Free and legal MP3: Haley Bonar (delightful, succinct, Neko-ish)

With the delightful and succinct “Raggedy Man,” clocking in at 2:12, Minneapolis-based singer/songwriter Haley Bonar, sounding not unlike Neko Case’s younger sister, gives us a deft lesson in how to imbue a short song with the depth and feeling of a longer song.

Haley Bonar

“Raggedy Man” – Haley Bonar

Many songs that are less than two and a half minutes are wonderful in their shortness but, at the same time, feel a bit over-short. Which is to say, it’s easy enough to wrap up a song in two minutes or so simply for the sake of punching out a short song; it’s another thing to give a short song some real oomph, to make a song that’s short in length but long in depth and feeling. With the delightful and succinct “Raggedy Man,” clocking in at 2:12, Minneapolis-based singer/songwriter Haley Bonar, sounding not unlike Neko Case’s younger sister, gives us a deft lesson in how it’s done.

Her two primary tricks are melodic. First is the straightforward but underutilized technique of using a full complement of notes. In the first ten seconds of singing she covers six of the scale’s nine tones, counting the top and bottom of the octave as two separate notes, and she ranges across the entire octave. Melodies that incorporate a majority of the notes in the scale are inherently more expansive and interesting. A short song gains substance this way. The other melodic trick is her 16-measure melody line. Most pop songs involve melodies that are no longer than eight measures, and some are just four. A 16-measure melody feels complex and leisurely, and creates the aural illusion of more time passing—another great way to expand the feel of the song.

Bonar (rhymes with “honor”) further employs some subtler structural tricks that work to counter the song’s brevity, including her use of a series of unresolved chords (beginning at 0:57) right where the ear is expecting a chorus, and her stripped-down take on the main melody when it returns at 1:29. Short songs don’t usually have the time or inclination for this kind of presentational variety. Bonar even finds the wherewithal at the end for the introduction of a new wordless melody in the last 15 seconds, providing a coda for which short songs also don’t usually have time.

“Raggedy Man” is a track from Bonar’s album Golder, which was self-released in April, and funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign. Bonar was previously featured on Fingertips in 2008. Thanks to the artist for the MP3, which Fingertips is hosting.

Free and legal MP3: Ariel Abshire (young singer/songwriter with a Neko-like air)

“Exclamation Love” – Ariel Abshire

After listening to a few too many songs and/or bands that seek to grab listeners by the collar with their quirkiness or their histrionics or their sheer volume, I find “Exclamation Love” to be a balm to the spirit. There’s nothing here but a fine song and a confident but disciplined singer. Yeah, she lets a note or two rip now and then, but it’s much more Neko Case than “American Idol”: a sweet seasoning of reverb enhancing full-throated tones of startling purity. I keep waiting for her voice to wobble, vibrate, or crack with practiced emotion but she’s having none of it. The closest Abshire gets to an emotional “trick” is at 3:40 when she starts flitting up to falsetto as she drags out the first syllable in “exclamation”–she’s just moving one whole step up but the shift in tone gives it the effect of a dire leap. The song is already two-thirds through, and at that point it’s no trick at all but a natural culmination of the journey.

And who needs histrionics when there’s this: “Why don’t you love me like you used to?” she sings at 1:36, then follows it with “I still love you like I used to” and listen to how she just plain spits out that last to. Check out, also, how the electric guitar uncorks a bit here, for playful emphasis, only to retreat into the mix thenceforth. Sometimes a little quirkiness can go a long way.

Abshire is from Austin and maybe it’s time I mention that she’s 17 years old. Apparently she’s been singing around town since she was 11. “Exclamation Love” is the title track to her debut CD, released last year on Darla Records. MP3 via Thanks to Bruce at Some Velvet Blog for the head’s up.