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By John Brodeur

This one’s for those of you who are still waiting for that stimulus check. All of the following releases can be found on the Interwebs, for free.

Kristin Hersh

Speedbath

With Speedbath, the Throwing Muses/50 Foot Wave frontwoman stays on familiar terrain. For those familiar with Hersh’s work, that’s a very good thing: The lyrics are playfully morbid; the music favors acoustic-guitar-driven dirges. (Even the upbeat tunes have a kind of pallbearer’s mope.) The difference between this and other Hersh solo releases is the format. She’s decided to let her fans in on the process by releasing the album, such as it is, as an ongoing project through cashmusic.org, the artist-collective Web site she founded a few years ago. Each month she unveils a few new songs, available in several formats (including lossless for you audiophiles), plus lyric sheets, demo versions, and mix stems. The pay-what-you-will structure takes Trent Reznor’s whole bit to the extreme, in that it’s on a song-by-song basis; the results are wickedly cool and consistently engaging—it’s an awesome way to keep fans tuned in and paying attention. Of course it’s not a “real” album, but does anybody even listen to albums anymore? Find it at kristinhersh.cash music.org/downloads.php.

Jaydiohead

Jaydiohead

It is what it says it is: a mashup of Jay-Z and Radiohead. Former RPI student Max Tannone made this excellent piece under the name Minty Fresh Beats, and he’s gotten quite a bit of national attention for it, which he should because it’s awesome. Unlike its obvious predecessor, Danger Mouse’s 2004 Grey Album, the source material for Jaydiohead is limited only to the deep catalogs of the two artists involved (though Tannone does add a few beats and synth bits of his own in there). So you get “No Hook” on top of “Karma Police” (“No Karma”); “99 Problems” over “National Anthem”(“99 Anthems”); the supremely weird (“Fall In Step”) and the just-plain-supreme (“Dirt Off Your Android”). Bonus points for using little-heard Radiohead tracks like “Gagging Order” and “Up on the Ladder.” Here it is: jaydiohead.com.

Mobius Band

Empire of Love

One miracle of the Internet age is that, like with Hersh’s project, a song can go from conception to release without the intervention of a third party. That enables an act like Brooklyn’s Mobius Band to hole up in an empty house in Vermont, mangle a handful of popular tunes, and release them for free without concern for things like promotion or distribution. This is the group’s second year taking on such a project, and their joy in taking apart and rebuilding a song is audible in every last note. Vintage Casios are the stars here, coloring all six of these tunes with their uniquely cheesy luster. But these remodeled tunes aren’t to be taken as shtick: They may adorn Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak opener “Say You Will” with ray-gun sound effects and the sound of joyful children, but this only serves to underscore—or perhaps undermine—the song’s woe-is-me vibe. Either way, it works. Even when Mobius get radical—like the reverb-rock makeover of the Everly Brothers’ “Love Hurts,” or the Can-via-Wilco drive put to Tom Petty’s smoke-another-joint anthem “You Don’t Know How It Feels”—they keep the vocals harmoniously reverent to the originals. This may be the most fun your ears will have for free this year. Download Empire of Love at mobiusband.com/vday09.

The Damnwells

One Last Century

Another Brooklyn band take a slightly different journey to the same end: The Damnwells went through the major-label wringer for a few years and came out the other side more or less back where they started. So frontman Alex Dezen’s reasoning behind this free release is apt: “I have never worked so hard or put so much of myself into a collection of recorded songs,” he says. “It is for just this reason that I want to give it away. . . . I just want people to hear this music, and I don’t want them to have to enter into some kind of contractual agreement with a third party to do so.” Consider yourself lucky: This is a world-class rock record with a charming Americana streak, and it simply sounds like it should cost money. Dezen’s writing is more self-assured and mature than ever; if he weren’t such a strong performer, it would be easy to imagine him penning hits for the next big thing. But the Damnwells were once supposed to be the next big thing too. Maybe there’s still hope: pastemagazine.com/thedamnwells.

 

 


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