1. “The Plague” – Maison Hall. Distant guitar, ambient room noise, and a carefully dramatic vocal performance come together to make a uniquely intimate singer/songwriter tune. The drums that come in halfway through only add to the vibe.
2. “Talons” – He is a Pegasus. HIAP ratchets up to some impressive indie-rock crunch in the service of high drama, but don’t sleep on the opening section of this tune. It’s as devastatingly beautiful a post-Bon Iver song you can hope to hear.
3. “Traffic Lights” – Ryan David Orr. Cross the most upbeat parts of Josh Radin’s early work and Alexi Murdoch’s work, and you’ll have this tune. It’s an eyebrow-raising show of confident lyricism and brilliant acoustic-pop songwriting.
4. “First Light” – Dustin Tebbutt. There’s definitely some Bon Iver falsetto here, but the acoustic arrangement and the vocal melodies are much more than any “spot the influence” game. Feels like a warm hug on a cold day.
5. “How Many Times” – Rod Ladgrove. The many layers of guitar, vocals, and clapping here sound huge and spacious, but in an ethereal, floating-world sort of way.
6. “Birds” – Richi Jones. The tenets of slowcore minimalism form the moody, guitar-based songwriting structure, with a bit of Passenger’s vocal tone thrown in.
7. “Hey Little Blackbird” – Elsdeer. A slight, subtle tune that relies on Elsdeer’s clear vocals, a pensive guitar performance, and amplifier hum to create a distinct mood.
8. “See Through” – Suzy Callahan. “Tenderly” is the repeated word in the chorus here, and it’s a fitting description of the pretty acoustic singer/songwriter tune as a whole.
9. “A Day Like Today” – Xavier William. William’s work is also intimate, with his vocals and major key acoustic guitar right up close to the microphone. The easygoing forward motion of a traditional folk strum is complemented by a neat whistling solo.
10. “The Wind” – John John Brown. Brown shows a deft arranging hand here, expertly creating a wide-open folk mood that’s as complex as those made by any more famous musician. The lyrics of the tune are equally expert, adding their literary heft into the already-high level of gravitas in this remarkable folk tune.
11. “West Cozy” – Creature People. By chance, I stumbled upon this text-based adventure game while I was listening to the song. Creature People’s mysterious, woodsy folk was the perfect accompaniment to a game that slowly unfolds itself as an adventure.
Cadence Kid‘s “Hold on Me” is a rare gem: it’s a summery tune with memorable instrumentation, breezy vibe, and a video that actually represents the mood of the clip. The indie-pop of “Hold on Me” falls somewhere between the easygoing flow of Vacationer and the slightly-more staccato pop of Generationals. Bass, tambourine, and vocals interlock neatly, as in a Generationals tune; the disparate parts come together to create a full piece. The satisfying, rattling kit drumming holds all the pieces together into a slinky mood, just as a Vacationer tune might. The overall effect is effortlessly sunny, a slice of summer carved right off the ocean breeze.
What’s even more remarkable about “Hold on Me” is that the video captures this mood. Jason Turbin and Ryan Houchin take the oft-used video clip montage idea and spin it to perfection: the clip weaves in shots of skateboarding, rollerskating, parkour, cliff jumping, gleeful dancing, hiking, and more. It’s basically a compendium of why summer is great, mostly shot in a warm, slightly fuzzy way that evokes the experience of good memories. It’s a wonderful video that perfectly complements the sound of the tune, which is a rarity. I almost never say this for video, but here it is: highly recommended.
1. “The Road” – John John Brown. It’s an impressive skill to breathe fresh vitality into musical staples. John John Brown makes a beautiful concoction out of folk fingerpicking, sawing fiddle, and gentle tenor vocals.
2. “Does She” – Caroline Lazar. Someday I’ll get tired of a thumping kick drum under a fingerpicked acoustic guitar line, but not today: Lazar’s folk pop is bright, charming, and fun (handclaps!). [Editor’s note: This song is no longer available.]
3. “Offering” – Mischief Night. The recording style on this acoustic track makes it feel both cavernous and intimate; the vocals soar in the near distance, while the drums and casio tones are close at hand. The lyrics are intriguing, as well.
4. “I’m Not the Good One” – Ossayol. The delicate fingerpicking is perfectly counterpointed by a violin throughout. The chorus here just nailed me to the wall with its emotive power.
5. “Christine” – Orly Bendavid & the Mona Dahls. An ode to beautiful young women who grow old that balances rueful, pensive concern with an internal energy which pushes the track forward.
6. “Lucid Dreams” – Ego Death. A trembling, quiet performance that evokes solitude.
7. “We Both Know” – Andrew Butler. The pristine, precise arrangements of Andrew Bird, but now with significantly more emotions in the lyrics and vocal delivery.
7. “No God in Mexico” – Danny Whitecotton. Danny Whitecotton is continuing the long tradition of windswept, wide-screen folk troubadour storytelling with political undertones admirably. The sound itself is along the lines of Isbell’s quieter stuff instead of being a folk strumfest.
8. “Liars” – Gregory Alan Isakov. Isakov has expanded from his intimate, cryptic tunes of yore to being back by the Colorado Symphony on this tour-de-force. (The lyrics are still enigmatic in an evocative way.)
9. “Single” – Frith. The walking-speed tempo and distinctive melodic percussion sound of this comfortable, easygoing pop track give it a pleasant “Someone I Used to Know” feel.
10. “Zen Jam” – Joyriot. The title works: the tension between zen and joy is in full display on this mid-’00s indie-pop-rock track. There’s some Tokyo Police Club in there, maybe some Vampire Weekend, but all filtered through a chill, maybe even Death Cab-esque lens. Totally cool.
11. “Dance With Love” – Sam Joole. Joole forgoes his usual reggae vibes for Strokesian early ’00s indie-rock, complete with tambourine, distinctive strumming pattern, and slightly distorted vocals. It’s a blast.
12. “719 Desire Street” – Palm Ghosts. Jangle rock never dies, it just fits itself into the modern paradigm and moves on right along. This one’s a fun, sway-inducing, smile-creating song.
13. “Ten Lines (The Land Below Remix)” – MISSINCAT. I kept expecting this song to do stereotypical pop song things, and it always seemed to have a different corner for me to turn. Mad props for the unexpected in electro-pop.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.