Free and legal MP3: Son of Stan (smartly, smoothly crafted out of lo-fi parts)

Like a magician knowingly guiding our attention away from a trick’s “secret,” Richardson uses the sound of his song to distract us from its bewildering framework.

Son of Stan

“Corsica” – Son of Stan

The familiar but unplaceable instrumental sound that introduces and accompanies “Corsica” is not just an instantly engaging sound—its tone resembling a cross between a guitar and a human voice, maybe—but a strong, melodic riff that works as the song’s predominant hook. While I am not any kind of a gear geek (the “obscure and antiquated pedals” used to create the sound don’t intrigue me), I am a sucker for instrumental hooks, which have never been all that common in rock’n’roll, and have gone almost entirely MIA in 21st-century indie rock. While most songwriters prefer to put words to their hookiest melodies, I find that an instrumental melody line or motif at the song’s core adds richness that is at once notable—you can’t help hearing it—and elusive, since you can’t easily sing along to it. Making it that much more notable, says me.

While the hook pretty much carries the song, Jordan Richardson’s vocals are a complementary piece of the puzzle. A purposefully low-quality mic may have generated the thin, overmodulated sound, but check out how effectively this vocal presentation is installed within its aural habitat. Like a magician knowingly guiding our attention away from a trick’s “secret,” Richardson uses the sound of his song to distract us from its bewildering framework: there are verses, and alternate verses, and two related one-line segments of which one or the other may or may not be the chorus, and instrumental breaks, and unnameable extra sections. The two reliable unifying elements are the instrumental riff/hook and Richardson’s oddly processed voice, and they see us nicely through, and make me happy to listen again.

“Corsica” is from Divorce Pop, Richardson’s debut album as Son of Stan. He plays all the instruments on the album, but will tour with a live band. Originally from Fort Worth, Richardson, a drummer by trade, is based in Los Angeles, and has worked with Ben Harper and Ringo Starr, among others. Divorce Pop is slated for release next month on Wizardvision Records, which appears to be Richardson’s imprint.

Free and legal MP3: Mr. Jenkins (slow, odd, endearing)

As quirky and rumpled as a song can be while still possessing genuine pop spirit.

Mr. Jenkins

“Suddenly, I Don’t Feel So Afraid” – Mr. Jenkins

As quirky and rumpled as a song can be while still possessing genuine pop spirit. The unusual combination of being both slow-moving and short is but one of its oddnesses, as well as one of its charms. Note how the slowness feels almost unnatural, more trippy slow-motion than merely downtempo.

After a sparse, deliberate introduction, the song opens with its chorus—good move in a sub-two-minute number, I’d say—and the melody, though sluggish, is playful. Listen to that little speeded-up phrase (around 0:21), the second iteration of “I don’t feel so”: there’s something Bacharachian in there, and yet it almost creates cognitive dissonance in this swimming-through-jello vibe. The lyrics are incomprehensible globally, but pregnant phrases register, and it could be that the chorus’s use of repeating, understandable lyrical phrases matched against asymmetrical musical phrases is what lends such force to the tune:

Suddenly I don’t
I don’t feel so strange
I don’t feel so afraid anymore
You surely feel it too

First comes the immediately repeated “I don’t”s, and then that third one fitting now into the syncopated double-time flourish, leading next into the completely artificial way the “afraid anymore/You” break scans, and as much as I am by and large a proponent of lyrics that scan naturally, in this case, I find myself delighted.

Nick Jenkins is an experimental drummer-composer-illustrator who has been involved in a wide range of musical projects—alternative rock, jazz, alt-country, contemporary classical, you name it. As a solo performer he has been recording as Mr. Jenkins since 2006—32 releases and counting. Most have been EPs, and while the total includes a seven-volume series (Samples) each release of which presents simply and only the 12 notes of the standard chromatic scale as represented by one particular type of sound producer (wine bottles, cell phones, et al), the rest of them feature full-fledged songs, usually instrumentals, and often with endearing tiles such as “Love is Not Thinking” and “It Would Be So Much Easier If I Could Just Swim Across.” “Suddenly, I Don’t Feel So Afraid Anymore” is from the album of the same name, released in November 2012 (although this is a remixed version of the original); you can check the whole unusual thing out on Bandcamp. This new verseion came to my attention via a free and legal sampler just released by the record company, Hearts and Plugs, on whose roster you’ll also find the Fingertips-featured bands Elim Bolt and Brave Baby (not to be confused, conversely, with Grave Babies!).

Free and legal MP3: Jason Boesel (friendly Americana w/ sneaky depth)

Loping, good-natured Americana from the voice and sticks of one of the indie scene’s busiest drummers. While the casual beat, agreeable steel guitar licks, and gang-style harmonies (i.e. no harmony) in the chorus imply a lightweight yarn, there’s a bit more here than might initially meet the ear.

“Hand of God” – Jason Boesel

Loping, good-natured Americana from the voice and sticks of one of the indie scene’s busiest drummers. While the casual beat, agreeable steel guitar licks, and gang-style harmonies (i.e. no harmony) in the chorus imply a lightweight yarn, there’s a bit more here than might initially meet the ear. I suspect, in fact, distraction is part of the design, and that it’s precisely because the words so easily roll off Boesel’s friendly, reverbed voice–think Nashville Skyline Dylan crossed with Ron Sexsmith–that you don’t readily notice how he’s messing with you.

But he’s doing just that, largely via the time-honored songwriting trick of changing one or two key words in lines that, repeating, otherwise appear the same. In the chorus, for instance, he first is “recovering,” while “remembering” is hard; on the repeat, he is “remembering,” and it’s “recovering” that’s hard. Or, in the first verse, he goes up the stairs and doesn’t know why, while in the last verse he goes down the stairs and now he knows why. (And we do too, if we’re paying attention.) Also, he first hears laughing in the dark, which he realizes “could” have been him; later he hears screaming in the dark, which he admits “had” to be him. And then this subtle, trickily told story of love gone bad climaxes with an offhand lyrical gem: “I thought I was a secret/But I was too easy to keep.” A song this carefully crafted always rewards repeat listens.

Boesel is drummer for Rilo Kiley, and has also sat at the kit for Bright Eyes, the Elected, and Conor Oberst, among others. “Hand of God” is from his debut solo album, Hustler’s Son, slated for release next month on Team Love. MP3 via Team Love.