Free and legal MP3: Acapulco Lips (half-goofy half-serious surf-punk-pop)

With its lead vocals buried almost cartoonishly in reverb, “Awkward Waltz” displays a joyful zing greater than the sum of its garage-rock-y parts.

Acapulco Lips

“Awkward Waltz” – Acapulco Lips

With its lead vocals buried almost cartoonishly in reverb, “Awkward Waltz” displays a joyful zing greater than the sum of its garage-rock-y parts. This may have a lot to do with the old-school organ that floats through the mix, and it may have to do with the inherent appeal of a minor-key melody presented in a foot-tapping context. Or, maybe it has to do most of all with the irrepressible “oh-oh-oh” vocal descent we hear throughout the song from Austin-born singer Maria-Elena Juarez, each time delivering a frisson of catharsis, surf-punk style.

In any case, this is half-goofy half-serious fun, a song with a seeming simplicity belied by its unabashed devotion to an aural landscape that sounds more and more timeless as each new half-generation rediscovers it. Listen to drummer Davy Berruyer (who is from France, for goodness’ sake) and remind me again why electronic percussion exists. I know there’s a good reason but it’s slipped my mind in the presence of such precise and evocative pummeling. Listen to Christopher Garland and recall for a brief shining moment why we all used to love electric guitars so much—fingers on steel, sounds squealing and bending in direct relationship to sheer physical force. Juarez, meanwhile, mirroring the lead guitar with her bass, both grounds the song and frees it to splay towards its roiling conclusion. (Note that the crucial, aforementioned keyboards are supplied here by Yann Cracker, drummer Davy’s French pal.)

Acapulco Lips (coined to play coyly off the word “apocalypse”) is a trio based in Seattle. “Awkward Waltz” is the lead track off its self-titled debut album, which was released in mid-April on the brand new (?!) record label Killroom Records. You can listen to the album and purchase it via Bandcamp.

Free and legal MP3: The Fireworks (melodic three-chord headbanger)

A blistering, buzzy shot of punk-ish pop (or, perhaps, pop-ish punk).

The Fireworks

“Runaround” – The Fireworks

A blistering, buzzy shot of punk-ish pop (or, perhaps, pop-ish punk), “Runaround” is a brazen reminder that digitalia only gets you so far in a world that still exists in three dimensions (so far). There’s a chunky permanence to the guitar-bass-drum attack of The Fireworks that renders the knob twiddling that dominates 21st-century pop music sound like a kind of quaint sideline. Music that does not depend upon physical vibrations of physical objects in the physical world is still music, of course, but that’s my ongoing point: there are different kinds of music, and engaging instances of all these different kinds can and must each be encouraged and celebrated, rather than one kind being dismissed as somehow “un-hip” while another kind experiences a bubble of over-production. Coming to a classic, melodic, three-chord headbanger from the vantage point of the year 2015, to my ears, automatically makes this new and different from whatever past bands you’d like to cite as progenitors of this style. (Me I hear a kind of Elastica-meets-Ramones vibe; what could be bad?)

The song’s simple, crowning achievement is the relentless downturn at the end of each verse line. Classic pop would often give us a downturn at the end of the first line, balanced by an upturn at the end of the second line. Here, the downturn at the end of the second line not only fools us by going down at all but goes down to kind of an off note (first heard at 0:18), surely not the note our ears were expecting. “Runaround” takes us three seven straight downturns (alternating four of the first kind and three of the second) before the last line of the verse becomes the beginning of the chorus, with the long-awaited upturn at the end of the word “Runaround.” Through it all, lead singer Emma Hall finds an effective middle ground between blasé and excited, letting the hugeness of the guitar sound swell her forward without giving her much pause. I always liked best the punks who weren’t too in love with their toughness; they were the ones to count on for melody. And still apparently are.

The Fireworks are a quartet from London. “Runaround” is the second track off the band’s debut album, Switch Me On, which was released last month on Shelflife Records. You can listen to it as well as buy it via Bandcamp.

MP3 via Magnet Magazine.

Free and legal MP3: Fantasmas (noisy guitars, put to good purpose)

While the guitars are given a lot of opportunity to go at it—there’s even a guitar break in the middle of the chorus somehow—the song still manages to give us a larger feeling of space than noisy guitars alone usually convey.

Fantasmas

“No Soul” – Fantasmas

A blurry, spiky surge of noisy guitars powers this three-minute keeper from a young Brooklyn band calling themselves Fantasmas. Amidst the punk-ish ambiance I sense a great deal of poise. I like that particular juxtaposition, so here you are.

Note the long introduction (unusual for this kind of music), and note that it starts off the tonic—meaning, away from the key in which the the song is written. (Whatever that pulsating, semi-dissonant chord-like thing the guitars are slashing away at for 45 seconds is, it’s not the home chord.) This is a sneaky yet time-honored way to keep you listening, because our ears, bless their simple needs, just want to be brought home. At 0:45 (phew), we are shifted into the tonic, get 12 more seconds of slashing guitars, and only then we get to see what the song is really about. Which is pretty much more slashing guitars, but now they are sculpted around minimalist lyrics—eight pithy blurts per verse—delivered with indelible New York City-style blasé-ness by a vocalist identified only as Kam. (I especially like his nearly-spoken lines at 1:56.) While the guitars are given a lot of opportunity to go at it—there’s even a guitar break in the middle of the chorus somehow—the song still manages to give us a larger feeling of space than noisy guitars alone usually convey. Some of this probably has to do with how the guitars are dialed back during the sung parts of the chorus; we get much more tension than noise here, a seemingly small detail with a large impact on our listening experience.

Fantasmas are a relatively new quartet from Brooklyn. The name is Spanish for ghosts, and this new band is not to be confused with Fantasma (a cumbia band from Argentina) or Los Fantasmas, an obscure quintet from the Isle of Wight. “No Soul” is the second half of their debut two-sided seven-inch single, the first imprint served up by Low Life Inc., a Brooklyn-based music promotion firm that recently started a label. You can download the song as usual via the link on the title above, or via the record company’s SoundCloud page. The single came out in December, but I only recently came across it, thanks to The Mad Mackeral.

Free and legal MP3: Marvelous Darlings (Buzzcocks style power pop)

It’s loud and muscular but it’s an honest-to-goodness song, with a primitive, ear-catching riff, nostalgic melodies, and any number of musical moments one might almost call graceful except for the general head-bangy ambiance.

Marvelous Darlings

“I Don’t Wanna Go To The Party” – Marvelous Darlings

I’ve never had an ear for the harsher, DIY-fueled end of the punk spectrum. But neither have I found the more blatantly commercial “punk-pop” genre very satisfying. My sweet spot is for the sort of punk or punk-like music made by folks who may be angry, or alienated, or otherwise fed up but still manage to have their musical wits about them. My opinion is that if you’re too angry to be bothered to learn exactly how to write and perform music, maybe you should just leave the music out of it entirely? One man’s perhaps unreasonable idea.

Anyway, with stuff like this, whether in its original, Buzzcocks-y incarnation or when trotted out in the new(ish) century by a crew like Marvelous Darlings, I’m all in. It’s loud and muscular but it’s an honest-to-goodness song, with a primitive, ear-catching riff, nostalgic melodies, and any number of musical moments one might almost call graceful except for the general head-bangy ambiance. There is, for instance, that place in the relentless, mostly two-note melody when singer Ben Cook takes a fifth-interval downward dive (0:36), and it’s just exactly right. And you kind of wait for it to come back and it doesn’t, and it doesn’t, until finally very close to the end, it does (2:08). This more than makes up for Cook’s decision to add an over-the-top British affectation to the word “party,” which is probably in any case a private joke of some kind.

An additional moment of odd grace: how the interwoven repetition of the basic theme (“I don’t want to go”) we hear at 1:04 resolves into a syncopated, falsetto release at 1:11. The song hammers us unflaggingly with a classic rock’n’roll backbeat and yet offers us a few moments like this one that dance away from it. Another is the brief but dandy guitar solo (1:44-1:54).

Marvelous Darlings is a Toronto band featuring Cook and Matt Delong, who were co-founders of the Canadian hardcore band No Warning; Cook, who also performs under the name Young Governor, is best known these days as a member of the Toronto band Fucked Up, which somewhat unexpectedly won Canada’s Polaris Prize in 2009 for best Canadian album. “I Don’t Wanna Go To The Party” is the lead track on Single Life, an album comprised of previously released 7-inch vinyl singles, put out this week by the Canadian label Deranged Records. MP3 via Deranged. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.

Free and legal MP3: Bonfire Madigan (string-based punk rock, with heart)

“Lady Saves the Dragon (From the Evil Prince)” – Bonfire Madigan

I don’t think I’ve ever been tempted before to feature a song simply because of its title but this one was hard to resist. Fortunately the song backed me up here: a strange but hearty slice of punk-cello-rock with a great pulse, an uncorked singer, and the ability to create loose-cannon drama out of not a lot of actual noise. There are no electric instruments here–just a cello, a contrabass, and drums. And then at the center, cellist Madigan Shive’s unruly, Björk-ish yowl. (I don’t by the way think that those electronic punctuation marks heard at 2:45 and 2:52 are vocal shrieks but then again you never know.)

Even as I continue to find it hard to get my arms completely around this, I remain amazed each time I listen by how quickly time passes here; the song is just about four minutes but feels much more fleeting, even as the deep sounds of those big-bodied stringed things ground this odd composition in something rich and compelling. Something is happening here but I don’t know what it is.

Bonfire Madigan is the name of the four-person ensemble founded in 1998 by Shive, who comes by her freewheeling sound rightfully–she grew up in an extremely alternative household, was called Running Pony until she was six years old, and was thereafter given an expanding variety of names until, at 14, she chose one of them, Madigan, for keeps. This song is the semi-title track from Bonfire Madigan’s Lady Saves EP, released in May by Shive’s own MoonPuss Records. A full-length album is expected before the end of the year.