Free and legal MP3: Iran (both lilting and noisy)

“Buddy” – Iran

Talk about retro—this one swings with a ’50s vibe, complete with doo-wop style backing vocals, a nostalgic bass line, and a simple piano vamp. At the same time, there is something unsettling in the air here. Aaron Aites’ plainspoken, unstylized voice is not, to begin with, what one expects in a musical environment typically peopled by smooth crooners. Even less expected are the guitarists Aites brings along with him, one of whom is Kyp Malone, who is better known as part of TV on the Radio.

At first we get a slashing chord or two, and a bit of reverb. Thirty seconds in, a new guitar sound enters and grows in strength–a buzzing, high-pitched line playing a slow series of extended, vibrating notes. No doubt there are two guitars doing this but the net effect is one voice, which grows increasingly louder and more insistent as the song unfolds. (The band, a trio, features two guitarists—Malone and Aaron Romanello—and Aites, a multi-instrumentalist.) The instrumental break (1:15) highlights the song’s developing juxtaposition: easy-going, old-fashioned sway meets tense guitar noise. The edgy, extended notes continue and intensify, and notice how the “oo-oo” backing vocals open out into something weirder and more diffuse along the way, becoming part of the background wash. By 2:20, Aites himself is getting louder, if only to be heard; at 2:30, the atmosphere explodes with wailing guitars and unidentifiable noise that reaches a peak ten or so seconds later and then, with disconcerting ease, withdraws, leaving the easy-going vibe intact. The screechy guitars, however, have the last word, taking longest of all to fade away.

Iran, the band, is not by the way named for the country, but for a character in the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the book which gave birth to the movie Blade Runner). The song “Buddy” was originally released on an EP late last year, and appears on the band’s new CD, Dissolver, released last week on Narnack Records.

Free and legal MP3: The Happy Hollows (ingratiating, noisy, whimsical song-as-journey)

“Lieutenant” – the Happy Hollows

I am no fan of indie music that veers too sharply into the DIY camp, as my ears will forever be jarred by sloppiness, however disguised by claims of authenticity or shred guitar prowess. When I first heard “Lieutenant,” I was attracted by its left-turn hooks but wary of its seeming disjointedness. For a five-minute song, this one unspools in an unnerving number of directions; it’s hard to get a handle on too quickly, and I was not initially convinced that there was any larger sense of purpose keeping the song from simply flying apart. (I am by and large unswayed by shredding.) And yet I surely did like lead singer Sarah Negahdari’s trilly, pixie-like (or Pixies-like?) sense of drama, the trio’s Belly-esque blend of heaviness and lightness, and the sly, quasi-martial swing of the song’s stickiest hook (first heard at 1:10).

I’m still not completely sure which side of the line between sophistication and random craziness that “Lieutenant” lands on, but the moment, probably, that won me over was this: the minute and a half in the middle of the song that features the most jumpy, unglued material climaxes, at around 4:00, with all three band members singing together and then just sort of shouting with jump-in-the-pool abandon. Weeeeeee. It cemented the song-as-journey concept, and I liked where it led: into a coda with a new, unexpectedly soothing melody. Well, okay, it gets wacky again for the last five seconds. They can’t help themselves.

“Lieutenant” is the lead track off the L.A.-based band’s second EP, Imaginary, which will be released by the band next week.

Free and legal MP3: The Bittersweets (well-crafted alt-country, with great vocals)

“Wreck” – the Bittersweets

Hannah Prater has a voice made to sing the words, “Why’d ya go and wreck this all?”: firm but with a little crack to it, at once bright and dusky, hurt and resilient and maybe a little existentially exasperated too. Why’d ya go and wreck this all? She’s sad, and disappointed, and pissed off, and her rich tone nicely captures the overlay of emotions independent, even, of what she’s saying. Over the Rhine fans should pay particular note; Prater sings with something of Karin Bergquist’s idiosyncratic verve, and “Wreck,” come to think of it, does have the vibe and polish of one of OTR’s smooth, capable rockers.

And make no mistake: smooth and well-crafted it is, from the gratifying melodies of the verse and the release of the chorus to the precisely played instrumental parts laid down by guitarist and keyboard player Chris Meyers (the group’s main songwriter) and drummer Steve Bowman (who has played with Counting Crows, among others). Interesting how the “indie” umbrella by 2008 gathers in everything from buzzy, jarring lo-fi to well-produced, radio-ready numbers such as the Bittersweets play. The irony, as music aficionados know, is that the internet all but overflows with radio-ready songs that few if any terrestrial radio stations are in fact ready to play. Blame deregulation in this case too; and I only wish that were a joke.

“Wreck” is from the Nashville-based trio’s second CD, Goodnight San Francisco, which was released this month on Compass Records. MP3 via Compass.