Free and legal MP3: Magana (short, off-kilter, hypnotic)

This quiet, off-kilter electric ballad all but hypnotizes me, for reasons I’m still unraveling.

Magana

“Get It Right” – Magana

This quiet, off-kilter electric ballad all but hypnotizes me, for reasons I’m still unraveling. I like the cold opening, I like the smoky clarity of Jeni Magana’s voice, how she uses reverb to add texture without adding muddiness, and I feel especially engaged by the low-register electric guitar work, breathing a nonchalant semi-atonality into the bottom of the mix. Everything is simple-sounding, and it’s a short song, but it glides by without giving you a firm handhold to breathe out during. This is a fetching dynamic; I have gladly kept this on repeat for quite a while.

Jeni Magana is a Brooklyn-based musician doing musical business, succinctly, as Magana. “Get It Right” is the lead track on her debut EP, entitled Golden Tongue, which was released last week on Audio Antihero Records. Magana was previously in the Brooklyn band Oh Odessa, which released one album in 2012.

You can both listen to Golden Tongue and purchase it via Bandcamp. MP3 once again via Magnet Magazine.

Free and legal MP3: Alvvays (sweet, jangly, off-kilter)

“Archie, Marry Me” has a sweet, sweeping relentlessness about it, and if the whole thing is partially buried in mud and fuzz, this somehow makes its insistence all the more poignant

Alvvays

“Archie, Marry Me” – Alvvays

“Archie, Marry Me” has a sweet, sweeping relentlessness about it, and if the whole thing is partially buried in mud and fuzz, this somehow makes its insistence all the more poignant, makes its gorgeousness all the more down to earth. This is a song that rhymes “matrimony” and “alimony,” not to mention “Atlantic” and “panic,” “papers” and “makers.” This is a song with a woman singing to a character named Archie. This is a band called Always that spells their name Alvvays. The off-kilter appears to be their territory.

At the seeming center of this eddy of off-center goodness is front woman Molly Rankin, who sings with an enticing blend of composed abandon. Her voice veers now too close, now too far. As the band pounds and jangles along, Rankin sounds like someone at once assured and bewildered; her repeated “Hey hey”s resonate off imaginary canyons of hope and despair. But at the true center of the proceedings is the song itself, which etches melodic glory from the simplest of components, and burrows into a listener’s warmest places through the timeless, heartfelt force of guitars and drums. If you don’t concentrate you’ll miss the guitars’ wild, second-verse excursion, buried nearly beyond earshot, but all the wilder for its lack of neediness. In much the way the singer’s simple plea seems almost necessarily concealing some thornier reality, so too does the music’s apparent plainness appear to couch some more complicated sentiment. Remember, they could merely have spelled their name the way it sounds.

Alvvays is a quintet based in Toronto. Molly Rankin is the daughter of the late John Morris Rankin, of the popular and (in Canada) well-known Celtic/folk group The Rankin Family. Among band members is guitarist Alec O’Hanley, formerly of the Charlottetown-based band Two Hours Traffic, who were featured here back in 2010. “Archie, Marry Me” is from the debut, self-titled Alvvays album, released on Polyvinyl Records back in July. The song has been floating around the internet even longer than that, but only last month emerged in free and legal MP3 form over on the long-standing free and legal MP3 blog 3hive. So thanks, very much, to the 3hivers for this one. And note that you can listen to the album and buy it in various formats via the Polyvinyl web site. I encourage it.

Free and legal MP3: Narrow Sparrow (fuzzy, buzzy, busy piece of off-kilter pop)

A buzzy blend of the melodious and the cacophonous, “Joe Meek’s Dream” fuses retro-futuristic synthesizers to folk-singer strumming. Wait; what?

Narrow Sparrow

“Joe Meek’s Dream” – Narrow Sparrow

If “Joe Meek’s Dream”‘s baroque, overprocessed ambiance and obscure lyrical content brings Neutral Milk Hotel to mind, the song’s particular fusing of retro-futuristic electronics to folk-singer strumming doesn’t sound like anything anyone has managed to think of before. At the same time, if the space-age synthesizer melody sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because Joe Meek was the eccentric Brit who wrote and produced the song “Telstar,” a 1962 hit by the Tornados that surely inspired the Star Trek theme music a few years later. More on all that in a minute.

In the meantime, consider this song’s rollicking momentum, which wants you to love it, and its lack of definable structure, which wants you to be disoriented. There is no real hook here; I don’t think there are even any verses or chorus. But, aha, there is instead a recurring melodic moment that feels to me like the song’s musical heart—first heard at 0:59, there supporting the lyrics “I fall asleep and think of other things.” On the one hand it’s just the simple, time-honored progression from the IV to the V chord (F major to G major here), with the melody quite literally sketching out each chord in arpeggio form; on the other hand, coming in the midst of a fuzzy, buzzy, busy piece of off-kilter pop, this modest melodic motif resounds with a homemade kind of glory. We move quickly on, and are never actually quite sure where in the song we are, but that’s the moment that, to me, allows everything else not only to happen but to make sense. It comes back just one more time, at 1:42, with different lyrics, but because the chord progression cycles regularly through the song, your mind starts filling the melody in even when it’s not really there.

And okay, now for the back story. An innovator in the studio who did unprecedented things with distortion and compression and echo, Joe Meek was interested in electronics, outer space, and the occult. Over time he became obsessed with Buddy Holly, whom Meek believed was guiding his career from the afterlife. Meek sadly fell into debt and depression, and ended up killing his landlady and himself on the eighth anniversary of Holly’s death, in 1967. Among the many tragedies here was the fact that Meek never made a dime off “Telstar,” which was (good trivia question) the first song from England to be #1 on the U.S. charts. The royalties were held up for years in an apparently wrongful lawsuit; it was finally settled three weeks after he died. How much of any of this is directly dealt with in the song here is impossible to say, as the lyrics are largely lost in the mix. But the general atmosphere of fuzzed electrical overcharge prevails.

“Joe Meek’s Dream” is from the debut Narrow Sparrow EP, entitled Synthworks, which was self-released earlier this month and is available for free via this new, and promising, Chicago-based band. Vinyl is due out next month.