Free and legal MP3: The Blessed Isles (’80s-style electro-pop)

The Blessed Isles

“Confession” – The Blessed Isles

Brisk, skittish, and still rather lovely, “Confession” presents as a knowing homage to ’80s electro-pop while sparkling with an energy that feels current rather than nostalgic. The effortless, sing-song-y melodicism evokes Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, without perhaps that band’s knob-twiddly thickness, while the unusually effective mix of synthesizer and guitar calls New Order to mind.

Only here, notice, the guitar doesn’t loom heavily at the bottom of the mix but provides a lilting, melodic counterpoint to the song’s electronic pulse. In the extended introduction, the guitar at first works with its own variation of a heartbeat, but later on (0:45) finds its upper register and snuggles a precise and concise melodic line into the rubbery electronic milieu. Listen in particular to when it returns, between verses, at 1:37, all glide and grace, and a seductive counterpoint to singer Aaron Closson’s sweet but substantive tenor.

The Blessed Isles is the duo of Closson and Nolan Thies. Based in Brooklyn, the band self-released an EP in 2011, and was signed to Saint Marie Records the following year. “Confession” is a track off their debut full-length album, Straining Hard Against the Strength of Night, released by Saint Marie back in May. MP3 via Magnet Magazine.

Free and legal MP3: Lemonade (melodically engaging dance music)

That rare rock’n’roll bird: melodically engaging dance music.


“Skyballer” – Lemonade

Are bands just not interested in creating melodically engaging dance music or is such music just kind of difficult to make? I am honestly not sure. All I know is that after the seminal work of New Order, not a whole lot of bands have come along in the rock world to carry this particular torch. It is a specialized niche, to be sure. If the aim is to keep the trance going on the dance floor, melody may not only be superfluous but downright distracting. On the other hand, if one sees a purpose to music in one’s life beyond the confines of the club scene, music that engages the mind as well as the body isn’t a bad goal.

In any case, here’s “Skyballer,” which, for all its ear-candy trappings and dance-floor length, plunks a simple/great melody into the proceedings and everything makes sense. And while the sonic palette isn’t exactly the same, there is something rather New Order-y going on here in both the band’s commitment to grounding dance music in melody, and the particular kind of straightforward but compelling melody employed. The rest of the song stretches out in a cloud of falsetto, programming, and traffic whistles, with the strategic, if limited, use of guitars. Just when I think I may begin to be exasperated by the song’s clubbiness, I pick up another endearing little detail in the mix (I did not see that incisive acoustic guitar line at 3:57 coming), and then the repeat button brings the melody back and I am some odd kind of putty in its hands.

Born in the Bay Area in 2005 and based in Brooklyn since 2008, Lemonade has two full-length albums to its name, the most recent, Diver, coming in 2012. The band was featured here in March of that year for the song “Neptune.” “Skyballer” is a single released in August, as yet unconnected to a longer release. MP3 via the good folks at Magnet Magazine.

Free and legal MP3: Chromatics (buzzy, reverby gorgeousness)

Buzzy, reverby gorgeousness.


“Kill For Love” – Chromatics

A masterly slice of buzzy, reverby gorgeousness, “Kill For Love” is half Jesus & Mary Chain/New Order mashup, half resplendent dance-club shimmer. There are bleepy, twittery synthesizers, scronky guitars, a rigorous (but seemingly handmade) drumbeat, instrumental melody lines, and a fuzzed-up soundscape. On top of it all we get the subtly radiant voice of Ruth Radelet, who sings without pretension and with a wonderful touch of smoke.

Overall the song seems built on a series of simple gestures that read aurally as elegant. An example is in the drumming, and how the song begins with a distinct, pulse-like pounding, which unconsciously draws us in with its heart-related sonic imagery. At 0:49, an insistent high-hat adds a metallic blur, out of which a number of new background sounds emerge. This is not complicated but it is incisive. More songs would be this relatively simple if they knew how; it’s kind of like that old saw about how I would’ve written you a shorter letter but I didn’t have the time.

Chromatics is/are (so difficult to select the right verb form in this case) a Portland, Ore.-based band that began as a punk-rock outfit in Seattle in 2002. Personnel changes led to a major reboot in 2007, with the album Night Drive, on the Italians Do It Better label, which introduced Radelet as vocalist and Johnny Jewel as the band’s mastermind. Kill For Love, released in March, continues in this mode. You can listen to the entire album, blended together without breaks between songs, via SoundCloud. If nothing else, be sure to check out the opening track, which is a splendid if unexpected reworking of Neil Young’s “My My Hey Hey (Into the Black).”

MP3 via SoundCloud; thanks to Pitchfork for the head’s up. And actually I was first alerted to this song via Matt Pond’s Twitter feed, so thanks to him too.

Free and legal MP3: Papertwin (brisk, alluring electro-pop)

The combination of brisk, dance-club movement with precisely conceived instrumental lines is alluring, and the understated chorus—with a half-time melody that floats behind the beat—is both gorgeous and elusive.


“Coma” – Papertwin

Electro-pop, by its programmable nature, too often breezes into the world in a digitized rush of symmetrical beats and swooping synth lines. How much happier the ear is, however, when it hears a song that begins like “Coma” does, with its well-constructed intro, full of purpose and asymmetrical motifs. There are three basic sections—the opening, bass synthesizer section, a shorter section with a guitar, and then the last, longest section, with the deeper-sounding guitar that brings New Order clearly to mind. None of these sections is the same length. And within each one, the melody lines are strong but irregular—they hook your ear but without telegraphing where they are going, each, also, lasting different lengths of time.

This is a long-winded way of saying they had me at hello. When vocalist Max Decker opens his mouth and that haunted, slightly roughed-up, slightly reverbed tenor comes out, there’s no stopping this song. New Order, yes, is a big influence, but Papertwin emerges with its own take on that formidable sound. The combination of brisk, dance-club movement with precisely conceived instrumental lines is alluring, and the understated chorus—with a half-time melody that floats behind the beat—is both gorgeous and elusive. So elusive, in fact, that the band fiddles with it the second time through, so we only really hear it twice in the four-minute song. Another example of this song’s hidden good work is the new synth melody introduced in the song’s coda (3:05). Most songs are coasting by then. It’s a subtle touch that makes the subsequent return of melody lines from the introduction all the more satisfying.

“Coma” is one of two songs on Papertwin’s debut digital single, released last month, and both available as free downloads on the band’s Bandcamp page. Thanks to the band for letting me host the MP3 here.

Free and legal MP3: The Drums (’50s + ’80s = ’10s)

The Drums

“Down By The Water” – the Drums

Setting a ’50s-style melody, complete with a “Heart and Soul” bass line, to a stately, hymn-like march, “Down By The Water” is an instant brain melt. You’ve heard a thousand songs like this and nothing like this. It’s beautiful and odd and tormented and stirring. The bass line is soon being delivered by a tuba-like sound. The song proceeds precisely, as if on tip-toes. Echoey tip-toes. (“If reverb didn’t exist we wouldn’t have bothered trying to start a band,” Jacob Graham, the guitarist, has said.) Vocalist Jonny Pierce, well-named, sings with an earnest ache, audibly catching his breath: Jonathan Richman doing a Johnny Mathis impersonation. What decade are we in? His bandmates join in for the solemn chorus, which accrues both gravity and pathos with each iteration.

And then—another brain melt—the synthesizer floats in. 2:12. My goodness. New Order joins the Salvation Army band. The synthesizer sounds almost mixed up, and unerringly beautiful. What decade did we decide we were in? Oh yeah. The 2010s. Of course.

The Drums are a foursome from Brooklyn, and you may be hearing a lot more about them moving forward. “Down By The Water” was originally found on the band’s debut EP, Summertime, which came out last year. It will re-emerge on the full-length self-titled debut, which is arriving in the U.S. in September on Downtown Records. (The album was released in Europe and Australia in June.)

Free and legal MP3: Pallers (graceful electronic dance-ballad)

“The Kiss” – Pallers

This graceful electronic dance-ballad unfolds with a New Order-like majesty, but minus the melodrama. Despite the quickly established synth-driven pulse, a gentle dreaminess prevails during the song’s careful build-up. There’s no hurrying this song and in the end, you don’t want to, because the payoff, while subtle, is deeply felt.

So let this one happen on its own terms. The simple pulse–a robotic synthesizer line backed by a conga beat of organic simplicity–fuels an extended intro, while another synthesizer slowly plays with a melodic line that finally takes over the front of the mix nearly 50 seconds in. The singing starts at 1:06, adding a wistful melody to the carefully constructed beat. New synth lines emerge at 1:40. No one is in a hurry, remember. A new layer of percussion and previously unheard synthesizer flourishes add palpable substance around 2:30 but soon the song retreats back to its conga-and-synth origin before blossoming, from 3:00 to 3:15, into almost goose-bumpy wonderfulness the rest of the way, as the melody doubles its pace and we see now that our gentle electronic dream has transformed itself into something brisk, sturdy, and memorable.

The Swedish duo Pallers is Johan Angergård (also a member of Acid House Kings, Club 8 and the Legends) and Henrik Mårtensson. “The Kiss” is a digital single due out next week on Labrador Records (a great Stockholm-based label, itself worth checking out). MP3 via Labrador.