Free and legal MP3: The National (brisk, deliberate burner)

“Afraid of Everyone” – The National

“Afraid of Everyone” starts spooky, slowly and surreptitiously picks up a pulse, then a driving beat, but even as it does remains tight and restrained. This juxtaposition of brisk and deliberate adds layers to the eeriness, just as the fear expressed lyrically broadens from interpersonal to existential: what begins with a reference to today’s poisonous political environment ends with Matt Berninger singing, semi-imperceptibly, “Your voice has stolen my soul.” Notice (this strikes me as important) that the song itself does not change tempo; what happens is that the band finally–first around 1:10 and then more fully at 1:25–picks up on the song’s implicit beat, and literally drives home the frightened and frightening message. Repeated listens give this one a palpably deeper and deeper burn.

Originally from Cincinnati, now in Brooklyn, the National has been steadily building a critical and popular following, as expansively discussed in a recent article in the New York Times. Personally, I’ve been reserved about them in the past, in part because I didn’t give Berninger’s portentous but limited (and mumbly) baritone enough time to let the intrigue of the music penetrate. Not sure if I’m in the process of full conversion, but I very much look forward to listening to the new album, High Violet, in its entirety (which you can do this week on NPR.) The album comes out officially next week on 4AD. MP3 via Pitchfork.

Free and legal MP3: A. A. Bondy (rootsy, atmospheric singer/songwriter fare)

“When the Devil’s Loose” – A. A. Bondy

Thick with atmosphere and aching with the majesty of something timeless and true, “When the Devil’s Loose” has me at hello, as it were. I love those guitars, at once fuzzy and bell-like, and the casual authority they immediately establish. The song, which refers at the outset to a river, itself flows with a river-like depth and grandeur, its potent melody sung with a rough-edged nonchalance at once sultry and defiant. I like how the guitars sometimes float off into a bit of dissonance, adding to the impression that some deep sort of force of nature was involved in the creation of this song.

Bondy is an Alabama-born singer/songwriter now based in upstate New York. He fronted a loud, Nirvana-like band in the late ’90s and early ’00s called Verbena, then using the first name Scott. His solo debut, American Hearts (2008), presented him in a folk-like, early-Dylan-ish setting, backed largely by acoustic guitar and the occasional harmonica. And yet the one or two songs featuring a bit more of a band sounded to me like the stronger cuts–in particular, “Lovers’ Waltz,” which “When the Devil’s Loose” resembles somewhat. To me, therefore, the news that his forthcoming album finds him more often playing with a band is promising. I look forward to hearing more of it.

This song is the title track to that second solo album, which is due out in September on Fat Possum Records. MP3 via Spinner.