Free and legal MP3: Meenk (minimal & melodic)

Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter May Rio, doing musical business as Meenk, wastes no time plunging you into her songs.

Meenk

“Up” – Meenk

Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter May Rio, doing musical business as Meenk, wastes no time plunging you into her songs, eschewing introductions for cold starts. Rio in fact goes further here and pretty much eliminates instrumental breaks of all kinds, a move that subtly increases her song’s sense of purpose—it’s all swimming, no treading water. There is a four-second, beat-driven riff that recurs as an intrinsic part of the song (and acts as an exclamation point at the end), but other than that, all song moments here are singing moments. As both singer and songwriter, Rio is up to the task, moving us deftly forward with her frank, Liz-Phair-esque vocal style and the juxtaposition of “Up”‘s blunt, two-section verse with the lovely, flowing chorus.

An interesting side effect of the vocal dominance here is how minimal an impact the instruments consequently appear to have, offering accompaniment so unobtrusive you are hard-pressed even to notice the arrangement at all. And yet this is obviously not an a capella performance. I am tempted, in fact, to find something incredibly able and robust in this elusive a musical landscape. Listen around the edges and you’ll hear some very cool things, including a wavering keyboard that straddles the thin line between old school and new, and a jangly rhythm guitar that, Johnny Marr-like, ends up feeling more than a little like a lead.

“Up” is one of four concise songs on the debut Meenk release, entitled Scamu Scau, that was released digitally in June. You can listen to it and download it via Bandcamp.

Free and legal MP3: Jennifer O’Connor (melodic, unadorned guitar rock)

Anyone who misses the gruff, melodic, unadorned guitar rock that Liz Phair used to make before she (let us say) found other things to do might want to give Jennifer O’Connor a few listens.

Jennifer O'Connor

“Already Gone” – Jennifer O’Connor

Anyone who misses the gruff, melodic, unadorned guitar rock that Liz Phair used to make before she (let us say) found other things to do might want to give Jennifer O’Connor a few listens. And lord knows O’Connor is probably tired of the Liz Phair comparisons already, and truth be told, as O’Connor by now has a longer history of sounding like this than Phair herself does, we’ve probably got it backwards. But Phair surely laid the groundwork, and to date made a bigger name for herself (let’s not count Jennifer out yet, however!), so I guess she’s stuck with it at least a while longer.

In “Already Gone,” the classic-rock chug is produced merely by a droning electric guitar, a relentless, double-time bass line, and a drum kit so simplified it sounds like little more than a snare (and okay there seems to be a tambourine in the intro, briefly). In a song this minimally formulated, small gestures loom large. Take, for instance, the way the bass punctuates the end of the verse by momentarily abandoning its persistent staccato foundation to play a quick, descending melody (first heard around 0:40). Consider it the aural equivalent of the way a well-chosen spice can add depth to a simple recipe. The harmony O’Connor sings with herself Amy Bezunartea adds along the way is another artful touch that exists almost below the level of conscious attention. Even O’Connor’s purposeful guitar solo, which begins at 1:45, is a delightful albeit subtle articulation (and, okay, sorry for one more Phair reference, and an obscure one at that, but the solo here recalls rather wonderfully Phair’s discerning solo in “Love Is Nothing,” from the overlooked Whitechocolatespaceegg).

“Already Gone” is from O’Connor’s fifth album, I Want What You Want, which was released this week on Kiam Records, a label that she founded and runs—an honest-to-goodness label, not just a name attached to self-releases. Some quick, relevant background: O’Connor’s two previous albums had been for indie powerhouse Matador Records, but she and they separated in 2009. O’Connor was at that point exhausted and broke and unsure of her musical future, working at a grab bag of odd jobs during much of 2009 and 2010. But eventually her music called her back and she’s got the new album, released on her birthday, to show for it. MP3 via Rolling Stone.