Free and legal MP3: The Booze (twangy, skillful update of late ’60s Stones)

Surefooted, totally convincing 21st-century take on that late-’60s Stones sound. It’s a pleasure and more than a little of a relief to hear a band with the talent and aptitude to handle this particular twangy, rough-edged side of the rock idiom with clean production technique and honest to goodness songwriting chops.

The Booze

“Kick Me Where It Hurts” – the Booze

Surefooted, totally convincing 21st-century take on that late-’60s Stones sound. It’s a pleasure and more than a little of a relief to hear a band with the talent and aptitude to handle this particular twangy, rough-edged side of the rock idiom with clean production technique and honest to goodness songwriting chops. Weary I get of muddy, fatigued by excessive reverb. From the crisp acoustic strumming to the resonant bend of that countrified guitar to the spot-on backing singers, “Kick Me Where It Hurts” oozes both authenticity and proficiency. This is a highly recommended combination for anyone seeking a future in this brave new digital music world of ours.

And this thing isn’t just about a retro vibe. Vocalist Chaz Tolliver brings his own slightly vulnerable oomph to the Jaggeresque performance, greatly assisted by the song’s lyrical and melodic fluidity. Note how the chorus is very close in melody and spirit to the verse and yet completely separates itself. This makes the song feel really really solid, even as Tolliver sings like someone not quite recovered from his previous night’s binge. I think the pivotal moment is when we modulate from major to minor (first heard at 0:38), grounding us in a moment of poignancy (listen to Tolliver’s plaintive “Mama…”) before rolling onward. The lyrics, meanwhile, shine with an offhanded, Let It Bleed-like dexterity. “Stumbled on the D train in my military coat,” the second verse begins, just perfectly.

“Kick Me Where It Hurts” will be found on the the album At Maximum Volume, to be released next month on Underrated Records. It’s the hard-working band’s fifth in four years. MP3 via Underrated. Thanks to Consequence of Sound for the lead.

Free and legal MP3: Lay Low (twangy Icelandic toe-tapper)

“By and By” – Lay Low

Doing musical business as Lay Low, Icelandic singer/songwriter Lovísa Elísabet Sigrúnardóttir combines a genuine feel for–of all things–classic country and western with the ability, consistently shared by musicians in her home country, to tap into something marvelous and otherworldly.

On the surface, yes, the song is an upbeat, twangy little thing, but me, I am for some reason paying extra attention to how Lovísa meanders away from the regimen of the sprightly beat that appears at first to define the song. In the verses, only the first two words of each line are firmly on the beat; by the end of the verse, she willfully ignores the momentum of the song, her voice all but purring with an unusual blend of intimacy and puckishness. The chorus, meanwhile, sounds like a return to alignment (0:59) but for the life of me even when the melody appears to be in lockstep with the beat I swear she sounds like she’s laying off ever so slightly. And then soon enough (1:04) she lets it go entirely. Listen to how she manages the transition between the words “before” and “I”; I cannot describe it. And behind her it’s all just perky country playing, as if nothing is awry, as if it’s maybe just a big guy in a cowboy hat who’s on stage and we’re group-imagining this (marvelous, otherworldly) Nordic visitation.

“By and By” will be found on Lay Low’s second album, Farewell Good Night’s Sleep, due out in March on Lovísa’s own Loo label.

Free and legal MP3: The Blueflowers (reverb-laced and twangy, w/ dreamy melody)

“I Wasn’t Her” – the Blueflowers

Relaxed, reverb-laced tale of woe from a Detroit-based quintet that’s new on the scene but features musicians with a lot of experience, including two–guitarist Tony Hamera and vocalist Kate Hinote (can that be her real name? “High note”?)–who had previously fronted Ether Aura, a dream pop band with a bit of a following in the ’90s. Not to sound like a broken record on the matter, but I continue not to understand music culture’s relentless focus on newcomers when music itself is so enriched by the background and experience of the players. I don’t think musicians can sound simultaneously so laid-back and so compelling without years of playing under their belts.

In any case, dream pop is ostensibly out the door this time in favor of an old-fashioned sort of Americana that offers echoes of hard-core country and western in its slo-mo twang and steel-pedal sorrow. And yet I’m hearing in the song’s central hook—when Hinote, silkily, sings “You weren’t everything that I wanted” in the chorus—something that comes from outside the genre in which the band appears to be operating. That is not by any means a country and western melody, and hearing it here makes me realize rather abruptly that there is in fact a musical place in which C&W and dream pop are not at all far apart, given both genres’ love of reverb and dolor. Being so personally against the over-genre-ization of music, I love when the borders grow foggy, and find myself drawn again and again to songs that can’t be given a simple genre tag.

“I Wasn’t Her” can be found on the band’s self-released debut album, Watercolor Ghost Town, released in June. MP3 via Last.fm; thanks to the blog Hits in the Car for the head’s up.