Free and legal MP3: Arches (spacious music, w/ swing & hesitation)

One more twosome in what has inadvertently turned out to be “duo week” here. Of the three, Philadelphia’s Arches may be the least-likely-sounding band-that’s-only-two-people of all, because of how spacious this music is.


“This Isn’t a Good Night For Walking” – Arches

One more twosome in what has inadvertently turned out to be “duo week” here. Of the three, Philadelphia’s Arches may be the least-likely-sounding band-that’s-only-two-people of all, because of how spacious this music is. The song is long by Fingertips’ standards—six and a half minutes—but hang with it. The length is part of the space. So of course is the reverb. But there’s more to it than that; the time the song takes to unfold and the echoey ambiance don’t create the space as much as model it. There’s something large and unhurried in the air here, a sense that the music needs the time it’s taking, if that makes any sense.

A concrete symbol of this need for space is the band’s use of hesitation throughout the song, both figuratively and literally. What I mean by “figurative” hesitation you can hear right away in the back-and-forth guitar chords employed in the introduction (and throughout), which pivot on one whole-step interval. On a piano this would be played by your index and middle finger, alternating in an even rhythm—which, if you think about what that looks like, is a gesture of waiting (the idle, or sometimes impatient, tapping of those two fingers). The sound sounds like it. Literal hesitation otherwise suffuses “This Isn’t A Good Night For Walking,” in everything from how the keyboards swing slightly behind the beat to the subtle way the back-and-forth chords get microscopically delayed as the song develops (say, at around 1:38), to how the five-note keyboard motif we hear in the foreground at 4:07 gets held up maybe a split second with each recurring statement. And then there’s the grandest hesitation of all: the way the lyrics disappear just past the halfway point, only after which the song takes us to its musical climax: a dramatic, strangely satisfying guitar-led iteration of the song’s verse.

“This Isn’t A Good Night For Walking” is the first available song from a forthcoming, yet-untitled album that Arches hopes to release before year’s end. MP3 via Pitchfork.

Free and legal MP3: David Vandervelde (catchy neo-Buckinghamian craziness)

“Learn How to Hang” – David Vandervelde

Bright, fast, and spacious, with compelling echoes of Lindsay Buckingham. And it’s not just because of the guitar licks and vocal characteristics, although that’s a start. Buckingham, especially outside of Fleetwood Mac, has often had an unravelled edge about him, has played and sung in a way that suggests that standard social constraints may not apply once he’s got a guitar in his hands. Likewise the Nashville-based Vandervelde, although he’s a multi-instrumentalist so you really have to watch out.

But the cool thing is that, like Buckingham before him, he seeks to funnel his borderline nuttiness into the relatively strict confines of a three-minute pop song, which creates a wonderful ongoing tension that drives the song both generally and specifically. Take the multi-tracked vocals he launches into at 0:41 to sing the lyric “You were talking shit”–there’s something just kind of crazy about that from top to bottom, but it’s also playful and winsome and, as a bonus, gets turned into a neat little back-door hook when he adds the next lyrical phrase “Didn’t know how to tighten your lip.” More broadly, notice how a song this open and flowing nevertheless stays grounded throughout in a quick, syncopated three-beat rhythm, which you can hear most prominently in the clipped chorus, where the three beats correspond to the words “learn,” “how,” and “hang.” This tells us subtly, all along, whether you notice or not, that this thing is not going to fly apart at the seams, however much you might hear that in Vandervelde’s hurtling voice.

“Learn How to Hang” is the title track to a digital EP released last week by Secretly Canadian Records. MP3 via Secretly Canadian.

Free and legal MP3: The Color Turning (spacious, mellow, and soaring)

“Marionettes in Modern Times” – The Color Turning

If the music here has the spacious mellowness of a certain sort of ambling old prog-rock composition–mid-career Genesis, perhaps, or later Pink Floyd–singer Steve Scavo’s sweet tones add such a decisively contemporary feeling (think Ben Gibbard or Jeremy Enigk rather than Peter Gabriel or David Gilmour) that the older allusions are likely to be overlooked by most who give this a listen. The band themselves may not even be doing it on purpose, but I’m such a relentless musical integrationist that I love it when I feel two (or more) distinct rock’n’roll eras combining in the here and now.

The thing that sells me without question on this one is the chorus. After the deeper, prog-y sounds of the intro, the verse, with its prominent acoustic rhythm and reverby synths, may strike a casual listener as an airy sort of Radiohead Lite. But this is exactly what sets us up for the chorus, the way a narrow path through the woods makes the flower-strewn meadow it leads to all the more glorious. The chorus takes the airiness of the verse and subtly but firmly focuses it both melodically and instrumentally. As soaring guitar and synth lines replace the acoustic strumming, note how the vocal melody–starting now in the second measure, nicely playing off the first measure’s dreamy instrumental motif–leads us first to a resolution (1:30) and then, almost before you can register it, back into an upward-striving ambiguity (1:32-34) that floats us back into the verse. Note too how the verse, the second time around, unfolds with a few engaging differences. And yes, my description risks turning something delicate and gorgeous into something that sounds dry and technical, but there’s an easy antidote: just listen to the song.

The Color Turning is a quartet from LA. “Marionettes in Modern Times” is from the band’s first full-length CD, Good Hands Bad Blood, released earlier this month on Softdrive Records, a label started in 2006 by Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland.