Free and legal MP3: Pugwash (Beatlesque and XTC-like catchiness)

“Apples” – Pugwash

Here on 9/9/09, with big marketing news regarding both the Beatles and Apple Computer in the air, how can I resist a Beatlesque/XTC-like piece of pop entitled “Apples”? Resistance, clearly, is futile. I love in fact how the XTC-isms and Beatle-isms here are so consistently interdependent as to be inextricable. Because let me interrupt here to note that XTC remains, to this day, the great, largely unacknowledged link between the Fab Four and the entire alternative/indie rock explosion of the last two-plus decades; they were the one band that took what the Beatles did and alchemized it into something truly their own. I’ll go as far as to suggest that they gave us a hint of what the Beatles themselves might have come to sound like had they stayed together a bit longer.

And so: that cheery little ascending motif at the end of the first two verse lines (first heard at 0:12)? Nicely, intertwiningly related to both great British bands. Likewise the effortless weaving of guitar effects, string-like effects, and vocal effects in such a sharp and focused pop song. Note too how Irishman Thomas Walsh tends towards a Lennon-ish timbre but phrases his words in quite the Andy Partridge-like manner. (And isn’t Pugwash itself a sort of XTC-ish word?) The coda-like touches near the end–this song has a definite ending, it doesn’t just stop–is further evidence, if required, of both seminal influences.

And now it turns out that Pugwash–which pretty much is Walsh, plus some friends and guests who help him out when he records–has been signed to Partridge’s own Ape Records, which is why we’re hearing “Apples” now, although originally released in 2002. Ape is first releasing a compilation of the best songs from the band’s four existing albums. “Apples” is the lead track on that album, entitled Giddy, which will be out later this month.

Free and legal MP3: Annuals (intricate, satisfying, melodic)

“Confessor” – Annuals

Annuals prove yet again their capacity for producing intricate pop songs that defy standard structures while still offering catchy refrains and a satisfying sense of firm ground. “Confessor” develops upon two disparate rhythmic conceits: a stuttering, almost syncopated rhythm, which we hear for the first 26 seconds or so, accompanied by a melody featuring small intervals and drawn-out syllables; and a smoother, swaying beat, which you’ll hear for roughly the next 26 seconds. That second part features full-bodied vocal harmonies, a distinctive string section, and the song’s most prominent and inviting hook, starting around 0:30, which is the melody associated with the words “Through the windows in the chapel.” So the song’s a half-minute old, we’ve already experienced a how’d-that-happen? musical shift, and have come to a wonderful, old friend of a hook without quite knowing where we even are–verse? chorus? some mysterious other thing?

The somewhat XTC-like journey we’re on continues as the syncopation returns, the background music swells, and then–neat trick, around 1:21–we get the melodic hook overlaid onto the syncopated beat, aided and abetted by tight harmonies and a concise instrumental accompaniment, which feels full but not overcrowded. I like, after this, the swirling, climaxing instrumental section, and how it all but crashes ashore, wave-like, receding before the triumphant return of the “windows in the chapel” section. And with a few more swirly, wave-like swooshes, the song ends, less than three minutes after it has begun.

“Confessor” opens the new Annuals CD, Such Fun, which will be released next week on Canvasback Music, which is a Columbia Records spin-off. MP3 via Stereogum.