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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Free on iTunes: August 3

    To spare you the potentially wasted minutes and near-certain embarrassment of acquiring crappy music, let’s put on our driving goggles, take a ride down the information superhighway and listen to some free music. Here’s what you should know about this week’s free songs from iTunes:

    “Navajo”
    Ponderosa

    Associations of vast blue skies, rolling dusty plains and blood-red sunsets go hand in hand with this two-word combination. Living in Arizona, the words Navajo and ponderosa have numerous and vivid connotations. The Navajo tribe is traditionally associated with the Southwest – the Navajo reservation makes up most of northeastern Arizona – while the Ponderosa Pine is one of the most abundant types of trees in Arizona, especially the Flagstaff area.

    The music, unfortunately, did not align itself with these preconceptions.

    While a band called Ponderosa writing a song called “Navajo” is not in any way required to make a naturalist, new age totally organic and contemplative piece of music, they should at least try to live up to expectations of artistic scale.

    This is not a grand, spacious, airy arrangement, but has instead a “wall of sound” style production quality. The crashing cymbals (or hi-hats, or rides) are constantly filling the sonic space; the vocals are prominent and frankly a bit repetitive — making it a struggle to pick out the guitar work underneath.

    This is not, in other words, the epic instrumental Explosions in the Sky kind of affair that the combination of band name and song title would suggest, but rather a run-of-the-mill indie rock song with an incongruous appellation. Not that “Navajo” doesn’t have a certain appeal — it is a calculatedly raucous piece of music from an obviously solid band. The song just doesn’t seem to go anywhere.

    Bottom line: “Navajo” is a fairly average example of the modern American indie rock landscape. Fans of The Strokes’ and Arcade Fire’s more pop-oriented offerings will enjoy this.

    “Birmingham”
    Shovels and Rope

    Country-folk duo Shovels and Rope are quintessentially, unquestionably, all-Americanly authentic. From the absolutely magnificent band name to the lilting accents on the vocal harmonies, this group just exudes images of peeling paint barns, dried mud roads and late-night, boot-stomping, good old-fashioned shindigs. It’s just Cary Ann Hearst, Michael Trent, acoustic guitars and a minimalist drumset with a subtle keyboard swell breaking in near the end.

    The onus of carrying the melody and keeping the listener’s interest is on the vocals, and they do not disappoint. Singing duties are largely split between Hearst and Trent, but the main focus is on Hearst’s skilled, collected and always down-home vocal delivery. Hearst and Trent pull off the kind of rambling narrative song that hasn’t been in fashion since Bob Dylan’s heyday, and they do it with ease. Expect to hear more from Shovels and Rope as they keep at it.

    Bottom line: Fans of Mumford and Sons, Iron and Wine, The Civil Wars, and The Head and the Heart will delight in the discovery of this new force in the indie folk world.

    “Don’t Cage This Heart”
    Tyler Barham

    This one came with a far less painful experience than expected. Twenty-two-year-old Tyler Barham has a better understanding of what makes a meaningful song than most veterans of the scene twice his age.

    While the instrumentation was fairly simplistic and obviously subservient to the vocals, it was simultaneously less stereotypical pop country and more authentically rural. There was a compressed acoustic guitar, and a flat-sounding drumbeat, but there was also a fairly prominent banjo and a slide guitar that was present for its musical contribution rather than to just check off a requirement of the genre.

    The lyrics were also more impressive than the usual throwaway country fare, spinning an empathic tale of a young man whose lover doesn’t reciprocate his level of commitment and affection. While that sounds like it’s been done a thousand times — it has — the metaphoric-yet-concrete way Barham tells the story gives it a fresh angle.

    Bottom line: Country fans, welcome an earnest young gun into your playlists.

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