Free and legal MP3: Grounders Fuzzy noisy chorus-free pop

Via unexplained mechanisms, the Toronto-based quartet Grounders employ a familiar-sounding synth pop vocabulary to create something that strikes my ear as anomalous, and very satisfying.

Grounders

“Bloor Street and Pressure” – Grounders

Via unexplained mechanisms, the Toronto-based band Grounders employ a familiar-sounding synth pop vocabulary to create something that strikes my ear as anomalous, and a lot of fun. As the perky intro, propelled by a series of six-note descents, takes some time to establish itself, you’ll notice, if you listen, the ongoing encroachment of fuzzy noise (or, perhaps, noisy fuzz) underneath the main melody; almost as if a series of retro-futuristic machines are being variously turned on, the noise is all but constructed before our eyes (ears). Once the vocals finally start (0:52), it then provides a constant, multifaceted background throughout the song’s sung portions.

But it’s elusive, this fuzz/noise. Is it simply an extension of the bass line? Something extra going on in the synthesizer department? Something to do with that unaccountable “wa-wa” sound that cycles through the musical undergrowth? Whatever it is, it’s both always there and sometimes not quite there, and may be what gives “Bloor Street and Pressure” its intangible charm. That and the fact that for all its propulsive energy and ear-worm-ish bias, the song does not possess either a chorus or anything much to sing along with. Which is great if you can get away with it.

Grounders is a five-piece band that was previously a four-piece band and might in fact still be a four-piece band, but their current photo has five guys in it. These things can be hard to untangle. They are in any case from Toronto (where, in fact, you will find Bloor Street). Their debut self-titled album was released on Nevado Records in May. You can listen to the whole thing and buy it via Bandcamp.

MP3 courtesy of Insomnia Radio.

Free and legal MP3: 13ghosts (gripping musical and lyrical narrative)

It’s the not-unfamiliar patient-talking-to-his-doctor motif but we are a long way here from “Doctor, doctor, can’t you see I’m burning, burning.”

13ghosts

“Dr. Bill” – 13ghosts

It’s the not-unfamiliar patient-talking-to-his-doctor motif but we are a long way here from “Doctor, doctor/Can’t you see I’m burning, burning.” “Dr. Bill” oozes depth and power, thanks to some killer guitar work and a splendid fusion of lyrical and musical momentum. There is no chorus; there is even the feeling of being no melody, as singer Brad Armstrong creates the illusion that he’s merely talking. But this is purposeful deception, belied by the song’s careful, eloquent chord sequence, striking lyrics, and the melancholy descent traced by Armstrong’s voice in the first four lyrical lines. Note the lyrics themselves seem more like sentences than verses. He’s singing, he just doesn’t want you to realize it. As the song cranks up the intensity, the subtle melody begins turning upward.

Uneasiness weaves itself through the fabric of the song. You can hear it in the recurring chord change that launches the intro and likewise begins each lyrical line to follow—that shift from an opening minor chord to an unforeseen, unrelated major chord. From there we are taken through a progression featuring more major than minor chords but the underlying sense is disturbed—we’re feeling minor, even through the major changes—and it was set up by the opening gambit. The chords themselves unfold like a narrative, which reinforces a story that escalates both in the lyrics and in the subtext, as we learn perhaps as much about the patient/narrator via what he doesn’t say as from what he does. The way internal rhyme juxtaposes with a lack of end rhyme adds to the song’s ambivalent drive. A character seeking help while insisting he’s all right: what does this say about life for the majority of us, who do not seek help even as we sense that maybe we’re not all right? A strong and haunting song, this one. You could also spend a few listens concentrating merely on the evolving, fiery guitar accompaniment, but I’ll leave that to you, I’m running long as it is.

The Birmingham, Ala.-based quintet 13ghosts is here returning to Fingertips for a third time; Armstrong also visited for an early Q&A. The band is blessed with two strong singer/songwriters, the other being Buzz Russell, who fronted “Beyond the Door,” a great song that was reviewed here in 2008. They were also featured in 2006 but that song alas is no longer online. “Dr. Bill” is from the band’s album Garland of Bottle Flies, coming next month on Skybucket Records.

Free and legal MP3: Plates of Cake (fuzzy & jangly, w/ rhythmic hiccups)

The swift and confident “As If The Choice Were Mine” is at once fuzzy and jangly, teasing us with whiffs of the ’60s and hints of rhythmic trickery.

Plates of Cake

“As If The Choice Were Mine” – Plates of Cake

The swift and confident “As If The Choice Were Mine” is at once fuzzy and jangly, teasing us with whiffs of the ’60s and hints of rhythmic trickery. Front man Jonathan Byerly has some of Matt Berninger’s portentous grumble, but cleared of any pontifical mannerism by the song’s underlying vim, as well as the three-part harmony he sings as part of from start to finish. The song is chorus-free, with one eight-measure melody repeated three times, around instrumental breaks. This is part of what gives the tune its light-footed momentum, this not having to reorient itself for something sing-along-ier.

But it’s also the nature of the melody itself that gives the song its appeal. Listen to how it begins, unusually, on a heavily accented first beat, which both grabs the ear and kind of knocks it off kilter. It is an eight-measure melody, mostly but not completely in 4/4 time, expanding nonchalantly into 6/4 time in measures five and six (from 0:26 to 0:32). For no reason I can discern except further slyness, the introduction, which recurs as the first instrumental break, comes with 6/4 time in measure seven as well, while the second instrumental break, a different thing entirely, is but seven measures long, all in 4/4 but the seventh, which is in 6/4. And yes I’m kind of fascinated by time signature tricks and changes, so there you go.

Meanwhile, what about that title? It’s a hall-of-fame song title, with bonus points for proper use of the conditional tense, and packing so much meaning and subtext into its six words that it hardly requires any further embellishment. And in truth we don’t get much—beyond the repeated opening gambit “As if the choice were mine/And not some fated thing,” the lyrics are both sparse and elusive; after many listens, I still can’t quite make out what the “hollow angels” are doing.

Plates of Cake are a Brooklyn-based foursome with one full-length album to their name, released in 2010 on the All Hands Electric label. “As If The Choice Were Mine” is a digital single, to be officially released later this month. Go to the band’s page on its label’s web site and you can download a couple of free and legal MP3s from the debut album.