Free and legal MP3: The Rebel Light (anthemic summery goodness)

This a great, must-hear summer song, now that we’re smack in the middle of summer here in the northern hemisphere.

The Rebel Light

“Where Did All The Love Go” – The Rebel Light

This a great, must-hear summer song, now that we’re smack in the middle of summer here in the northern hemisphere. The minor detail is that this song came out last summer—it fell through the cracks here, as music often does, due the unprecedented volume of recorded musical activity that entreats us in the 2010s. Apologies up front to the fine fellows of The Rebel Light, who have been dolling out delightful indie rock goodness since 2013, and were previously featured here in October 2014.

“Where Did All The Love Go” is upbeat in a languid way, has happy string riffs, is easy to sing along with, and is all about love: perfect summer song, yes? What seals the deal is that the song is not lyrically cheerful, but shot through with wistful ruminations. What is a summer song without a shot of wistfulness? Barely a summer song at all, in my book.

I like how effortlessly this trio call forth bygone musical times without caving in to pure nostalgia. There is nothing frozen here as they call forth a’70s-in-California sound; instead, they tap into the heart of anthemic pop music that knows no time or space (although has been too often kicked to the curb since the mid-’00s or so). To accentuate the song’s sing-along quality, the band gives us two different versions, lyrically, of the same chorus, and it works because they have landed on a classic-sounding melody here, leaking all sorts of references out its sides but asserting itself as its own new thing right here and now.

“Where Did All The Love Go” is a track from the band’s most recent effort, a five-song EP entitled, appropriately enough, A Hundred Summer Days, released last August on Dualtone Records. Thanks to the band for the MP3.

Free and legal MP3: Sea Span (glistening synth pop w/ a summery groove)

A glistening synth pop delight with a rock-solid core, “Tired of Winning” is one of those effortless-seeming songs that is not nearly as easy to put together as it looks, or sounds.

Sea Span

“Tired of Winning” – Sea Span

A glistening synth pop delight with a rock-solid core, “Tired of Winning” is one of those effortless-seeming songs that is not nearly as easy to put together as it looks, or sounds. It is also one of those songs that illustrates how central a singer’s voice is to the success or failure of the end result, a fact that is strangely overlooked at the indie rock level. By which I mean: there are way too many bands out there whose music I just can’t take seriously (sorry!) because the singer has a voice that I will simply call “unpleasant,” to cover an array of sins. And I don’t mean that a voice has to be as pretty as James Benjamin’s voice is here, with Sea Span, but I do mean that if you are singing in pursuit of some kind of public following your voice has to have some significant singerly qualities to it. Tom Waits is a great singer so, you know, I cast the net wide in terms of aural characteristics. Singers I can’t warm to are those without presence and/or without character and/or without a palpable sense of sonic purpose in their tone. More bands than you may realize disqualify themselves right there.

In the meantime, however, yes, Benjamin has a lovely voice used to lovely effect here, so much so that I can not only overlook the vocal manipulation I believe I’m hearing, I can (gasp) applaud its tasteful usage. And maybe that’s all I’ve been waiting for when it comes to auto-tune and related processing effects: for singers to learn to use them as honest sonic enhancements versus either cynical corrections or pandering nonsense. Here amid the summery groove and simple melodicism of “Tired of Winning,” whatever Benjamin is running his voice through adds to the ethereal momentum of the composition, furthering the song’s cause versus distracting from it. At least, to my ears.

“Tired of Winning” is the fifth of six singles that the Philadelphia-based Benjamin has released in 2016 under the name Sea Span. It came out in May. The first five singles are all available to listen to and purchase via Bandcamp; additionally, four of them, including the latest, “Refugees,” can be listened to and downloaded, for free, via SoundCloud. Thanks to the artist for the MP3. And note that the fact that I have previously been watching CSPAN all week and live here in Philadelphia has no bearing on my selection of this song at this exact time; and that rather than being tired of winning I am terrified of losing. But that’s probably another song.

Free and legal MP3: TV Girl (21st c. DIY becomes classic rock’n’roll)

While the muddy/scratchy DIY ambiance feels solidly of the moment, there’s something around the edges of this boppy, summery song that comes across as pure classic rock’n’roll.

TV Girl

“She Smokes in Bed” – TV Girl

While the muddy/scratchy DIY ambiance feels solidly of the moment, there’s something around the edges of this boppy, summery song that comes across as pure classic rock’n’roll. The effortless, half-time verse melodies are a good start—while the music chugs along with a misleadingly busy feeling (there aren’t really that many sounds in play), the lyrics offer an unhurried narrative on top, buffeted by the ever-underrated trick of octave harmonies. Note the verse has two separate but related melodic sections, which keeps the ear engaged, and sets up the simple chorus with its one (titular) lyric and then those carefree but carefully constructed wordless lines that follow. Another small sonic touch that delivers a nice payoff to my ear is that slightly misaligned keyboard or synth sound that hovers in the distance, particularly in the intro and the chorus. It barely registers unless you’re listening carefully, but it adds materially to the aural palette.

For all its easy-going charm, “She Smokes in Bed” appears to take a tragic lyrical turn; while the words here tend to be swallowed by the mix, there’s no missing that the last visit to the chorus changes the verb to the past tense.

TV Girl is the San Diego-based duo of singer Brad Petering and singer/guitarist/keyboardist Trung Ngo, who grew up in the same neighborhood and went to high school together. They released their debut, self-titled, sample-oriented EP in 2010, which included an internet buzz-track (“If You Want It”) that got scrubbed from the web for its illegal use of samples from the old Todd Rundgren standard “Hello It’s Me.” A second EP followed in 2011, and then a full-length in 2012—The Wild, The Innocent, The TV Shuffle—that the band called a “mixtape” and gave away for free due, again, to its sample-reliant construction. “She Smokes in Bed” is a song from TV Girl’s new five-song EP, Lonely Women; this one is for sale and appears less obviously built by sampling. (Note that there is nothing inherently wrong with sampling but there is something inherently wrong with copyright infringement.) (Don’t get me started.) You can listen and purchase via Bandcamp. Thanks to the free and legal MP3 veterans at 3hive for the head’s up, and the download.

Free and legal MP3: The Clientele (breezy sound w/ a pensive undercurrent)

“I Wonder Who We Are” – the Clientele

With an echo of the cheerful old Aztec Camera song, “Oblivious,” in the air here, what do you know, we’ve got yet another summery delight on our hands.

At least, seemingly. “I Wonder Who We Are” is an upbeat song with an ostensibly carefree, kicking-around kind of vibe, and yet between the open chords, pensive vocals, and central role of acoustic instruments (guitar, violin, piano), there’s a reserve bordering on melancholy that I’m hearing despite the surface-level peppiness. And sure, lead singer Alasdair MacLean is offering those airy “ba-ba-ba-ba-ba”s but they keep leading to that recurring, rather poignant question: “I wonder who we are?” So I for one am not surprised by the 20-second pause at 3:06 when everything clears away, the chugging rhythm disappears, and we’re left with a bit of forlorn but lovely guitar noodling. Soon enough the “ba-ba”s come back, toes resume tapping, but I’m left with a feeling that we are being invited to ponder something the typical summer song doesn’t usually get tangled up with.

The Clientele are a London-based quartet with a recording history dating back to 2000. “I Wonder Who We Are” will be found on the band’s fifth album, Bonfires on the Heath, slated for a September release on Merge Records. MP3 via Merge.