Free and legal MP3: Manwomanchild (Peppy, sly, sing-song-y)

The lyrics scoot along with a lively sort of insouciance, matching the music’s peppy electronic vibe.


“Change the Channel” – Manwomanchild

Longstanding and/or thorough readers of these virtual pages may have noticed that for all the details I cover in reviews, I don’t comment all that often on lyrics. There’s a simple reason: I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to the words in a song. Which may be strange, but I guess I just approach a song as sound, in which case the words too are more “sound” to me than “story.”

Every now and then, however, lyrics just start rising to the surface, without my making any effort to notice them. This is almost always a sign of a good song, and (oddly? logically?) it almost always happens with songs in which the words end up being pretty much inscrutable: i.e., I finally notice words and even so I don’t know what they mean.

Anyway: “Change the Channel” turned out to be that kind of song; as I kept listening, I began to notice the lyrics, which scoot along with a lively sort of insouciance, matching the music’s peppy, concise vibe. The sing-song-y landscape, full of descending melody lines and agile bass playing, is reminiscent to me of early Talking Heads, minus the nerdy anxiety. Manwomanchild’s master mind David Child is more 21st-century chill than new-wave angsty, but his words still push their way forward, many offering the bonus of perfect rhythmic scanning:

We are the workshop elves
The ones who went back to the scene of the crime

I’m at the end of my rope
Just like a joke that nobody wrote

I tried to make you a star, but it’s hard
And the project got the best of me

These lyrics offer the additional pleasure of monosyllabicism (to coin an awkward term): most are humble, one syllable words. This is harder to do than it looks. Completing an increasingly delightful package here are the backing vocals, which often involve same-note harmonizing but over time expand into appealingly lackadaiscal intervals, as if Child is making up his vocal chart along the way. When he breaks into what sounds for all the world like a Tom Petty imitation around 3:02, that seems even more likely.

“Change the Channel” is a song from the second Manwomanchild album, Awkward Island, which was released at the end of June. You can listen to the whole album via Bandcamp, and buy it there too, for just $5. Thanks to David for the MP3.

Free and legal MP3: Legs (indie dance pop w/ musical flair)

Spotless, grin-inducing 21st-century indie dance pop with more musical flair than whole playlists full of electronic dance music.


“Touchtone” – Legs

Spotless, grin-inducing 21st-century indie dance pop with more musical flair than wide swaths of what passes for electronic dance music. Rubber-like and hopscotchy, “Touchtone” is the kind of song that reaffirms my faith not merely in music but in humanity, somehow. This is what we need more of, I think: bands that can manage to sound entirely of the moment without sacrificing intelligence and aptitude on the altar of myopic digital trendiness. When we collectively decide to look up from our screens someday, we will rub our eyes and stretch and want to dance to music just like this, with large smiles on our faces, because it is nice after all to be a human being.

Meanwhile, check out how “Touchtone” manages to sound so unhurried even as it makes you want to shake something. More like classic funk than 21st-century dance music, the song establishes a groove with no posturing harshness, and delivers both instrumental melodies and pleasing chord progressions where today we often get over-processed “beats.” Front man Tito Ramsey has a vibrant upper register, and balances his David Byrne-like jumpiness with something warmer and more grounded. I like too how easily he navigates between singing and what sounds more like chanting; it’s often his vocalizing as much as anything that accentuates the song’s wiggle-friendly rhythm.

Legs is a five-piece band based in Brooklyn. “Touchtone” is one of five songs on the group’s self-titled debut EP. You can listen to the whole thing, and download all the songs for free, via SoundCloud. Well worth checking out.

Free and legal MP3: Leverage Models (happy beat, buoyant sound)

I’m not sure how much is electronic and how much is organic but the sound is sweet and buoyant, with some great fat bass licks and an early smattering of shiny, retro-future synth squiggles.

Leverage Models

“Cooperative Extensions” – Leverage Models

Well, talk about happy music, isn’t this a happy beat? Fifteen seconds in, not a lot has really started, and I’m already smiling. I’m not sure how much is electronic and how much is organic but the sound is sweet and buoyant, with some great fat bass licks and an early smattering of shiny, retro-future synth squiggles. The vocals accumulate over the course of the first minute as little more than a gathering mumble and then, right on cue, comes the first lyric: “We get to this place/After standing in line with everyone in the world.” I’m still smiling.

I can’t really tell you what happens from here on in, but I like it. The beat goes on; the song glides by; stray lyrical bits penetrate; the vocals get a bit frantic in a neo-Talking-Heads kind of way. What I like about Shannon Fields, who does musical business as Leverage Models, is that he creates such a vibrant, chewy sound from his rhythms and keyboards. I mean, that’s so much of what pop music has reduced to in this age of free music: rhythms and keyboards. I am aghast at the number of songs thrown up on SoundCloud that are the most unremarkable constructions that nevertheless attract comments of unadulterated if generic support (“Awesome beat!” “Cool vocal!”). If we keep hearing unremarkable as good we are not going to know anything anymore. But I digress. Fortunately talent still finds a way, some of the time. Fields has a gift, even if I can’t quite describe it or know what it actually is. “Cooperative Extensions” has the feel of a jolly, nebulous, 21st-century adventure (this is the first song I can think of that has a lyrical reference to clicking on a link) and each time it ends I feel inclined to hit the play button again not because the next listen will unlock the mystery (although there’s always hoping) but because it just wants to keep playing and playing.

Fields has recorded two EPs as Leverage Models over the last 18 months or so, and seems affixed to what Hometapes, his record label, calls “two-word identifiers” (the previous releases were Interim Deliverable and Forensic Accounting). “Cooperative Extensions” is the title track from the forthcoming debut full-length album, for which I can’t find a release date. Note that Leverage Models was previously featured on Fingertips in January 2011.

Free and legal MP3: Fanfarlo (sparkly and quirky, a la Talking Heads 77)

“Harold T. Wilkins” – Fanfarlo

Sparkly and quirky-poppy in a way that harkens back to early Talking Heads, “Harold T. Wilkins” shows off this London-based sextet’s capacity to turn its interest in historical obscurities into offbeat but engaging pop. (The band named itself after the poet Baudelaire’s one novella, so they’re serious about this stuff.) Wilkins was a British journalist who wrote on a number of subjects, including the paranormal; one specialty of his was researching ancient flying-saucer sightings. You won’t catch any of that from the song, however, in part because David Byrne-ish singer Simon Aurell sings in that way that lets you hear individual words more than complete sentences. You might wonder why a band would use specific, obscure references only to present in such a way as to keep them obscure, but it’s no different, really, from any song in which you can’t fully understand the lyrics. And I for one would rather encounter unintelligible lyrics about an obscure British writer (he also, it seems, reported on early TV experiments) than about another relationship gone bad.

The song’s full name is actually “Harold T. Wilkins, Or How To Wait For A Very Long Time,” and I’m feeling a strong sense of expectation throughout the song, produced first and foremost by that recurring mandolin motif in the verse–a short, cycling figure that doesn’t resolve as much as set us up for endless repetition. The chorus loses the mandolin and picks up an authoritative beat and some appealing melodic twists, and yet in the end fosters a renewed sense of anticipation via its unusual structure: it features six lyrical lines, following a rough AABBCC rhyme scheme, while the music offers an ABCDCD pattern. Which is to say it would have sounded finished after four lines; the extra two leave us less resolved as we glide back into waiting mode.

You’ll find this one on Reservoir, the band’s first full-length CD, which was self-released last month. MP3 via SXSW, where the band is playing this week, along with 700,000 others.