Free and legal MP3: Camera Obscura (happy/sad reverb rock, from Scotland)

“My Maudlin Career” – Camera Obscura

And speaking of reverb, well, here you are. Camera Obscura has built a sturdy sound around a spacious, melancholy reverb, affecting not just lead singer Tracyanne Campbell’s voice but, it seems, the entire rest of the band as well. Combine this with a knack for nostalgic beats and bittersweet lyrics and we end up pretty much suffused with a happy kind of sadness that only certain kinds of pop songs can deliver. This one carries an extra bonus ironic twist, as the song’s narrator, contrary to all musical cues, insists by the end that she will not be sad again. As the extra bonus ironic saying goes, good luck with that.

The (reverbed) keyboard motif that launches the song and recurs throughout is the spine which supports the whole–ongoing, upward-yearning octaves and near octaves that can almost sound optimistic if you’re not listening carefully, and against which Campbell’s disconsolate purr feels particularly star-crossed. Pianist Carey Lander is apparently playing ABBA’s piano on this track, which seems to me another ironic touch, another way the band is playing with bubblegummy nostalgia but finding their own present-day substance in the process.

“My Maudlin Career” is the title track to the fourth Camera Obscura album, due out next month on 4AD Records (this will be the band’s fourth record label in four tries). MP3 via the band’s site.

Free and legal MP3: Marissa Nadler (beautiful, mysterious, atmospheric toe-tapper)

“River of Dirt” – Marissa Nadler

A master of atmosphere, Marissa Nadler can maintain her delicate, otherworldly vibe even when she adds percussion and electric guitar to her spidery sound, and even when the music chugs along at a toe-tapping pace. A lot of the aura has to do with that spooky voice of hers, encased in reverb, and the words that voice is singing–weird words, full of romance, escape, and sorrow (the titular metaphor appears to be referring to death itself). The echoey, keening lap steel that hovers in the background heightens the familiar strangeness of it all.

Nadler may be adding band-like instrumentation to her sound, but it’s hardly a standard sort of rock band she’s got going here. Listen, first, to the drumming, which moves forward with an idiosyncratic blending of rims and toms, and a most judicious use of cymbals–what you hear in the intro from about :06 onward is what propels the entire song; it’s a subtly peculiar sound, seeming at once mechanical and homespun. Then check out the aforementioned lap steel guitar, which howls and sings with uncanny luminosity, mixing in and around an electric guitar and also Nadler’s own backing vocal tracks, often stressing notes that set it apart from the melody and harmony and yet join everything mysteriously together. Beautiful, compelling music we have here.

Fingertips regulars may recall Nadler from the oddly gorgeous 2007 song “Diamond Heart,” which ended that year among the top 10 favorite free and legal MP3s here that year. “River of Dirt” is from her forthcoming (and fourth) CD, Little Hells, which is slated for release next month on Kemado Records. MP3 originally via Kemado, but no longer available there. You can still grab a free and legal download of it via Stereogum, but it’s no longer a direct link, so you can’t sample it in the player here.