Free and legal MP3: Dear Euphoria (delicate musing on love and loss)

Over a peaceful, arpeggiated bed of boops and bips, “Our Time” unfolds as a graceful, melancholy ballad, celebrating love in the face of loss.

Dear Euphoria

“Our Time” – Dear Euphoria

Over a peaceful, arpeggiated bed of boops and bips, “Our Time” unfolds as a graceful and melancholy ballad, celebrating love in the face of loss. Singer Elina Johannsen processes her voice in a way that strikes the ear as both slippery and central, with the elusiveness of the effect mirroring the ambivalent emotional circumstance the song presents.

And yes, for the record, I do not reject all vocal processing, by any means; what I’ve always objected to was the combination of faddishness and thoughtlessness propelling the technique (epitomized by Auto-Tune) for so many years. What should be obvious but, it seems, hasn’t been, is this: be human, be compassionate, be inventive, and all manner of musical and technological expression is open to you. Someone like Björk has known this for years. Prop up shallow idiocies with formulaic songwriting and production methods in pursuit of big streaming numbers and okay, have fun, but I’m not interested.

Meanwhile, Johannsen is tackling the big subject here, with a directness leavened by the sweetness of her tone, the delicacy of her declarations, and the soothing melody. I am assuming the loss she is singing about is a loss occasioned by death, and she seems to be singing from the perspective of the dying person; but, it works if the subject is a less permanent loss as well. She employs simple, mostly one-syllable words throughout, which has the subtle effect of amplifying both the gravity and the sublimity of the situation. The vibe is at once uncomplicated and stimulating, with a number of engaging touches along the way, from the life-support electronic pulse that accompanies two-thirds of the song (listen to how it decamps at 1:52), to the brief but wonderful guitar or guitar-like distortion at 1:03, to the all-out false ending at 2:29. And, a trait not to be underestimated, the song doesn’t overstay its welcome, wrapping up in a concise 3:06, easily inviting repeat listens.

Johannsen is based in Stockholm. Dear Euphoria was previously featured on Fingertips all the way back in 2007; the MP3 to that track, “Falling Behind,” is no longer available. “Our Time” is the second single released to date from an album due out in the spring. Thanks to Johannsen for the MP3.

Free and legal MP3: Robert Pollard (pretty & inscrutable, over triplets)

“In a Circle” is unexpectedly pretty, as Pollard’s songs sometimes are, and incomprehensible, as his songs pretty much always are.

Robert Pollard

“In a Circle” – Robert Pollard

Inscrutable, indefatigable Robert Pollard returns with his 157th solo album in June and the thing with Mr. Pollard is you just have to remind yourself he is not here to be fathomed. There is no understanding what he’s up to, pretty much ever, at the level either of individual song lyrics or of larger career trajectory. Semi-famous, to some, for founding and fronting the Dayton-based band Guided By Voices way back in 1983, he also remains pretty much completely obscure, and growing more so by the ticking of our 21st-century clock. Such is the fate of anyone touted as an indie legend. The fragmentation of the marketplace leaves no legacies in its wake. (Current indie legends, take note.)

(And okay this is not really his 157th album, but it is his second, already, of 2011; and he has written more than 1,300 songs all told.)

This new album, Lord of the Birdcage, was created around poems he had already written and later decided to set to music. I can’t begin to claim enough expertise in Pollardiana to be able to note any resulting differences between “In a Circle” and Pollard’s previous work. All I know is this one is unexpectedly pretty, as his songs sometimes are, and (you were forewarned) incomprehensible, as his songs pretty much always are. Words flow by over a triplet-centric rhythm, the verses slipping past before you can quite catch them, the chorus marked by a series of phrases at once floodlit by emphasis and lacking any obvious through-line: “routine exercise,” “constant reverie,” “makeshift comfort suites,” and, the one which becomes its own sort of offbeat hook based on its location, “nine o’clock meetings.” He is clearly up to something here, and if he keeps putting this much material out, maybe someday I’ll figure out what it is.

Lord of the Birdcage is due out in June, on Pollard’s Rockathan Records label. MP3 via Pitchfork.

Free and legal MP3: Postdata (hushed, echoey, portentous ballad)

Postdata

“Tobias Grey” – Postdata

I missed this one when it came out back at the beginning of the year, but it was probably one of those on-purpose accidents, as there is something in this hushed, portentous, echoey acoustic ballad that resonates with me in the middle of this seriously wacked-out weather. There’s a stifling stillness in the air during a heat wave, you don’t even have to go outside to feel it, it seeps through the building’s walls, suffuses the remedial air conditioning, makes effort—any effort—sad and impossible. This song is kind of like that, only pretty, also. Bonus for particularly relevant lyrics
(“Sometimes the weather don’t change/It just stays in the very same place”).

And it’s all so very quiet, with whispery vocals, tightly recorded acoustic guitar (you can hear fingers squeaking on the strings), and a really effective keyboard drone in the background, grounding the piece in something electric and threatening.

Postdata is a Canadian duo featuring Paul Murphy of the band Wintersleep and his brother Michael. The self-titled, self-released album has been out since January. The songs were born during a visit to their parents’ home in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. They were recorded on a laptop originally, then reworked a bit some months later in Halifax—mics, at least, were added, but they still used the laptop. So if you hear some lo-fi distortion here, that’s why. And for once I don’t really mind the roughness of the recording because the intimacy isn’t compromised—it might even be augmented.