Free and legal MP3: Mates of State (breezy, funky, & then some)

For all its breezy boppiness and off-and-on funkiness, “Maracas” is one sturdy and involved piece of more-than-synth pop.

Mates of State

“Maracas” – Mates of State

For all its breezy boppiness and off-and-on funkiness, “Maracas” is one sturdy and involved piece of more-than-synth pop. Despite significant changes along the way in feel, structure, rhythm, melody, arrangement, and even vocals, the song pretty much flits by. You don’t have to notice much if you don’t want to; I saw a recent blog post elsewhere that called the song “dancey,” which, okay, great, I guess it kind of is. But also kind of isn’t. There’s not just one thing going on here; sections more or less bump into each other (for one example, how exactly does the intro introduce this song?), melodies don’t necessarily relate from one part to another, and in the end a whole is somehow created out of nothing you can quite put your finger on.

Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, together musically now for 14 years, and married since 2001, perform with such great offhand command that “Maracas” doesn’t sound written as much as discovered. Moments with an off-the-cuff feel become near hooks—such as Gardner’s vocal leap on the words “I’m taking you back” (0:59)—and the overall song acquires an elusive sort of momentum as we shift from funk to dance-rock, a move signaled by a synth break bordering on the goofy (2:00). The synth parts here are all a bit goofy, come to think of it, and this turns out to be a fine thing—I like when a band takes advantage of the synthesizer’s inherently (let’s be honest) silly sound.

“Maracas” is a track from Mates of State’s forthcoming album, Mountaintops, due in September on Barsuk Records. This will be the duo’s seventh full-length album, including 2010’s all-covers album, Crushes. MP3 via Barsuk. The couple lives in Connecticut with their two daughters. Gardner also writes on parenting issues in a blog called Band on the Diaper Run. Mates of State were previously featured on Fingertips in 2006.

Free and legal MP3: Leverage Models (synth-driven beat, inscrutable allure)

“Dreaming of Accidents” moves with a brisk, ’80s-pop dancebeat, offers up a glistening, hook-like synth line, throws in some falsetto vocals and a sax solo, and generally engages the ear from start to finish.

Leverage  Models

“Dreaming of Accidents” – Leverage Models

“Dreaming of Accidents” moves with a brisk, ’80s-pop dancebeat, offers up a glistening, hook-like synth line, throws in some falsetto vocals and a sax solo, and generally engages the ear from start to finish. It does so without any recognizable song structure, or any abiding hooks (the synth line is merely hook-like). There does seem to be a chorus, sort of (the “We dream ourselves to sleep” part), but it’s nothing you’re likely to pick out without repeated listens. Oh and then there’s the opening vocal section (from 0:09 through 0:36), with its portentous, mostly-one-note melody: it’s more or less a fake verse, since we never hear it again. The song glides effortlessly along from there, guided by Shannon Fields’ elastic voice, that bright, recurring synth line, and—wait for it—one particularly authoritative chord change, which I think we hear twice (first at 1:52), but it really helps the whole thing fall into place, if inscrutably so. Mostly we never really know where in the song we are; or, maybe at any point it seems we could be anywhere—verse, chorus, bridge, or some mysterious other place entirely.

“Dreaming of Accidents” is the first song released by Fields as the Leverage Models. Fields has previously been known as a prime mover behind the idiosyncratic Brooklyn ensemble Stars Like Fleas. He has apparently moved to some undisclosed location in upstate NY to record as Leverage Models. No precise word yet on an album release. MP3 via Hometapes.

Free and legal MP3: Jupe Jupe (irresistible neo-New Romantic camp)

Treading that oh-so-fine line between camp and earnestness, “Add As Friend” is a melodramatic, irresistible slice of neo-New Romantic synth pop, complete with a crooning baritone, goofy synthesizer sounds, and an anthemic dance-floor melody.

Jupe Jupe

“Add As Friend” – Jupe Jupe

Treading that oh-so-fine line between camp and earnestness, “Add As Friend” is a melodramatic, irresistible slice of neo-New Romantic synth pop, complete with a crooning baritone, goofy synthesizer sounds, and an anthemic dance-floor melody. We know we’re in good hands when the intro builds rapidly from a bell-like synthesizer line through a pulsating (and smile-inducing) middle section into full-fledged melodic glory by 0:28—a simple, beautifully crafted instrumental theme that serves as the ongoing heart of the song. I find a song with a wordless hook difficult to get out of my head.

But make no mistake about the camp here. One giveaway is the overtly humorous synthesizer lines which pop up throughout the song—most noticeably at 0:22, 1:26. 2:44, and 3:12, if you’re keeping score at home. At its heart, camp is a joke—even if, often, a serious joke—so humor is always near the surface. Another is the song’s Erasure-esque vibe, and Erasure was nothing if not the camp champion of the New Romantic movement. But as Erasure themselves proved, a camp act can still create really good music. Jupe Jupe has hereby joined the club.

A foursome from Seattle, Jupe Jupe self-released their debut album, Invaders, this week. That’s where you’ll find “Add As Friend.”