Free and legal MP3: Beat Radio (noisy, friendly)

A bendy, metallic swirl of guitar and drum and semi-intelligible lyrics and that manages to leave you feeling kind of smiley after all.

Beat Radio

“Hurricanes, XO” – Beat Radio

“Hurricanes, XO” presents a bendy, metallic swirl of guitar and drum and semi-intelligible lyrics and manages to leave you feeling kind of smiley after all. I hear something of Neutral Milk Hotel in the fuzzy/tinny hubbub, as well as in the off-kilter approach to anthemic rock’n’roll. The song creates an agreeable racket, anchored by melodies both offhanded and expert and electric guitar work that hides its monumentality behind a veneer of distortion.

Beat Radio front man and general master mind Brian Sendrowitz mixes his voice down into the middle of the storm here, which on the one hand seems appropriate—we may not be supposed to catch all the words blowing by—but on the other hand, hey, we can’t catch all the words blowing by! And they seem pretty intriguing. You can cheat by reading the lyrics yourself on Bandcamp but then again, I’m not sure the song makes any more literal sense that way. In fact, straining to understand random phrases is almost more engaging, which could be why it was produced the way it was. I don’t quite know what “And if I write a seasick waltz/Or disappear to shopping malls” means but I like the sound of it.

Sendrowitz, based on Long Island, has been recording as Beat Radio since 2005. All the while it has been less an abiding band than an occasional getting-together of friends and collaborators; right now the only official members are Sendrowitz and drummer Brian Ver Straten. “Hurricanes, XO” is the lead track from the fourth, forthcoming Beat Radio album, Hard Times, Go! I like the title’s open-ended double meaning: it’s either telling hard times to skedaddle or, maybe, telling all of us that hard times can bring it on, we can take it. The album is coming later this month on Awkward for Life Records, a label Sendrowitz runs with his wife. He describes the album as one that “sonically and thematically falls between Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town and Robyn’s Body Talk. Alright then. Note that Beat Radio was previously featured on Fingertips back in 2006.

Free and legal MP3 Joywave (well-crafted, retro-y synth pop)

“True Grit” is slick and stylized even as it likewise feels heartfelt and handmade.


“True Grit” – Joywave

A delightful splash of retro-y synth pop, “True Grit” is slick and stylized even as it likewise feels heartfelt and handmade. With its well-crafted blend of electronic sounds—pulse-like, percolating, plucky; wooshy and shimmering—the song floats in the airiest of spaces yet remains grounded and determined. First we get a fully-developed, Eurythmics-like instrumental melody; then comes Dan Armbruster, singing with New Romantic aplomb, cool and hot at the same time, telling us far less with his words than with his tone. The song appears to pivot on the melodramatic, non-sequitur-ish “Sometimes the English countryside remembers war”; yeah, I’m not sure what that’s about either but it glides by with marvelous ease.

The song hinges on that lyric largely because it’s one of the few lines that emerges from Armbruster’s mouth with purposeful clarity. For most of the song, he obfuscates with elegant panache, singing words that you can only almost understand. It’s an underrated pop song trick, not unlike pairing sad words with happy music: pairing a smooth-as-silk sound with not-quite-intelligible lyrics. The ear is captivated and, perhaps, happier this way than if it also has to process a storyline. Works for me, anyway.

Joywave is a quintet from Rochester that formed in 2010. “True Grit” is one of seven songs on the band’s debut EP, Koda Vista, a work indirectly inspired by the rise and fall of hometown behemoth Eastman Kodak. You an stream the album on Joywave’s Bandcamp page, which also offers a variety of corporate-themed purchase options, one of which includes credit towards the purchase of Eastman Kodak Company stock.

Free and legal MP3: Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions (satisfying, “Fade Into You”-ish ballad)

“Blanchard” – Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions

Fronting the ’90s band Mazzy Star, Hope Sandoval–she with the gauzy, achy, reverb-drenched vocals–made a much larger impact on music fans of a certain age (and gender) than the band’s status as a one-hit wonder (“Fade Into You”), not to mention her terminally shy personality, might suggest. The internet is crawling with people who love her, madly.
     “Blanchard” will not disappoint them, but its graceful allure should extend beyond the hopelessly smitten, as it were. To my ears, Mazzy Star’s music blurred into a nebula of echoing, almost debauched gloom too often undisturbed by an actual melody, despite Sandoval’s resonant if downbeat charm as a singer. “Blanchard” echoes much of her previous band’s aura, but eases off on the druggy haze–the reverb is toned down, the pace less dreary. “Blanchard” shares its ghostly 3/4-time rhythm with “Fade Into You” (itself brighter-sounding than most Mazzy Star songs) but gives us what that well-known tune never did: a chorus with a nuanced but noticeable resolution away from the relentless, open-chorded ambivalence in which the band basked. Sandoval doesn’t dwell in the payoff, of course, but the shift at 1:36 is rich and heart-warming. As if, perhaps, to make up for the musical reward, the lyrics at that point become stubbornly unintelligible.
     While Mazzy Star is still officially intact, it has not released an album since 1996’s Among My Swan. Meanwhile, Sandoval began recording with a backing band called the Warm Inventions in 2001; two subsequent EPs were released, rather quietly. “Blanchard” is the lead track from the CD Through the Devil Softly, which is scheduled to be out in September, on Nettwerk Records. MP3 via Stereogum (note: not a direct link).