Free and legal MP3: Daisy Victoria (swirling, anthem-y goodness)

Another striking, swirling, anthem-y slice of pop-informed rock’n’roll from a very promising young UK talent.

Daisy Victoria

“Pain of Dancers” – Daisy Victoria

Fueled by a big-hearted guitar line, an unresolved chorus melody, and Daisy Victoria’s theatrical presence, “Pain of Dancers” leaps into the world with poise and vigor—just another striking,
swirling, anthem-y slice of pop-informed rock’n’roll from this promising young UK talent. (For those who missed her magical song “Nobody Dies,” from late 2014, go here, quickly.)

As much as I love pretty much everything she’s up to here, I think the deep allure is rooted first and foremost in her voice, which possesses a rare blend of richness and nuance; she invests herself fully in every note, and the subtle shifts from dusk to lightness are thrilling upon close listening. But unlike some performers blessed with natural vocal prowess, Victoria has her eyes and ears on all aspects of songcraft. Think of those synth squiggles we hear with the drumbeat in the opening seconds of the song: highly unnecessary and extremely wonderful. More centrally, there’s the super-appealing, low-register guitar line that introduces the song and recurs after each iteration of the chorus—an adroit counter-motif and nothing a singer merely trying to show off tends to bothers with. It’s this guitar line, in fact, that both grounds the song—the chorus never resolves on its own—and gives it its sky-high reach. I kind of can’t stop listening.

“Pain of Dancers” is a single, self-released last month. Thanks to Daisy for the MP3.

Free and legal MP3: Julius (indie pop, w/ graceful nuance)

Julius

“Oh Baby” – Julius

I have many issues with what passes for pop music in the year 2014: the brazen artifice of it, the lack of lyrical and melodic imagination typically on display, and the shrunken aural context (pop music in the ’10s more or less refuses to mix well with anything but other pop music from the ’10s), to name a few pet peeves. On top of this, I remain gobsmacked by the unironic embrace of pop sheen and flow by a significant segment of ’10s hipsters. Perhaps this is the ultimate consequence of shifting from ownership to (mostly) free access: the audience is so little invested in the end product that the impetus for listening becomes merely to locate something familiar and diverting, for just those three or four minutes, rather than something to stake the depth of your identity on.

Well, there’s no settling any of this while we’re still in the middle of our grand digital transition. But, in the meantime, here: “Oh Baby” is unabashed pop. It even, I think, features, albeit briefly, some Auto-Tune. And yet there is something in here, musically, that I don’t think you hear in standard-issue 2014 pop music. On the one hand it’s a texture thing—the way the musician who calls himself Julius lets his song unspool with a rich sense of space and time. Rather than the flat, compressed sound of music that’s been processed and layered within inches of its life, “Oh Baby” offers up something that appears, aurally, to straddle the digital and analog worlds. The unhurried drumbeats that provide the song’s backbone may be electronic, may be organic, may be a mix of both, but in any case they feel musical rather than logistical, with a sense of three-dimensional space rather than manipulated puzzle pieces. Likewise the backing vocals that press into the mix at 1:40: regardless of how manipulated, or not, they feel fueled by breath, they too seem to be taking up organic space.

But the thing that really won me over are the chords. However many times I listen I am in thrall to the grace of the flowing chord pattern that Julius introduces when the song first moves beyond the percussive accompaniment (beginning at 0:44). These are not showy, anthemic chords, but the elusive progression from 0:44 to 0:47 to 0:49 moves with a quiet grandeur one might usefully describe as orchestral. And here is where it merits mention that Julius is himself a refugee from the classical academy, a self-professed “weirdo classical prodigy” who only recently began listening to pop music. Once upon a time, pop stars veered into classical music to give their careers cultural heft; nowadays we may be seeing the opposite. Yes, Julius now chooses to operate in the seemingly constrained world of fluffy pop (could there be a title with any less contextual weight than “Oh Baby”?), but the song seems also, somehow, to be straining at a new way of mining depth in the musical language many if not most coming-of-age adults prefer to be speaking right now. Even lyrically the song may be presenting a bit more than it lets on; the recurring line “I’d give the world/To believe what I thought I felt” is no mere throwaway, as one example.

Released last month, “Oh Baby” is the second song Julius has recorded; it was produced by Benny Cassette, who has worked with Kanye West. You can download above, as usual, or visit his SoundCloud page, where you can also hear his first song, along with a more recently posted remix/mashup.

Free and legal MP3: Marching Band(Swedish indie pop duo)

“It Will Never Slip” – Marching Band

Marching Band is a duo. If you were Sherlock Holmes, that should tell you everything you need to know about this song, which engages and delights largely via a subtle, playful contradiction between the big and the small. “It Will Never Slip” is full of grand, large-scale gestures performed in a modest, almost intimate setting. The song is big and echoey but also small and unassuming. It opens and closes–as do any number of bloated, album-rock standards of the ’80s–with an elusively familiar acoustic guitar riff. But note that otherwise you don’t even hear the acoustic guitar, because, after all, there are just two guys in the band. They’ve got other instruments to tend to.

And there are pretty much just two chords in the whole song. I do not believe this is because they only know two chords. Instead, consciously or not, it’s another sly way of being big and small at the same time: you’ve got the fleet-footed melody, alternately bouncing and running up and down, but you’re framing it onto those two chords–which are, in fact, C and G, perhaps the two most basic chords in the whole game. Verse and chorus, both the same two chords, but check out how they sew it all together in the chorus, between the lyrics, with that anthemic downward trio of notes (so it’s like mi-re-do). That’s typically heard in a huge, stadium-rock gesture, complete with slashing guitar chords. Here I think I’m hearing a banjo.

Marching Band hails from Linköping, Sweden, a small city roughly halfway between Göteburg and Stockholm. They’ve been playing since 2005, and released their first album in ’08. “It Will Never Slip” is from the forthcoming Pop Cycle, due out next month on U&L Records. The MP3 is another available via Spinner.

Free and legal MP3: The Love Language (brisk, shuffly indie pop)

“Heart to Tell” – the Love Language

This one also begins with an acoustic guitar riff, but an entirely different kind that goes in an entirely different, happy-shuffly Shins-meet-the-Left-Banke direction. A brisk slice of indie pop sparkle.

Attentive visitors may recall the Love Language from “Lalita,” a song featured here last May that ended up on the year-end “Fingertips Favorites” list. “Heart to Tell” likewise swings on a pronounced one-two rhythm, but with a gentler vibe than “Lalita.” This time around the band has jettisoned the distorted vocals and funneled its penchant for harsh guitars into one short–but memorable–instrumental break. Also jettisoned this time around, in fact, is the band itself–Raleigh-based master mind Stuart McLamb has let go of the four or five or six others (reports varied) who last time functioned as the Love Language, now doing the mad genius thing by himself, aided and abetted by producer BJ Burton. The end result is a less lo-fi Love Language, but no less loose and energetic.

“Heart to Tell” is from the Love Language’s forthcoming Merge Records debut, Libraries, slated for a July release. MP3 via the fine folks at Merge.

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.