1. “Gold Dust” – Chris Simmons. My, this is a beautiful fingerpicked tune. The recording is immaculate: it sounds like Simmons is sitting right next to me playing and singing gently.
2. “Illinois” – Anna Tivel. This is about as good as folk gets: a heartbreaking tale, a beautiful melody, a moving vocal performance, and a subtle arrangement.
3. “Maze of Glass” – The Roseline. Between indie embracing Sturgill Simpson and Nashville becoming a bonafide music hub for genres outside country, alt-country to me means “not bro country” and not a whole lot else. This excellent “alt-country” song tells an endearing story of small-town living amid great piano, a shuffle snare, swooping fiddle, and some twangy guitars.
4. “Downtown’s Lights” – Kevin Morby. Vocal-centric in the grand folk tradition, Morby leads his band through a tune that flirts with the talking blues and country ramblers without joining either tradition. It’s easy-going but not lazy–dignified in a Low Anthem sort of way, we might say.
5. “Ernest” – Iaowai. Big, bold, emotive, punchy acoustic folk/pop with roaring vocals and strum-thousand tendencies. RIYL: old-school Bright Eyes.
6. “Everything Starts with a Dream” – Redvers and Mélissa. The tender optimism of the lyrics fits perfectly with the carefully-constructed indie-pop arrangement; a little acoustic guitar line is the soul of this track, but the surrounding parts add to the sneaky grandeur of the overall song.
7. “Take It Slow” – Dirty Sunset. Starts off like an alt-country song, then introduces some soulful vocals and thick klezmer-style instrumentation. The ending amps up to a mad blitz. It’s an impressive turn on several different dimes.*
8. “Garden Hose” – Strawberry Runners. Formal ’50s/’60s pop songcraft that yet mines gold from the old vein via lovely trumpets and expert skill in song development.
9. “Depths (Pt. 1)” – Yumi Zouma. This post-disco electro jam is just sooooo smoooooth.
10. “Mirror Fake” – The Dodos. Fans of the Dodos’ early work will love this rattling, controlled-chaos cut from Philia: Artists against Islamophobia.
11. “RUN” – Pep. This tune deconstructs ’50s pop and reconstructs it for modern indie-pop ears. The lead vocal hook is simply irrepressible.
12. “You” – Morgan Saint. Downtempo electro-pop that nails everything: the vibe, the super-catchy vocal lines, the blurry bass, the subtle percussion, the warm pad synths, just everything. So, so solid.
*Dirty Sunset is a PR client of Lisa Whealy, who writes for this site.