Free and legal MP3: Thrillhouse (subtle hooks, accumulated majesty)

“Lesser” – Thrillhouse

As we collectively ponder just how to put one foot in front of the other without falling into a pit of grief, recalling a disregarded sense of normal wrenched away from us, let’s take a deep breath. Music remains accessible. It helps. As the hackneyed but undeniable truism reminds us: Don’t look back. You’re not going that way.

So. We’ll take it one song at a time, and “Lesser” is a worthy place to start—a smart 21st-century rocker paved with subtle hooks and accumulated majesty.  The throbbing beat set against an unresolved chord in the introduction grabbed me quickly, while the song’s unfolding changes and idiosyncratic twists—most notably the spoken-word pre-chorus (first heard at 0:52; listen to how the melody is implied without being sung)—keep the ear and heart engaged through to the end.

Other impressive moments and touches: the anthemic guitar line appearing at 1:08, and again only at 2:51 (what great restraint to use this only after one particular lyric); the telegraph-signal synth that emerges from the background around 1:38, and gets something of its own solo around 2:27; the unexpected percussive effect at 2:39; the wonderful squiggle of a synth solo in the coda (beginning at 3:26).

Thrillhouse is a trio based in Brighton. “Lesser” is their second single, released earlier this month. Thanks to the band for the MP3.

Free and legal MP3: Winchester (stately epic)

Now this is how to start a slow song: with a stately, centered, melodic line, via a deep but elusive synth tone, in unhurried 6/8 time.

Winchester

“I’m Not Ready to Go Yet” – Winchester

Now this is how to start a slow song: with a stately, centered, melodic line, via a deep but elusive synth tone, in unhurried 6/8 time. Add, without fuss, some subtle digital noise, and then a piano (acoustic or electric, can’t tell, but it sounds acoustic, which is the important thing)—and then, unexpectedly, an acoustic guitar, strumming crisp chords. We’re already a minute and twenty seconds into the song, there is still nothing but introduction in sight, but I am on board. (I’ve heard much shorter introductions sound boring and pointless.)

The singing starts, with a subtle lead-in from some shivery cymbals, at 1:58, a clean female voice, emerging so organically from the instrumentation that it’s hard to discern exactly when she starts. The song’s steady pace, measured out in deliberate triplets, becomes its anchor, its defining core, but don’t be so lulled you miss the turning point at 2:36, when a deep electronic pulse promises some as-yet unimagined transformation. Jittery synths supplant the piano around 3:15, and the digitalia accumulates as a preface to: guitars (3:54). Silvery, siren-y guitars, putting me in the mind of Explosions in the Sky, but here, initially, matched against the background acoustic rhythm guitar. Until the next turning point, at 5:14: the trembling electric guitar (maybe it’s just one after all) goes into full solo mode, joined at long last by the drums. Had you missed the drums? This is the first we’ve heard them, which I’m pretty sure illustrates (if everything else hasn’t already done so) how carefully this song was constructed. It’s easier to aim for epic than to get there but “I’m Not Ready to Go Yet” makes the journey and, to my ears, comes out the other side.

Winchester is the Toronto-based duo of Lauren Austin and Montgomery de Luna. “I’m Not Ready to Go Yet” is a track from their forthcoming debut EP, If Time is Not Linear Why Can’t I Forget the Past? (no release date set at this point). Thanks to the band for the MP3.

p.s. While I resist typographic idiosyncrasy here, you should know for the record that the band officially spells its name with capital letters and spaces, like this: W I N C H E S T E R.

Free and legal MP3: Paper Route (majestic, wistful, full-bodied rock w/ electronic fuzz)

“Thank God The Year Is Finally Over” – Paper Route

A bracing blend of majesty and wistfulness, from its direct and poignant title straight through to an unexpected appearance by a harmonica in the outro. (The harmonica is surely one of music’s most wistful instruments.) There’s enough fuzz and noise along the way for shoegaze fans to appreciate but not enough to overwhelm the song’s simple but effective melody (note how the long descending line of the chorus sounds nicely late-December-ish), not to mention the octave harmonies in the vocals. (I love me my octave harmonies–that is, when the harmony vocal is the same note but one octave higher or lower.)

This band surely aims for a big-hearted sound, and yet more than ever, it seems, there’s a fine line between a band with big heart and a band with a shallow heart. Somehow. The fact that these guys are touring with the curiously popular Owl City doesn’t help the “big heart” case but listening with my ears (a good practice), I find something splendid in this smartly-paced piece of expansive, electronic-tinged rock. And that harmonica surprises every time.

Paper Route is a quartet from Nashville; their debut full-length CD, Absence, was released on Universal Records in April 2009. “Thank God The Year Is Finally Over” is from a free Christmas EP the band released in December. MP3 via Spinner. (The entire EP is available as a zip file here.)