Free and legal MP3: The Pharmacy (garage rock, w/ aspirations)

“Dig Your Grave” packs an unusual amount of variety into a two-minute song that might at least partially pass for garage rock.

The Pharmacy

“Dig Your Grave” – The Pharmacy

This is almost not a song. A scant two minutes to start with, “Dig Your Grave” uses the first 40 seconds on its three-part introduction. Then we hear an engaging, They Might Be Giants-esque verse and a very concise chorus (the words “Dig your grave” repeated three times) before returning to 20 or so more seconds of instrumental; we finish up with the chorus repeated a couple of times. So this thing is two minutes long and fully half of it doesn’t involve singing, and a good part of the singing that exists consists of just three words.

If it all manages to work—and I think it does, particularly in the context of this week’s three songs, as a follow-up to “Black Silk“—it does so on its ability to pack an unusual amount of variety into a narrow time frame. Most short songs, perhaps too aware of their shortness, don’t invest in introductions and instrumental breaks because there seems no time to fiddle with such frivolities. The Pharmacy does the opposite, honing the song down to one verse—although it may be two, sung back to back—so that the rest of the song still has space to breathe and develop. The “frivolities,” it turns out, offer a lot substance. Another way the song seems to expand beyond its clock time is through its rather distinctive mashing together of a very garage-rock-y vibe, complete with lo-fi-seeming vocal distortion, and a more aspirational sort of musicality. The keyboard motif that opens “Dig Your Grave” does not in any way shout “garage rock” at us, and neither does the song’s multifarious construction. And yet the chorus certainly does.

From Seattle, the trio The Pharmacy has been doing its lo-fi, neo-garage-rock thing for 10 years now. They have three albums to show for it and, in keeping with its lo-fi street cred, a bunch of 7-inch singles, a split cassette, and a demo CD-R. “Dig Your Grave” is the lead track from its latest 7-inch, which, at four songs, is more of an EP than a single. It comes to us from Kind Turkey Records, and they’re the ones offering up the MP3 as well.

Free and legal MP3: New God (melodic grandeur in rough-edged package)

Brian Wilson goes lo-fi; what is lacking here in polish is made up for with melodic grandeur.

New God

“Motorcar” – New God

“Motorcar” is brief, slightly undeveloped, and rough-edged—but convincing where it counts, with its luminous, 16-measure melody and those Beach Boys-go-to-(lo-fi-)heaven harmonies. Those of you with an aversion to electronic percussion may want to sit this one out, but me, I can overlook some sonic crudeness in service of melodic grandeur. The chords are the classic I-IV-V chords but something majestic is achieved through how they are manipulated. In the first eight measures, we alternate between the I and the V chords, no IV chord to be heard, with the melody beginning on the third note of the I chord; we do not in fact hear the root note of a chord until the last note in the melody’s first half (first example at 0:38). This creates a particularly satisfying pivot point and is what allows the melody to double in length. In the second half the elusive IV chord makes its necessary appearance (your ear required it, whether you realized it or not), and at last, as the melody closes out, we get the chords in the “right” order: I-IV-V.

As usual, the theory stuff sounds stilted and dull in written description but for whatever reason I find that knowing how songs work like this adds to my pleasure in listening. Your mileage, as they used to say, may vary. And all that said, “Motorcar” may still sound somewhat more like a demo than a song, and yeah it could maybe stand to offer us more than two chorus-free, bridge-free verses. But every time I go back to this to listen with any kind of “Wait, maybe I don’t like this after all” skepticism, it wins me over anew with its insistent lovableness, rough edges and all.

New God is a brand new band, with zero internet presence. There’s a guy named Kenny Tompkins, from “the foggy mountains of Western Maryland,” there’s a debut album to be released next month on his own label (RARC), and that’s about all there is to report. The band hasn’t played any live dates yet, so Tompkins hasn’t had to decide who’s officially in it at this point. The guy in the picture with him is his brother, Curt, who is either part of the band or who was hanging out with him when the photo was shot (by Lindsey S. Wilson, while we’re naming names). MP3, obviously, via Tompkins. And no worries about the “dropbox” URL, this one’s fully legal.

Free and legal MP3: The Beets (21st century garage rock)

Simple and garage-y, but with a nerdy, sing-songy sort of poignancy to it as well. Kind of like the Ramones crossed with They Might Be Giants.

The Beets

“Doing As I Do” – The Beets

Simple and garage-y, but with a nerdy, sing-songy sort of poignancy to it as well. Kind of like the Ramones crossed with They Might Be Giants. And surely this begins with one of rock’n’roll’s more memorable opening lyrical salvos: “Don’t be afraid, you will not die/And if you die/Whatever.” Who says rock music is over and done? Despite its musical homage to Nuggets bands of the ’60s, this is not a song that could have been written before the 2010s, I don’t think.

I like how “Doing As I Do” puts out this bashy, proto-punk vibe with hardly any audible electric guitar. An acoustic rhythm guitar, not necessarily entirely tuned, drives the song’s fuzzy, lo-fi ambiance. Listen to how thin and squashed the drum sound is, totally lacking both three-dimensionality and tone, and as such all but perfect in this setting. Frontman Juan Wauters likewise is recorded in such a way as to emphasize his voice’s thinness, one might even say its whininess, except that that implies that it’s a bad thing, which it’s not. Like the acoustic guitar, he’s not precisely on tune at all times either, and this is also how it must be. Supporting everything is the song’s uncomplicated descending melody, which in my mind creates the image of those cube-shaped children’s blocks with letters on them. Foundational, playful, nostalgic.

The Beets are a quartet even though there tend to be three people in the group pictures. “Doing As I Do” is a song from the album Letting the Poison Out, the band’s third, and the first for Hardly Art Records. Some may find it interesting to know that Hardly Art is the smaller, nimbler sister label to indie powerhouse Sub Pop, founded in 2007 by Sub Pop founder Jonathan Poneman. Others may enjoy knowing that the album was recorded by Gary Olsen of The Ladybug Transistor, themselves featured here back in March. The fact that the band loves Howard Stern and MAD Magazine and Keds sneakers, well, everybody likes knowing that, right?

MP3 via Hardly Art.

Free and legal MP3: Eux Autres (lo-fi Springsteen, w/ charm & gusto)

The appealing, DIY-ish duo Eux Autres (say “ooz oh-tra”) have discovered an unexpected lo-fi core in the middle of this Bruce Springsteen rave-up.

Eux Autres

“My Love Will Not Let You Down” – Eux Autres

The appealing, DIY-ish brother/sister duo Eux Autres have discovered an unexpected lo-fi core in the middle of this Bruce Springsteen rave-up. A fan-favorited cast-off from the Born in the USA sessions, “My Love Will Not Let You Down” is exuberant fun when Bruce does it but to my ears can’t help sounding like a bit of a retread; it’s almost too Bruce-y for its own good. Here, Heather and Nick Latimer strip out the brash “No Surrender” echoes and find a different kind of beating heart. The song still rushes along, but minus the well-oiled E Street guitar orchestra (note how the song fades rather than barges in); here we get a piano, an off-kilter, rumbly drum, and probably just one kind of guitar. And in place of Bruce’s throaty rasp we have Heather’s attractive but decidedly unschooled voice, which I urge you to listen to carefully. It’s not just that she aches rather than roars—the shift from male to female “narrator” is significant—but her tone is almost a miracle of reverbed, lo-fi sweetness, offering a shifting stream of heart-melting nuance that can’t possibly be thought out but boy does she have it going here from beginning to end.

Springsteen by the way is nearly alone among his classic-rock peers in combining three 21st-century accomplishments: 1) He continues to have active high school- and college-aged fans; 2) He has seriously influenced a number of important current bands; and 3) He still puts out meaningful records himself. It is just about a unique trifecta for someone of his generation here in 2010, but I guess they don’t call the guy The Boss for nothing. While there have been no shortage of indie bands covering his songs in concert, I haven’t heard too many noteworthy free and legal MP3 covers before this goodie caught my ear last month, via the Philadelphia-centric culture site Philebrity. It’s been out since 2009, actually, but any song is new if you haven’t heard it before, right?

Eux Autres was featured in Fingertips back in 2005, and have released two albums to date. Their next full-length release, Broken Bow, is due in November. The band’s name, as you might have been wondering, is pronounced “ooz oh-tra,” with the “oo” as in “good.”

Free and legal MP3: The Vaccines (catchy lo-fi goodness)

The Vaccines

“If You Wanna” – The Vaccines

Joy Division meets—somehow—the Ramones. Don’t ask, just listen, it works. This is not a “composition”‘; this is not complex; it’s muddy and lo-fi (the band says it’s a demo, actually) but the spirit is shiny and polished and yikes is it catchy in the best possible way. And can I take a moment to rant about how badly the word “catchy” is misused in the age of internet music writing? Something isn’t “catchy” just because the singer repeats himself over and over, or just because the tune is like a nursery rhyme. Just because something gets stuck in your head doesn’t mean it’s catchy; it could be irritating and do that too. Something is catchy if the melody is smart, reasonably short, and somewhat familiar-sounding. Of course it’s a fine line between familiar-sounding and same-old, same-old. Catchy songs usually walk that razor’s edge with flair.

Oh and let’s underline the “smart” part. Others may disagree, but here in Fingertipsland, being dumb or badly-written disqualifies a song from being catchy. (And I mean dumb dumb, not smart dumb, like the Ramones were.) To me, catchy is a glowing word, the sign of a pure pop song; I don’t debase the word by using it on dumb shit. So, okay, “If You Wanna”: brilliantly gloriously catchy. With noisy guitars. The chorus sounds like an old friend but there’s a twist in the air here. Maybe it has to do with how the rhythm shifts from the Raveonettes-like drive of the verse, with its equally distributed beat, to the backbeat-heavy chorus, with such a strong emphasis of the two and four beats that you feel blown halfway back to a far more innocent time than ours (“It’s got a backbeat/You can’t lose it…”). Note how this shift coincides with the audible innocence of the song’s narrator, who seems certain that all be well should his lost lover, who obviously left of her own accord, suddenly decides she made a mistake. He sings hopefully; you the listener know there’s no hope.

The Vaccines are a brand new band from the U.K.; I can find no specific information about them anywhere—they just joined Facebook last week, for crying out loud. Thanks muchly to the fine fellows at Said the Gramophone for the head’s up on this one. MP3 via the band, at Soundcloud.