Free and legal MP3: Work Drugs (mellow groove w/ depth & distinction)

“Roll” tosses you onto a featherbed of chill without so much as mussing your hair.

Work Drugs

“Roll” – Work Drugs

“Roll” tosses you onto a featherbed of chill without so much as mussing your hair. And yet the song also quivers with a fidgety unease, and therein, to my ears, lies the depth and distinction. It’s easy enough (although not really) to lay down a smooth beat and offer up some whispery vocals and call it a day. “Roll” starts there but heads into more stimulating corners. An initial hint is found in the bass line, in the way its staccato bursts at the beginning of each measure melt into mellower iterations at the back end. It’s a nuanced, subtly unsettling effect.

Then there are lyrical phrases, which, when rising to the listener’s awareness, do not exactly say “Let’s party,” for instance, the opening salvo: “If you want to take me out, shoot to kill,
You better burn this city down.” And probably best of all, there’s a saxophone, and the kind that sounds like the player is standing underneath a streetlight on a moonless night. Notice how it slips all but unnoticed into the background at 0:42, initially providing only muted accents before, one-third of the way in, the signature riff is blown (1:15), instantly turning the song’s introductory motif, originally laid out on synth, into something nearly heroic. Of course this was made to be a sax riff. And yet who would have anticipated that at the beginning?

Work Drugs, previously featured on Fingertips in March 2015, is the duo of Tom Crystal and Ben Louisiana (although live the band expands to four or five). Based in Philadelphia (second Philly band of the month here; go Eagles), these guys are awfully hard-working for being so mellow: “Roll” is a song from their eighth full-length album, Method Acting, released in August. Their first album came out in 2011; you do the math.

You can check out their entire catalog on Bandcamp. Alternatively, you can listen to a whole bunch of Work Drugs songs on their SoundCloud page; many of them are available there as free and legal downloads.

Free and legal MP3: Hospitality (quirky, minimalist NYC pop)

Spunky and ineffably nostalgic, “Friends of Friends” is a New York song with a New York sound, firmly in the later ’70s.

Hospitality

“Friends of Friends” – Hospitality

Spunky and ineffably nostalgic, “Friends of Friends” is a New York song with a New York sound, and one that to my ears is rooted firmly in the later ’70s—music that blends an edgy Television/Talking Heads 77-ish bounce with a more playful David Johansen/Syl Sylvain-y groove and throws in a saxophone that surely has arrived through a time machine.

And yet “Friends of Friends” struts with its own, minimalist center of gravity and personality-driven sensibility. Check out the bass playing at the beginning for a conspicuous example of the band’s unembellished aesthetic, as well as the spaces, generally, that are left around the beat. As for personality, Hospitality has Amber Papini, a Kansas City-born kindergarten teacher who apparently learned to sing by copying Richard Butler on the Psychedelic Furs’ Talk Talk Talk album. (Well and who didn’t?) Here, she takes a herky-jerky melody and really works it. Neither the blurty verse nor the clipped, seemingly under-developed chorus is easy to make sense of as a singer; she pulls them off through sheer force of tone and presence.

Hospitality formed as a trio in 2007. They are now a quartet, and they have recently been signed to the consistently wonderful indie label Merge. The full-length Hospitality debut album is due in March 2012.

Free and legal MP3: Eatliz (meaty prog-pop from Israel)

Alternately spacily contemplative and grindingly heavy (there are three guitarists at work; watch out!), “Sunshine” offers up some of prog-rock’s sonic vocabulary while avoiding veering off into anything too baroque.

Eatliz

“Sunshine” – Eatliz

Sometimes I’m just in the mood for something a bit less straightforward, a bit less three-chord-y. But I still want melody; I still want the sense of a band making an effort to engage the ear, versus a band so wrapped (and/or rapt) in its vision that all effort to connect is left to the audience.

At times spacily contemplative and at times grindingly heavy (there are three guitarists at work; watch out!), “Sunshine” offers up some of prog-rock’s sonic vocabulary while avoiding veering off into anything too baroque. Notice, for instance, that for all the rhythmic hijinks on display, the song never strays from its 4/4 beat. Front woman Lee Triffon, meanwhile, sings effectively both at the whispery and the shouty ends of her delivery, avoiding histrionics in both cases. Note the saxophone’s unexpected entrance at 2:04, because the song’s single instrumental spotlight will shine on that under-utilized instrument a minute and a half later, as we are then treated to 40 seconds of rough-toned, reverbed honking. It sounds like early Psychedelic Furs working up a Thelonious Monk tribute.

Eatliz is a six-piece band from Israel, formed in 2001. (In Hebrew, the name apparently means “the butcher shop.”) “Sunshine” is from the band’s debut album, Violently Delicate, which was released in Israel and four European countries in 2008. Their second full-length, Teasing Nature, either came out late in 2010 or is coming out this summer—the web (get used to it) offers contradictory information. The band is currently wrapping up its first-ever North American tour, which started last month at SXSW.

Free and legal MP3: Leverage Models (synth-driven beat, inscrutable allure)

“Dreaming of Accidents” moves with a brisk, ’80s-pop dancebeat, offers up a glistening, hook-like synth line, throws in some falsetto vocals and a sax solo, and generally engages the ear from start to finish.

Leverage  Models

“Dreaming of Accidents” – Leverage Models

“Dreaming of Accidents” moves with a brisk, ’80s-pop dancebeat, offers up a glistening, hook-like synth line, throws in some falsetto vocals and a sax solo, and generally engages the ear from start to finish. It does so without any recognizable song structure, or any abiding hooks (the synth line is merely hook-like). There does seem to be a chorus, sort of (the “We dream ourselves to sleep” part), but it’s nothing you’re likely to pick out without repeated listens. Oh and then there’s the opening vocal section (from 0:09 through 0:36), with its portentous, mostly-one-note melody: it’s more or less a fake verse, since we never hear it again. The song glides effortlessly along from there, guided by Shannon Fields’ elastic voice, that bright, recurring synth line, and—wait for it—one particularly authoritative chord change, which I think we hear twice (first at 1:52), but it really helps the whole thing fall into place, if inscrutably so. Mostly we never really know where in the song we are; or, maybe at any point it seems we could be anywhere—verse, chorus, bridge, or some mysterious other place entirely.

“Dreaming of Accidents” is the first song released by Fields as the Leverage Models. Fields has previously been known as a prime mover behind the idiosyncratic Brooklyn ensemble Stars Like Fleas. He has apparently moved to some undisclosed location in upstate NY to record as Leverage Models. No precise word yet on an album release. MP3 via Hometapes.

Free and legal MP3: Destroyer (unexpectedly smooth and saxy)

“Chinatown” sashays unexpectedly across your speakers with a jazzy spring in its step, complete with ’60s-pop female harmonies and not just a sax solo but a trumpet solo too.

Kaputt

“Chinatown” – Destroyer

“Chinatown” sashays unexpectedly across your speakers with a jazzy spring in its step, complete with ’60s-pop female harmonies and not just a sax solo but a trumpet solo too. This is an altogether smoother and more digestible environment than we have previously found Dan Bejar wandering around in; but if he has outwardly de-quirk-ified himself here, there’s something charming in the effort, and knowing, too. Because maybe the quirkiest thing of all in this freaked-out shoutfest of a world is to mellow out a bit.

Besides, once you get used to the chill groove, listen to Bejar and you’ll see he still sounds semi-crazy and mysterious, he’s just not flaunting it the way previous Destroyer songs might have. Less can be more—steering clear of his more obvious vocal kinks still allows him to show off his sweet, torn-sweater voice; his phrasing remains satisfyingly idiosyncratic and the lyrics as cryptic as ever. Unless it’s actually just about the movie Chinatown (“Forget it, Jake; it’s Chinatown”), in which case it’s still a little cryptic because he just can’t help himself. Oh and meanwhile, check out the way he manages to blend electronics and horns here. Except for those horns, just about everything else sounds non-organic. It’s spookily effective.

Bejar, from Vancouver, has been recording as Destroyer since back in 1996; he is also a founding member of the New Pornographers, and in 2006 became part of a second indie side-project/”super-group,” Swan Lake. “Chinatown” will be found on the album Kaputt, due out on Merge Records next month. MP3 via Merge. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.

Free and legal MP3: Darren Hanlon (fun stuff from speak-singing Australian)

So here’s Darren Hanlon, about as far from our Auto-Tuned radio music as he can be, and yet, lo and behold, look how fun, look how easy to listen to, look how human.

Darren Hanlon

“Buy Me Presents” – Darren Hanlon

If you must know why I am terminally suspicious of technological frills (I’m looking at you, Auto-Tune), it’s because of this: the simple, deeply effective pleasure of hearing a musician perform his or her songs without them. And yes, I know it’s a fine line, I know that many seemingly simple songs are built using technology “they” never used to have (whoever “they” were), but I’m talking more about visible versus invisible frills. I’m all for anything that helps us better hear the instruments and voices involved in the song-making, and I’m also, absolutely, all for anything that can be used, effectively, as music, however electronic or “artificially” generated—those are organic in their own way. Faddish processing that pointlessly roboticizes the sound is less good. Way less good.

So here’s Darren Hanlon, about as far from our Auto-Tuned radio music as he can be, and yet, lo and behold, look how fun, look how easy to listen to, look how delightful. I love the homely, chuggy guitar sound, I love Hanlon’s bemused, Billy Bragg-ish speak-singing, I love the unassuming ease of this great chord progression, I love the funny but not jokey lyrics, and I love love love that valorous, unexpected saxophone.

Hanlon is an Australian singer/songwriter who began a solo career in 1999 after previously playing in a number of Aussie bands, including the Lucksmiths and the Simpletons. “Buy Me Presents” is a song from his fourth album, I Will Love You At All, released last month on Yep Roc Records. Note his breakthrough album in Australia, in 2006, had the intriguing title Fingertips and Mountaintops.