Free and legal MP3:DoublePlusGood (lo-fi-ish, neo-new-wave-ish)

The new wave era pop rock that inspires them was typically fabricated with glistening studio sheen back in the day; that a song like “Sometimes” pushes forward with an almost homely plainness adds to its appeal in an odd and refreshing way.

DoublePlusGood

“Sometimes” – DoublePlusGood

The Portland duo DoublePlusGood (three guys in the photo, yes, I don’t know why) traffic in almost heart-breakingly straightforward and melodic synth pop. The new wave era pop rock that inspires them was typically fabricated with glistening studio sheen back in the day; that a song like “Sometimes” pushes forward with an almost homely plainness adds to its appeal in an odd and refreshing way.

And note that while couched in a lo-fi feel, “Sometimes” does not confuse lo-fi with mere muddiness. On the contrary, one of the song’s many charms is the aural accessibility of all of its sounds—there’s nothing going on that can’t be singled out and understood by the ear, which is actually an unusual accomplishment in an age when it is far too easy to layer and overlap till the cows come home. And bonus points here for the late-arriving bridge (singing begins at 2:48), with its darker, lower-register melody, and its eventual and artful meshing with the friendly and by now inevitable-sounding chorus.

“Sometimes” is a track from the the PDX Pop Now! Annual Compilation, which was released in June, in advance of the PDX Pop Now! music festival, scheduled for this weekend in Portland. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.

Free and legal MP3: Marie Lalá (polished, perky pop w/ big chorus)

Right away, I like the extra beats that complicate the verse, and the staccato, neo-new wave ambiance. But everything, I soon discover, is a set-up for the chorus.

Marie Lala

“Without You” – Marie Lalá

Polished and perky, “Without You” is also sneaky memorable. Right away, I like the extra beats that complicate the verse, and the staccato, neo-new wave ambiance. But everything, I soon discover, is a set-up for the chorus, which is bright and bangly and familiar-seeming in a good way. And yet it’s not even the sing-along part that nails it for me as much as what happens at 0:45, when the momentum slows, on the words “I don’t seem to get the point.” I feel restored here to an unknown moment in the distant past, either because the melody is reminding me of a song I can’t quite remember or maybe it’s just the classic power of returning to the major after a sidestep to the minor (“the minor fall, the major lift”). But that’s where I fall in love with this song and, just about, the singer too.

And what’s not to love about the mysterious Marie Lalá? When I first featured her here, last February, I openly questioned the veracity of the Swedish singer/songwriter’s quirky, unforthcoming biography, which talked of her background as an aerialist in the circus and her current job climbing ropes on an offshore oil rig. One must be wary in this hoax-friendly day and age, mustn’t one? As her debut album, Surrender My Soul, is released this week, a bit more background has been revealed, and the story is, I now believe, the actual truth. She no longer works on the oil rig, however, as she used the job to finance her album. “Without You” is the first available track.

Note that Lalá’s given last name is Nilsson; note too that she appears to have taken her stage name from the aerialist immortalized by Edward Degas in the painting “Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando,” a reference I missed last time around. You can download the MP3 via the song title above, or visit SoundCloud for a higher-quality .wav file.

Free and legal MP3: MiniBoone(energetic neo-new wave, w/ harmonies)

Energetic, crisply executed fun, filled with rhythmic dissonance, echoes of 1978-ish American new wave music, and large-scale harmonies falling somewhere on a line connecting Queen to Sparks (but not, to my ear, Animal Collective, as per some of the band’s press).

“Devil In Your Eyes” – MiniBoone

Energetic, crisply executed fun, filled with rhythmic dissonance, echoes of 1978-ish American new wave music, and large-scale harmonies falling somewhere on a line connecting Queen to Sparks (but not, to my ear, Animal Collective, as per some of the band’s press). And hey I really like how effectively this shifts the mood from Hadestown‘s heavy-hearted tragedy even as it delivers a synchronistic lyrical alignment (which believe it or not I didn’t notice until I’d already laid this week’s songs out in order).

I especially love the guitars here. From beginning to end they play prickly, often rapid-fire chords that seem never to align quite with the melody either sonically or rhythmically. Listen, for instance, to the choked-neck sound you hear at the beginning, just past the organ opening: the engaging noise made by a guitar used more percussively than tonally. None of the actual notes that emerge jibe with what the song theoretically would want harmonically but the kinetic insistence of it becomes its own logic. The sound continues into the verse but note how the guitar steadily comes to life, the choked hammering giving way, around 40 seconds in or so, to fuller-fledged chord slashes that any music writer worth his or her salt would be tempted to call “angular” except maybe for how lively an atmosphere the band is churning up at this point. Typically, angular guitars are heard in a less flamboyant setting. One more example of creative guitar work comes in the chorus, when the layered harmonies take over center stage, pushing the guitar into making odd little offbeat exclamation points.

MiniBoone is a five-piece from New York City. “Devil In Your Eyes” is a song off the band’s new EP, Big Changes, which was released at the end of January on Drug Front Records. MP3 via the band’s web site.

Free and legal MP3: The Futureheads (neo-New Wave, and then some)

The Futureheads, a Sunderland (UK) quartet with three albums now under their belt, have a couple of extra things going than most 21st-century neo-New Wave bands. First, to their spiky retro sound they bring an intriguing outside element: walls of harmony. It’s an attractive addition to my ears, a kind of Devo-meets-Queen vibe that works unexpectedly well.

“Struck Dumb” – the Futureheads

The 21st century has not been lacking in New Wave revival bands, with their metallic guitars, punchy rhythms, and clipped British-sounding vocals (whether actually British or not). When bands fall flat in the effort it’s when they get the sound right but forget to give us a worthy song in the process. So-called angularity is a notably two-dimensional quality. The ear needs more to feel satisfied.

The Futureheads, a Sunderland (UK) quartet with three albums now under their belt, have a couple of extra things going here. First, to their spiky neo-New Wave sound they bring an intriguing outside element: walls of harmony. It’s an attractive addition to my ears, a kind of Devo-meets-Queen vibe that works unexpectedly well. Second, the song moves musically in a way a lot of similar-sounding songs–some by the Futureheads themselves, I might add–do not. Yes, that Jam-like introduction is fun and effective, but it succeeds, to my ears, precisely because the song isn’t content to stay put. Sometimes this can be a simple matter of finding the right chord at the right time. The first place I hear the song open up is at 0:31, on the line “Stop living in the clouds”–it’s subtle, but the chord they move through there has a wonderful theatricality to it, and it foreshadows what we’ll hear in the chorus moments later. Listen in particular to the line “Negativity is controlling your dreams,” beginning at 0:44, and how the chorus takes a left turn from there. We remain on the one hand within the tight sonic world of the neo-New Wave and yet also we’ve been launched out of it. Everything still wraps up in under three minutes, which is another triumphant gesture.

“Struck Dumb” is from the Futureheads’ upcoming album, as yet without a title or a release date, although some time in 2010 is a safe bet. MP3 via Spinner.