Free and legal MP3: Bob Mould (hard-driving yet friendly)

Bob Mould arrives in 2019 like a sudden gust of wind rearranging the porch furniture.

Bob Mould

“Sunshine Rock” – Bob Mould

Pop culture is a cruel mistress; the one uniting and unavoidable fact of life, that we all grow old, is precisely what our culture will not accept, forever worshipping the latest crop of young and pretty people at the expense of those previously worshipped, never mind those artists creating works of lasting quality. The internet has aggravated this already aggravating tendency, creating new categories of veneration (YouTuber, influencer, et al.) in which the generative talent seems mostly to do with an ability to capture attention in an age rife with attention deficits, and to do so most often in a way that older people can’t fathom and/or don’t care about. In a way it may be fitting that in this virtual age of ours the demand for an actual creative product is brushed aside for the pleasure of simply focusing on one evanescent screen moment for some uninterrupted amount of minutes (or seconds); in any case, youth worship is firmly reiterated in the process.

Bob Mould arrives on such a scene like a sudden gust of wind rearranging the porch furniture. The Hüsker Dü founder, now 58, has wandered his way through a varied career, intermittently touching base with the kind of blistering rock’n’roll for which his first band was known, other times venturing into more electronic enterprises. Here, with “Sunshine Rock,” guitars crash and ring, suspended chords suspend, a firm, stuttering beat establishes itself, and Mould comes at us with that yearning but muffled voice of his, a voice that forever sounds like it’s singing in an empty room with maybe one folding chair in it. The melody is clipped and snappy, with cascading resolutions in the verses and one or two spiffy chord changes in the chorus. It’s both hard-driving and friendly.

Now then, the title and the energetic pace suggest something optimistic, as do the strings that materialize most notably in an affirmative flourish at the end of the song. But the Bob Mould vibe is never entirely sunshine-y—even when he, by all accounts, thinks he’s being sunny (“I’m trying to keep things brighter these days as a way to stay alive,” Mould says in an accompanying press release, not the sunniest of sunny statements if you think about it). To my ears, however, to the extent that the lyrics are decipherable, “Sunshine Rock” presents as an “enjoy what you have while you have it because nothing lasts very long” kind of song, Mould singing more with fortitude than delight. In 2019, that passes for sunny.

“Sunshine Rock” is the title track from Mould’s forthcoming album, to be released next month on Merge Records. MP3 via the good folks at KEXP. This is the third time Mould has been featured here, but the first time since 2009; neither of his previous tracks are still available as free and legal downloads.

Free and legal MP3: Laura Veirs

Lovely, warm, and rhythmic

Laura Veirs

“Everybody Needs You” – Laura Veirs

A Fingertips favorite from the earliest days, Portland-based Laura Veirs has been making wonderful, left-of-center singer/songwriter music since the dawn of the 21st century—since 1999, in fact, to be accurate. Probably most well-known in the wider world for her collaboration with Neko Case and k.d. lang on the 2016 album case/lang/veirs, Veirs held her own there with two powerhouse singers, because what she may lack in vocal brawn she more than makes up for with warmhearted presence.

“Everybody Needs You,” the second track on Veirs’ new album, The Lookout, springs to a rhythmic 4/4 groove, with a melody that feels at once syncopated and steady, lyrics a series of separated declarations over a starry, organic-sounding blend of acoustic and electronic sounds. Her voice is so friendly and nonchalant that you may not end up noticing that what she’s saying makes no sense that I can discern—that is, I can make out the words, most of them, but they don’t add up to something understandable. But, in a weird way, this somehow renders the song’s central, repeated message all the more poignant: “Everybody needs you”—no matter who you are or what you think you’re up to or whether we even understand you or not.

The Lookout is Veirs’ tenth solo album, including one of children’s songs. It was once again produced by Tucker Martine, who happens also to be her husband. If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to her many offerings, allow me to suggest 2010’s July Flame or 2004’s Carbon Glacier.

MP3 via KEXP.

Free and legal MP3: Meshell Ndegeocello (genre-crossing minimalism, w/ conviction)

A steely conviction running through the center of this rhythmic, genre-crossing song.

Meshell Ndegeocello

“Dirty World” – Meshell Ndegeocello

After 16 seconds of indistinct, ambient background noise, we get a bass line, and a funky snaky ear-grabbing bass line it is. This is Meshell Ndegeocello; she plays bass; and this is how she plays. She had me at hello.

Listen to the mincemeat she makes of the 4/4 time signature, without ever actually leaving it. How could someone conceive of this particular rhythm, never mind add an edgy drumbeat to it, never mind write a song around it? Surely she is not singing while she’s playing here, though I guess you never know. Her smooth round voice floats, unhurried, over the knotty instrumentation of the verse, with a breathy loveliness that belies the venom of the lyrics. With the chorus, everything changes: the beat normalizes, her voice acquires first a plaintive sting and, at the end, as a kicker, plunges into a gruff lower register. As the title suggests, she isn’t singing about rainbows and flowers. There’s a steely conviction running through the center of this song.

Look, too, at how she accomplishes so much with so little. Much of the song is just bass and drums and voice. Guitar and keyboard are not an assumed part of the proceedings but are added only when deemed necessary. The chorus is not much more than the two words, “dirty world,” repeated; the substance comes from the rhythm—specifically, the subtle but definitive shift in emphasis from stressing only the word “world,” the first three times, to additionally stressing the first syllable of “dirty” the fourth time around.

Genre-crossing minimalism has been Ndegeocello’s trademark since Plantation Lullabies, her 1993 debut. “Dirty World” is a track from Weather, her ninth album, due in November on Naïve Records.