Free and legal MP3: Time Travelers (gentle, brisk, w/ Fleet Foxes affinity)

It’s okay if this sounds somewhat like the Fleet Foxes. Still a really good song.

Time Travelers

“Minnow” – Time Travelers

Already the silvery vibe and agile beat bring to mind a Fleet Foxes song, and then Edward Sturtevant opens his mouth and Robin Pecknold all but tumbles out. But you know what? Doesn’t matter. A band sounding like another band is no sin. First of all, removing ourselves from the bubble of musical over-exposure, a lot of the time, what seems an obvious resemblance to us may not register on other ears. Second, and more important, the only thing that need offend the ears, as far as I’m concerned, is a bad song; good songs, on the contrary, are entirely welcome in whatever guise they choose to arrive. “Minnow” is a wonderful song.

At the root of it is one of those juxtapositions that pop songs can, when they want to, manage so well. The often-discussed pop-song juxtaposition is happy music with sad lyrics, but there are other, subtler ways to juxtapose countervailing moods. In “Minnow” we get a brisk 4/4 beat paired with a mild, bittersweet demeanor—a gentle-but-fast amalgam that creates a distinctive sense of urgency, an urgency that gives itself up to you rather than pushes itself onto you, if that makes sense. And within the consistent, fast-moving framework, the song offers us two differentiated approaches to the beat: the expansive verse, with a swaying feel fostered by an accentuated third beat; and the seemingly faster-moving (but not) chorus, with its double-time rhythm section. Through it all, Sturtevant is almost disconcertingly affecting; he sings with an ache but entirely without the histrionics that generally plague 21st-century American vocalists whenever they try to emote (thank you, yet again, “American Idol”). He is assisted by an able-bodied melody that is at once assertive and evasive, with lines that begin emphatically but end, often, by veering away from resolution.

Time Travelers formed while the foursome were sophomores at Bates College in 2008. They moved (where else?) to Brooklyn, last year. “Minnow” is a song from Vacationland, the band’s second EP, which was released at the beginning of this year but only recently brought to my attention. You can listen to it and/or buy it (for a price of your choosing) via Bandcamp. Thanks to the band for the MP3.

photo credit: Liz Rowley

Free and legal MP3: Bon Iver (indie icon returns, powerfully)

“Calgary” opens as a benediction, Vernon blessing us with that aching falsetto, layered on top of itself, in a cathedral-like setting, with only an organ-like synthesizer as accompaniment.

Bon Iver

“Calgary” – Bon Iver

When last seen around here, in October 2007, Bon Iver was the obscure, self-released solo project for a guy best known as a member of a band called DeYarmond Edison. Yeah, not many people had heard of them, either. The album was released by Jagjaguwar Records in February ’08 and then in Europe by 4AD in May. Let’s say it strikes a chord with a lot of people. Within a couple of years, the guy is in the studio with Kanye West. I can’t claim to have seen that coming.

“Calgary” opens as a benediction, Vernon blessing us with that aching falsetto, layered on top of itself, in a cathedral-like setting, with only an organ-like synthesizer as accompaniment. Percussion joins in around 1:14, centered on some rumbly tom-toms, along with an extra, twangy keyboard and some hints of a fuller band. The main melody, which repeats throughout the song, acquires a beat and a momentum that it did not hint at in the church-ish opening section. This to me is the power and delight of the song—that seamless, “how’d-he-do-that?” transition from prayer to proclamation, achieved by the very careful, if casual-seeming, entering and exiting of instruments and sounds. By the time the full band arrives in earnest around 1:53, the repeating melody has acquired a whole new kind of solemnity, a solemnity based on movement and rhythm rather than incantation. The electric guitar comes out of its shell for an itchy sort of solo at 2:23, leading into a bridge during which—don’t miss it—Vernon drops the falsetto. The song ends over an acoustic guitar that was previously hidden in the mix, giving both Vernon’s voice and the song’s melody one last iteration.

“Calgary” is the first single from the long-awaited second Bon Iver album, which is self-titled, and slated for release next week on Jagjaguwar. MP3 via the record company.

Free and legal MP3: Sarah Jaffe (crisp & insistent, w/ cello)

“Clementine” – Sarah Jaffe

“Clementine” creates an appealing sense of urgency without a lot of volume or density or high drama. I’m thinking it’s the cello. The cello has a deep tone, but not as deep as a bass; it registers more as melody than rhythm, but also colludes with an acoustic guitar in an elusive way. It’s there but it’s not there. It adds depth.

Jaffe’s voice doesn’t hurt either. She’s got a slightly roughed-up, Lucinda-like edge to her singer/songwriter delivery, and it’s particularly well-suited to a melody that gains traction from the purposeful repetition both of lyrics and of small musical intervals–few if any of the notes are more than two whole-steps apart. This might be almost claustrophobic if the song weren’t so fleet and insistent. And then, at 1:52, we get that new and different stringed sound–a clipped and itchy motif that sounds maybe like some pizzicato, maybe also on the cello–that helps drive the song even more insistently forward.

Jaffe is based in Denton, Texas, also home to Midlake, with whom she has toured. “Clementine” is a song from her debut album, Suburban Nature, which was released last week on Kirtland Records. The album came out digitally last month. MP3 via Jaffe’s web site. Thanks to Some Velvet Blog for the head’s up.

Free and legal MP3: Land of Talk (urgent indie rock w/ subtle twitchiness)

“Some Are Lakes” – Land of Talk

Elizabeth Powell is a mighty guitar player, a compelling singer, and the front woman for a Montreal-based band that appears destined for big things.

Last year’s Applause Cheer Boo Hiss EP was a spunky, spiky debut; “Some Are Lakes,” the title track to the band’s forthcoming full-length CD, sounds a bit smoother on the surface than did the songs on the EP, but Land of Talk’s appealing sense of roughness and urgency remains, now channeled into the workings of the song itself. Instead of lo-fi atmospherics–basically, loud/soft and fast/slow changes–“Some Are Lakes,” with its wistful air and a muted drive, offers a subtler sort of twitchiness in the form of open-chorded melodies, a dissonant, cymbal-heavy chorus, and the buzzy undercurrent of Powell’s gravelly guitar playing. And Powell sings here without vocal processing this time, allowing us to hear more than ever the heart and soul in her powerful voice.

Some Are Lakes will be released next month on Saddle Creek Records. MP3 via Saddle Creek.