“FOMO” – Small Million

Misty grandeur

“FOMO” – Small Million

Indie pop with a misty grandeur, “FOMO” manages to drift and insist at the same time. The trick here is the double-time melody: while the song ambles to a steady beat, rendered all the more deliberate by sustained bass notes, whether synthesized or otherwise, the verse melody comes at us in a twice-as-fast flow. The subtle ache in Malachi Graham’s voice echoes the emotion baked into the title, while a touch of reverb reinforces the sense of empowered solitude the song appears to be exploring. With the chorus (first heard at 0:44) the song spreads back out, luxuriating in the unhurried vibe of the foundational rhythm, with countermelodic backing vocals loosely layered underneath.

Graham’s voice is in a fact a highlight, its airy tone underpinned by something steely, which she keeps largely but not entirely under wraps. To hear what I’m talking about, check out the pent-up surge in her delivery of the line “So what’s it like at the end of the line” (0:41-0:43). That’s a voice to be reckoned with. And unlike the song reviewed previously, “FOMO” does appear to be more directly about something, even as the words, in Graham’s handling, do often dance just out of the reach of comprehension. (For those less comfortable in living with the mystery, the lyrics are available here.)

Note how the introduction’s stately synth riff retreats so delicately that you don’t really notice its presence below subsequent choruses, only to return at 2:10 for an emphatic 12-second recapitulation. With just a restrained bass line as accompaniment, this solo of sorts retroactively illuminates how mindfully arranged the entire song has been; however lush the overall feeling, there aren’t actually a lot of moving parts in play. Less, as the modernist architects used to assert, often is more.

Small Million is a Portland-based band that recently expanded from a duo to a foursome. They have released two EPs to date, in 2016 and 2018, and two singles in 2019. They have re-emerged this year with two singles so far, and an LP slated for release later this year. Check everything out on Bandcamp.

Free and legal MP3: Loma

Steady and dramatic

“Half Silences” – Loma

Loma is a band that seems to enjoy giving us space as much as sound. Don’t let the pulse-like beat that you’re first hearing distract you from the song’s more idiosyncratic attributes. Listen, for instance, to how the beat is soon neutralized by a synthesizer rhythm that slows the effective pace of the song by a factor of eight. And it’s kind of a stuttering, science-fiction-y synthesizer sound at that. Creating space, as it were.

When singer Emily Cross checks in, at 0:31, she delivers a long and careful melody line, half-time to the underlying pulse, which further works to draw the ear to the alluring expanse in which the piece unfolds. The aforementioned synth accents seem slowly to be morphing into wordless vocals by around 0:55; and by 1:16 this background vocalizing, nearly medieval in vibe, becomes the song’s signature accompaniment. Cross, meanwhile, holds the center with her unhurried, slightly smoky mezzo. I love how much drama the song creates without Cross herself having to do anything dramatic–the tension of the beat, the solemnity of the vibe, and a variety of subtle musical flourishes do the work for her. It seems a corollary of Charlie Chaplin’s famous (and effective) acting advice: if the thing you’re doing is funny, you don’t need to try to “act funny” while you’re doing it; here, the song itself is dramatic, and so Cross doesn’t need to sing dramatically to serve the music. Perhaps more singers should figure this out.

Loma is the trio of Cross, Jonathan Meiburg (front man of the band Shearwater), and Dan Duszynski.  Cross and Duszynski had been a duo together, opening for Shearwater; Meiburg was taken with their sound and attracted to the idea of relinquishing the spotlight for a while. They got together for what was to be a one-off project, resulting in a self-titled 2018 album. A second album was not in the original plan, but the three of them found themselves drawn back together, perhaps partially due to some supportive words on BBC Radio 6 from none other than Brian Eno that made their way back to the band.

“Half Silences” is the third track of 11 on Loma’s second LP, Don’t Shy Away, which was released on Sub Pop Records back in October. (Note that Eno was eventually invited to contribute to the album; he is credited with “additional synths and drum programming” on the album’s closing song, “Homing.”) The band was previously featured on Fingertips in March 2018, around the time of their debut. MP3 via KEXP. You can listen to the whole album, and buy it, via Bandcamp.

Free and legal MP3: Almanac Mountain (ambling vibe, classic rock undertones)

There’s something wonderfully out of time about the ambling vibe of “Harborside”; it has the feel of a lost classic-rock nugget while not really sounding all that classic-rock-y.

Almanac Mountain

“Harborside” – Almanac Mountain

There’s something wonderfully out of time about the ambling vibe of “Harborside”; it has the feel of a lost classic-rock nugget while not really sounding all that classic-rock-y. I think it’s the unhurried, three-note sampled-strings synthesizer riff that we hear in the intro and which anchors us throughout that brings the joy here—it’s got a bit of cartoon loony-bin about it, in maybe a Pink Floyd- or Supertramp-ish way. (And those are two groups that didn’t have much to do with each other, I realize, except for being British and thriving in the ’70s but in retrospect, here we are.)

The riff, traveling from the home tone to the major third to the augmented fourth, has an inherent majesty, which throughout the song plays engagingly against the loopier touches (the opening, standalone flourish; the jaunty, bridge-like chorus; the intermittent interjection of warbles and odd sounds; the abrupt, oceanic ending). The subtle mirth here also for vague reasons brings some of classic rock’s better efforts to mind, as underneath the rock’n’roll mindset, however dressed in frills and gilding, has been an understanding that we can’t be taking it all too too seriously. I have long contended that when music can make you smile, independent of lyrics, there’s something substantive going on.

Almanac Mountain is the name that New Hampshire-based Chris Cote has given to his work as singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer. “Harborside” is the closing track on his latest album, Cryptoseismology, released last week. It’s the third full-length Almanac Mountain album, and note that Cote’s sound with the project tends to have a heavier, ’80s-ish sound to it (Depeche Mode this time more than the Smiths), which makes “Harborside” all the more curious and lovable. You can listen to the whole thing, and buy it either digitally or physically, via Bandcamp.

Free and legal MP3: Satchmode (buoyant, wistful electronic pop)

Both giddily buoyant and touchingly wistful, “Best Intentions” is, indeed, electronic music offering up its best intentions, finding sweet humanity in and around the fabricated nature of the sound.


“Best Intentions” – Satchmode

Both giddily buoyant and touchingly wistful, “Best Intentions” is, indeed, electronic music offering up its best intentions, finding sweet humanity in and around the fabricated nature of the sound. I love when electronic music can locate this special place, where synthetics come full circle back to genuine spirit; it almost single-handedly gives me faith that even in this black-and-white age of zeros and ones we will yet learn to reside more often in the good knotty life to be found in all the gray that remains around us if we only look and listen.

And even if not, this is a fine fine song. Note the slow-building intro, and note I often do not have patience for slow-building intros, and note that I really like this one. It begins on a chord that I can only describe as heavenly, as in if there is a heaven, this is the kind of chord you will hear upon entry, an unearthly blend of peacefulness and edgy wonder. An old-fashioned radio voice cycles in and out as we eventually settle on the appealing if deceptively complex bounce that comprises the song’s bewitching groove. The airy yet commanding falsetto lead vocal is, in the verse, mixed knowingly on top of what sounds like a distorted bass synthesizer (listen way down below for it); there is something in the layering of those two sounds that really engages the ear. Or my ear, anyway, which also hears in this juxtaposition an aural metaphor for how the music’s delightful bop is counter-balanced by the plaintive story sketched by the skillful and concise lyrics.

And then the chorus, counterintuitively, peels back the sound rather than piles more on—we get little but the voice and that central, captivating bounce. I especially like the skippy upward flourish we get at 1:38 and 1:56. Actually, I especially like pretty much everything here. It’s only January but this is a shoo-in for a 2014 favorite come December.

Satchmode is the Los Angeles-based duo of Gabe Donnay and Adam Boukis. They formed in 2013. “Best Intentions” is the lead track on their debut EP, Collide, which was released last week. If you visit the band’s SoundCloud page, you can currently download the EP’s title track for free. Thanks to the band for the MP3, and thanks to Largehearted Boy for the initial lead.

Free and legal MP3: The Sea and Cake (meandering but melodic)

A meandering song with backwards structure and a sweet incisive melody.

The Sea and Cake

“Harps” – The Sea and Cake

Very pleasant wiggles and noodles, to a beat, for a full (but pleasant!) minute, lead us with a nice electronic swoosh into a more succinct synth line (1:11) that feels briefly like a more “normal” intro; a couple of evocative sighs later, the first verse at long last appears (1:26). And quite a sweet and incisive melody line we get, with its double-time descent and half-time re-ascent, playing off layers of chiming keyboards. Suddenly it feels like this meandering song is in fact a song that means a lot of business. But exactly what kind of business remains unclear. Without repeating the verse, a vigorous instrumental section leads us into an extended middle section that seems sort of like a bridge except we haven’t come across the chorus yet.

And no chorus in fact materializes. Back we go to the introductory sighs and then an exact repeat of the first verse (2:45), reinforcing just how tidy and attractive a melody this is. And now we finally begin to feel grounded as the melody recycles, with new words, two more times. We end with fading noodles over the now-assertive drum beat, left to contemplate what it was we just heard. What kind of song was that? The structure is partially backwards, and partially inside out. It begins at its vaguest and yet also holds the ear. The most memorable melody is repeated not at the beginning but the end. No chorus in fact materializes. This is all highly enjoyable, if in a vague and noodly way.

The Sea and Cake are a Chicago quartet that has been recording since 1994, with a hiatus taken from 2004 to 2007. “Harps” is from a new album called Runner, which was written in a new way for the band. This time around, front man Sam Prekop put the guitar down and began songs with a synthesizer/sequencer. The songs went from Prekop to his three band mates remotely, and each was encouraged to do what he saw fit with it. The final songs were often quite different than Prekop’s early sketchings, and even within each song, the musical arc often moved in unanticipated ways. This no doubt has something to do with the unique path “Harps” takes.

Runner was released this week on Thrill Jockey Records. MP3, once again, via Magnet Magazine.