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Friday, June 24, 2011

Fingertips is a web site that scours the internet looking for the best free and legal MP3s.

Pepper Rabbit

“ROSE MARY STRETCH” – PEPPER RABBIT

The insistent one-two rhythm that opens “Rose Mary Stretch” turns quickly into something of an aural illusion, as the off-kilter emphasis of the joint notes/rhythms the guitar and drum create together masks the song’s 3/4 beat as a 2/4 melody. This is a trick more common in classical music than pop music; the effect is at once arresting and unsettling, kind of making you lean forward in your seat waiting for some solid ground. We get it at 0:26, when the drum kicks in more fully and in so doing spells out the actual three-beated measures.
But the off-kilteredness remains a central part of the song. As a listener, I feel partly able to settle into the groove, and partly perched outside of it. “Rose Mary Stretch” seems at once relaxed and edgy, both musically and lyrically. Front man Xander Singh reinforces this sensation with a voice alternating between a summery breathiness and a Win Butlery vehemence. Even the band’s name speaks to this engaging dichotomy: spicy, but soft. In the end, the song’s edge manages to merge with its groove, much the way the off-center rhythm gives the melody a cumulative swing that’s both attractive and powerful.
Pepper Rabbit is a duo based in LA but born in NOLA, a fact betrayed, to New Orleans natives, by the title of the new album, Red Velvet Snow Ball, which refers to a favorite flavor of the local frozen treat of choice, the snow ball. (The unconverted need only one trip to Hansen’s to see the light.) The band’s vaguely carnivalesque ambiance springs from the fact that Singh not only sings but plays a wide variety of instruments, including ukulele, clarinet, horns, and an assortment of analog synthesizers. (Partner Luc Larent oversees the rhythm section.)
Red Velvet Snow Ball, the band’s second album, is due out in August on Kanine Records. MP3 viaSpinner.
The Royalty

“ALEXANDER” – THE ROYALTY

Among its assorted charms, “Alexander” features honest to goodness horn charts—that is, a fully developed and arranged horn section. Good horn charts almost always walk the fine line between earnest and goofy and that is true here too, thank goodness. The whole song walks that line, in fact, from its purposefully rushed and over-eager intro to its throwback melody and an overall vibe blending elusive strands of ’40s and ’50s pop into a 21st-century indie rock stew. Nicole Smith sings with a fetching combination of velvet and sass that magnifies the bygone vibe; there have been a precious few female rock’n'roll singers over the years who have been able to channel the pre-rock’n'roll era with conviction. Add Smith to the list.
But it all comes back to those horns (tenor sax, trumpet, and trombone, to be precise), which we first hear as emphatic punctuation in the succinct and splendid chorus. But don’t miss how they ingratiate their way into the second verse—along, I should note, with some well-placed finger snaps and a nifty shot of ’40s-style harmonizing. And while our ears don’t necessarily pick them up directly, there are strings at work here too—two violins, a viola, and a cello. Keyboardist Dan Marin wrote the horn charts, while guitarist Jesus Apodaca—whose day job is as a public-school orchestra teacher—arranged the strings.
The Royalty is a five-piece band that has been playing around the El Paso area since 2005. “Alexander” is the lead track from the outfit’s debut album, self-released digitally via Bandcamp earlier this month. Thanks to the band for letting Fingertips host the MP3.
Waters

“FOR THE ONE” – WATERS

Fuzzy and thumpy and semi-discordant, “For the One” is kind of cute in spite of itself. Let’s begin with Van Pierszalowski’s somewhat strangled, not-always-exactly-on-key tenor, which for all its shortcomings also has impressive presence and charisma. I’m not at all sure what separates voices that veer off key but remain somehow true from those that are simply off key and please stop singing, but Pierszalowski falls clearly in the former category, to me. His case is assisted by the vocal company he keeps, whether it’s him layered and multi-tracked or some other folk doing the honors; the various wordless background vocals that warble in the background above the lead singing add texture and character and an odd kind of cuddliness to the proceedings.
And then there’s the crunchy guitar sound. Pierszalowski’s type of precarious tenor goes oh so naturally with heavy, crunchy guitar. Maybe Neil Young has just conditioned us to believe this. Or maybe I could come up with an impromptu theory about how our ear takes in that high and unstable voice and requires something deep and heavy and grounded to counterbalance it, to allow us to feel that all is still okay with the world. These are some deep and heavy and grounded guitars, in any case. And don’t miss what may be the one of the longer one-note solos in rock’n'roll history, from 2:24 through the end of the song. Not a solo in the sense of always being front and center, but you can hear this one note on one particular guitar all 35 seconds or so; it’s the note that eventually ends the song. (An E, if you must know.)
Pierszalowski was last seen around these parts as front man for the band Port O’Brien, featured here in 2009. Port O’Brien split in 2010; Waters is a solo project that coalesced for Pierszalowski while finding himself in Oslo, where he seems to have settled for the time being. He grew up on the California coast, and spent some formative summers in Alaska, and at this point seems to have a life story impossible to trace with any geographical certainty. “For the One” is the opening song on the debut Waters album, Out in the Light, coming out in September on TBD Records.
Gold Leaves

“THE ORNAMENT” – GOLD LEAVES

A fetching blend of melodramatic ’60s pop and muddy ’10s indie something-or-other, “The Ornament” matches a brisk bashy pace to an introspective melody and evocative if inscrutable lyrics. There’s something Phil Spectory in the air—here an ambiguous echo of the classic Spector beat, there a reverb-enhanced ambiance that knowingly evokes the famous wall of sound. But Grant Olsen—Gold Leaves is his baby, pretty much a solo project—is not merely in retro mode. The song usurps Spectorian elements for its own idiosyncratic purposes. Listen for example to how “The Ornament” strips itself down to its drumbeat in and around the two-minute mark. Spector-produced songs are filled with dramatic drumbeats but nothing like this. The drums here, further, introduce an off-kilter section of the song that seems neither bridge nor verse and which culminates in a dramatic pause before rejoining our regularly scheduled programming.
And that’s another intriguing thing about this song. Even as it nods to a simpler sort of pop, it will not itself be pinned down to either a verse or a chorus that obviously sticks in the head. The verse seems to be divided into three sections, and the lovely turn of melody we hear in the opening lines (0:07-0:20) is never quite returned to—the next two times the song revisits that place, the main melody has been shifted up. I think what happens in a song like this is that you keep unconsciously waiting for that great early moment to return and when it never quite does you are instead led through a journey that seems at once familiar and unsettling. Olsen’s voice—a droopy tenor that’s one part Robin Pecknold, one part Ron Sexsmith—guides us through the song’s lyrical and melodic quirks most endearingly.
Olsen has previously been known to the indie world as half of the duo Arthur & Yu, which released its one album, to date, back in 2007. “The Ornament” is the title track to his debut as Gold Leaves, which will arrive on Hardly Art Records in August. MP3 via Hardly Art. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.
Haley Bonar

“RAGGEDY MAN” – HALEY BONAR

Many songs that are less than two and a half minutes are wonderful in their shortness but, at the same time, feel a bit over-short. Which is to say, it’s easy enough to wrap up a song in two minutes or so simply for the sake of punching out a short song; it’s another thing to give a short song some real oomph, to make a song that’s short in length but long in depth and feeling. With the delightful and succinct “Raggedy Man,” clocking in at 2:12, Minneapolis-based singer/songwriter Haley Bonar, sounding not unlike Neko Case’s younger sister, gives us a deft lesson in how it’s done.
Her two primary tricks are melodic. First is the straightforward but underutilized technique of using a full complement of notes. In the first ten seconds of singing she covers six of the scale’s nine tones, counting the top and bottom of the octave as two separate notes, and she ranges across the entire octave. Melodies that incorporate a majority of the notes in the scale are inherently more expansive and interesting. A short song gains substance this way. The other melodic trick is her 16-measure melody line. Most pop songs involve melodies that are no longer than eight measures, and some are just four. A 16-measure melody feels complex and leisurely, and creates the aural illusion of more time passing—another great way to expand the feel of the song.
Bonar (rhymes with “honor”) further employs some subtler structural tricks that work to counter the song’s brevity, including her use of a series of unresolved chords (beginning at 0:57) right where the ear is expecting a chorus, and her stripped-down take on the main melody when it returns at 1:29. Short songs don’t usually have the time or inclination for this kind of presentational variety. Bonar even finds the wherewithal at the end for the introduction of a new wordless melody in the last 15 seconds, providing a coda for which short songs also don’t usually have time.
“Raggedy Man” is a track from Bonar’s album Golder, which was self-released in April, and funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign. Bonar was previously featured on Fingertips in 2008. Thanks to the artist for the MP3, which Fingertips is hosting.

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