Free and legal MP3: Holopaw (pensive, inscrutable)

“The Art Teacher and the Little Stallion” – Holopaw

Airily idiosyncratic, not to mention lyrically inscrutable, “The Art Teacher and the Little Stallion” required repeated listens for me to really hear it. Songs with vocal (rather than purely instrumental) introductions are a bit hard to get one’s pop-oriented mind around, to begin with. And when Holopaw’s John Orth is the one doing the vocalizing, maybe it’s even harder. He’s actually got an engaging, feathery sort of voice, but when it’s the very first thing one hears–without the grounding of obvious melody or structure–it seems a challenge, to me.

But here’s something to listen for early on: the two notes he sings on the word “breath,” at 0:12 (which are E-flat and D-flat, if my keyboard widget is to be trusted). These are soon revealed as the two notes the rest of the song consistently turns on, the two notes which, magnet-like, attract and re-attract the melody–for instance, at the end of the recurring lyric “Couldn’t we just get lost?” The musical phrase described by these notes is unresolved, but listen to how the violin follows (e.g. 0:56) with a countermelody that does then resolves it, and with folk-like poignancy. Keep your ear on the violin all the way through; I think the yearning ballast it provides is what lends the song, at least after a number of listens, its quirky majesty.

From Gainesville, Florida, Holopaw was previously featured on Fingertips in August 2005, but are rather a whole different band now: three of its original five members moved north after that second album, replaced slowly but surely by four Gainesville-based others. “The Art Teacher and the Little Stallion” is the first song on the band’s Oh, Glory. Oh, Wilderness. album, due out next month on Bakery Outlet Records.

Free and legal MP3: The Clientele (breezy sound w/ a pensive undercurrent)

“I Wonder Who We Are” – the Clientele

With an echo of the cheerful old Aztec Camera song, “Oblivious,” in the air here, what do you know, we’ve got yet another summery delight on our hands.

At least, seemingly. “I Wonder Who We Are” is an upbeat song with an ostensibly carefree, kicking-around kind of vibe, and yet between the open chords, pensive vocals, and central role of acoustic instruments (guitar, violin, piano), there’s a reserve bordering on melancholy that I’m hearing despite the surface-level peppiness. And sure, lead singer Alasdair MacLean is offering those airy “ba-ba-ba-ba-ba”s but they keep leading to that recurring, rather poignant question: “I wonder who we are?” So I for one am not surprised by the 20-second pause at 3:06 when everything clears away, the chugging rhythm disappears, and we’re left with a bit of forlorn but lovely guitar noodling. Soon enough the “ba-ba”s come back, toes resume tapping, but I’m left with a feeling that we are being invited to ponder something the typical summer song doesn’t usually get tangled up with.

The Clientele are a London-based quartet with a recording history dating back to 2000. “I Wonder Who We Are” will be found on the band’s fifth album, Bonfires on the Heath, slated for a September release on Merge Records. MP3 via Merge.