1. “Holding Hands” – The Magic Lantern. Sometimes something comes along that has such a fresh perspective on things that I don’t have clear genre labels for it. Saxophones are lead players here, as well as Jamie Doe’s confident vocals. It’s sort of indie rock, I guess, or maybe indie-pop, or maybe deconstructed-acoustic-Bon Iver-type stuff. The song expands with a drum kit and grumbling bass, tying some of its beautiful meandering to a beat. But it never loses its beautiful quality. Totally wild. Highly recommended.
2. “Baltimore (Sky at Night)” – Kevin Morby. Morby is an even more expansive, good-natured, easygoing Josh Ritter. This song sounds like Morby’s sitting on the back porch and also the Silver Bullet band is somehow with him there too.
3. “Before This There Was Everything” – Big City Cough. Here’s six minutes of rolling, exploratory instrumental acoustic guitar with an occasional supplemental instrument or two. If you need a moment of zen amid the chaos of your day, here’s an option.
4. “In a Galaxy Far Away” – Mixtaped Monk. This ambient track is much less Star Wars and much more Hubble Space Telescope: a swirling aura of pad synths featuring subtle motion and development.
5. “Idea of Order at Kyson Point” – Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno. Keys tumble over keys like a babbling brook or a tiny waterfall, a cascade of pure, lovely sound that soothes and excites.
6. “Summer Is Away” – Easy Wanderlings. This delicate, gently dramatic acoustic folk tune has overtones of Joshua Radin, Billy Joel, Paul Simon and more. It’s a lovely, lilting tune.
7. “Where the Morning Glories Grow” – Dear Nora. It’s a testament to both the original songwriting and the brand-new arrangement that this 100-year-old folk tune sounds fresh, vibrant, and relevant in 2017 at the hands of Dear Nora. The vocal style and the clear respect for the subject material really make the tune what it is.
8. “Third Time” – The Flowerscents. The guitar-forward alt-country of the Old ’97s crossed with the vocals-forward approach of ’90s Brit-pop creates a thoroughly entertaining rock song.
9. “Him” – Silver Liz. The song opens with reverb-laden vocals of indie-pop layered on top of minimalist drumming and sawing synth before expanding into a ghostly-yet-towering indie-rock arrangement. Then it dramatically disappears. We barely knew ye.
10. “Cold Caller” – Julia Jacklin. The best of the ’50s revival filtered through hazy indie vocals and deeply confessional lyrics about the uncertainties of growing older and having different responsibilities. The video is oddly, endearingly intimate.
11. “December” – Yumi Zouma. Feathery, new-wave-inflected indie-rock that seems to glide along effortlessly.
12. “Infinite Space” – Young Mister. Young Mister is leaning into the pejorative term “soft rock” by titling his new EP with it. I must say, it’s not a bad term to describe YM’s music (especially if you stripped all the connotations out and just went with denotations). This particular track is a little more soft than rock, as bandleader Steven Fiore focuses the tune on an acoustic guitar and his lazy, hazy vocal performance. It’s a warm, inviting track.
13. “When January Comes” – Greta Stanley. The uplift that rushes in with the chorus makes this feel like a spring wind breaking across a wintry field. (Although, because Stanley is Australian, this sonic interpretation doesn’t fit with the lyrics–January is summer down under.) It’s an impressive, exciting folk tune that includes a big, post-rock-esque conclusion.
14. “Old Kisses” – Dan Michaelson. A lovely, sweeping, dramatic singer/songwriter tune that uses strings in a way that doesn’t feel maudlin or tired. It’s also really, really sad, but you probably guessed that from the title.
1. “Good Advice (feat. Jeff Goldblum)” – FEVERHIGH. Come for the “what? for real? Jeff Goldblum?” (Yes, it actually is.) Stay for the female-fronted, Fatboy Slim-esque dance music.
2. “Window” – Magic Giant. The folk-pop-rave mash-ups that Magic Giant creates are just ludicrously fun. Add to this a simply ridiculous (in the best of ways) music video and you’ve got a undeniably fun experience waiting for you.
3. “Gentleman” – The Curious. Thank goodness that the UK turns out a steady stream of perky guitar-rock bands a la the Arctic Monkeys and The Vaccines. This tune has crisp, chiming guitars and soaring vocals in spades.
4. “Eliza” – Lauran Hibberd. Fans of Laura Stevenson’s blend of folk, indie-pop, and indie-rock will immediately recognize the enthusiastic songwriting of this track. Hibberd’s sensibilities are finely tuned here to pull in the best of each genre and discard the overdone elements of each. The result is a sort of super-charged Regina Spektor or a new tour mate for Stevenson.
5. “Move On” – The Brixton Riot. This punchy, high-quality guitar-rock that is carefully written, perfectly played, and expertly engineered (J. Robbins). It’s crunchy without being relying on distortion as a crutch. The vocal performance is stellar as well.
6. “Opinionated” – New Luna. Reminds me of old-school Bloc Party: frenetic vocals, carefully constructed rock arrangements reminiscent of late-night urban environs, and a healthy dose of paranoia.
7. “35 Year Olds Dancin’” – Romeo Dance Cheetah. Being closer to 35 than to 18, I appreciate this fantastic glam rock parody of the not-so-pretty transition from hipster to hip injury.
8. “Aphrodite” – Zorita. Try to create a triangulation between ska, klezmer, and indie-rock, and you’ll end up with this svelte, suave track. The low-toned vocals in the chorus are evocative and addictive.
9. “Big G” – Neosho. Here’s a really fascinating mix of spacey synths, trap-inspired beats, electro-pop vibes, lush instrumental arrangements, and rhythmic vocals. The band pulls off this unusual sound in a totally sophisticated and impressive way.
10. “For the Last Time” – Two Sets of Eyes. Mashes together the plaintive emotion of ’00s emo, the saxophone of smooth jazz, the cascading guitars of indie rock, and a few surprises I won’t spoil into an impressive, unique stew. I’m very excited for their future work.
1. “JUNGLES” – Rina Mushonga. The sort of exciting, carefully-crafted electro-pop tune that always has one more trick up its sleeve, from Mushonga’s engrossing vocals to unexpected synth melodies to sudden stop-start mechanics and more.
2. “Eghass Malan” – Les Filles de Illighadad. An all-female trio from Niger, they create music in the tende genre: it’s desert music, shifting, sinuous guitar work over stripped-down percussion. The vocals are impressive as well. This will appeal to people who like West African sounds, sitar (the melodic structures bear a resemblance), and adventurous listening.
3.The Wave– Los Colognes. This is a 43-minute long continuous video for a whole album. It’s such a gutsy, unusual move that the sheer audacity alone is enough to get it on this list. The space-rock-meets-psych-flutes indie rock of the opening track is a convincing bit as well.
4. “Bombay – Nairobi – London (Repeater)” – Holy ’57. Alex Mankoo’s exuberant indie-pop project makes a left turn on this track, a groove-heavy fusion of worldbeat, funk, and electro-indie capped off by a horns-waving brass line. The lyrics are an interview with Mankoo’s grandmother about her immigration to London (as reflected in the title). You haven’t heard anything like this in a while.
5. “Scarlet Fever” – Skye Wallace. The lyrics are about long-distance love in the steamboat/gold rush era, but the music is 100% mid-to-late-’00s hyper-enthusiastic indie-rock. Anyone who still pines for Ida Maria will absolutely love this track. It’s a total blast.
6. “Big Boys Don’t Cry” – Melissa Bel. Fans of the ’50s pop revival that seems to have been percolating for years but never hitting critical mass will enjoy the Meghan Trainor-esque tune here. The handclaps, hammering piano and skronking bari sax all pitch-perfect, while Bel’s vocals are thoroughly modern.
7. “We’re Alive” – Rivera. The chorus of this tune features the sort of well-written hook that I find myself humming absent-mindedly days later. It’s a pop song, but it doesn’t go for the “big anthemic explosion” type of chorus–there’s some subtlety involved, which I like. h
8. “No More Stones” – Oh Geronimo. Sort of like a cross between Manchester Orchestra and Frightened Rabbit, this song dances back and forth over the minor/major key line. The alternating moods of jubilance and melancholy create a fascinating blend.
9. “Americo” – Americo. A poem about WWII spoken against a solemn, pensive, keys-led post-rock backdrop. Americo is mostly a distortion-laden rock band, which only makes this atypical, impressive track stand out even more.
10. “Song of the Highest Tower” – Cut Worms. Sounds like the lost link between Simon & Garfunkel/America-era folk and mid-nineties lo-fi indie-rock, which is pretty rad.
11. “Never Be” – Meg McRee. Close harmonies in an almost rap-sung style over a turbulent adult-alternative arrangement create a tune that’s close to an alternate-universe Jason Mraz song.
12. “Bus” – Woochia. Starts off with a hypnotic acoustic guitar line and slowly turns into a smooth, bass-heavy instrumental electro track. The marriage between the electronic and acoustic is impressive here.
1. “Anywhere, Everywhere” – The Singer and the Songwriter. This is top-shelf folk-pop that draws on all the tropes that make folk-pop so good but puts the band’s own spin on it. (Those vocals! Those stuttering horns!) Highly recommended.
2. “My God Has a Telephone” – The Flying Stars of Brooklyn NY. Impressively enveloping low-key indie-soul, like a slowed-down Alabama Shakes or an acoustified Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. Fans of Otis Redding and all that went on around him will love this track.
3. “Restless” – Common Jack. The confident folk swagger of Josh Ritter, the punchy melodies of the Lumineers, and a large dose of indie-pop enthusiasm create this fantastically fun song.
4. “Over There” – Dori Freeman. Trad-folk can sound a bit too dedicated to the past, but Freeman manages to evoke old-timey sounds and yet stay modern. Her clear vocals help, as does the immediate, bright recording style. If you like contemporary folk but can’t stand washboard, Freeman is a bridge between the two worlds.
5. “Wailing Wall” – Cameron Blake. A swirling pool of strings forms the backdrop for this emotional, dramatic singer/songwriter tune. Blake’s skills as an arranger and lyricist are on display here, as neither the standard piano or guitar lead the way; instead it’s just his voice, a small choir, and strings that lead the listener through.
6. “Get On” – The Northern Folk. Less satire and more bitter commentary, this folk tune swings punches left and right. Between the acid delivery of the lead vocals, the angry lyrics, a roaring vocalization section, and the unusual addition of saxophone into the horn section, this song has bite to spare. The horns do smooth it out a bit, in a jazzy way, but this one’s about being punchy.
7. “Gaudy Frame” – Monk Parker. More lazy, hazy, easygoing country for people who deeply miss Clem Snide.
8. “I Root (Trio Version)” – Michael Nau. The arrangement of a folk tune filtered through the melodic lines and recording style of a Beatles song results in a dignified, melancholy piece.
9. “Here We Are Again” – Ella Grace. This walking-speed alt-folk tune makes hand percussion sound intimate and personal instead of all of its other connotations. It also includes bird noises, gentle guitar, and Denton’s careful, almost speak-singing vocal performance. This will calm you down if you need it.
10. “Broken Bow, OK” – Aaron Rester. Fun fact: My home state of Oklahoma has a town called Broken Arrow and a town called Broken Bow, and they’re not next to each other. This alt-country/folk tune references the smaller of the two amid gravelly vocals, swooping fiddle, and plunking piano. The compelling tune lives in Americayana, an “alt-country/Americana retelling of the ancient Hindu epic, the Ramayana.” Whoa.
11. “Sorry” – M.R. Bennett. Fragile, delicate, and yet ruggedly determined, this spartan apology (just occasionally plucked guitar notes, Antony and the Johnsons-esque vocals, and yearning strings for the majority) is on a sonic plane all its own.
12. “Motion in Field” – Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno. Rogerson contributes the delicate, exploratory piano elegance; Eno contributes the pulsing, sweeping arpeggiator work. The marriage of the two is luscious. (Fun fact: I’ve only used the word “luscious” two previous times in Independent Clauses’ 14 years.)
The downtempo indie-pop/folk of Little Shrine‘s “Stone” sounds way too polished and mature to come out of a debut. But what seems incredible is true, much to the listener’s benefit. The tune opens with a stark, staccato acoustic guitar that hooked my attention immediately; instead of filling the song with strums, the band lets space ring out. The feel is almost of a mournful stutter or hesitance.
That guitar announces the tune’s solemnity right from the get-go, creating a fitting mood for the lyrics of loss and redemption to further accentuate. When the song expands to include a second guitar, a wavering violin picks up the staccato motif to tie the song together. It’s not just a sign of impressive arrangement, it’s a clear marker of strong chemistry between the players.
It’s not all instrumental synchrony, though. Songwriter/vocalist Jade Shipman’s confident alto resonates with calm-yet-emotional melodic lines. Her voice, the lyrics, and the tight instrumental arrangement result in a song that sounds like a lot less work than it certainly was: it rolls out of the speakers with ease, despite the heavy subject matter. Fans of Laura Marling, Laura Gibson, and Cat Power will find much to love in this track.
“Stone” comes from the band’s Wilderness mini-LP, whichdrops 10/20/2017. Check out the latest news on their Facebook.
1. “Salgado” – ALTRE DI B. Somewhere between the punchy riffing of Cage the Elephant and the attitude-heavy enthusiasm of The Vaccines lives this exciting tune. The extended coda is surprising and hopefully indicative of left-turns in the future.
2. “Hold On” – Leisure Club. For those who miss the old Vampire Weekend, look no further for your latest fix. It pushes almost all the buttons and feels so good.
3. “Turtledoves” – Gingerlys. The cloudy guitars of late ’00s SanFran garage rock are put to different use here, paired with pop-punk drumming and relatively straightforward indie-pop vocal melodies. The results are an unusually propulsive haze that collapses triumphantly and unexpectedly at the finish line.
4. “The Lord Giveth and Taketh Away” – Chaperone Picks. Lo-fi guitar strumming a la early Mountain Goats, big overdriven guitar that calls up ’90s indie heroes like Guided by Voices, and a drop-dead end to the two-minute song create a mystical union (a unified belt, if you will) of multiple strands of lo-fi indie.
5. “Oom Sha La La” – Haley Heynderickx. If Lady Lamb weren’t quite so prickly and prone to ’50s vocalizations (either for ironic effect or in true earnestness, who can say?), she could have written this loping, quirky, deeply engaging indie rock tune.
6. “Beholden” – Canon Blue. Anyone missing the chipper tones of Givers or who loves when Lord Huron plays huge pop songs will love this grooving, steel-drum-inflected folk-goes-indie-rock tune.
7. “My Heart, Your Heart” – Trevor Hall. I don’t know how Hall makes such a beats-driven indie tune sound organic and human, but whatever he does, it’s totally effective. This is immersive.
8. “Look Up” – raener. This de-constructed indie-rock tune is one part James Blake silkiness, one part menomena controlled chaos, and one part LCD Soundsystem abstract danciness. Despite its inherent coldness in the choppy, brittle arrangement, there’s an inviting nature to the tune. Very interesting.
9. “Warm (ft. Frankie Forman)” – Speakman Sound. This snaky, slinky, low-slung electro tune has features a real violin, real drums, and layered vocals; it almost sounds like a Local Natives tune, or a very distant cousin to a Fleet Foxes tune. I was astonished by it.
The Morning Yells are a band that can appropriate and reinvent the past without becoming constrained by it. “Take Me Somewhere” combines all sorts of ’70s influences with ease: Fleetwood Mac’s mystic dreaminess, The Eagles’ effortless swagger (totally a compliment!), and the laidback California vibes of Jackson Browne.
Yet these are only touchstones–just threads pulled out of the larger tapestry. The six-and-a-half minute song feels totally cohesive and much shorter than its runtime because of the chemistry between the instrumentalists, the confident vocal performances, and the solid production job that puts just the right amount of space around all the parts. It’s a tune that easily stands up to multiple listens. They will take you somewhere, indeed.
1. “Moonshine” – Winnie Brave. If you generally like the things I post on this blog, you will almost certainly like this song: shuffle drums, strong female vocals, pedal steel, even tasty organ. But there’s no alt about this: this is straight-up country. Get on the train, friends. Jump on it. There’s no shame.
2. “Go” – Glen Phillips. There are few people who have two full careers in music in their lives, but Glen Phillips is closing in on it: having been one of the staples of the ’90s in Toad the Wet Sprocket, he has remade himself into a troubadour par excellence since then. This latest tune shows off his mastery of the nuanced vocal performance, satisfying arrangements, and enveloping moods. Just stellar stuff.
3. “Kool Aid” – The Lords of Liechtenstein. This chipper post-Dixieland major-key folk tune evokes contemporaries like Jonas Friddle and vintage performers. (The banjo and piano work together beautifully here.) The satirical lyrics extend the horrifying-situation-turned-metaphor “drinking the kool-aid” (apropos for our current era in many ways). The video drives home its political point even more clearly.
4. “She Got Time” – The Morning Yells. If there’s a point where Laurel Canyon country meets Bruce Springsteen-esque road-rockers, The Morning Yells were born on that spot. Throw in some Dawes for modernization (although Dawes is always looking back too), and you’ve got a breezy-yet-grounded track that’s tailor-made for a late-night drive up Pacific Coast 1.
5. “Heavy Eyes” – Palm Ghosts. I try to avoid the word “dreamy” because it’s so over-used, but this chilled-out tune feels genuinely like a dream: it feels totally concrete but also gauzy around the edges, sort of like there’s something just over the next ridge that will pop the bubble, but until then it’s all floating and hazy. That tension is impressive, and gives this indie-folk/indie-rock track a unique feel (even among all the “dreamy” work out there).
6. “Paint the Road” – Sierra Blanca. Sierra Blanca’s stately, engrossing “Paint the Road” made me think of John Denver’s endearingly earnest delivery, James Taylor’s gentle guitar delivery, and Simon’s subtle rhythmic elements. That’s pretty rarefied air, even decades after the high points for that trio.
7. “Northern Lights” – This Pale Fire. The subdued, even reverent murmur that is this track draws on excellent arranging and a great engineering job to create its beautiful, nuanced vibe.
8. “Thursday Lights” – Frozen Houses. This tune has both delicacy and density, as synths burble and dance in the background of this friendly, almost tropical acoustic-led piece.
1. “Brother” – Strawberry Runners. This is an incredibly tight indie-pop song. It ropes in influences from all over the place to build a tune that is catchy yet still contemplative, expansive yet intimate, and ultimately deeply satisfying. Highly recommended.
2. “Blue Cloud” – Wand. I’ve rarely heard an indie-pop/prog fusion in my life, but there’s a first time for everything. This 8-minute track takes listeners on a journey through an immediately familiar chamber indie-pop soundscape that only gets more alien as the song keeps going and going and going. Engrossing.
3. “Aloof” – BOKITO. There is an unbelievable amount of great moments packed into the 3:31 of this tune. It’s a mystic alt-folk tune, it’s a wild ’80s-influenced dance-rock song, it’s an unclassifiable indie-rock rave-up. Massively impressed.
4. “Clap Your Hands” – Brad Peterson. It’s hard to make handclaps sound sad, so Peterson doesn’t even try: this is an infectious, enthusiastic indie-pop song about clapping your hands. Clap on, friends.
5. “Collide” – Junkyardfieldtrip. A bouncy folk tune tempered by a raspy voice spitting some serious gravitas–at least until the chorus.
6. “I Haven’t Been Taking Care of Myself” – Alex Lahey. It’s hard to write more than one great pop song per album, but it sure sounds like Lahey has multiple (including this one) on her upcoming debut. This is a massive power-pop tune that checks all the boxes for “great tune”: vocal tone, vocal melodies, big guitars, fun auxiliary instruments, and big quiet/loud moments. Love it.
7. “Out Among the Sheltering Pines” – The Helio Sequence. Starts out as an old-timey folk tune with a lovely acoustic arrangement, then bursts open into an indie-rock tune. Fantastic.
8. “I Need Somebody” – Glasspop. This a fun, thoroughly danceable dance-rock tune. No frills, just the goods.
9. “As Long as I Can See” – Broke Royals. Has that easy anthemic quality that Bastille has almost trademarked.
10. “Heat (it covers everything)” – the fin. A head bobbing, gently grooving track that lands somewhere between indie-electro and indie-pop. It does seem to mimic and interpret a hazy, thick heat wave.
1. “Silverlake” – Underlined Passages. The dreamy indie-pop of UP’s previous work is traded for a punchy indie-rock model; Michael Nestor’s vocal lines are still flowing and smooth, but the now-more-crunchy-than-jangly guitars and snappy drums give this tune a new-found pep.
2. “Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet, They Shall Be White As Snow;” – Glacier. Dense, heavily distorted, pounding guitar chords set the atmosphere for this 13-minute post-rock/post-metal epic, but there’s a lot more going on in 13 minutes than just chug (including a found-sound clip of an old time voice reading the end of Matthew 9).
3. “English Weather” – Fick as Fieves. British rock that falls somewhere between the Arctic Monkeys and The Vaccines, propelled forward by an indomitable syncopated guitar riff.
4. “Like Lightning” – Cosmo Calling. Fun vocal rhythms and melodies take the lead on this indie-pop-rock track. The guitars are neat and accompany well, but this one is all about the staccato, syncopated vocal delivery.
5. “Canary” – Holy ’57. There’s a certain type of major-key, drums-first vintage groove that reminds me of fuzzy home videos of summer in NYC during the ’60s and ’70s. People are rollerskating. A dude is playing a trumpet on the corner. There’s a hazy glow around everything. This indie-pop song sounds just like that (even includes a trumpet!).
6. “I Can’t Say No” – The Crayon Set. Smooth, appealing acoustic indie-pop with some fuzzed-out guitar and shimmering synths adding color. The chill vocals fit perfectly over the backdrop.
7. “Bedford” – Too Many Zooz. If you’re into Moon Hooch’s mad sax blast, you’ll be equally thrilled by the sax-trumpet-drums maelstrom that is Too Many Zooz. This video sees them bringing their incredibly infectious rhythms and powerhouse melodies to the NYC subway–at 3:33 in the morning. Stuff like this just happens at 3 a.m. in New York, I guess?
8. “Keep the Car Running” – Silver Torches. If Bruce Springsteen had emerged in this era, this might be what like he would have sounded like: surging drums, melodic piano, yearning vocals, and a serious-yet-warm atmosphere. Just a great tune.
9. “International Dreams” – Farm Hand. A rubbery, loping electronic beat underlines distant, almost-droning vocals for a tune that sounds like “My Girls”-era Animal Collective in a sleepy (yet still happy) mood.
10. “Like Going Down Sideways” – Cut Worms. Lo-fi tape hiss, Beatles-esque songwriting impulses, and “eh-it-doesn’t-need-to-be-perfect” performances make for an endearing tune.
11. “Old Fashioned Way” – Todd Kessler. Ah, yes. A calm, gentle folk love song talking about slowing down and looking back to the old fashions. It doesn’t get much more folky than this, y’all, and it doesn’t get much more chill.
12. “Enjoy It While It Lasts” – Easy Wanderlings. Strong female vocals lead the way through this easygoing folk tune. The video has an actress gallivanting around in a field, which is a pretty much perfect analogue to this wistful, nostalgic tune.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.