kbps, not to mention the higher-def standard of 320kbps. I personally don’t hear much difference on standard-quality equipment but if you are into high-end sound you’ll probably notice something. In any case I always encourage you to get the MP3 for the purposes of getting to know a song via a few listens; if you like it I still urge you to buy the music. It’s only right.)

Free and legal MP3: Calva Louise (ferocious & fantastic)

Concise and ferocious, “I Heard a Cry” is almost ridiculously appealing—two minutes and sixteen seconds of crunchy guitars, headlong momentum, and subtle craft.

Calva Louise

“I Heard a Cry” – Calva Louise

Concise and ferocious, “I Heard a Cry” is almost ridiculously appealing—two minutes and sixteen seconds of crunchy guitars, headlong momentum, and subtle craft that can reaffirm one’s faith in humankind, if that doesn’t sound too grandiose. But what the heck: we need it right about now. To my ears, there’s something Clash-like in the brash meeting of power and grace on display here, with the added bounty of Jess Allanic’s arresting vocals, in their varied guises, from garage-rock yelping to soaring “ooh-oohs” to sultry asides and smartly articulated pronouncements.

At the center of the proceedings are two things: first, a sing-song-y guitar riff, which we hear initially in a searing, almost bag-pipe-y rendering and then later, to keep us on our toes, in an acoustic translation; second, the demarcated five-note melodic descent that the verse coalesces around (first heard at 0:26)—a moment that each time seems nearly to stop the song in its tracks but instead launches it into further commotion. Keep listening and you’ll hear all sorts of other touches, including unexpected forays into interlocking melodies, sudden interjections (check out Allanic’s “Hey!” at 0:49), ear-bending guitar effects, and, even, a brilliant chord change in the middle of where you’d never think to find it (1:40).

Calva Louise is a new-ish band from London, and all but the definition of a 21st-century power trio. This is their second single. A debut full-length album is expected in early 2019.

Free and legal MP3: Thyla (incisive, guitar-fueled)

“Blame” comes instantly alive via chunky guitar and bass interplay and front woman Millie Duthie’s way with a scattershot melody.

Thyla

“Blame” – Thyla

A burst of incisive, guitar-fueled rock’n’roll that takes various generations of harsh but melodic British rock (think Buzzcocks via Elastica) and funnels it into two minutes and fifty-six seconds of up-to-date SoundCloud streaming. “Blame” comes instantly alive via chunky guitar and bass interplay and front woman Millie Duthie’s way with a scattershot melody. The song keeps arriving and arriving, everything stitched ultimately together by the restrained but terrific guitar work that pushes melody through the cracks of Duthie’s assertive vocals.

Another thing to listen for: the bass solo, which the song clears itself out for at 1:28. And then best of all the guitar line that begins in the background and how it moves itself further into the front of the mix as the song develops, climaxing from 2:18 onward with a siren-like onslaught.

And look. Sometimes I get disheartened by the vacuousness of the songs that arrive in my inbox in all their beat-driven, viral-seeking glory (i.e., horror). You can’t make worthy music if you don’t know worthy music; even supposed subversives like the Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls had knowledgeable musicians in the band, even if they wanted you to think otherwise. And so a band like Thyla comes along and lights up my day—not because I require new music to sound like pre-existing music but because I do require music to be made with spirit and a greater purpose than a desire to accumulate Facebook likes. End of soapbox.

Thyla is a four-piece band from Brighton (UK). They formed in 2016 and are unsigned. “Blame” is their sixth single.

Free and legal MP3: Long Neck

Guitar-driven indie rock

Long Neck

“Elizabeth” – Long Neck

An homage of sorts to a city most people know only from the aromatic oil refineries adjacent to its exit on the New Jersey Turnpike, “Elizabeth” has an appealing, homespun vibe that unexpectedly recalls 10,000 Maniacs from their early days. Front person Lily Mastrodimus, a New Jersey native, has a rich, Natalie Merchant-esque quality to her voice, and a knack for the half-introspective, half-rousing melodies Merchant delivered in her younger years.

And this is all about guitars, isn’t it? Rhythm guitars, jangly guitars, ringing guitars, this one has them all, and if no one wants this sound anymore, don’t tell Mastrodimus, who has crafted maybe not so much an homage to Elizabeth, New Jersey as to rock’n’roll itself. “Elizabeth” is based on one of rock’s sturdiest riffs, the I chord to the IV chord, but Mastrodimus and company play it all with casual affection, and proceed to bury their most prominent guitar motif underneath enough general jangle as to tease the ear with its melody instead of flaunting its stoutness (listen, for instance, at 0:33, or 1:23). I keep wanting to hear this phrase more clearly but then kind of like that it takes until 2:56 to fully emerge, as the song at this point slows down for a marvelously constructed coda, which converts what had been a sort of unaccountable second part of the song’s verse into a memorable finish.

“Elizabeth” is the second track on Will This Do?, the second full-length Long Neck album. (I like by the way the built-in ambiguity of how by appearances this looks to be a song about a person.) Long Neck began as Mastrodimus’s solo project, in 2014, but has become a full-fledged band. Check out the extensive discography (there are a bunch of EPs and singles) on Bandcamp, where you can also listen to and buy Will This Do?, which was released in January on Tiny Engines. MP3, again, via KEXP.

Free and legal MP3:Mattiel(smart, stylish lo-fi rocker)

Propelled by a fuzzy, fluent guitar lick, the song evokes something lonesome and long ago in a package that feels nevertheless very up to date.

Mattiel

“Not Today” – Mattiel

I guess it turns out to be guitar month here on Fingertips. A smart and stylish lo-fi rocker, “Not Today” oozes confidence and wonderfulness through the course of its perfect 3:38 pop song length. Propelled by a fuzzy, fluent guitar lick, the song evokes something lonesome and long ago in a package that feels nevertheless very up to date. And I’m not sure exactly how that works, as fuzzy guitar rock isn’t exactly the most up-to-date sub-genre on today’s scene. But that’s the beauty of plumbing rock history for inspiration here in the year 2018—you can find sounds and attitudes from past decades and still, because you’re a 20- or 30-something person in the digital age, write and record a song that feels like now.

Beyond the foundational guitar lick, “Not Today” is dominated by Mattiel Brown’s arresting vocals, which are also fuzzed up a bit, and infused with a tone at once sharp and blasé that recalls Amy Winehouse, at least a little. Meanwhile, don’t overlook the unusually in-sync rhythm section, in which the smashy drums tumble around and about a bass line so deep and concise it too feels like percussion.

Mattiel is a trio based in Atlanta. “Not Today” is from their self-titled debut album, released back in October on Burger Records. It’s a KEXP trifecta this week; this MP3 found its way there in January, and here it is, some months later, as I could no longer ignore it. This one is definitely a grower.