Free and legal MP3: Bob Mould (hard-driving yet friendly)

Bob Mould arrives in 2019 like a sudden gust of wind rearranging the porch furniture.

Bob Mould

“Sunshine Rock” – Bob Mould

Pop culture is a cruel mistress; the one uniting and unavoidable fact of life, that we all grow old, is precisely what our culture will not accept, forever worshipping the latest crop of young and pretty people at the expense of those previously worshipped, never mind those artists creating works of lasting quality. The internet has aggravated this already aggravating tendency, creating new categories of veneration (YouTuber, influencer, et al.) in which the generative talent seems mostly to do with an ability to capture attention in an age rife with attention deficits, and to do so most often in a way that older people can’t fathom and/or don’t care about. In a way it may be fitting that in this virtual age of ours the demand for an actual creative product is brushed aside for the pleasure of simply focusing on one evanescent screen moment for some uninterrupted amount of minutes (or seconds); in any case, youth worship is firmly reiterated in the process.

Bob Mould arrives on such a scene like a sudden gust of wind rearranging the porch furniture. The Hüsker Dü founder, now 58, has wandered his way through a varied career, intermittently touching base with the kind of blistering rock’n’roll for which his first band was known, other times venturing into more electronic enterprises. Here, with “Sunshine Rock,” guitars crash and ring, suspended chords suspend, a firm, stuttering beat establishes itself, and Mould comes at us with that yearning but muffled voice of his, a voice that forever sounds like it’s singing in an empty room with maybe one folding chair in it. The melody is clipped and snappy, with cascading resolutions in the verses and one or two spiffy chord changes in the chorus. It’s both hard-driving and friendly.

Now then, the title and the energetic pace suggest something optimistic, as do the strings that materialize most notably in an affirmative flourish at the end of the song. But the Bob Mould vibe is never entirely sunshine-y—even when he, by all accounts, thinks he’s being sunny (“I’m trying to keep things brighter these days as a way to stay alive,” Mould says in an accompanying press release, not the sunniest of sunny statements if you think about it). To my ears, however, to the extent that the lyrics are decipherable, “Sunshine Rock” presents as an “enjoy what you have while you have it because nothing lasts very long” kind of song, Mould singing more with fortitude than delight. In 2019, that passes for sunny.

“Sunshine Rock” is the title track from Mould’s forthcoming album, to be released next month on Merge Records. MP3 via the good folks at KEXP. This is the third time Mould has been featured here, but the first time since 2009; neither of his previous tracks are still available as free and legal downloads.

Free and legal MP3: Dinosaur Bones (crunchy & unresolved)

We are agitated from the start, but in a way that hooks you, like a cliffhanger in a plot line.

Dinosaur Bones

“Sleepsick” – Dinosaur Bones

Longtime visitors here may be aware of the soft spot I have for suspended and unresolved chords. To oversimplify matters, both of these types of chords just don’t sound settled when you hear them—a suspended chord because it replaces one of the “right” notes in the chord with a “wrong” note, an unresolved chord because it is leading the ear to a subsequent chord that ends up not arriving. This song’s driving, crunching introduction is especially drive-y crunchy because it’s all about suspended and unresolved chords. We are agitated from the start, but in a way that hooks you, like a cliffhanger in a plot line.

In “Sleepsick,” resolution is kept at bay, not just through the introduction but through the entire two-part verse, all 30-plus seconds of which unfold over one suspended chord. This is pretty fine songwriting right there: the melody is full of interesting intervals and effective drama, but it’s all on top of that one itchy chord. The slight processing applied to the lead vocals amplifies the claustrophobia somehow. When the chord finally shifts, at 0:48, all nearby ears break into applause—almost anything would sound like a resolution by now, but this anthemic round of alternating major/minor chords seems particularly gratifying. And yet we get just one iteration of the chorus and we are back without fuss (1:04) to the fretful world of the verse. Only when the chorus comes back, at 1:37, do we feel more fully resolved, as it is now allowed to repeat, which it really needed to the first time but didn’t. Note near 1:59 the subtle change of chord in the second line of the chorus during the repeat, on the line “Hiding from the light outside”—an almost indiscernible happening that adds elusive richness, especially in a song as stingy and purposeful with its chords as this one is. And, speaking of purposeful chords, don’t miss the song’s final gesture: the ominous (and unresolved) chord on which the song ends, with a long fade-out, beginning at 3:13.

Dinosaur Bones is a five-piece band from Toronto. “Sleepsick” is from their second album, Shaky Dream, released last month on Dine Alone Records. You can download the track from the link above, as usual, or via SoundCloud. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.

Free and legal MP3: Amor de Días (Clientele-like breeziness, w/ some crunch)

Evocative of bygone days and hopeful futures simultaneously.

Amor de Dias

“Jean’s Waving” – Amor de Días

There’s a gratifying solidity about “Jean’s Waving,” something that evokes bygone days and hopeful futures simultaneously. The feeling is nostalgic, to be sure, but not incurably so. The song is shot through with suspended chords, which tend to have a lovely irresoluteness about them—they haven’t quite committed to a full-fledged chord, but they’re ever charming in their indecision. And did I say solidity? Maybe I meant fluidity, as those uncommitted chords do flow so nicely into other chords, not to mention each other. (The most prominent example in this song is during the bridge, starting at 0:54, which seems to be built pretty much entirely from suspended chords.)

Well, solid or fluid, I like. Amor de Días is the twosome of Alasdair MacLean, best known as front man for the Clientele (currently on hiatus), and Lupe Núñez-Fernández, who is half of the multinational duo Pipas. When last we heard the band here, in March 2011, Lupe Núñez-Fernández was out in front, and the song, while still flowy, had a Continental flair to its brisk chamber poppy vibe. With MacLean on lead this time, the Clientele connection becomes (much) more obvious, for anyone familiar with that evocative band. But even with our friends the suspended chords, the sound here is less gauzy and more, maybe, crunchy than Clientele tunes tend to be. (Listen to “Somebody Changed,” from God Save the Clientele, for a reasonably close comparison.) So maybe we’re back to solidity after all. And I do believe that it’s Núñez-Fernández’s presence in the chorus that keeps the mood from getting too mopey, as it kind of helps the listener, however subtly, see or feel Jean’s departure from both points of view.

“Jean’s Waving” is a song from the second Amor de Días album, The House at Sea, which is coming from the fine folks at Merge Records in January. You can download the MP3 via the song link above or on SoundCloud via Merge.

Free and legal MP3: The District Attorneys (sturdy, affecting, succinct)

There’s something incredibly sturdy and affecting about this song, but the wonderfulness kind of sneaks up on you, and accumulates.

The District Attorneys

“Slowburner” – The District Attorneys

“Slowburner” begins with a suspended chord—a nice crunchy suspended chord at that. I’m a fan of well-placed suspended chords, and especially like the opening suspended chord gambit. Kind of perks your ear up right away, luring you in as you wait for resolution (suspended chords are inherently unresolved, as they offer us only two of any given chord’s proper three notes).

And “Slowburner” has plenty more going for it than merely a suspended chord. There’s something incredibly sturdy and affecting about this song, but the wonderfulness kind of sneaks up on you, and accumulates. The verse-verse-chorus-chorus structure rather naturally creates a sense of buildup, as does the way the second part of the melody, in both the verse and chorus, happens in roughly double time compared to the first half. That single-time/double-time shift also gives the song a kind of natural swing; it’s a rock’n’roll song that doesn’t actually sound like rock’n’roll. And listen to how melodically succinct this baby is: “Slowburner” consists solely of two strong refrains—the four-measure verse melody (with the second two measures repeating the second time through) and the four-measure chorus melody. They are linked by an insistent but chummy lead guitar that wails mostly on a high E note. This is a full-fledged song to be sure, but there’s no fat here at all. Makes you wonder why so many bands pad their songs with passages that just kind of tread water. If they’re not working, get rid of them. Write a great melody and be done with it. Isn’t that easy enough? Why doesn’t everyone do this? (These are rhetorical questions.)

The District Attorneys are a quintet from Athens, Georgia, founded in 2009. They were featured here in January for the song “Splitsville,” another disarmingly crafty piece of work. “Slowburner” is from Waiting on the Calm Down: The Basement Sessions, the band’s second EP. No full-lengths have been recorded yet, but this is a band worth keeping an ear out for.

Free and legal MP3: SheLoom

Bringing Bob Welch back

She Loom

“One More Day” – SheLoom

Welcome to a song that doesn’t sound like a lot that you’ve probably been listening to lately, unless you have had an unaccountable hankering for your old Bob Welch records. (Nah, I didn’t think so.)

Needless to say, “One More Day” isn’t the product of some net-addled 21st-century rock band, but a collaboration between two nimble studio veterans. Both Filippo Gaetani and Jordon Zadorozny have track records extending backwards to the ’90s, and the breadth of experience to pull off this jazzy slice of pseudo-’70s rock. I’ll leave it to the even more philosophically minded than I to ponder why it can be so enjoyable to hear new music smartly influenced by old music that one never liked all that much in the first place. A conundrum for our catholic times, musically speaking. But I’m digging a lot about this, from those jazz-inflected suspended chords to the deft shifts in rhythm (from intro to verse, verse to bridge, bridge to chorus) and then the way the meandery verse leads into what amounts to a double chorus—the bridge and chorus are distinct but interrelated, and each offers a sturdy melody delivered with a stirring mixture of nostalgia and creativity.

“One More Day” is from the SheLoom album Seat of the Empire, digitally released last week by Minty Fresh Records. MP3 via Minty Fresh.