Free and legal MP3: Ponyhof (elegant, dynamic, emotional)

An elegant, emotional ballad that builds with great poise and features a vibrant electric cello.

Ponyhof

“Tiger” – Ponyhof

An elegant, emotional ballad that builds with great poise, “Tiger” hooks me quickly, with its opening juxtaposition of warm keyboard and what sounds like a distant, distorted guitar but is actually an electric cello. Then Carrie Erving starts singing and I’m hooked further by that minor-key swerve at the end of each line of the verse and the persistence of Chris Loxley’s droning cello, squealing and squalling in the background like the some weirdly positive version of nails on a blackboard. It’s a great vibe they’ve got going here.

At the chorus, the song opens up with satisfying heft, as both the drums and, now, a more standard-sounding cello kick in at the same time (1:09)—not a typical pairing but an effective one. Erving’s voice here becomes both smoother and sturdier, and acquires a male background singer who happens to be Will Butler from Arcade Fire, singing here with a kind of intense restraint that transforms his voice into a shadow of hers. As the song returns to the verse at 1:37, the momentum feels unstoppable; in truth, the verses in the song from here onward advance with the power of a chorus, while what initially seemed the chorus section reveals itself to be the subtler structural partner in a increasingly forceful union. In any case, the song climaxes at the unfolding of the last verse, beginning at 2:46 (“There’s a tiger in your heart…”), which veers through lyrical changes into what will surely prove to be one of the year’s wildest guitar solos, especially since it is in fact being performed by Loxley on that electric cello of his.

Carrie Erving is the singer/songwriter at the center of Ponyhof, a Brooklyn-based foursome which Erving says might be called a band or maybe more accurately a collective of musicians who gather to play her songs. “Tiger” is from the debut Ponyhof album, Empires, which was released last month. You can download the song from the above link, or via Ponyhof’s SoundCloud page, where you can also hear the album’s title track.

Free and legal MP3: Brave Baby (yearning, rock-solid rock)

“Living in a Country” is all yearning momentum and indelible chorus.

Brave Baby

“Living in a Country” – Brave Baby

Charleston’s Brave Baby aims big here, drawing inspiration not only from the heroic/nostalgic sounds of Arcade Fire but from the granddaddies of earnest yet incisive rock’n’roll, U2. Front man Keon Masters does sing with an air of Win Butler about him; his vulnerable tenor has a rope-like strength to it, and a subtle intricacy, as he offers different aural qualities at his different registers.

“Living in a Country” is all yearning momentum and indelible chorus. You’ll hear that without even trying. Give a closer listen, though, and you’ll encounter any number of oddly satisfying details—the Star Trek-y synthesizer (first heard in the introduction), the late entry of the bass (0:29), the ghostly octave vocals (1:40), the deconstruction of the time signature during that asymmetrical interlude after the second verse (1:54), and maybe best of all, the burnished spaciousness of the sound in the chorus, which feels partly like some kind of wall-of-sound voodoo and yet partly organic and explainable. Only I can’t explain it; all I know is that the chorus’s urgent hookiness has probably as much to do with its sonic landscape as its melody.

Three of Brave Baby’s four members have been playing music together since 2008; the quartet coalesced in 2010. “Living in a Country” is the first single available from the band’s debut album, Forty Bells, due out in January on Hearts and Plugs Records. Thanks to the record label for the MP3.