Free and legal MP3: Claude Fontaine (hazy neo-bossa nova)

Claude Fontaine

“Pretending He Was You” – Claude Fontaine

“Pretending He Was You” sweeps you immediately into a world in which hazy neo-bossa-nova feels like a natural, contemporary means of expression—a world in which a dreamy, whispery female singer commands so much unequivocal authority you wonder why anyone ever has to shout.

The vibe is impeccable, and so is the songwriting. Heeding not in the least today’s call to truncate songs for battered attention spans, “Pretending He Was You” lopes to a sultry beat, its languid melody line spreading itself out over 15 measures—notable both for its general length and its ability to wrap itself up so smoothly at that odd moment, structurally speaking. (Most melody lines in rock’n’roll genres carry on for four or eight measures, or very occasionally for 16.) The effect is beguiling and effortless.

A singer/songwriter based in Los Angeles, Fontaine discovered vintage tropical music by accident one day in a record store while living in London for a year, and it literally changed her life. The store was Honest Jon’s, on Portobello Road, and, as she tells it, she began badgering them daily to play for her as many records from tropical genres and sub-genres as they had. Which led her, first, to start writing songs in bygone styles like rocksteady and tropicalia; and then—a testament to her obsession—she enlisted, to record with her, session players with authentic experience, including, for instance, on this track, drummer Airto Moreira, who played in the ’70s with Astrud Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, among many others.

“Pretending He Was You” is the sixth of 10 tracks on her very groovy self-titled debut, released in April. The record is consciously divided into the Jamaica side (first five songs) and the Brazil side (second five). “I hope this record will transport people,” Fountaine has said. “I wanted it to feel like those lost records, like it got lost in the bottom bin of some world music store in London because that’s how I felt when I walked in to that record store. I wanted it to be its own world.”

MP3 via KEXP. Do yourself a favor and listen to the whole album, via Bandcamp. You can buy it there too, including a vinyl version, which I am feeling very tempted right now to indulge in.

Free and legal MP3: The Grenadines

Sultry groove, and then some

The Grenadines

“Shake” – The Grenadines

This is one of the first songs I’ve heard urging us to “shake” that strikes me as actually sexy. We begin with an itchy disco riff that might be a cliche except that this is really not a disco tune at all when you pay closer attention. There’s a thoroughgoing blurriness at work here–disco but not disco, indie but not indie, retro but not retro–and this, to me, is the achievement and the allure. It’s an expert blend, not a single malt. What comes through most of all, beyond questions of labels and genres, is the unifying force of music being created through the palpable efforts of human beings in physical space. There is no trace of electronics or loops or anything that creates sound without physical movement–and not that there’s anything wrong with all that under many different circumstances. But here you can feel the movement that music, an ancient force, is founded upon: vibrating vocal cords (and not one but two vocalists), fingers on strings, sticks and mallets on drum skins. Shake, indeed.

And it’s done with such a sultry touch, at once as casual as a glance in a bar and as purposeful as the instinctive movement the leads here are singing about. Husband and wife Michael and Lauren Shackelford bring something arresting to the alternating boy-girl vocal thing, he with his nasally charm, she with the lower, breathier magnetism. Listen in particular to how the last verse is presented, as the singers still alternate the lead while now singing together–until the last, repeated line, when each claims, alone: “I found your weakness.” Ooh, baby. Anyone who found a lot to like in Rilo Kiley’s unfairly maligned Under the Blacklight album will likely connect to this without hesitation. The rest of you should listen, too.

The Grenadines are based in Birmingham, Alabama, and in addition to the Shackelfords employ the very capable David Swatzell on guitar and the equally praiseworthy Jesse Phillips on bass. “Shake” is the lead song on a special 7-inch vinyl release, from Birmingham-based Communicating Vessels, one of a series featuring so-called “secret songwriters from the Southeast.” Rightfully, the Grenadines may not need to be such a secret moving forward.