Free and legal MP3: Hamilton Leithauser (Irresistible melancholy)

“Here They Come” – Hamilton Leithauser

If you happen to know that Hamilton Leithauser is the lead singer for the perpetually underrated New York City band The Walkmen, you may also happen to know that he doesn’t usually sound like what you hear when “Here They Come” starts. Typically Leithauser presses against the upper range of his vocal register, with a scuffed-up sort of zeal that does battle with the band’s bashy atmospherics.

This starts as another thing entirely: we hear a growly baritone, accompanying a finger-picked guitar. This goes on for 35-some-odd seconds, at which point, if you listen carefully, something in the background lightens up—you can kind of hear a higher vocal harmony in the distance, and the elusive sound of maybe a melodica? Then, just after his voice turns growliest, on the lines “all my candy’s gone” (1:02), bang: Leithauser converts to his familiar upper register, the music acquires a ramshackle beat, and off we go into the epitome of a sing-along chorus. This is, I feel, impossible not to like, but maybe that’s just me.

The verse returns at 1:26, now swinging along in the song’s revised setting. Leithauser’s transformed voice, just this side of hoarse, is for me the source of the song’s deepest charms—despite the tale of woe recorded here, something about a friend who can’t cope with the messy realities of life, the music’s effervescence coaxes a smile. Maybe that’s the point.

From the album The Loves of Your Life, released last month. MP3 again via KEXP. Note that the Walkmen have been on hiatus since 2014 but have not officially broken up. Old-timers may remember that that the band have been featured twice on Fingertips, in 2004 and 2008.

Free and legal MP3: Jay Arner (both pensive & anthemic)

Brisk, concise, and allusive, “Don’t Remind Me” is a fine song for any lingering summer evenings that remain, while hinting at the chill yet to come.

Jay Arner

“Don’t Remind Me” – Jay Arner

Vancouver multi-instrumentalist Jay Arner here performs the estimable trick of creating a pensive anthem. The pensiveness is heard in the song’s continued reliance on both minor and suspended chords, as well as in Arner’s naturally reticent singing voice. Even the title is oddly introspective for a command, as well as ambiguous: when you tell someone “Don’t remind me,” you are typically talking about something you’re already dwelling on; on the other hand, spoken seriously, the sentence can nearly be a threat.

The song’s stellar chorus serves as a pithy distillation of the entire composition, its air of yearning, sing-along-iness at once undermined and enriched by something more slippery and reflective. Arner keeps his voice mixed a little bit further down than we might hear in a typical anthemic rocker, and even in the chorus keeps finishing his melodic lines on top of one of those suspended chords of his. He even buries the power-poppy lead guitar line nearly below audibility, forcing the ear to listen for something it may not even realize is there. Brisk, concise, and allusive, “Don’t Remind Me” is a fine song for any lingering summer evenings that remain, while hinting at the chill yet to come.

Arner has previously made a career from being in bands and/or producing and/or remixing other people’s music. His self-titled solo debut was released in late June on Mint Records. I like that “Don’t Remind Me” is the seventh track of ten; that alone speaks to Arner’s thoughtfulness. You can download the song the usual way, via the link above, or head to SoundCloud and contribute some bandwidth back to Fingertips by downloading over there.

Free and legal MP3: San Fermin (intriguing, energetic chamber pop)

A smoother, poppier version of “Stillness is the Move” by the Dirty Projectors, “Sonsick” succeeds both because of and in spite of its debt to the earlier song.

San Fermin

“Sonsick” – San Fermin

A smoother, poppier version of “Stillness is the Move” by the Dirty Projectors, “Sonsick” succeeds both because of and in spite of its debt to the earlier song. The similarities are enough to be disconcerting, and yet San Fermin mastermind Ellis Ludwig-Leone seems less interested than Dave Longstreth in being difficult. I consider this a good thing. I liked “Stillness is the Move” quite a lot, but noted at the time that it was one of the more approachable things Dirty Projectors had recorded, and even so was still pretty thorny. “Sonsick” is the work of someone who doesn’t shy from accessibility.

Maybe it’s because Ludwig-Leone is a full-fledged contemporary classical composer as well that he approaches pop for what it is, or can be: a chance to make music people can listen to without an advanced degree. Not that “Sonsick” isn’t its own kind of interesting. (Take note, hipsters of all persuasions: music can be rich and approachable at the same time!) I’m entirely enjoying the more fluent melodic choices Ludwig-Leone makes in the verse than did Longstreth, and find the appearance of an honest-to-goodness sing-along chorus all but intoxicating. Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe, who sing together in the duo Lucius, add energy at once lovely and intense to a story that feels elusive but emotional, not purposefully nonsensical (as was “Stillness”). And do yourself a favor and keep your ears on the arrangement. Ludwig-Leone’s use of horns is novel if not unique in a pop setting; they sneak in via sustained background notes, and are used throughout in a flowing, textural way rather than in “horn chart” flares and bursts. Woodwinds glide in too as some point, creating the feel of a pocket orchestra by the end of the piece.

Officially, San Fermin is a “band” of three singers and one composer; the music on the album is all performed by hired guests. The third singer is Allen Tate, Ludwig-Leone’s friend and long-time collaborator; they met at 16 in rock’n’roll camp and were previously performed as a duo called Gets the Girl. Ludwig-Leone, 23, studied composition at Yale and has worked as an assistant to composer Nico Muhly. “Sonsick” is a song from the group’s self-titled debut album, to be self-released next month. Judging from the imposing bull adorning the album cover, I’m guessing that the band took its name from Pamplona’s famous annual festival. MP3 via Spinner.

Free and legal MP3: Jonah (reverberant, nicely written indie pop)

On the one hand, a peaceful, reverberant pop song, on the other hand, a rousing sing-along of near anthemic proportions. How do they do it?

Jonah

“Bees” – Jonah

On the one hand, a peaceful, reverberant pop song, on the other hand, a rousing sing-along of near anthemic proportions. How do they do it? I’m guessing it has something to do with being from Portland. It seems they know how to do just about anything out there.

One thing that catches my ear towards the beginning is that double drum beat (0:10) that launches us from the introduction into the first verse. Kind of snaps you to attention, counteracting the “Strawberry Fields”-ish tranquility of the opening measures. The verse features an almost nursery-rhyme-like pattern of overlapping descending lines that are reinforced by a wordless vocal section with a different melody built onto the same simple chord progression as the verse. In the second verse, note how the lyrics scan with gratifying precision—listen, for instance, to how the rhythm of the melody on the phrase “destroy all the evidence” (0:40) aligns with how one would speak those same words. The incisive chorus, in turn, gives us a melody that at once slows down and stretches out (expanding through the entire octave, in fact), which creates that sing-along feeling. And yet after that stirring refrain, listen to how we are left on an unresolved note (1:17)—a sly and effective trick that adds depth and pushes our ear to “require” the next verse. Which of course Jonah is happy to provide.

“Bees” is a song from the album The Wonder and the Thrill, the quartet’s third, set for release next month.

Free and legal MP3: Aidan Knight(able country-tinged sing-along)

“Jasper” – Aidan Knight

When a song comes along as effortlessly gladdening as “Jasper” I actually get a little suspicious. “That’s it?” I think. “It’s that easy to write a really good song? A sing-along even? Anybody could do that!”

But of course as it turns out anybody can’t. Otherwise we’d have a lot more of this around, which we clearly do not. There’s something ramrod solid about this song, even as it glides so easily through its three and a half minutes. Perched squarely on the shoulders of Aidan Knight’s comfortable, boy-next-door baritone, “Jasper,” for all its laid-back, singer/songwriter-y vibe, shines with the melodic assurance of an old Elton John song. (This is, to be clear, a compliment, and anyone who doesn’t realize that would do well to go revisit some of the songs Sir Reg recorded between 1970 and 1974.) The song sounds channeled more than written, and everything about its presentation–from the delightfully restrained steel-guitar licks to the climactic group-sung chorus–rings true and right, as if no one had to decide any of this, as if it sprung to life of its will alone.

Knight is from the lovely city of Victoria, B.C.; “Jasper” is from Versicolour, his first album, which is due out early next month. It is also the first release for the record label Adventure Boys Club, a label started by Knight along with Tyler Bancroft, of the Vancouver band Said the Whale.