Free and legal MP3: Seazoo (energetic Welsh rock)

Launched off a satisfying, off-kilter progression of four crunchy guitar chords, “Throw It Up” is a friendly, non-stop slice of catchy-quirky indie rock, courtesy of an up-and-coming Welsh quintet.

“Throw It Up” – Seazoo

Launched off a satisfying, off-kilter progression of four crunchy guitar chords, “Throw It Up” is a friendly, non-stop slice of catchy-quirky indie rock, courtesy of an up-and-coming Welsh quintet.

Let’s start back with those guitar chords. First: guitars! Slashy, crunchy guitars. Such sound must be honored here in 2019. I love all sorts of instruments, and am fine with many and varied electronic devices, but I will unceasingly repudiate the extremist cultural rejection of the guitar as an instrument in popular music. And will therefore celebrate with a bit of extra oomph those musicians and bands that still find guitars attractive and useful. Me, I can’t help seeing the lack of guitar in today’s pop world as an admission that performative musical aptitude is no longer a contributing factor in songs that are fed into the Pop Industrial Complex. This is not a news flash, of course. And it’s not to say that there aren’t other talents involved in what emerges onto today’s Hot 100. But as an old-school music fan my ears respond to music that at some level sounds palpably related to individual human capacity, connecting the heart, body, and soul. Maybe that’s just me.

But hey—turns out this is only a semi-unrelated tangent. Although it’s hard to discern from listening to the song, “Throw It Up” was inspired by people front man Ben Trow has seen who are re-thinking their attachments to some of the 21st-century conveniences and technologies that we’ve been sold over the last decade or so. The song, he says, is “about making the decision to reject something in an attempt to improve well-being.”

“Throw It Up” in any case is a fast-paced smiler, enhanced by Trow’s plainspoken vocal style, which conveys a steady bemusement even as the song rushes by. And my paean to guitar work notwithstanding, I love as well the keyboard sounds that founding co-member Llinos Griffiths weaves in and around the general crunch—you’ll hear her in earnest starting around 0:58; the keyboards get emphasized further in the chorus, and then have a wonderful showcase during the instrumental break starting at 1:46, tracing out noodly, sonic pathways and nuances I can’t begin to find words to describe. Maybe even better are the skidding, sci-fi flares going up in the background around 2:08. Did I say this was a guitar song? Actually maybe not.

Online as of mid-August, “Throw It Up” is the first Seazoo release since their debut album, Trunks, in 2018—which by the way you should definitely check out on Bandcamp. Based in Wrexham, the band began as a duo, but radio play led to invitations to perform live, which led to Trow and Griffiths realizing they needed an actual band, which they now have. By all accounts they are currently finishing up a second album, which I hope you are now eagerly awaiting.

Free and legal MP3: Cate Le Bon (Welsh singer/songwriter w/ Nico-like air)

Unhurried and untidy, “Puts Me To Work” saunters along in its own universe of sound, with a mid-tempo beat that seems uninterested in quite coalescing.

Cate Le Bon

“Puts Me To Work” – Cate Le Bon

Unhurried and untidy, “Puts Me To Work” saunters along in its own universe of sound, with a mid-tempo beat that seems uninterested in quite coalescing. Le Bon admits to playing an out of tune piano here but to me the more salient and interesting feature is the instrument’s idiosyncratic resistance to the imperative of meter. Listen carefully to the introduction and notice how the piano chords lag ever so slightly behind the beat—or, perhaps, the beat itself moves past the piano. In any case, it’s a delightfully anomalous effect.

Everything about this song seems to lag and withhold. We don’t hear the chorus until a minute in, and we don’t hear the pay-off, titular line (“It puts me to work”) until the second and final time the chorus comes around, two-thirds of the way through the song.

And okay, once Le Bon starts singing, it’s all that a rock writer can do, it seems, to keep the name “Nico” from spontaneously emerging from his or her computer keyboard. As much as I tried to resist the urge, there is too much in Le Bon’s disaffected mezzo that recalls the one-time “Warhol Superstar.” And it’s not just the voice, and the dainty accent (Le Bon is from Wales)—it’s the world-weary vibe that combines sing-songy simplicity with some kind of instinctive but unutterable wisdom. What nails both the Nico comparison and the song is the cagey hook, which happens when the melody takes her voice to the beginning of the upper part of her range, on the lyrics “And I know you won’t remember” (first heard at 1:01). Right there it feels like the late ’60s all over again, but with better coffee.

“Puts Me to Work” is from Le Bon’s new album, CYRK, which was released this week on The Control Group. This is her second full-length release; she has also released a Welsh-language EP. MP3 via The Control Group, an indie label based in New York City.

Free and legal MP3: Los Campesinos! (large-scale, dynamic indie rock)

“The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future” – Los Campesinos!

Like the rare actor who can pull off comedy and drama with equal aplomb (I’m looking at you, Meryl Streep), the Cardiff septet Los Campesinos! herein announce that they are capable of steering their large-scale, unfettered, exclamation-pointed sound in the direction of serious fare just as knowingly as they have engaged in good-natured mayhem (see “You! Me! Dancing!,” This Week’s Finds, February 2007).

In both cases they utilize the full dynamic range of music–soft to loud, uncluttered to cluttered, solo vocals and gang singing–and an inventive sense of drama and production. This time around the band produces an almost industrial racket in service of the somber, subtly seafaring mood, and yet it’s also somewhere within that noisier-than-you-realize ambiance (check out that odd, squawking sound that punctuates the rhythm at the outset of the second verse, for instance) that something redemptive emerges. Sad, but redemptive. Maybe. The lyrics seem to have to do with the singer trying to make sense of a troubled woman he probably loves. The song isn’t fun but it’s powerful, and all but demands repeated listens for full effect.

“The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future” is a song from the band’s forthcoming CD, We Are Beautiful, We Are Damned, set for an October release on Witchita Recordings.