Free and legal MP3: Laura Gibson (galloping, mysterious old-timey shuffle)

An old-timey shuffle, all whip and ghost and gallop, rendered yet old-timier by Gibson’s throwback voice and a variety of sounds and effects that conjure a 78 RPM vibe.

Laura Gibson

“La Grande” – Laura Gibson

An old-timey shuffle, all whip and ghost and gallop, rendered yet old-timier by Gibson’s throwback voice and a variety of sounds and effects that conjure a 78 RPM vibe.

But the song moves, and the words spill out, concrete and inscrutable, and we seem to be nowhere as much as in last night’s dream—fresh and spirited and beyond the reach of conscious scrutiny. Maybe it’s the rolling tom-tom beat, which has the air of something at once visceral and hypnotic; we feel both out on a dusty plain and somewhere beyond literal sight. Gibson is singing about “the old sugar mill” and the “bone-white clay” and boots and spurs and burning sage and somehow the more nouns with which she constructs her songscape the less we have to grab onto. It’s a marvelous effect I’ve never been able to figure out whenever encountering songwriters who employ it, and this may be less because it is literally mysterious than figuratively so. That is to say, I could probably stop and puzzle the song out but it really doesn’t seem to want us to. At its best, music enters us through our non-thinking centers, and occasionally we meet songs that remind us, via sidelong glances and echoey absences, that we do not have to understand them.

Gibson is a singer/songwriter from Portland, Oregon. “La Grande” is the title track to her fifth album, due out in January on Barsuk Records. La Grande is also the name of a small town in northeastern Oregon, along I-84, and which for inscrutable reasons seems to have served as an inspiration for the album. MP3 via Spinner.

Free and legal MP3: The Extraordinaires

Wry rocker w/ old-timey, theatrical feel

The Extraordinaires

“The Big Show” – The Extraordinaires

With the oompah feel of a music-hall standard, “The Big Show” dresses its quizzical take on 21st-century life in a ramshackle aural stew as musically charming as it is lyrically caustic. Look no further than the opening salvo to see what we’re in for:

We say it like it’s true then watch it put down its roots
And blossom from the gossip into truth
We’re in the weeds up to our knees
It’s hard to tell the poison from the fruit

The chorus, meanwhile, has an uncomfortable resonance with the news we’ve been watching this week:

Look out below
The whole damn thing’s about to blow
Gone are all the good days but hey
At least we get to watch the show

We’ve got here a corollary to the happy music/sad lyrics phenomenon that pop can handle like no other kind of music—this is more like comic music/tragic lyrics but the underlying incongruity is the same, as well as the appeal. Singer Jay Purdy has the air of a mischievous master of ceremonies, and a voice somewhat resembling John Linnell from They Might Be Giants. Which adds to the whimsical vibe. Oh and be sure not to miss the last 40 seconds, which sounds as if we have landed in a cartoon. All we need to top it off is Porky Pig saying “Th-th-th-at’s all, folks!”

The Extraordinaires began as a duo in South Philly in 2004. They had expanded to a quartet by 2007, and in 2010 solidified into a five-man band. They have previously released albums that were produced as books bound in masonite (think of what a clipboard is made of; that’s it). “The Big Show” is a song from the band’s new three-song EP, Postcards, released on the Philadelphia-based label Punk Rock Payroll.

Free and legal MP3: Vandaveer (old-timey acoustic shuffle)

“Turpentine” – Vandaveer

An almost hypnotic, quiet-but-intense number that seems perfect for a late afternoon on a late summer day. Featuring pretty much all acoustic instruments and shuffling along on the frame of a gentle, forward-moving keyboard riff, “Turpentine” has an old-timey flair but a sharp present-day vibe. (And it fades in; you don’t hear many songs fade in.)

The singing performances bring this one to particular life, both the craggy, soulful lead effort by Mark Charles Heidinger and the beautifully attuned, vibrato-laced harmonies offered by Heidinger’s sister, Rose Guerin. Heidinger sounds as if he’s singing on your old vinyl turntable, Guerin as if she never opens her eyes while making unconsciously portentous arm gestures. Towards the beginning of the song, she picks and chooses where to inject her fierce accompaniment; when she at long last stays on stage with him for one last verse in this chorus-free song, redemption feels close at hand.

“Turpentine” can be found on Divide and Conquer, Vandaveer’s second album, released last week on Supply & Demand Records. Vandaveer is the name the Washington, D.C.-based Heidinger uses for performance; it’s a family name that he found on the back of a watch passed down to him on his father’s side.