Free and legal MP3: Heroes of Popular Wars (semi-psychedelic, quasi-funky)

“A Bus Called Further” – Heroes of Popular Wars

Churny, semi-psychedelic, and borderline funky in an undanceable sort of way, “A Bus Called Further” is both groovily electronic and baroquely corporeal at the same time. Now I am the furthest thing imaginable from a gearhead so I only know what the PR material says, but apparently Stephe Sykes, the brains behind HOPW, uses all sorts of “new vintage” (i.e. ’80s) equipment (guitar synths, 20-year-old samplers, and the like), which is no doubt what lends “A Bus Called Further” its chuggy, homemade vibe. Applying 21st-century mixing and collaging know-how to equipment made before people did this sort of thing is its own sort of mad genius.

And speaking of mad genius, the fact that the song title brings to (my) mind the song “Bus Called Happiness,” from the great mad-genius band Pere Ubu, gives the whole thing bonus points.

Previously Brooklyn-based, Sykes moved Heroes of Popular Wars to L.A. this summer and is still getting settled there–a process which includes his having to find people to turn HOPW into a band that can play onstage. “A Bus Called Further” is a song from HOPW’s debut full-length album, Church & McDonald, which was self-released late last month, and was named, you may as well know, for an intersection in the Kensington section of Brooklyn.

Free and legal MP3: Darker My Love (shoegazey almost-power-pop w/ psychedelic flair)

“Talking Words” – Darker My Love

I have mixed feelings about all the neo-shoegaze one is likely to hear as an active listener of new music here at the end of the century’s first decade. While inherently attracted to one characteristic feature of such music–the combination of loud washes of noise with compelling melodies–I am inherently put off by another characteristic feature, which is the muddy vocals. To the rescue comes the L.A.-based quintet Darker My Love, which here offers the first without the second, so I’m all over this one.

Thus “Talking Words” is both gigantic-noisy and kind of sweet-poppy at the same time, even as the sweet-poppiness is disguised further by the band’s psychedelic tendencies. (But, truly, many of the original psychedelic bands of the ’60s were nothing but pop bands in disguise as well.) Guitarist Tim Presley, who shares writing and singing duties in the band with bassist Rob Barbato, has the high, slightly strained tones of a classic power pop singer (think John Wicks from the Records, or Chris Stamey from the dBs); despite the underlying growl of guitar, Presley is never anywhere but at the center of the mix, often buoyed by some lovely Beatlesque harmonies.

“Talking Words” is from 2, the band’s (duh) second CD, which was released last summer on Dangerbird Records. The free and legal MP3, however, is new, via NME, in advance of the album’s UK release next month.

Free and legal MP3: Samuel Markus (quasi-psychedelic neo-folk rock?)

“Rosa” – Samuel Markus

A full-bodied helping of quasi-psychedelic neo-folk rock, or some such thing, “Rosa” treads an alluring line between the contemporary and the classic, mixing a Derek & the Dominoes-like guitar-band drive with crispier beats and 21st-century production effects.

Holding it all together—because I have to admit, that description doesn’t sound all that alluring as I read it back to myself!—is 22-year-old Samuel Markus, whose voice contains something of Grant Lee Phillips’ deep melodrama, but with a lighter touch and self-effacing tone. The song is pretty much built around a cascade of two-syllable almost-rhymes that repeat at the end of each lyrical line; Marcus wins the day with his earnest yet quizzical delivery, all but reveling in the mismatches that tumble out (e.g. “Casanova” and “composer” and “for ya”) in service of his ramshackle, bittersweet-sounding story.

Markus co-founded the N.Y.C.-based band the Rosewood Thieves (featured on Fingertips in Aug. ’06) before splitting to do his own thing out in California. “Rosa” can be found on New Dawn, a CD recorded with an ensemble he calls the Only Ones (no relation to the British new wave band of the same name, which has apparently been playing together again recently). New Dawn was released at the end of September by Yatra Media.