Free and legal MP3: Kinch (swings with verve & power)

At once jaunty and powerful, loose-limbed and anthemic, “Once, I Was a Mainsail” holds many charms within its concise, pop-perfect 3:46 time frame.

Kinch

“Once, I Was a Mainsail” – Kinch

At once jaunty and powerful, loose-limbed and anthemic, “Once, I Was a Mainsail” holds many charms within its concise, pop-perfect 3:46 time frame. Right away, there’s the brief but ear-catching introduction, which establishes the song’s swaying 2/4 swing with some crafty interval jumps, as the guitar lopes from the first to the fourth to the sixth, via those slurred half-steps. It’s an attention-grabbing way to lead back into the first again, albeit an octave higher. The song is five seconds old at this point.

Then there’s swing itself, which after the guitar-based intro is articulated only by bass and drum in the first verse, the bass playing with the same intervals as the introduction, but with the sixth below rather than above the tonic. Establishing the melody only against the rhythm section serves to focus us on the imaginative lyrics, introducing the titular metaphor, with this lyrical payoff, sung as the rhythm abruptly breaks down: “You were the only thing that I would tie myself to.” And then, just when you might begin to wonder where exactly this is swinging us to, the band, literally, breaks into song: those gang vocals at 0:48 nailed this one for me, they were just too unexpected and perfect. (For those keeping score at home, this part yet again ends on that original sixth note that haunts and anchors the entire song.)

A quartet when previously featured here in March 2009, Kinch is now a five-man band, still based in Phoenix, still with that James Joyce-inspired name of theirs. “Once, I Was a Mainsail” is a new single, also available via the band’s web site. The song will eventually appear on the band’s next album, The Incandenza—and if the band’s Ulysses-based name isn’t enough, this next album is named after the family in Infinite Jest. It’s hard not to be fond of a band that is repeatedly inspired by long, impenetrable books.

Free and legal MP3: Tahiti 80 (carefree English-speaking French pop)

“Unpredictable” – Tahiti 80

Carefree English-speaking French pop from a band doing it before it was a genre. There’s something not only charming but truly satisfying about a song that works quite so well both for people who are barely paying attention and for people paying close attention. This is no small feat. For the first group, a jaunty, smoothly sung tune is all that’s required. Great background music. The second group is trickier to please, as the music has to display a sort of depth that jaunty, smoothly sung tunes by their nature often lack.

The depth here, for me, is rooted in the song’s offhanded musicality. “Unpredictable” is full of interesting moments that whisper rather than shout as they unfold. Listen, for instance, to the very start: we hear a basic drumbeat that the ear expects to be established through four standard measures but instead–there for us to notice, or not–it’s interrupted after three seconds, in the second measure, which grounds the song in a sort of percussive pre-introduction. Only after that comes the standard four-measure intro. Listen, as another example, to the subtle adjustments the melody makes in the verse and how seductively singer Xavier Boyle wraps his faintly textured tenor around them: the way the melody mimics the keyboard riff at 0:23; the slow then fast pacing in the phrase “knock me down” at 0:31; the way the verse line is shortened and turned on the unresolved phrase “on the wall” at 0:35; and that’s just in the first verse. I give the band points, too, for an entirely different kind of craftiness–how the song title comes not from the chorus but from the verse. That’s rare in a chipper number like this one; anyone seeking only the inattentive audience will place the title where it repeats most obviously.

Bouncing along since 1993, Tahiti 80 is quartet from Rouen, France. “Unpredictable” is from the album Activity Center, the band’s fourth, which has been out for a year in Europe; its U.S. release comes, at last, later this month.

Free, legal MP3: Afternoons (orchestral, neo-hippie vibe meets solid songwriting)

“Say Yes” – Afternoons

This one carries the wacky, group-sing, neo-hippie vibe of the Polyphonic Spree but with the added benefit of really solid songwriting.

“Say Yes” unfolds with a jaunty, trumpet-led rhythm augmented by a loopy backing vocal that brings the Star Trek theme song to mind. In the indie world, lots of songs pretty much end there–quirky, big-ensemble intro, and that’s all we get. To its credit, “Say Yes” develops resoundingly beyond its minute-long intro, presenting us next with a verse featuring a non-repeating melody that stretches out for more than 40 seconds, incorporating 18 measures of music. That’s all but unheard of in a rock band, but then again, Afternoons are an idiosyncratic rock band at best, being a seven-piece ensemble that includes two drummers, a trumpet player, and a classically trained opera singer. Three of the seven players were in the L.A.-based band Irving, which has been put aside now that that band’s side projects have apparently overshadowed the main act (another Irving offshoot is Sea Wolf).

The chorus, by the way, is nicely thought out too, and an apt counterpart to the extended verse: simply the words “say yes,” architected into the bouncy trumpet refrain of the introduction. For something this big-hearted and loose-limbed, “Say Yes” is a pretty tight composition. It will eventually appear on Afternoons’ debut CD, which is recorded but seems to lack, thus far, a release date. The band has been selling EPs at shows in L.A. but that’s about it so far. MP3 courtesy of Irving’s web site. Thanks to Filter for the tip.