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Month: April 2018

Alan Barnosky: A rare, doesn’t-come-around-that-often talent

My poles of folk are the raw troubadour folk of Bob Dylan’s The Freewheeling Bob Dylan and the contemporary songwriting of Josh Ritter’s Animal Years. Alan Barnosky‘s Old Freight combines the vocal style of Dylan with the bright, contemporary recording style of Ritter and a fresh take on troubadour traveling lyrics. It is a fantastic album, full of clever guitar work, excellent vocal performances, and punchy arrangements. It is so good that I have trouble writing about it–it is the sort of work that needs no explanation once you’ve heard it. If you’re into folk, it will slot in perfectly next to Justin Townes Earle, Langhorne Slim, and (yes) Bob Dylan. It is easily one of the best folk albums of the year.

That previous paragraph should be enough, but I’ll attempt to throw some other words at it too. The record opens with “Bowling Green,” which is a perfect synopsis of the record: it updates a trad-style folk songwriting and lyrical frame with contemporary touches and flourishes. They aren’t overt, but they’re there–the long held lines in the vocals, the rhythms, and the excellent production value. There’s a touch of Nickel Creek here in the fleet mandolin solo.

“Roanoke Angeline” has excellent verse and chorus vocal melodies, making every second of the song a blast. It’s the sort of song that you can’t help but hum along with. “I Heart Mountains” has a bit more urgency in the vocal presentation added to all the charm of the aforementioned songs. This, as with many of the songs, is about traveling (in the finest troubadour style), but none of the lyrics feel trite. Appropriating emoji culture for the titular chorus phrase is just one of the touches throughout the record that place the feet of this record firmly in the contemporary moment.

I could spend a long time singing the praises of this record (“No Place to Go”! “Old Freight”! “Childhood Ghosts”! It’s all so good!). But it’s more productive to be short and sweet, so that you can spend less time listening to me and more time listening to Alan Barnosky. If you’re into folk music, Barnosky is a rare, doesn’t-come-around-that-often talent. Highly recommended.

Singles All Over the Map

1. “Dylan Thomas / Bitter Bitter” – The Duke of Norfolk. A Dylan Thomas spoken word clip opens the gates of this track onto a field of wavering strings, distant vocals, gentle percussion, sea waves, and beautiful guitar melodies. It’s a very hopeful scene that gets only more so with the addition of subtle arpeggiator bleeps and a ramped-up tempo. The hope and warm enthusiasm of the track contrast with the lyrics, which are about coming to grips with death of loved one. It’s a statement track, for certain, and it’s a great stake to stick in the ground. Highly recommended. (Full Disclosure: I gave feedback on a pre-mastered version of this track.)

2. “Heat” – Kira May. Well, this is something new and different. There’s some ambient vibes to start the track; a lot of thick, manipulated vocals (think Imogen Heap); engaging “lead bass” work; and a strong, direct vocal performance on top of all of that via May. All of that runs slinky pop vibes (a la Dido) through an art-school filter (a la Talking Heads) to turn up something exciting and unusual. Highly Recommended.

3. “From Osaka, With Love” – Mixtaped Monk. This totally chill instrumental track manages to create the relaxing, soothing vibes of ambient music without losing the sense of forward motion. Gentle electric guitar, intriguing melodic percussion noises, and the oh-so-rare effective use of a slow sweeping/phasing effect on the synths. The addition of full kit percussion adds some post-rock panache, which gives the track heft.

4. “Walkin’ Through” – Emilie Mover. This hushed, intimate folk tune doesn’t walk so much as leisurely float. Mover’s beautiful voice unspools careful melodies over a gently pulsing fingerpicking pattern on a nylon-string guitar. There are crickets in the background, suggesting that Mover is out in a forest near a pond, perhaps, living the romantic life of nature. All in all, a lovely track.

5. “Fake Out” – MUNROE. This is a piano ballad, but it’s not maudlin, campy, overextended, or overstuffed. It features a deeply affecting vocal performance, an insistent piano arrangement, and vocal melodies that are hard to get out of my head. If only all piano work could be this earnest, affecting, and strong.

6. “Shelter” – Stephen Karl & Handsome Animals. I was listening to John K. Samson’s excellent work yesterday. I found myself discussing with my wife that, despite 15 years of listening to new music almost every day, there are some artists that have the X factor (my wife called it “umami“) that can transcend a standard form in an almost indiscernable, indescribable way. Stephen Karl’s work has that umami quality–this is a folk/country tune with train-track percussion, weeping pedal steel, and a baritone vocal performance. Nothing of the piece jumps out as the thing that makes the track great, but every piece contributes to making this song a cut above the rest of the pack doing much the same type of work. Good job, Stephen Karl & Handsome Animals.

7. “Oh Honey” – Neighbor Lady. I can say, “Filters the best of ’50s pop vibes through chill ’90s low-key Britpop and contemporary indie-pop with a dash of punk rock attitude in the vocal performance” or I can say, “This is the sort of song that ends up on so many of your playlists and mix CDs that you start giving this song to people multiple times, unapologetically.”

8. “The Balance” – Tenderfoot. Put The Antlers, The National, and Alt-J in a blender and this smooth, assured indie track might just come out. The way all the elements (strings, vocals, drums, bass, guitars) come together into a single, slicked-back unit is impressive.

9. “The Future” – BAILEY. Here’s a chipper, major-key folk-pop tune that reminds me of Bronze Radio Return and the quieter moments of Magic Giant. The inclusion of keys and whistling is a lot of fun, adding to the good vibes coming from the base arrangement, vocal performance, and lyrics.

10. “Stay” – The Drew Thomson Foundation. This is ’90s-style alt-country (do we still say country-punk?) that has all the charge of a rock song with juuuuust enough country to keep it fresh. The punchy vocal performance and the yearning lyrics are icing on the songwriting cake.

11. “Got It Cheap” – Tom West. This tune makes genre distinctions meaningless: there’s a banjo, some sort of saxophone, horns, some crunchy electric guitar, walking speed tempos, and mournful (yet still catchy) vocals. It’s a pop song of some sort, maybe, but whatever it is, it sounds really “in the pocket.” One that’s worth repeating, for sure.

12. “Doughnuts Forever” – The Orb. Downtempo electronica with trip-hop influences, tropical vibes, and a total sense of cool running through the whole thing. Very polished from this veteran outfit.

Joshua Hedley – Mr. Jukebox

Mr. Jukebox by Joshua Hedley is a trip of a debut album. These fresh ten songs via Third Man Records caught the attention of NPR Music, thanks to Hedley’s personal goal: music that honors tradition in a heartfelt way. The record’s authentic connection to an earthy Nashville sound lands it straight in the Great American Songbook.

Tapped as part of the Music We Love Series with NPR Music, the first single “Mr. Jukebox” embodies the essence of Hedley’s record and gives a taste of what is to come. This is classic country. Finding a way to make a nod to a traditional genre while still keeping it fresh is an ever-evolving quest for all artists in this ocean filled with decent songwriters. The quest is to rise above, all the while staying connected to roots Americana. Hedley does just that. This is that breath of fresh air that Americana has been waiting for, with its two-stepping, feel-good vibes.

This record fits with the Nashville sound recently celebrated by fellow troubadour Jason Isbell. This vibe was born in ‘50s honky tonks and bar rooms. Some of the best–from Jim Reeves, Charlie Pride, and Glen Campbell, all the way to Gretchen Wilson–all have some common threads: simple, authentic lyrics; lush instrumentation; and stories about life and love. Mr. Jukebox is steeped in this tradition. Listening almost feels like a flashback to a broadcast of the Grand Ol’ Opry, with the family circled around the radio in front of the fireplace on a Saturday night in a time not so long ago.

The opening lyrics of “Counting All My Tears” invite us all into a distinctive world. The Skylar-Wilson-and-Jordan-Lehning-produced record lets folks know what they are in for; this is real authentic music that does not come along every generation. Hedley was raised in Florida with a fiddle in his hands by the age of eight, growing up with a mom who played Neil Diamond and a dad who played Otis Redding. These influences shaped the songwriter Hedley would grow up to be. Is “Weird Thought Thinker” a self proclamation of the real man? One would think so, but the second record will tell us all for certain. In the meantime, listeners can almost hear the smile behind each lyric, each a dream that is becoming real.

His authentic delivery, full of heartfelt emotions, causes slow ballads to be standout tracks. These let the tone and delivery of this young talent shine: “Let’s Take A Vacation” is a drift-away moment, a lovely release full of hope and escape. Similarly fitting this bill is “Don’t Waste Your Tears,” which has almost an Elvis Presley, 1950s vibe–when he was truly a king during the Sun Records days. Accentuated with subtle instrumentation, this song is a cut above the rest, and that is ridiculous to say on a record this good.  Honest and real, heartstrings are plucked and broken. “I Never Shed A Tear For You” is a honky tonk reinforcement of the truth. Sonically, this is stellar, with an array of support studio musicians and back-up singers that create a time capsule. Brilliance seems an understatement.

The uptempo stroll of “This Time,” lush with strings, is stunningly full of sarcasm. Each refrain is so well constructed musically that it seems simple. Heading out of the album, “Let Them Talk” is an homage to small town life. If you have lived in one, you know. Fun, bouncy secrets are always something everyone wants to be a part of; minding someone else’s business is always more exciting than minding one’s own.

Delivering a new take on an old classic, the close-out cut of the album is a cover of Ned Harline and Ned Washington’s “When You Wish Upon A Star,” best known for its rendition sung by Jiminy Cricket in the 1940 Disney animated classic Pinocchio. It definitely sums up the dreams of a three-year-old boy in Florida wishing for a fiddle. Mr. Jukebox by Joshua Hedley is destined to be a country music classic, earning its place in the catalog of the Great American Songbook. Hedley was honored with the distinction to be the first country artist signed to Jack White’s Third Man Records since Margo Price in 2015, so you can order the record from Third Man or elsewhere now. —by Lisa Whealy.

April 24—Nashville, TN—The Basement East
April 27—Indio, CA—Stagecoach Festival
April 30—West Hollywood, CA—The Roxy
May 1—Los Angeles, CA—Hi Hat
May 3—Evanston, IL—SPACE
May 4—Minneapolis, MN—7th St Entry
May 5—Davenport, IA—Raccoon Motel
August 2–5—Happy Valley, OR—Pickathon
and more at his website.

Singles: Summer Music and More

1. “On the Run” – The Big Sky. A compelling mix of Asian vibes, glitchy beats, distorted synths, and sleepy vocals, this more-than-7-minute slice of indie-rock (?) is highly unusual in the best of ways.

2. “Point of Personal Privilege” – Weller. It’s not that I stopped liking punk rock, it’s that my bar for punk rock got so high that it became an incredibly hard thing to pass. Weller passes, partially because a good chunk of the song is composed of a calm, deftly-handled intricate guitar line, perfectly atypical drums, relaxed vocals, and angelic background vocals. When the full band comes charging in, it feels like a powerful payoff instead of an inevitability. If you love Transatlanticism but want the crunchy parts crunchier, jump on the bandwagon.

3. “Strange Year” – Team Picture. Big synth melodies atop an indie rock chassis create a punchy, soaring cut. Can’t say enough about the way the synths just take over this song but also manage to not turn this into an ’80s revival piece.

4. “3 AM Lullaby” – Hotel Mira. If you like listening to the Fratellis or Tokyo Police Club or the Strokes before bed, this chipper, weird indie-pop-rock tune will put you right to sleep. (In the good way.) For the rest of us wind down with mellow piano music or whatever, this is a great jam full of enthusiasm and falsetto that will fit excellently in your summer party playlist.

5. “100 Years or More” – Violet Delancey. I know this sounds fairly incredible, but if you add Shakira, Enya, and Celtic Folk together, you’d end up with this track. I know! It sounds crazy! But it’s really good!

6. “Pull Through” – Remember Sports. I’m not sure what this video is trying to say (are your band members just terrible people? Is this video in reverse? Is this about the psycho-dynamics of inter-band relationships? Is this … I could go on.), but the song is a great piece of pop music. The kitschy percussion and insistent acoustic guitar strumming provide a neat backdrop for cooing, ooo-ing indie-pop melodies. The rest of the arrangement is perfectly done to create some tidy-yet-slacker-sounding work. It’s the sort of thing where I hear it and say, “Yeah, that’s what it’s supposed to sound like, right there.”

7. “Paying Off the Happiness” – illuminati hotties. If you love bright, shiny, singable, self-deprecating power-pop, this song will be your jam. The vocal performance here is spot-on, balancing perky enthusiasm and droll self-concern.

8. “XO” – The Elation. A fun pop-rock tune with speedy vocal delivery, head-bobbing rhythms, and a great dance-oriented music video.

8. “Outside Saskatoon” –  Espanola. What do we call Americana that comes from Canada? Anyway, this is a great Americana-infused rock song (that organ!) that reminds me of Glossary and The Weakerthans. “Hey! Come on!” is the way that the guitar solo kicks off, which you know is right. Just great stuff.

10. “Buzz Off” – Little Junior. A big, stomping power-pop tune that manages to sound enthusiastic and “totally over it” at the same time. Fans of old-school Weezer will have a lot of fun with this one, especially the tongue-in-cheek ’80s-style guitar solo.

11. “Who Will I Be For You” – Pale Houses. Speaking of the ’80s, this tune brings ’80s ballad vibes to bear on contemporary singer/songwriter work and creates a neat hybrid form out of the two. Aaron Robinson’s somewhat-anguished vocal performance is spot-on, nailing the vocal leaps and the pathos perfectly. Fans of ’80s pop will find themselves transported back to an earlier time, but this is no vintage copycat job–Robinson and crew do a great job of melding styles to find their own sound.

Singles: Instrumental

1. “Growing Up” – Moon Hooch. I am a big fan of sci-fi in addition to being a big indie music fan, and so I was thoroughly interested in the high-concept animated video that Moon Hooch put together for their latest single. It’s got a lot of concepts that I love: the possibility of time repeating itself, unusual alien/fantasy beings (or humans dressed as them), magic/superpowers, and more. Totally rad. The song itself is classic Moon Hooch: two saxophones dueling it out over dance-rock-oriented drums. The melodies are clever, thoughtful, and fun. It’s hard for me to listen to Moon Hooch without getting totally amped up, because these guys are distilled adrenaline.

2. “Dubai” – Royal. This slice of instrumental hip-hop employs distant spoken and sung vocals to great effect, helping set the mood effectively. The manipulation of the synths and the inclusion of the beats is also ace, as I find myself head-bobbing without thinking about it. Solid.

3. “Sharalee” – Jamison Isaak. Being a huge Teen Daze fan and a person-with-strongly-growing-interest-in-neoclassical-work, I am totally thrilled that Jamison did me a favor and combined the two. This Teen Daze side project takes all of the slowly unfolding melodies and carefully-curated atmosphere that makes his chillwave so great and applies it to classical work. The method is piano, pedal steel guitar, and pad synth–sounds very weird, but it makes perfect sonic sense when you hear it. (As you might expect, from someone who has a ton of experience with melody, arrangement and mood.) It’s pensive, winsome, and elegant. Highly recommended.

4. “Airlocks” – Floating in Space. Rarely does a band name so well describe the experience of listening to a band. Floating in Space creates major-key, wide-screen post-rock that’s reminiscent of Sigur Ros’ work in its sweep and in the vocalist’s tone. The lack of percussion and the glittering pad synths in this piece creates the truly floating feel.

5. “Disenchantment for Truth” – Sleeping Horses. Anyone tracking IC over a long period of time has seen more and more ambient work creep in around the edges of our coverage. I’ve been really enjoying the peacefulness of much ambient work, as well as the generally extended scale on which the sounds can develop. This is a perfect example of the type of thing I’ve been digging: Sleeping Horses creates a slowly-developing piece out of manipulated guitar sound, deliberate fluttering strings and lots of space. The small changes to the arrangement build up over the course of the piece to create a beautiful, emotive landscape.

Premiere: The Pinkerton Raid’s “Jefferson Davis Highway”

Throwing down two albums in two years is no small feat. With Where the Wildest Spirits Fly, The Pinkerton Raid manages to drop a new record only 15 months after their previous effort Tolerance Ends, Love Begins. Where Tolerance Ends was a dense, dusky affair that analyzed a divorce in great detail, Wildest is heading in a different direction entirely, both lyrically and sonically.

“Jefferson Davis Highway” is the lead single off Wildest and it turns its focus directly on those who still celebrate the Confederacy. It’s a delicate, touchy subject nationally and in the South. But being from North Carolina (where the topic goes on and on), Jesse James DeConto jumps into the fray with no holds barred–his lyrical efforts leave little room for confusion about what this protest song is protesting.

Amid the lyrics protesting the continued support for Confederate history and ideals, DeConto mentions “We’re singing in God’s own country,” which is an interesting (intended or unintended) connection to U2’s The Joshua Tree. The music here is much more acoustic-oriented than previous work from TPR, but it’s still not quite Woody Guthrie’s folk. The connections are stronger to the expansive, vaulted work that U2 created on their seminal album, and not just because DeConto’s soaring, occasionally-yelping voice is reminiscent of Bono’s. The whole arrangement of the track is one that evokes gravitas without being overly somber. A marching band appears at the end of the track, lending even more grandeur.

It’s a big, bold, gutsy move to introduce an album with these lyrics and this arrangement. It’s a strong offering if you’re into protest music, U2, or folk music (writ large).

Where the Wildest Spirits Fly, which is the band’s fourth full length, will be released on Tuesday, May 1. You can pre-order it at Bandcamp. Catch the band in and around the Carolinas soon:

Saturday, April 28 – Brewgaloo – Raleigh, NC
Thursday, May 3 – North Charleston Arts Festival – North Charleston, SC
Friday, May 4 – Petra’s – Charlotte, NC
Saturday, May 5 – Cat’s Cradle (record release show) – Carrboro, NC

Singles: Acoustic

1. “The Sky Exhaled” – Luke De-Sciscio. This 11-minute piece is remarkable in several ways. First, the piece (which has two movements) is really 11 minutes long. Second, the flowing, tumbling fingerpicking, lithe vocals, and hushed mood remind me at times of Jose Gonzalez and early Iron and Wine. Third, the piece is accompanied by an 11-minute hand-drawn video. It’s a beautiful piece of work, with careful lines and a shading style that evokes intimacy. It’s truly impressive. Highly recommended.

2. “Can’t Cut Loose” – Erin Rae. A loping, lightly country-inflected, ’70s-vintage folk tune led by Rae’s excellent vocals. Her performance is mesmerizing–it’s the whole show here for most of the song. You get high marks for a voice that can captivate an audience like that.

3. “Adelaide” – Strangers by Accident. The NPR Tiny Desk Contest has been a boon for people who love stripped-down versions of tunes and/or concerts in weird places. This particular contest application from Strangers by Accident sees the quartet plying their wares while stranded in a blizzard. You’d never know of their distress without the notes saying so, however, as their crisp, tight folk tune shows no signs of concern. The vocal harmonies are tight, the arrangement is solid, and the song comes off like a dream. The video itself, however, has humorous issues. Good times had by all!

4. “Get Your House In Order” – John Calvin Abney. Somehow manages to make the most standard country template in the country vernacular a. not sound all that country b. reflect a distinctly John Calvin Abney-ish songwriting perspective in the vocal lines c. be relaxing instead of kitschy. I’m super impressed. (Full disclosure: John once engineered part of a record I wrote.)

5. “Elephant Heart” – Elizabeth Gundersen. Gundersen elevates the singer/songwriter staples of a stripped-down piano ballad and a breakup to impressive heights–no matter how tired you are of hearing about love lost, this song is deeply compelling lyrically and vocally.

6. “Greater Charlotte” – Michael Flynn. Double whammy! This poignant, heartbroken piano tune evokes the best moments of Ben Folds Five out of nothing more than a clever piano part, some strings for emphasis, and Flynn’s utterly compelling voice. This is an impressive, mature cut that makes me very interested in the upcoming release.

Singles: Indie Pop, etc.

1. “Sweet Potato Kisses” – Marchildon! There are not nearly enough songs of paternal love in the world. Marchildon! has set about fixing that in a small way, as this tune unabashedly celebrates the daily life of a father taking care of a child and the joy it brings (as well as the chaos, mess, and everything else). This is also a great folk-pop/indie-pop song musically–it consists entirely of acoustic guitar, shaker, and Marchildon’s great vocals. It’s simple, sweet, and very worthwhile. You keep on keepin’ on, Marchildon!.

2. “Go” – HYWAYS. Now this is an impressive piece of work. “Go” seamlessly blends country twang and harmonica, psych drone, folk fingerpicking, and indie-pop instrumental melodies effortlessly. This is masterful arranging. Highly recommended.

3. “Dance Around the Room with Me” – Ana Egge. More subtle than you might imagine for a tune of its title, this poppy, acoustic indie track reminds me of Lisa Hannigan’s work. There’s still quite a bit of joy in this track, but it’s displayed in restrained, delicate ways. The tiny synth, pizzicato strings and woodwinds that come in by the end of the track are all lovely.

4. “With You Every Day” – Anna Burch. The vocal lines here are almost hypnotic, turning a solid, low-slung, slow-paced indie-rock tune into an irresistible piece of work.

5. “The Islands” – Pale Green Things. Named after a song that I love by the Mountain Goats, this lo-fi indie-pop tune has a lot to love for fans of John Darnielle’s crew: distinctive strum patterns, a “lead bass” melody, and catchy vocal patterns. The whispery vocals and occasional ’80s synth distinguish PGL as having a lo-fi vision of its own.

6. “One More Wave” – Ellie Schmidly. Has a sort of effortlessly swaying, Beirut-esque other-ness to it created through a multitude of small ideas adding up. Subtle arrangement touches like male backing vocals, pizzicato strings, legato strings, restrained percussion, and staccato rhythmic bursts create a fantastic tune that begs to be listened to multiple times.

7. “White Lights” – JOYNER. “I’ve been bad / but never this bad before” is one of the more infectious, can’t-get-it-out-of-my-head chorus lines I’ve heard in a long time. The heavily-rhythmic approach to the vocals contrasts effectively against the smoothed-out, legato arrangement. It’s got shades of hip-hop beats filtered through a dream-pop filter. Really fascinating track.

8. “France (Grands Boulevards)” – Yumi Zouma. The soft, gentle synths create a comfy blanket around the dreamy vocals. The whole thing sounds like a warm springs burbling up from the earth, inviting you to come relax and rest. It’s not quite ambient, not quite indie-pop, and all interesting.

Mid-April Singles: 1

1. “I Love You Like a Brother” – Alex Lahey. Not a trick–this song is actually about Alex’s totally appropriate (“Just like I oughta”) fraternal affection. The lyrics are shouted above buzzing, fuzzed-out guitar and punchy drums, ultimately landing this track somewhere between pop-punk and power-pop. High praise: Alex Lahey knows how to write great guitar songs.

2. “Terribly Popular” – Marc With a C. Marc contributes a smart, funny satirical take on Taylor Swift and/or Tumblr culture via a chunky, chant-able power-pop tune. If you like power-pop, nerd culture, or satire, you probably are already hip to Marc with a C–but if not, he’s got a new record out called Obscurity that’ll be to your taste.

3. “I Like Taylor Swift” – Coach Hop. We’re equal opportunity here at IC on the T-Swift front. If you loved early ’00s pop punk and early ’90s Weezer, you’ll love the sonic aesthetics, the spot-on vocal melodies, the humorously earnest lyrics, and, oh, basically all of it.

4. “Head Down / Heart Up” – Towers and Trees. A blast of fun from the first goofy image of a pixelated arcade racing game to the final falsetto over the last crunchy power-pop chord.

5. “We Almost Failed, Brian (Epilogue II)” – Cubs Refrain. There is so much deliciously perfect melodrama in this soaring-higher-than-skyscrapers electro-pop tune that I can’t namecheck the probably-very-uncool-artist-that-I-love which it makes me think of. The bass synths provide the frame for the awesome arpeggiator and super-great vocal melodies. The message here: Just revel in a great pop song.

6. “Lydia” – The Magic Lantern. The Magic Lantern delivers a carefully considered, subtly dignified, self-assured folk tune in the great tradition of Paul Simon and followers. (Those who love Fionn Regan will also find themselves swooning.) It’s the sort of perfect vocal performance that speaks volumes without raising its volume.

7. “And Still I Question” – Chaperone Picks. Already a master of the lo-fi recording and distribution aesthetic, Chaperone Picks has one-upped himself/itself and distilled the songwriting into the essence of the songwriting and no more. This song is 63 seconds long, but it says everything it wants to say and does everything it wants to do. It leaves me wanting more, which is a compliment for anyone, no matter how long the track. RIYL: gritty ’90s lo-fi indie.

8. “Uncertain” – Robert Deeble. Deeble’s made so much music under the radar that he has fully developed his own oeuvre. This tune has all the Deeble staples: walking-speed tempos, airy arrangements, a heavy mood, subtle melodies, and Deeble’s feathery voice. The tune comes together beautifully, with a lovely set of strings in the chorus giving the tune extra oomph. This one comes from a record about a complex, difficult adoption, which gives the tune even more emotional weight.

9. “Oh Deep Water” – Great Peacock. Fans of Dawes will resonate with this spacious, well-developed Americana track. The vocal performance is surprisingly grand and very effective.

10. “Small Talk” – Maria Kelly. Dang–this is a knockout quiet tune. Kelly exerts total control over her affecting vocal performance, the somber arrangement, and the vulnerable mood. The results are “knock me over with a feather”-good.

11. “Time Immemorial” – The286. Shades of The Old ’97s, The Beatles, and the tender moments of the Avett Brothers color this lovely, vintage ballad. I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a harpsichord hiding somewhere in this tune, but it may just me appreciating this entry in the long craft tradition of pop songwriting that could reasonably include a harpsichord.

12. “Desert Song (a lullaby)” – Swimming Bell. Layers and layers of vocals and reverb create a sonic equivalent of the aurora borealis over a delicate, spartan guitar. This is majestic.

13. “Fragment II” – boerd. Minimalist techno that’s not quite ambient, this piece skitters along with low-key beats and subtle piano to create a chill, exploratory atmosphere that makes me think of Boards of Canada.

Quick Hit: Bon Villan

Bon Villan reeled me in with the infectious electro-pop of “Outta Cash” and kept me with the rest of their self-titled EP. “Outta Cash” has a brilliant chorus vocal hook, a bright-shiny electro arrangement, and a rock-solid “bring it down now” bridge to hype that last chorus section. It’s just a great pop tune.

“When I Came Up” packs all the attitude and insanely catchy vocal melodies and rhythms into a low-key jam, like Matt and Kim might make if they were real, real chill. I love it. The nuanced indie-pop arrangement of “How to Hurt” is basically a Generationals song, which has me totally into it. There’s some understated guitars and digital percussion, some quiet-to-loud vocals, and more. It helps that, again, the vocal melodies are just ace.

The lowslung “Love Online” has some Cobra Starship cool, a sort of unsung groove that keeps things moving without calling huge attention to “this is a dance track” (which, of course, calls huge attention from a certain section of people who love that type of track). “Feel It Out” is in the same vein, albeit with a bit more stomping percussion to get people going. But it’s still dark and groove-laden instead of hitting a big synth.

It takes a lot for me to get excited about dance-oriented electro, but Bon Villan have done it. Bon Villan has a lot of promise with this EP—if you’re into low-key electro-pop with big melodies and understated arrangements, you’ll find a lot to love here.