Free and legal MP3: Ezra Furman (quirky acoustic strummer, w/ woodwinds)

Quirky and intense, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” has the core of something weathered and true. Then adds a bunch of woodwinds.

Ezra Furman

“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” – Ezra Furman

Quirky and intense, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” has the core of something weathered and true—an old Dylan song, perhaps, or maybe even Woody Guthrie. (Or maybe simply the Indigo Girls; cf., “Three Hits.”) In any case, if the melody is tried and true, it is offered with such an unrelenting edge—Furman is let us say an unhinged singer—as to blossom into something as yet unheard, not to mention powerful and inexplicably moving.

The arrangement provides an able assist, as an elusive array of instruments deliver commentary and motifs in and around the acoustic-guitar backbone. I hear at the very least a variety of woodwinds, each playing careful, intriguing parts. Often when the “chamber pop” begins, indie-rockers veer towards kitchen-sink arrangements. Here we get the unusual combination of complex and restrained; Furman, in his first foray as a solo artist, has figured out a way to welcome his unorthodox background players without giving them the run of the store. If anything, he has unexpectedly expanded the sonic palette of the impassioned folk singer.

Furman has fronted his band the Harpoons since they were students at Tufts University in 2006; with three albums under their belts, they remain a going concern, even with this upcoming solo record, entitled The Year of No Returning. Previously based in Chicago, post-Boston, Furman has recently moved to San Francisco. His album will be self-released next month. It was funded via Kickstarter. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up. MP3 via Consequence of Sound.

Free and legal MP3: Slaraffenland (obliquely cheerful experimental pop)

“I’m a Machine” – Slaraffenland

Ambling along with an idiosyncratic blend of drums, electronics, and orchestral instruments, “I’m a Machine” eschews the verse-chorus-verse handhold for a noodly sort of soothing reiteration. Not your typical pop song, to be sure, but as merry and involving as any pop song worth its salt should be.

The intro sets pastoral woodwind motifs against a rattling, appliance-like sort of groaning and churning, while men chant vaguely in the background. This lasts for more than 80 seconds and, truly, somehow, I could’ve kept listening to just that–they manage a singular blend here of the free-form and the cheerful. This, I realize in a flash, is what has been missing from so many dreary efforts by contemporary classical composers to combat romantic melodicism: cheerfulness. The cheerfulness is oblique to be sure, but it’s here, swirled somewhere into the song’s circular structure, layered sound, orchestral motifs, yelpy vocals, and the overall sense of its being a sort of deconstructed folk song.

“I’m a Machine” does perhaps have just as much to do with not-pop music as pop music. I think this cross-fertilization is good for all involved, and from this Copenhagen-based quintet’s point of view, no accident, as they clearly have their collective eye on both musical and cultural history. Slaraffenland is the Danish name for a mythical land of idleness and luxury that was well-known in many countries throughout the Middle Ages (in England, it was called the land of Cockaigne). Slaraffenland was also the subject, and name, of a popular ballet by 20th-century Danish composer Knudåge Riisager. Everything is connected, especially on the internet. “I’m a Machine” is a song from the band’s Sunshine EP, released last month on Hometapes.