1. “First World Problems” – Sam Levin. Levin infuses this song with more confidence and swagger than are probably legal for a low-key power-pop tune that includes a raccoon that was really just a dog. His voice may remind you of Jon Foreman’s (that’s a good thing), and the quirky, charming electric guitar/808 beats/plodding bass is one of my favorite forms of bedroom pop. Basically: indie-pop music, raw and undistilled. Mad props.
2. “How Did This Happen!?” – BODEGA. If LCD Soundsystem was more into art-punk than disco-electro, you’d have Bodega. The thick bass riffs, the speak/sing/holler lead vocals, the pokes at music-world and general social mores, the exuberant flair that everything is done with–it’s all here. Rad.
3. “Sight Inside” – Feverbones. Busy bass lines are like catnip to me, and so this zooming low-end caught my ear immediately. There’s a lot of angular guitar going on over the top of it, not in a mathy way, but in a sort of old-school indie-rock/post-punk sort of way. There’s some stomping drums and insistent vocals–it’s all very enigmatic and punchy. Very cool.
4. “Baby, I Know It” – Francis Moon. Maybe it’s just that I miss School of Seven Bells so much, but anytime someone throws a big wall of distortion against a simple percussion line and pop melodies (as opposed to shoegaze-y ghost melodies), I get all nostalgic for SoSB. And this track has me all misty–Moon’s track pulls out a lot of the bass from the distortion/mix, making the song an echoey, yelping, enthusiastic, untethered dream that rushes through your ears and then abruptly fades away.
5. “About You” – G Flip. Right here is a electro-indie-pop tune that doesn’t do basically any of the things you would expect from a contemporary song of that genre. This song has nuance, soul, avoids going for the big hit, includes some awesome live drums, and basically will flip (ha) all your expectations on their head.
6. “Ascendant Hog” – Andy Jenkins. After 15 years in the game, my bar for breakup songs has gone sky-high, while my bar for love songs has stayed pretty much the same. (It has become more clear over time that I love love songs.) Jenkins’ love song here is strong to pass the higher bar if it needed to. It’s a starry-eyed love song from someone who knows that they really shouldn’t be getting starry-eyed but just can’t help it. There’s pedal steel, piano, female group backup vocals, and just a whole lot of happiness. Pick your favorite era of enthusiastic, country-influenced pop and find your own RIYL for this one.
7. “Underwear Blues” – Matt Dorrien. Not actually blues–closer to ragtime mixed with lounge-y ’70s pop. Nuances aside, this jaunty piano tune is a fun, goofy track that even includes a clarinet. (Has anything other than a piano ever been described as jaunty? Discuss.)
8. “Cannonball!” – Buck Meek. Some people think that summer sounds like fast cars on Pacific Highway 1, and that’s cool. But to me, summer is a major key and the slowest possible speed that still feels happy. That’s this song in a nutshell: Meek’s drawl unspools over a bouncy bass line, a legit guitar solo (man, we could always use more well-fitting guitar solos), and a rock-solid percussion section. There’s some ghostly synth and wheezing background vocals too. It just all fits together right. Here’s to the slow-paced summer jam.
1. “Ever Stay” – Joy Ike. Ike’s blend of funky groove, singer/songwriter nuance, and pop melodies come together in a hard-to-explain track that’s both brooding and exultant, hopeful and hushed. The bridge and final chorus here are a total knockout–get ready for this record, people. Highly recommended.
2. “Do It Right” – Nuela Charles. Charles has a voice that could melt ice, it’s so warm and sultry. The admirably minimalist arrangement puts the focus squarely on her impressive voice, which is a smart, smart move. There’s still some old-school horns snuck in and some low-key funky elements. It’s the sort of soul that appeals to just about anybody–if you’re into indie-pop you’ll hear it, if you’re into radio pop, you’ll hear it, if you’re into soul you’ll hear it.
3. “quartessence” – kerim könig. The insistent piano is the main attraction here, but it’s all the things going on around it (found sounds, distant vocals, snatches of instruments) that drew me in to this. It fills out into a beat-heavy instrumental rumination that sounds like it would be perfect in a sneak-laden section of a spy movie.
4. “Where to Begin” – Ellie Schmidly. A five-minute journey of a song that has some fun interplay between Schmidly’s vocals and the guitars, lots of cinematic moves, and some adventurous clarinet/xylophone/marching band action to close out the song. (Yeah, you read that right.) This daring arranging should make you very excited about Schmidly.
5. “Plays With Fire” – Cloud. Unique, high-pitched vocals lead the way through a chilled-out, low-key indie-rock landscape. I feel like I’m obliged to say that fans of Pavement will be into this, but I think fans of Modest Mouse might be even more into it. Feels a lot like the mid-’00s, when “anything goes” was in style for everything from vocal styles to lyrics to arrangements.
6. “You Got Some Best Friends” – Mateo Katsu. Fans of lo-fi acoustic indie-pop will love this this warm, quirky song about being emotionally cold. Katsu’s confidently warbling vocals are reminiscent of Matthew Squires; the bouncy, fun bass work gives the tune even more levity (to contrast with the dour subject matter).
7. “Restoration” – Grace Gillespie. Gillespie’s voice is recorded high in the mix, giving her song a very intimate, close-to-the-listener feel. The bass-heavy guitar fits in perfectly, as there’s a lot of gravitas in her playing. There are shades of Nick Drake in some of the guitar melodies, too, which is just fantastic.
8. “Lay Me Down” – Ivan Moult. Fluttering, swooping strings provide a beautiful frame for Moult’s compelling, high-drama vocal performance. Yet the track never feels overwrought–it’s a smooth, easygoing sort of drama (if such a thing exists). Fans of Beirut will recognize similar vocal and arrangement touches, making for a strong, interesting track.
9. “Dearest Lovely World” – Simon D. James. Aptly titled, this lovely folk-pop song has the balance just right between folk vulnerability and solid pop melodies. The overall product is a warm, thrumming piece that makes me imagine what the Beach Boys would have sounded like had they been born in this era, or what St. Even would sound like with a punchy bassist. Fans of Belle and Sebastian will love it.
10. “Clouds in Advance” – Jon Durant. A whole whirring, humming ambient landscape created with nothing but an electric guitar: rhythm, pattern, melody, and atmosphere all come from the many different layers of guitar. Feels just like the title says it could: like the sense of mystery and awe that I get when I’m scanning the horizon, watching a storm come in over the prairie.