Free and legal MP3: Cat Power

Peppy, fierce, w/ faux-Latin backbone

Cat Power

“Ruin” – Cat Power

With a measured, faux-Latin piano riff, “Ruin” offers up an expressive mix of the peppy and the fierce. Even in this upbeat, quasi-pop-like setting, Cat Power can’t take the smoke and fire from her voice; as a matter of a fact, one might argue that the voice is all the more effective in this new (for her) environment. The elusive lyrics augment her voice’s capacity to haunt—in particular the chorus’s incantation of far-flung cities and countries.

The music, meanwhile, is frisky but not frivolous. Grounded in that rhythmic riff, Power spends a lot of time in between the beat; even the emphatic choral climax only aligns with the beat for the conclusion, the words “sitting on a ruin”—which is what gives it its intriguing oomph. And for me, at least, that scratchy, slashing guitar sound is a revelation. That may be my own issue, as I have a personal disinclination for the slow, reverby, blues-guitar-y sound to which she previously defaulted. And yeah, I know, everyone was supposed to have loved that. I like this better.

Power—born Charlyn Marshall; known as Chan; pronounced “Shawn”—has not released an album of original material since her indie “mainstream” breakthrough, The Greatest, ten years into her recording career, in 2006. (There was a covers album in 2008 and a covers EP the following year.) Her backstory involves far too much angst and difficulty for me to get into here. You can look it up if interested. “Ruin” is the first song made available from her long-awaited new album, Sun, which is scheduled for a September release on Matador Records. MP3 via Matador. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.

photo credit: Nils Bernstein (via

Free and legal MP3: Making Movies (crunchy Spanish-language rock)

Crisp and crunchy Spanish-language, Latin-spiked rock’n’roll from…Kansas City, somehow. Get this one going and check out how easily your body wants to keep the beat even as the music itself seems to snake and sway in and around but never, it seems, directly on that same beat.

<"La Marcha" – Making Movies

Crisp and crunchy Spanish-language, Latin-spiked rock’n’roll from…Kansas City, somehow. I’ll take it from wherever; to my ears, Latin rhythms are a natural for rock’n’roll–we haven’t over the years heard nearly enough of them in any sort of mainstream way (whether mainstream mainstream or, as it were, indie mainstream).

“La Marcha” vigorously exploits the dynamics of a style of music called cumbia, which is known for melding a lopsided rhythm to a steady 4/4 beat. Get this one going and check out how easily your body wants to keep the beat even as the music itself seems to snake and sway in and around but never, it seems, directly on that same beat. One of the delights of that group-sung grunt (first heard at 0:10) is how precisely on the beat it is, compared to almost everything else that emerges from the drums and guitars. I also like how effectively the band works a slightly distorted rhythm guitar sound, straight from the rock’n’roll textbook, into the chorus, and how it leads with the Latino chord changes in a gratifying way. Don’t miss, also, when the band drifts seamlessly into a salsa montuno (you may not know what that is but you’ll hear it) for an instrumental rave-up at 1:56.

“La Marcha” can be found on the album In Dea Speramus, which the quartet self-released last month. The album, by the way, was pretty much recorded live, vocals and instruments together in real time–yet another reason this song has so much energetic allure.

Free and legal MP3: Josh Rouse (sprightly faux Latin pop w/ P. Simon feel)

“I Will Live On Islands” – Josh Rouse

I’ve had this song in the listening pile for a few weeks and maybe it’s the (finally) receding snow that has allowed me to open my ears and enjoy this merry, warm-weather-inflected bit of lovingly crafted faux Latin pop. Perhaps I didn’t quite realize how aggravating the song was previously making me, its breezy narrator imagining his imminent escape to island living. No matter the narrator is literally in prison; the metaphor hit home (Seriously: “I want to see some green/Get me out of this place”).

But spring appears to be springing, however slowly. It’ll be May before all the parking lot piles melt around here but grass is at long last visible and this week I’m charmed by Rouse’s bright, Paul Simonesque romp. And I at long last listened closely enough to understand that the point is the guy’s infectious optimism, not his present confines. Should’ve featured the tune weeks ago. Anyway, musically, yes, the echoes of Simon are clear and, even, are emphasized by the singing voice Rouse adopts. (Listen to the way he sings the word “convicted” at 0:35–that’s an homage, no way it’s not.) But let’s of course remember that Paul Simon himself was borrowing existing styles and rhythms, and Rouse, a transplanted American who has lived in Spain for five years, knows the original sources very well by now himself. If you want to see just how well, check out the Spanish-sung “Valencia,” which has been quietly available as a free and legal download via Vanity Fair since the fall.

Both songs are from the album El Turista, which is set for release next week on Yep Roc Records. The “I Will Live On Islands” MP3 is via Spinner.

Free and legal MP3: Dinosaur Feathers (ramshackle, pseudo-Latin indie pop)

“Vendela Vida” – Dinosaur Feathers

Ramshackle, pseudo-Latin indie pop that may engage your ear and spirit in a way that Vampire Weekend didn’t manage to (if, that is, you happen to be among those whose ears and/or spirits were not, in fact, engaged thereby; I know some of you are out there). The music by this Brooklyn-based trio has an amiable, second-nature feel to it, while singer/guitarist Greg Sullo possesses a marvelous rock’n’roll tenor, at once lazy and insistent. He sounds like a guy who doesn’t sweat the details and yet for whom the details seem to work out pretty well most of the time.

Vendela Vida–and isn’t her name fabulously easy to say?–is a writer, and wife of the perhaps more well-known writer Dave Eggers. Not sure how the song relates–Sullo does manage to rhyme “Vida” and “read her”–but she was born to be a lyric, among her other accomplishments. You’ll find the song on the band’s debut album, Fantasy Memorial, which is scheduled for self-release in March. MP3 via Magnet. Oh and as another sign of these guys’ musical aptitude, check out the cool mixtape they made in conjunction with an interview on the Music is Art blog last summer, which connects the Kinks to Harry Belafonte to NWA to Genesis and more.