Free and legal MP3: Muralismo (complex, engaging chamber pop)

“Wild Eyed Friend” is the mysterious out-of-towner you see across the room at a party of familiar faces and invent intriguing stories about. When you finally meet him, he turns out to be less quirky and cryptic than anticipated, but also deeper and more sincere.

Muralismo

“Wild Eyed Friend” – Muralismo

More a multi-faceted adventure than a simple song, “Wild Eyed Friend” is the mysterious out-of-towner you see across the room at a party of familiar faces and invent intriguing stories about. When you finally meet him, he turns out to be less quirky and cryptic than anticipated, but also deeper and more sincere. You are glad he exists, even if you will never see him again.

The good thing, of course, is that you can go and listen to “Wild Eyed Friend” as often as you’d like. And I do recommend a number of repeats; there’s a lot to take in here—the slow, slowly developing pre-introduction, with its gentle, semi-dissonant air of an awakening meadow; the subtly wonderful blend of guitar and orchestral elements in the brisker “true” introduction (1:12); the engaging, concise verse (1:38), with its drum-driven appeal and no-nonsense segue into the non-chorus-y chorus (2:05), which grabs the ear with abrupt ease. It helps that front man Mark David Ashworth has a welcoming, semi-theatrical tone, his high-ranging baritone slightly roughened and rounded by something husky and knowing. It helps too that the ensemble doesn’t throw its orchestrality (a word?) in your face; I like how the winds and flutes and strings and such kind of just weave and evanesce through the landscape here without making a big deal of their presence; best of all, they let the most interesting instrument in the room be the drums—not typical of most things that have been labeled “chamber pop” to date. Drummer Shaun Lowecki (last seen around these parts in the band The Lawlands, in January) has an up-front way of staying in the background, of guiding the music through interesting places often because of his own patterns, without ever doing things that say “Hey, look at me! I’m the drummer!” Good stuff, repeatedly.

Muralismo is based in San Francisco. Ashworth has released a few solo albums previously; Muralismo coalesced as a group project in the 2007 to 2010 time frame, as players came on board, often synchronistically, and aligned themselves into the quintet they are today. “Wild Eyed Friend” is the lead track from the group’s self-titled, eight-song debut album, which the band self-released in LP, CD, and digital formats last month. The above Dropbox MP3 link comes directly from the band. You can listen to the whole album and buy it via Bandcamp.

Free and legal MP3: John Murry (moody, churning, redemptive)

“Southern Sky” wraps you into its spacious yet slightly menacing world with an enticing mix of buzz and chime.

John Murry

“Southern Sky” – John Murry

Existing in a murky net of sound, “Southern Sky” wraps you into its spacious yet slightly menacing world with an enticing mix of buzz and chime. The song launches with a purposeful, two-chord alternation, which gives the piece both propulsion and tension. We wait for release, it doesn’t come. The verse hews to the two chords, and Murry’s blanketty voice, rich and weary, sings a melody marked by rests and delays.

At 1:10 a new chord arrives, and something like redemption: the churning, moody verse gives way to a darkly gorgeous chorus. Murry is joined by a female backup singer, that elusive marimba-like sound comes slightly more forward into our awareness, and while the melody once more occupies the back end of the measure, it now feels suffused with grace and power. Without doing any one remarkable thing, this chorus is nevertheless remarkable, and it gives “Southern Sky” the sturdy feel of something timeless and necessary.

With addiction and loss in his back story, Murry is not play-acting here; the song’s partially-contained anguish is probably all too real. Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, Murry has landed as a musician in the Bay Area. His debut album, The Graceless Age, was released last year in the UK, and then in the US in April via the Oakland-based Evangeline Recording Co. You can listen to the whole album, and buy it if you like, via Bandcamp. Thanks to WXPN for the head’s up. You can download the song via the link above or via SoundCloud, where you can comment directly to Murry if you are so moved.

Free and legal MP3: The Lawlands (sedate, assured, & poetic)

Sedate and assured, with two simple verses, no chorus, and an unexpected poetic kick.

The Lawlands

“Youth” – The Lawlands

Front man Anthony Ferraro is crooning—there’s no other word for it—but he does so with a wondrous light touch: the rare crooner who sounds like he is singing actually to communicate, rather than to hear the sound of his own voice. (Ouch, regarding all the other crooners, but true, -ish.)

The sedate, assured “Youth” plays out as two simple verses, with no chorus; each verse cycles twice through a melody that is gentle but resolute, unfolding over a double-time rhythm section and a gliding series of open chords. The song’s musical core is I think best understood and reflected by the 35-second instrumental break after the first verse, with a chiming lead guitar line landing more often than not on semi-dissonant notes, creating that open-chorded feeling. There’s a sense of flow, and exploration, and ineffable yearning, and (important) exquisite craftsmanship; I feel I could sit in this space for a long time. But the best is yet to come, as the second verse’s final lyrics open out into unequivocal poetry:

It’s strange, the child that I put to rest
Is beating on the walls of my head
And shouting I’m not finished yet

I call this poetry because any attempt to explicate the meaning would require far more words than the lyric used to get there itself. And because there’s an apprehension (both meanings) in these lines that’s almost thrilling to discover. The song finishes with Ferraro repeating one wistful question—“Where is everything I’ve read about?”—which on the one hand brings good old Morrissey (another crooner!) to mind, with echoes of a famous question he asked only in the song’s title (“How soon is now?”). But here I think we transcend that earlier song’s mopey, unripe concerns. This is pretty deep stuff.

Ferraro has been previously featured on Fingertips for a song he recorded as the one-man project Astronauts, etc., in October 2012. Note that at the time I called his voice a “soothing tenor,” but I guess that was more like a “soothing falsetto.” The Lawlands is a Bay Area band that he joined not long ago when their previous lead singer left the country. From left to right in the picture, you are looking at Drew, Alex, Shaun, and Anthony. “Youth” is available as an MP3 through the link here, or via the SoundCloud page, which also offers up the lyrics and, of course, the opportunity to comment on the song directly to the band.

Free and legal MP3: Eux Autres (sneakily well-crafted garage pop)

Sneaky-accomplished garage pop from the endearing Bay Area trio Eux Autres.

Eux Autres

“Home Tonight” – Eux Autres

Well they tell me there’s a hundred ways to fight
But I’ll only need a few of them tonight

Every now and then an unassuming band delivers up a classic rock song opening line. The Bay Area trio Eux Autres does that here, and then ups the ante by altering the first line when the verse is repeated later in the song so that we now get this:

Well they tell me there’s a hundred ways to fight
And I’m hoping not to use them all tonight

Such attention to detail, and humor, is just one sign that this lo-fi-ish song is sneaky-accomplished. It’s a simple song, with two verses and a chorus and a bridge, but the way things interlock creates a subtle sense of satisfaction in the unsuspecting ear. First, there’s the repeating verse with the altered line; next, we get an augmented chorus the second time through (1:37), with new words delivered to the original melody before the existing chorus is then, also, heard; lastly, the bridge (2:05) arrives using the phrase “‘Cause there’s no way to prove,” which was first heard in the first verse.

None of this would matter that much if the thing weren’t so relentlessly melodic. Note, first, the lack of introduction. Let’s just get right to business. Note, second, the 16-measure melody in the verse. Not a common thing in general, and especially not in this kind of garage pop. Note, third, how both the verse and the chorus have instant appeal, which is another unusual thing—often this kind of quick, catchy pop tune skimps on the verse to offer up the killer chorus. No skimping here.

“Home Tonight” is from the new Eux Autres EP, Sun Is Sunk, which was released last week on the band’s own imprint, Bon Mots Records. (Pronounce the name “ooz oh-tra,” with the “oo” as in “good.) While founded as the brother/sister duo of Heather and Nicholas Larimer, the group added drummer Yoshi Nakamoto in 2008. They have been previously featured here both in September 2010 and way back in May 2005. Ridiculously faithful Fingertips followers may remember, too, that the band was part of the Fingertips: Unwebbed CD compilation, released in 2005.

Free and legal MP3: Coast Jumper (engaging, unhurried drama)

An engaging, unhurried adventure in two minutes and forty seconds.

Coast Jumper

“Lawless” – Coast Jumper

Let us stop right away and appreciate the introduction to “Lawless,” which fades in on the distinctive but difficult to identify sound of water being churned or pumped, on top of which soon arrives an unhurried, elastic electric guitar. It’s 20 seconds of sound that is both intriguing and engaging. (A lot of music made in the 21st century, across all genres, from pop to classical, nails the “intriguing” side without bothering with the “engaging” part.) The guitar offers up an actual melody, and the lazy ambiance carries with it a clear sense of impending change and movement. Lots of introductions traffic in pretty much the same tempo and dynamic range of the song to come; something like this merely lets us know we are heading into an adventure.

So the singing starts and we’re still in the same instrumental place, but notice now how the verse melody proceeds in double time, and ends with that quirky repetition that kind of comes out of nowhere but sticks in your head (“time for bed, time for bed, time for bed”). The lyrics, meanwhile, have just alluded to the baby game of “This little piggy,” and are heading who knows where. Drum kicks in. The song both develops and yet seems to stay in a state of unresolved ambiguity. No chorus emerges, just the verse three times over. And by the third time things have somehow gotten pretty intense, thanks in part to the re-emergence of the introduction’s guitar line, soon sounding less dreamy and more vehement; a really effective use of backing vocals also adds to the potency. More than halfway into it, we are still not sure where it’s heading: one moment we are led into an a capella oasis (1:29), the next into an extended guitar frenzy (1:42). The song has a minute to go but we’ll hear no more words, as it eventually finishes off with an instrumental recapitulation of the primary theme. Somehow this multi-faceted, unrushed drama has come and gone in two minutes and forty seconds.

Coast Jumper is four high-school friends from New York, now living in San Francisco (coast jumper, see?), with a fifth guy now in the band. “Lawless” is from Grand Opening, the band’s aptly-titled debut. The 10-song self-released album is available in “name your price” mode at Bandcamp, and will be physically released in May.

Free and legal MP3: Blind Willies (rugged shuffle w/ sly sense of humor)

“Lord Thought He’d Make a Man” is an old-timey song with sprinkles of Randy Newman, Kurt Weill, Tim Waits, and Jim Morrison concocted into slinky, rugged shuffle.

Blind Willies

“Lord Thought He’d Make a Man” – Blind Willies

Any band that combines a Hammond organ and a cello has my attention, to begin with. Likewise a band that features a lyric about being tried “by a jury of your fears” in the song’s first 25 seconds.

“Lord Thought He’d Make a Man” is an old-timey song with sprinkles of Randy Newman, Kurt Weill, Tom Waits, and Jim Morrison concocted into slinky, rugged shuffle. Front man Alexei Wajchman has a sly sense of humor and a slightly unhinged singing and guitar-playing style that fully commands the aural stage (and I have no doubt of his command of the physical stage as well).

Blind Willies are a San Francisco-based band that grew from a duo of students at SF’s High School of the Arts playing a combination of American folk songs and Wajchman’s original compositions. There are now five people in the band. “Lord Thought He’d Make a Man” is from the group’s’ third album, Needle, Feather, and a Rope, which was recorded live to two-inch analog tape at John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone studio, with a minimum of overdubs. The album was released last month on the band’s own imprint, Diggory Records. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.