Free and legal MP3: the Dø (percussive, kitchen-sink indie pop)

“Tammie” – the Dø

So go ahead and listen to this song. Shrug and put it aside for two weeks or so. Listen to it again. Go: “Hm. I actually kind of like this! A lot, even.” Well okay, you don’t have to do any of that, but that’s surely what I did. Listening to music can be a flitty and unpredictable affair.

So, “Tammie”: kitchen-sink indie pop, sweetly nutty, with the large-scale energy of the Arcade Fire school of 21st-century rock, but achieved instead via a stripped-down, organic vibe driven by hand-claps and odd vocalizations and peopled by a simple (but multinational) duo—French/Finnish Olivia Merilahti and the Parisian Dan Levy. Where the song takes off, for me, is here: when the insistent, twice-repeated minor-key melodic lines of the verse resolve in the third iteration (first heard around 0:41)—such a smooth and unexpected chord slips in right there in the middle of all the staccato insistence. Check out the next time this comes up, with those invigorating harmonies (1:24, but keep listening). Another wonderful moment is when the repeated chant of the bridge, with all its percussive drive, morphs (1:47) into an orchestral interlude, featuring an enticing influx of woodwind-like sounds.

The Dø is pronounced like the first note of the scale (“‘do’ a deer,” etc.)—even though the “ø” (in languages that use it) is actually pronounced more like the “u” in “hurt.” And while the word “dø” means “die” in Danish and Norwegian, the band says the name comes simply from combining the letters of their first names. (D’oh!) “Tammie” can be found on their debut CD, A Mouthful, which was originally released last year in Europe, and given an American release this month on Get Down Records.

Free and legal MP3: Hollowblue (brisk, noir-ish, and dadaesque)

“First Avenue” – Hollowblue

First come the blurred piano chords and crazed cello bleats. Next we hear the speaking voice of hard-bitten, semi-anarchic American novelist Dan Fante delivering the hard-bitten, semi-anarchic lyrics that he wrote for this song by the Italian band Hollowblue (however that collaboration came about). The words make sense yet the sentences don’t (“Drag your laundry down First Avenue”? “Spend some time in your drugstore mind”?), but with his voiceover-announcer-from-hell intonation, he sells it to you anyway. “I’ve got a pair of socks I like better than you”—well, okay, sure, if you say so, Dan. (And he does, twice.)

Turns out the jittery, slippery, loopy opening section is over before you can quite absorb it; at 0:27, the band fully takes over, the lyrics now reintroduced over a brisk, noir-ish Continental beat, sung in heavily accented English by the engaging front man Gianluca Maria Sorace. While Sorace’s breezy earnestness and reedy tenor brings Fante’s nutty non-narrative to a more grounded and inclusive place, in my mind it’s cellist Ellie Young who provides the heart of this likable dadaesque melodrama. First we heard those wild, horn-like blurts accompanying Fante. She returns at 0:48 with strong, gypsy-ish bowing and then uses a muscular 25-second solo in the center of the song (1:40) to make a strong argument for the cello as a rock instrument, and it’s less maybe about the solo itself than how great the song sounds when Sorace returns in full force afterward.

“First Avenue” is the lead track from Hollowblue’s CD Stars Are Crashing (In My Backyard), which was released in Europe last year on Midfinger Records, an Italian label. MP3 via the band’s site.

Free and legal MP3: Joker’s Daughter (pastoral folk pop, via the Twilight Zone)

“Worm’s Head” – Joker’s Daughter

If Gnarls Barkley can refer to themselves as the “odd couple” (as per their 2008 album), then what to make of this pairing of Helena Costas, a London-born singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist of Greek Cypriot extraction, and Danger Mouse (himself half of Gnarls Barkley)? A really really odd couple?

And what to make of this odd-couply music, part pastoral airiness, part Twilight Zoney strangeness? There are uncanny lyrics—“The horses turn into cows/And sheep lie on the edge of the road”—and an off-kilter heaviness to a beat that kind of wants to be lilting but isn’t, really. There are warm acoustic instruments and wayward keyboards and electronic effects that sound like a combination of a theremin and an old-fashioned radio dial trying to tune in a station. Through it all, Costas—a classically trained violinist, among other things—sings with an unperturbed, slightly breathy sweetness, almost as if no one has told her exactly what she’s singing about. Not that I have any idea either. And how short this is! Just when you’re ready to sink into the mystery of it all, it’s over. Rendering it all the more mysterious, I suppose.

“Worm’s Head” came out as a digital single in November, a 7-inch vinyl record in December, and will be on the debut Joker’s Daughter album, The Last Laugh, when it comes out in February, on Team Love Records. MP3 via Team Love.

Free and legal MP3: Fred (jaunty, endearing Irish band)

“Running” – Fred

This song is not about running for political office, but it should be; I think we’d be in great shape if candidates went about their business with this exact sort of wacky, good-natured, earnest, interconnected joie de vivre. (Listen to that goofy-wonderful violin in the intro for an immediate sense of what this is going to be about. The violin plays with the trumpet and sounds like it’s trying to be a trumpet; the sound they manage to make together has a lot to do with the song’s success.)

Needless to say, joie de vivre has not generally been a characteristic of American political campaigns, which have instead over time been all but vanquished by nastiness and amorality. And yet it makes no sense. Why have we for so many years trusted people to work in our legislatures and run our states and our country who behave like playground bullies when they’re out there seeking our votes? (And oops I’m not really talking about the music, am I.) But: is this the year that something…changes? All I know is that finally, someone–in fact, That One–had the courage and vision to try a different approach on a vast, unprecedented scale, running on positive energy and a belief in our actual name: the United States. If you didn’t personally prefer him or vote for him, I don’t understand it (seriously: have you listened to him, really and truly?), but that’s okay too. On this side of things, we criticize based on facts, and we don’t demonize the opponent, or his or her followers. And we will see soon enough if there is, in fact, any hope left in–and for–our country.

In the meantime, Fred: an exuberant quintet from Cork City, Ireland with a knack for bouncy music–jaunty melody, great “oo-oo’s” in the background, horn charts, endearing vocalist–and impish album titles. There was Can’t Stop, I’m Being Timed in 2002; We Make Music So You Don’t Have To, in 2005; and now, Go God Go, which came out on Sparks Music earlier in the year in Ireland, and will be released here in February ’09. This is where you’ll find “Running.” (Note that Go God Go was released digitally last month, for those who can’t wait and don’t need plastic and liner notes in their lives.)