Free and legal MP3: Low (simmering & hymn-like, w/ a heartbeat pulse)

Something is being partially explained, partially released, something still is left unsaid, and the grave weight of a relationship seems to hang in the balance. I don’t need to know exactly what’s going on; the words and the music in combination convey emotion beyond pure narrative.

Low

“Especially Me” – Low

Given that this is Low, a band with a longstanding predilection for, shall we say, leisurely-paced songs (don’t call it slowcore, at the band’s request), nothing unfolds too suddenly here. But I’m immediately engaged by the heartbeat pulse that wanders in at :07 and stays with us the rest of the way (with a five or six second break late in the song; listen for it)—it gives us both the tempo and the tension upon which “Especially Me” is constructed.

But note how that pulse is accompanied by a triplet rhythm, each beat of the measure divided swayingly into three. This complicates the tension nicely, and contributes to the hymn-like nature of the deliberate melody drummer Mimi Parker intones. The song simmers; a cello is incorporated beautifully into the apprehensive flow. The cumulative effect of the succinct, thrice-repeated chorus (note the lyrical change in the third iteration), with its gathering harmony, is at once hypnotic and cathartic; the titular phrase, with its casual (but not) addition (“and probably you”), sits at the musical center of the song. Something is being partially explained, partially released, something still is left unsaid, and the grave weight of a relationship seems to hang in the balance. I don’t need to know exactly what’s going on; the words and the music in combination convey emotion beyond pure narrative.

Low was here back in 2005 for the terrific song “California” (it’s still online, check it out) from The Great Destroyer. The trio has a new bass player since then—Steve Garrington, who joined the husband-wife team of Parker and Alan Sparhawk in 2008, the year after the Duluth band’s last release, Drums and Guns. “Especially Me” is from C’mon, which was released this week on (them again) Sub Pop. MP3 once more via Sub Pop.

Free and legal MP3: Radical Face (quietly portentous, w/ minor-major alternation)

He seems to be telling quite a story with that expressive tenor of his—and yes I get the basic gist from the title alone—but there’s something about the music, each time, that pulls me away from the words.

Radical Face

“The Deserter’s Song” – Radical Face

I like good lyrics, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t tend to default to lyric-listening. I get distracted by the music. Drawn in and swept away. Even when I start out actively trying to listen to lyrics, I often lose my way. This one, wow, I’ve been listening over and over and I can’t seem to focus on the lyrics for very long at all. He seems to be telling quite a story with that expressive tenor of his—and yes I get the basic gist from the title alone—but there’s something about the music, each time, that pulls me away from the words.

I consider this a good thing. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I think a songwriter has done quite an impressive job if you, as a listener, know that the song works and yet can’t manage quite to follow what he or she is saying. Or okay maybe it’s just me as a listener. But I hear that deep tom-tom, I hear the hushed interplay between rhythm sticks and one-handed piano playing, I hear the always effective alternation of minor and major keys, never mind the thunder and rain (not always effective, but it works here, for me), and the words disintegrate into the song itself. I absorb the portentous atmosphere with no firm idea of what the song is specifically recounting. I consider this a good thing.

Radical Face is the name Ben Cooper has given to his solo recording project. Cooper is otherwise known, to some, as half of the duo Electric President, themselves featured here last February. “The Deserter’s Song” can be found on the EP Touch the Sky, released in November on the Berlin label Morr Music. A previous Radical Face album, Ghost, came out in November 2007. MP3 via Better Propaganda. This one I have known about since its release; it just took a while to grow into something I wanted to feature. Some music works like that. I hope you guys out there don’t always dismiss a new song with too quick a hit of the “next” button. Some songs need a bit of air and space.

Free and legal MP3: Sea Wolf (agile, subtly orchestrated)

“Wicked Blood” – Sea Wolf

A dreamy wash of tingly synthesizers leads us into an agile, subtly orchestrated tune with a mixed-down piano vamp (itself intriguing; mostly when someone is pounding a piano, it’s just about all you can hear) and a hint of portentousness. When Alex Brown Church starts singing (and hm, we have two solo performers this week who record using an animal name), that sense of something impending, even prophetic, in the air is further accentuated both by his slightly husky but resonant baritone–it is a voice ready to pronounce something–and by the elusive stream of words he sings. The words resist a narrative throughline but are full of concrete images: veils and curls and mountains and chandeliers and waterfalls and such. Ever since Dylan went electric, this has been a surefire way to sow intrigue and anticipation in a pop song: give us lots of good nouns. We don’t know how that ember got in those rafters, or where the rafters even are, but we emotionally respond to the threat.

Church first gained indie notice as a member of the LA band Irving, which formed back in 1998. As he began writing songs that didn’t seem like Irving songs, he started performing on his own, as Sea Wolf, in 2003. (So you know, Irving has spawned at least one other side project–Afternoons, who were featured here last year; Irving itself is on hiatus at this point.) “Wicked Blood” is the lead track off White Water, White Bloom, the second Sea Wolf album, which came out last week on Dangerbird Records. MP3 via the good folks at Better Propaganda.