Free and legal MP3: John Murry (moody, churning, redemptive)

“Southern Sky” wraps you into its spacious yet slightly menacing world with an enticing mix of buzz and chime.

John Murry

“Southern Sky” – John Murry

Existing in a murky net of sound, “Southern Sky” wraps you into its spacious yet slightly menacing world with an enticing mix of buzz and chime. The song launches with a purposeful, two-chord alternation, which gives the piece both propulsion and tension. We wait for release, it doesn’t come. The verse hews to the two chords, and Murry’s blanketty voice, rich and weary, sings a melody marked by rests and delays.

At 1:10 a new chord arrives, and something like redemption: the churning, moody verse gives way to a darkly gorgeous chorus. Murry is joined by a female backup singer, that elusive marimba-like sound comes slightly more forward into our awareness, and while the melody once more occupies the back end of the measure, it now feels suffused with grace and power. Without doing any one remarkable thing, this chorus is nevertheless remarkable, and it gives “Southern Sky” the sturdy feel of something timeless and necessary.

With addiction and loss in his back story, Murry is not play-acting here; the song’s partially-contained anguish is probably all too real. Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, Murry has landed as a musician in the Bay Area. His debut album, The Graceless Age, was released last year in the UK, and then in the US in April via the Oakland-based Evangeline Recording Co. You can listen to the whole album, and buy it if you like, via Bandcamp. Thanks to WXPN for the head’s up. You can download the song via the link above or via SoundCloud, where you can comment directly to Murry if you are so moved.

Free and legal MP3: Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos (poignant, world-weary ballad)

Poignant, world-weary ballad from a shape-shifting band that has previously inspired both a cult following and an impressive amount of critical invective. But there’s little not to like here, or, truly, on the rest of their fine new album, Buzzard.

Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos'

“Lunatic, Lunatic, Lunatic” – Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos

Poignant, world-weary ballad from a shape-shifting band that has previously inspired both a cult following and an impressive amount of critical invective. But there’s little not to like here, or, truly, on the rest of their fine new album, Buzzard. From the clarity of the acoustic guitar to the subtle, well-chosen embellishments to front man Richard Edwards’ elusive and compelling voice, “Lunatic Lunatic Lunatic” commands and rewards attention. And don’t miss the song’s revelatory transformation from a sleepy, singer-songwriter-y narrative to a compelling band piece, which begins with the backward-sounding guitar break at 2:23. Compare how Edwards sings the song’s first lyrics, beginning at 0:29, to how he conveys them with the band at 2:56—compare in particular the two different voices he uses for the phrase “all the time.” Same words, same notes, and yet he almost sound like two different singers.

Turns out that “Lunatic, Lunatic, Lunatic” is one of those admirable songs for which the strength of the music and performance deeply invigorates the lyrics. I might not otherwise be engaged by the second-hand exploits of some supposedly crazy, unappealing young woman, but the melody and vibe grab me and cause me to reevaluate what I’m hearing. I stop to consider why the narrator is spending so much time on this grubby tale. Why, in fact, does he insist on calling this girl a lunatic not just once but three times each time? Weaker music would kill the story; here I intuit grand subtext. By the end of the song, listened to a certain way, one might legitimately wonder who the actual crazy person is.

Originally from Indianapolis, now Chicago-based, Margot features not even one person named Margot. Once something of a chamber-pop ensemble, the So and Sos have reoriented their sound—it’s a bit roughed up and guitar-based at this point—while re-populating themselves: there are eight of them listed as current members on their Facebook page, but only three remain from their initial incarnation. (Among the new folks is singer/songwriter Cameron McGill, who himself was featured on Fingertips just around this time last year.)

Buzzard was released on Mariel Recordings last month. MP3 via Filter Magazine.

Free and legal MP3: Joe Henry (deconstructed, slow-motion gospel blues)

“Death to the Storm” – Joe Henry

A dusty, deconstructed, slow-motion gospel-blues stomp. I consistently like Joe Henry’s music without really knowing why. His songs succeed through atmosphere, maybe, more than anything else, which with Henry involves a canny intermingling of his fuzzy-buzzy baritone–rich and weary in a fin de siècle sort of way–with an idiosyncratic mix of sounds and organic beats. This time around, I’m particularly enjoying Marc Ribot’s unmistakable guitar lines, with their dry ghostly twang, which imply a bunch of noise they’re not actually making; the subtle interplay of a tinkly piano with a quiet horn of some sort; and the continuous use of drum rolls, on at least two different types of drums, to keep things edgy and forlorn.

Each time Henry releases an album, music writers seem to knock themselves out talking about how different it is from his last one but to my ears, everything sounds entirely Joe Henryesque. However different the music may be–and in all honesty I’m not hearing the differences others are hearing–the voice and the warm, intriguing sonic amalgam is a strong constant. If you’ve liked his stuff in the past, you’ll like this; if you like this, go back and check out some of his older things. You’ll like them too.<

"Death to the Storm" is from the album Blood From Stars, to be released next week on Anti Records. MP3 via Spinner.

Free and legal MP3: Matt Mays & El Torpedo (Neil meets the Boss, deftly)

“Tall Trees” – Matt Mays & El Torpedo

Driving, slashing Neil Youngish guitars leap into action here, but listen, at the same time, to the thoughtful melody and, best of all, to the off-the-beat octave harmonies that wrap up the verse with the repeated refrain “Tall trees hanging over the road.” I love the combination of heaviness and lightness that we get as a result, all the more delightful coming from a group called Matt Mays & El Torpedo. The deftness on display is—dare I say—charming.

Here in the midst of an indie-rock dominated decade, “Tall Trees” sounds like little of what we’re used to finding and sharing in the music blogosphere. This isn’t quirky, except maybe to the extent that not being quirky is its own sort of quirk by 2008. I’m hearing Bruce Springsteen in and around this ingratiating song—not in an obvious homage (a la Neon Bible) but in the succinct, road-friendly songwriting and, especially, in Mays’ ability to sound at once weary and inspired in that gruff, everyman way of his. And hm maybe on repeated listen there is a bit of a direct homage going on; check out the early bridge (1:12 to 1:26) and see if you don’t pick up a taste of something from one of the Boss’s first three or four albums (“She’s the One,” maybe?). I like this.

Matt Mays & El Torpedo is, as luck would have it, another quintet from Canada—Halifax this time. “Tall Trees” is a song from Terminal Romance, the group’s second CD, which was released on Sonic Records in July. Mays himself two releases as a solo artist as well.