Free and legal MP3: Punch the Sun (summertime earworm w/ a message)

“Do What I Want” – Punch the Sun

Bassist and front woman Shannon Söderlund has a lucid singing style that brings to mind a young Jonatha Brooke, a style that intimates that words very much matter to her. Combine that with the fact that she is indeed the bass player and right away Punch the Sun presents as a band with an engaging mission. (I have long noted here that bands with the bass player as front person often create especially satisfying music, perhaps because bass players who sing approach their instruments differently than those destined to play with their mouths closed.)

“Do What I Want” crosses the breeziness of a bubblegummy summertime earworm with worthy cultural commentary and some tight and meaty guitar work. The bass line dances and percusses with a deft touch, guiding the song’s head-bobbing rhythm without drawing attention to itself. Clocking in at a swift two minutes fifty seconds, the song hurtles forward, delivers its sing-along message, and moves on. In this context, the guitar is given just a seven-second solo (1:47), but it’s a rollicking one.

The lyrics here are a mix of the straightforward and the elusive; while the opening salvo makes Söderlund’s stance clear —

Hide your little girl in fluffy dresses, pretty curls
And soon enough she’ll learn to go along

— some of the other lines are more mysterious, and I kind of like that; once the general concept is communicated—rigid, corporate-driven beauty standards suck, basically—it’s nice the way the song leaves space for interpretation. You get the general gist but not every last thing is spelled out for you. And, given the contemptibility of the target—the consumerist push for women to be quote-unquote attractive in very particular ways—Söderlund hits with a light touch. She’s not out to harangue us about the evils of the fashion or diet industries, she’s just here to say she’s going to ignore all that and just do what she wants with herself. More power to her.

Punch the Sun is a trio based in Queens, New York. “Do What I Want” is the third track on the band’s first full-length album, Brevity, recorded when they were still a foursome, and released in April. You can listen to the whole thing and purchase it, for a price of your choosing, via Bandcamp. MP3 courtesy of the band.

Free and legal MP3: Kate Davis (bass-led indie rock charmer)

Fittingly enough, “Open Heart” has its central aesthetic attribute hiding in plain sight: a bass guitar more or less playing lead.

“Open Heart” – Kate Davis

Fittingly enough, “Open Heart” has its central aesthetic attribute hiding in plain sight: a bass guitar more or less playing lead. Which makes sense when you are hip to Kate Davis’s unusual background: she came to the fore musically as a teenage bass prodigy. Jazz was her thing, but as it turned out she also played the internet pretty well—an impromptu, breezily recorded version of “All About That Bass,” with Davis singing and playing the upright bass, uploaded in 2014, now has more than 18 million views.

But the New York City-based Davis apparently had no interest in being painted into a corner of standards and retro recordings. As her personal tastes veered more and more towards indie rock bands such as Beach House and TV on the Radio, she eventually knew she had a whole other kind of music in her. “Open Heart” is a deft example of what can happen when someone with serious training and chops discovers the potential in the seemingly simplified landscape of a rock song. A surface listen may detect nothing obviously abnormal in “Open Heart,” but once you pay closer attention, you’ll realize, on the contrary, that there’s actually very little that is entirely normal here.

Davis singing over her lead-like bass playing is just the start of it. Then there’s what the bass is specifically doing, which entails a lot more fret work than a typical rock song necessitates. The lyrics, too, have a sort of surreal directness to them, as an imagined doctor’s visit, leading precipitously to a heart transplant, is conflated with a love gone astray, delivered in a deliciously matter-of-fact way (“Hold tight/Oh we’re taking your heart out now”). Musically, there is flawless movement from verse to pre-chorus to chorus; as “Open Heart” unfolds, Davis’s skill as a writer of melody and crafter of song becomes clearer and clearer. Notice in particular how the heartbeat pulse of the bass leads us effortlessly from the contemplative verse through to a chorus that opens in double time and concludes, over a wonderful chord progression, in half time—all without Davis seeming to break a sweat.

As for that heart-mimicking bass line, that turns out to be one of a number of adroit touches that feel satisfying and almost comic, in a musical way. Another is how the music extends and momentarily freezes—we might call it a sustain—at the end of the line “the injury you sustained” (2:02). There’s also how the recurring phrase “Deep breath” is articulated with more or less the opposite affect: more of a short gulp. I like too the removal of the omnipresent bass for the last iteration of the verse (starting at 2:22), which somehow creates a sensation of an angel passing through the hospital room, conferring the stark recognition that being alive involves accepting pain.

Davis’s career as an indie rocker was first launched with a high-profile credit she earned with Sharon Van Etten (they wrote “Seventeen” together); I’m anticipating a new level of acclaim when her debut album Trophy is released in November on Solitaire Recordings. “Open Heart” will be track two on the record; you can listen to three other songs in advance over on Bandcamp, and pre-order it there as well.

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And, even as Kate has moved past this, I’m offering up the Meghan Trainor cover because it’s really impressive. I love musicians who both know how to play their instruments and know how to perform—not always the same skill.

Free and legal MP3: Bread & Butter (garage-y rock w/ offhanded grace)

A singularly satisfying piece of concise, four-piece, garage-flavored rock’n’roll that launches off a sweet, nostalgic guitar lick and lopes along with off-handed grace.

Bread & Butter

“Shoot My Mouth Off” – Bread & Butter

It’s easy to think of garage rock as muddy, loud, and hard-driving but that’s not the extent of the garage palette by any means. Within the general auspices of a raw sound and humble recording circumstances, a top-notch band can create many kinds of magic, the most reliable, to my ears, being that grounded in melodic flair. (This is something often overlooked: how unerringly melodic a lot of garage rock turns out to be.) And not everything has to be fast and loud. Here we have a singularly satisfying piece of concise, garage-flavored rock’n’roll that launches off a sweet, nostalgic guitar lick (or, interlacing licks) and lopes along with off-handed grace.

“Shoot My Mouth Off” hinges musically and viscerally on the major-to-minor modulation on which verse turns to chorus (first heard at 0:55); it’s here that the song’s generous embrace of rock’n’roll past and present feels most emphatic, here where singer Shane Herrell glides across the subtle threshold of greatness. Don’t miss the bass line’s important punctuation marks in the chorus, and note too that Herrell is the bass player. Bands with singing bass players, in my experience, often give us beautifully textured songs. And Bread & Butter sport a lineup I don’t think I’ve seen before: a foursome in which neither guitar player sings; not only does bassist Herrell take lead vocals but drummer Mason Lowe sings back-up. Don’t underestimate the musical value of this arrangement.

Bread & Butter is from Seattle, with five songs released to date. You can hear them all on the band’s web site. “Shoot My Mouth Off” dates back to February, and is available as free and legal MP3 via KEXP, which is where I first heard this.