1. “The Devil Bird” – Albert af Ekenstam. An unhurried, expansive acoustic-led song reminiscent of Leif Vollebekk or Gregory Alan Isakov’s work.
2. “The Beast That Rolls Within” – Dietrich Strause. A troubadour’s confident vocals, abstract lyrics, and gently rolling guitar make Strause an artist to watch in the vein of Joe Pug and Josh Ritter. This song is excellent.
3. “I Love Immigration” – This Frontier Needs Heroes. Refocuses the talk of immigration by pointing out that unless you’re a Native American, literally everyone in this country is the relative of an immigrant. As Brad Lauretti and I are both descended from Italian immigrants, I felt a special resonance with this charming, shuffling, upbeat acoustic pop tune with a deeply important message.
4. “Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin” – The Chairman Dances. The finely detailed lyrics of the Mountain Goats paired with indie-pop that has a wider range, from dreamier at one end to more formal and Beatles-esque at the other. But there’s still a great “hey!” thrown in. Always a good yawp, you know. Highly recommended.
5. “A Lonely Road” – Jordan O’Jordan. It’s hard to make rattling banjo chords sound delicate, but O’Jordan’s oh-so-sweet voice tempers the rough edges and creates a warm, immersive song. (Toss-up on the “ahs” section: some people are going to think it’s lovely, and some are going to wonder what just happened. Just so you know.)
6. “Fingers Crossed” – The Marrieds. Bright, clear, female-led acoustic-pop with a little more Americana than the Weepies but not as much as the Civil Wars. It’s remarkably pretty, especially when the strings come in. You could dance to this at a wedding.
7. “Suite pour Justin” – Yves Lambert Trio. Traditional Quebecois folk music includes accordion, fiddle, guitar and percussion, in case you (like me) didn’t know. It sounds sort of like a mix of bluegrass and Zydeco, which is incredibly rad. The rest of the album includes vocals in French; this one’s instrumental. The musical quality is elite, so if you’re an adventurous listener I would highly recommend checking the whole album out.
8. “Generation, Love” – Jon Reynolds. Doo-wop, Beach Boys harmonies, and old-school rock’n’roll vibes come together to be pleasantly, nostalgically retro, while yearning for love instead of hate (a very modern concern).
9. “How Quickly Your Heart Mends” – Courtney Marie Andrews. This woman has the female version of Jason Isbell’s voice. I kid you not: the stress on certain syllables, the swoops in volume, the vocal strain on the fronts of lines…it’s all there. It’s awesome. The songwriting is a great trad-country vibe, but whoa. That voice. Check this out.
10. “Brink of Love (ft. Ladysmith Black Mambazo)” – Vian Izak. While we’re on the topic of love, why not indulge in a adult alternative acoustic tune that includes a hugely famous African choir? (You may know them from Graceland, only one the best albums of all time.)
11. “The Other Side” – VACAY. A romantic folk-pop song with some solid falsetto; a little less Lumineers and a little more adult alternative.
12. “the fall” – Andrea Silva. Somewhere between haunting and lilting, Silva’s vocal performance is an enigmatic, engaging figure over an acoustic guitar.
1. “Mixtape 2003” – The Academic. Anyone who celebrates the mixtape is A-OK in my book. Throw those sentiments into a huge indie-pop-rock tune and you’ve got gold as far as I’m concerned. Fans of Tokyo Police Club, the Vaccines, and other extremely enthusiastic bands will be bopping their heads and drumming on their steering wheels.
2. “Primitive Style” – Johnny Delaware. Blasting piano lines, a howling chorus, and a mood that can probably make the sun shine brighter: what else could you want in an indie-rock jam?
3. “Chillin’ On the Beach With My Best Friend Jesus Christ” – SUSTO. Alt-country outfit SUSTO gets their beach on and creates an almost Zac Brown-esque vibe (albeit with more church organ). As to the title and subsequent lyrics, they feel like a parody, but then at other times they feel oddly real and comfortable, and then they go back; we all move along different paths in our spiritual journey. Or not. And maybe that’s the point. (The video is a frankly obvious parody of a particular type of Christianity.) As a believer, I’m cool with it. Their new album drops soon.
4. “You Should Know By Now (feat. Jamie Jackson)” – The Gifted. A melodic synth sounding somewhat like pizzicato strings takes up residence between a helter-skelter indie-rock vocal blitz and a skittering electro beat to create a uniquely energetic tune.
5. “Empty Holes” – Mike Simmons. A roaring, full-throated country/folk tune with lots of guitar fuzz and visions of big canyons dancing in my head.
6. “Nightfall” – Mortigi Tempo. A dark, tense journey turns into a stomping, headbanging Muse-esque ripper with towering guitars. The punchy mixing/mastering makes sure everything pops. The Felix Culpa also comes to mind.
7. “In Spit” – Agate Tunnel. A banjo and a hushed voice pressed right up against the microphone create immediate intimacy. When the songs opens up into a cloudy, full-band folk rumination with drama reminiscent of the Decemberists, it feels so right.
8. “Bliss” – Martin Forsell. I know that it’s everywhere, but folk-pop just sounds so great with clapping and group shouts. There’s a sort of urban polish here that takes this out of the realm of the standard folk-pop tune; the arrangement is bright, clear, and well-delivered.
9. “Here and Now” – Skout. This flowing folk track rides along smoothly on rolling acoustic guitar, subterranean bass, and subtle piano. The yearning lead vocal performance stands out against this lithe backdrop to create a just-right amount of beautiful tension.
10. “Just to Say Hello” – Triana Presley. A walking-speed singer/songwriter tune with a warm organ and a pretty vocal melody; perfect for a back-porch evening.
11. “Hopes and Regrets” – Mattias Phillips. A forceful left hand and dramatic dynamic shifts power this melancholy track piano solo. The lead melody is staccato yet pensive, the sound of a person boldly going despite uncertainty.
Alex Ross makes a compelling case at the beginning of his second book Listen to This that a large group of classical music’s proponents have been systematically enshrining older music as better, minimizing the praise of modern composers, and insisting that classical music is dying for over 200 years. He then performs a deconstruction of this mentality by discussing everyone from Mozart to Bjork, from Schubert to Sonic Youth, with the same critical lens in one so far deeply enjoyable tome. (I know a book is good when I can’t even get all the way through before I want to talk about it; I’m a little under halfway through its 345 pages.) That sort of “toss out the rules” mentality should be applied to Mutual Benefit‘s Skip a Sinking Stone, which draws just as much from “classical music” as it does the folk-pop of the outfit’s immediate history to create a beautiful release that transcends both labels.
The first thing to note about Skip a Sinking Stone is that strings are almost omnipresent. They are employed in a multitude of ways, from huge riffs to quiet melodies to subtle background work to mountainous crescendos reminiscent of John Luther Adams’ slowly unfolding work (which also gets loving treatment in Listen to This). Their use is not auxiliary, but essential: they largely lay down the sonic palette that Lee paints with throughout Stone. Look no further than the title track, which follows an instrumental intro, for evidence: the strings carry the weight here, building the base of the song and owning the highest points of excitement almost by themselves. It’s deeply unusual to hear strings so thoroughly integrated into a sound taking place in the popular realm: instead of an orchestra supporting a pop song (as has been done expertly by everyone from The Arcade Fire to The Decemberists to The Collection), the orchestra and the pop song are coterminous; they are part and parcel of the same thing. They are inseparable in listening and in criticism.
As a result, Stone has a unique mood and temperament throughout: it feels organic, bright, almost alive. The sense that it has grown up out of the earth and become a rose-filled garden strikes me in almost every song. “Lost Dreamers” has the warm, mid-tempo feel of a gentle walk with a good friend; “Not for Nothing,” the closest thing to a folk-pop song presented here, is a subtly magnificent piece of work that induces swaying and smiling. “Nocturne” gets literal and includes the recorded sounds of a forest in a delicate interlude. The incredible secret of Stone is not just that it feels deeply organic, but that it manages to fold in electronics to heighten the sense of earthiness instead of divorce from it. Fluttery synthesizers come in with the piano and strings on the opening instrumental “Madrugada,” helping to create the oversaturated-with-light vibe. (Synths/theramin-sounding-like-synth has another moment on the carefully constructed, dusky ballad “Many Returns.”) It’s a rare fusion that comes off as more than the sum of its parts, creating a beautiful sonic space.
The strings’ ubiquitous presence in that sonic space is matched in importance only by sonorous piano and Jordan Lee’s delicate voice. Lee does use his acoustic guitar in some of these songs (“Slow March” and “Many Returns,” most notably), but the piano is the most valuable player here. By taking his folk-pop songwriting sentiments and translating them to the piano, he has created the ability for his songwriting to be infused with strings to the great degree that it is. It’s not to say that a meshing of acoustic guitar and strings can’t happen–but here the delicate yet solid presence of the keys matches the fluttery yet concrete nature of the strings beautifully. It’d be easy to point to “City Sirens,” which contains only piano and strings, as proof, but the better example is the majestic “Skipping Stones,” which would be a considerably different song if it were played on acoustic guitar.
Lee’s voice is the last major element here: his delicate, innocent-sounding tenor conveys wide sweeps of emotion without resorting to dramatic lengths. Through strong development of melodies, careful use of background vocals, and a keen sense of how to arrange the band for maximum vocal effect, Lee gives his voice power without ever losing its wide-eyed sense of wonder. The performance of the vocals throughout echoes the damaged but insistent hope that plays throughout “Skipping Stones” and the rest of the album: Lee’s vocals can go from assured to lost to hopeful and back through all those emotions in a single section of song. His voice never strains or grasps for notes, fitting beautifully into the bright, light, lithe sonic environment he has created.
Skip a Sinking Stone has so much to admire that I can’t fit it all into one review; I didn’t even get a chance to touch the lovely lyrics or the smart percussion. It’s a beautiful, remarkable, even majestic album that bends the boundaries between folk, pop, and classical in the most pleasant way I’ve heard all year. If you’re into bands with orchestral aspirations (Lost in the Trees, Sufjan Stevens, The Collection, et al), you will absolutely love this record. It’s going to be high on my list of albums of the year, for sure. Highly recommended.
Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning left an indelible mark on my musical brain. I’ve never liked anything that Conor Oberst has put out so thoroughly: the neurotic energy, youthful fervor, and surrealist lyrics fit perfectly with that specific rambunctious alt-country backdrop. I seek out shades of those raw, impassioned blasts of acoustic guitar and barked vocals wherever I can. Josiah and the Bonnevilles‘ Cold BloodEP is the direct successor of that landmark album. It’s a stake in the ground that establishes the outfit as one to watch: a specific vision expertly handled within the goalposts of a genre framework that people are already familiar with.
The title track took five seconds to entrance me: Josiah calls out into empty space “I’ve got a girl / she only puts out water in the night, in the day, and in the morning” over a nimble fingerpicking pattern. His tenor has a rough edge on it, tempered a bit by the gentle reverb added to it: it’s a magnetic, arresting voice. The rest of the band tag-teams their band through the song: a solitary tambourine is joined by a shaker to create the full percussion line; the round, full bass opens the song up; and the marimba (what) gives a mysterious air to the tune. Instruments come in and fall out (strings! background vocals!), but the whole thing is guided confidently toward a full product by Josiah’s bent, worried lyrics and evocative vocal performance. It’s an expertly crafted tune that you need to hear.
The other three tunes build on the promise of the first track. “Can You Hear It” amps up the singalong vibe and throws down a jaunty piano line to buoy the major-key song. “Lie to Me” returns to the minor key and bashes out a full-band apology to a girl in a relationship that’s falling apart; this one reprises the tambourine from “Cold Blood” and the piano of “Can You Hear It,” but puts in a full drumkit to come up with the most rock-oriented track here. It would sound like Dawes if Josiah’s voice sounded anything like Taylor Goldsmith’s. Closer “Long Gone” features more fingerpicking in a slightly unusual pattern that seems to be tripping over itself trying to get to the end of the riff, perfectly mirroring the narrator’s activity in the song. The band floats in for a final chorus, but it’s most a solo effort, showing Josiah’s troubadour abilities.
The four-song EP is gone much too quickly, but the songs are of such diversity (and such high quality) that you can just loop it back to the beginning and you’ll be good to go for another twelve minutes (or 24, or 36, or…). It’s that good. Call it alt-country, alt-folk, whatever; you’ll know what it is when you hear it. The shadow of youthful alt-countriers past hangs over it but never engulfs it; instead Josiah points the way toward his own path. I’m verging on the purple prose here, but the songs really are that good. Josiah and the Bonneville’s Cold Blood EP is a remarkable first effort that shows off unique arranging skills, intriguing vocals, and strong overall songs. I can’t wait to hear more from this outfit. Highly recommended.
salt ‘n long distance is the sort of acoustic EP that just about everyone wants to write: effortlessly catchy songs with clear, relatable lyrics that are just specific enough to be unique. Each of Foxall‘s four songs is distinct in its own way, yet all of them hang together as a unit. There’s a clear DIY mood throughout, but the production values are such that it feels warm and friendly instead of clunky. In short, it’s pretty much an ideal acoustic release for someone who’s really into emotive acoustic work with verve and energy.
The EP title refers to the long distance relationship that is the topic of each of these songs: the lyrics of the title track refer the problems of long distance with openness and candor, set to a strummy pop song with a catchy chorus. “Squeeze” is a bit more expansive of a song, a fingerpicked bit that calls up comparisons to folk-punkers like The Front Bottoms. “Nowhere But Galesburg” makes me think of The Mountain Goats due to the lyrical imagery/geography (Full Force Galesburg, y’all) and in its raw, lo-fi glory. “5˚ Fahrenheit” marries the expansiveness of “Squeeze” to the catchiness of the title track for a highlight song.
This EP is raw, honest, pure, and excellently executed. If you’re into acoustic music, you need to check this one out ASAP.
Singer-songwriter Rae Fitzgerald’s recent release Popular Songs for Wholesome Families is a diverse collection of songs strung together with meaningful lyrics and Fitzgerald’s beautiful voice. The instrumentation varies from raw acoustic guitar to spacey synth effects, but the beauty of Fitzgerald’s work remains.
Fitzgerald’s voice is strong and powerful. There exists no wispiness or wavering. Her voice is similar to Sara Bareilles’ beautiful voice. Each song opens with Fitzgerald’s voice and typically just one instrument, like an acoustic guitar or drum. Fitzgerald’s voice is the anchor to her album, the anchor from which her lyrics soar.
My favorite aspect of Popular Songs for Wholesome Families is the particularly honest lyrics. Fitzgerald covers topics like drug addiction, American privilege, and bad parents that you can’t help loving. The way she goes about covering such real topics with lyrics like “The future is just a pill that you take / to get through the day” (“Tower”) is brilliant. Fitzgerald is able to tackle authentic issues with haunting lyrics that don’t employ cliches. Think Margot & The Nuclear So and Sos, particularly “Broadripple is Burning.”
“Dark Man” is one of the best examples of her eerily realistic lyrics. The track opens with the acoustic guitar, and after a few measures, Fitzgerald’s voice enters in. The chorus begins with “How did I get to the place that I call home?”; it seems that’s the question the whole song is looking to answer. What’s the relationship between one’s upbringing and the final result? The repeated lyric “My mother raised us kids Christians / and no we’re tattooed pagans” works as further exposition on the topic. At first, the title of the track “Dark Man” seems odd, but then we reach the lyric, “My father was a very dark man / and that dark man was my best friend.” That very poignant lyric puts its finger on a common situation: you know your father’s lifestyle isn’t healthy, but because he’s your father, you love him anyway. Fitzgerald expands upon this topic of unfatherly fathers later in “Magic Town.”
I could go on for pages raving about Rae Fitzgerald’s beautiful voice and substantive lyrics, but for now I will leave you with one of my favorite lyrics from “Earth, Everything”: “Welcome to earth / everything hurts.” Needless to say, Popular Songs for Wholesome Families is quite the ironic album title.–Krisann Janowitz
1. “New Survival” – The Medicine Hat. Taut, tightly-wound indie-rock verses open up into an expansive, melodic chorus. The whole thing is reminiscent of a female-fronted Bloc Party, if they were slightly less neurotic. They don’t make ’em like this very often.
2. “More” – Queue. A slinky, winding bass line and gently staccato percussion power this indie-rock tune that would make Wye Oak jealous.
3. “Four Corners” – Seth Nathan. Brash, noisy, immediate garage-y indie-rock that owes as much to Pavement as it does to The Vaccines. The attitude-filled vocal delivery is on point, and the whole thing comes off like a charm.
4. “You” – Wall Sun Sun. Two nylon-string acoustic guitars, two drummers, and nine-part harmonies compose the entire arrangement here. While comparisons to the Polyphonic Spree are sort of inevitable, they sound more like a ’50s girl-pop band fused to an acoustic version of Vampire Weekend. Which is to say: “whoa, this is the jam.”
5. “Birthday Blues” – Team Picture. If Frightened Rabbit got mixed up with a krautrock band, they might turn out a churning, lightly-psyched-out, major-key, six-minute rock jam like this one.
6. “Black Gold” – HOMES. Is this a dance-rock song (those rhythms!)? An indie-rock song (those vocals!)? A Southern rock song (that riff!)? Yes and no and all. Whatever it is, it rocks.
7. “Far Away (Saudade)” – Marsicans. The vocals are not usually the most intriguing part of British garage rock, but there’s a quirky, lovely section in the middle here where Marsicans goes a capella. It just totally makes the song. Also the bass playing is rad.
8. “Shapes” – Old Mountain Station. Low-slung, low-key indie rock a la Grandaddy, shot through with big guitar distortion a la post-rock bands. High drama music, but not in an overly theatrical way.
9. “The Absolute” – Jackson Dyer. Starts off as a Bon Iver-esque dreamy jam with lightly neo-R&B vocals, but we get some post-dub groove dropped in and some super slinky guitar on top of that. By the end, I’m groovin’ hard and genre labels don’t matter much to me.
10. “Metropole Des Anges Pt. 1” – EH46. Speaking of post-rock, here’s a slowly unfurling piece that’s heavy on drone and distortion/static. The counterpoint is a delicate keyboard line that evokes the elegance of water dropping on heavy vibrating machinery. The sonic elements bend and contort over the nearly-six-minute length, but the mood remains consistent.
11. “Falling Sky” – October’s Child. Heavy on pad synths, this electro song threatens to explode from dream-pop to electro-jam but never does. Instead, they wash sounds over the listener and sing of “reverie.”
12. “Collapse” – ILY. The pressing movement of techno combined with the mysterious, laidback chill of Postal Service-electro pop creates a very summery jam.
1. “County Line” – Susto. Susto is one of the very best alt-country acts working today, and if you don’t know that you haven’t heard their stuff yet. Let this nigh-on-perfect tune serve as your introduction.
2. “King” – The Amazing Devil. This incredibly intense song wrings every last drop of emotion out of dramatic vocal performances, a cinematic lyrical set, and a churning full-band acoustic performance. Cello has rarely sounded so incredibly vibrant and necessary in folk-rock. The video that accompanies the tune is equally impassioned; it’s a rare thing that the video enhances the experience of listening to the song, but this one totally does. Highly recommended. Their album comes out Monday, so if you’re in London you should check their release show out. If it’s anything like this video, it promises to be a wild affair.
3. “Window” – Stephen Douglas Wolfe. Saxophone and French horn are not common inclusions in a woodsy folk tune, but Wolfe makes them sound totally natural. Between them and the bassist going absolutely bonkers (you go!), this sounds almost more like Anathallo than it does Bon Iver, but fans of both will find much to love in this tune.
4. “Dancing in the Dark” – Josiah and the Bonnevilles. This song is infinitely coverable: I would listen to almost anyone cover this tune. The fact that Josiah and the Bonnevilles are my favorite new band of the year makes it even more excellent.
5. “Standing” – Melody Federer. This singer-songwriter/indie-pop tune has a melodic maturity that stands up against Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Watkins, and Sleeping at Last. It has gravitas while still remaining light; it’s a very rare balance that is to be celebrated.
6. “Why Don’t You Call Home” – Deni Gauthier. Sometimes all you need is a great falsetto and a tiny guitar riff to steal hearts.
7. “Sunset Road” – Kathryn Overall. Here’s a folk-pop tune about contentment, local beauty, and home played in a low-key, no-frills, earnest way. I broke into a smile, and I think you will too.
8. “Under a Rose” – Dylan Addington. Always space in my heart for a folk-pop tune with a catchy vocal melody and stomping percussion. Fans of The Lumineers should be all up on this.
9. “The Captain” – Adam Topol. Fans of the easygoing acoustic joy of Dispatch and Guster will find a lot of love in Topol’s swaying, airy, summery tune.
10. “Catch Your Fall” – The River South. The iconic shuffle-snare is employed to great effect here, providing the backbone for a delicate love song. The keyboards, bass, and dual vocals fill in the warm, comforting vibe.
11. “White Sky” – Lilla Clara. A solemn, emotionally powerful tune that sucks all the air out of the room.
12. “Between the Bars” – Andrea Silva. Elliott Smith cannot have very much added to him, but reinterpretation keeps a legacy alive. This cover features a great vocal performance, too.
13. “Once Upon a Child” – Eleanor Murray. Tape hiss, nylon strings, room reverb, and an arresting alto vocal line come together for a deeply affecting tune.
14. “Loss” – Paul Sweeney. This contemplative solo guitar piece has a consistent motion in the melodic line that makes the song both evocative and emotional.
15. “Improvisation I” – De Martenn. This solo piano piece explores a dark blue mood; it feels like the street corner late at night, when you know no one is around but it still feels like something is going to happen. It’s peaceful but not serene; there’s some undercurrent going right there under the surface. You look twice; no one is there either time. You’re a little disappointed, but but also relieved. You walk home. You sleep well.
1. “Holy Ghost” – deer scout. Some songs have to grow on me, but “Holy Ghost” is instant: Dena Miller’s friendly, comfortable alto invites you in, and the intimate, burbling guitar asks you to sit down. This is a magnificent song that has me very excited for future deer scout work.
2. “Annie” – Patric Johnston. The acoustic guitar has a mellifluous, perfectly-delivered melody to lead this piece, and Johnston’s voice is buttery and smooth in the way of the Barr Brothers, Josh Ritter, and the like: mature, solid, and full of gentle charisma.
3. “The Weather Girl” – Prints Jackson. This one’s a vocals-forward troubadour folk tune a la old-school Joe Pug or occasional Justin Townes Earle. Jackson knows how to use his voice and guitar to best effect, and the resulting tune shines with an easygoing assuredness. This song has legs, and I hope it gets to use them–more people should know about Prints Jackson.
4. “Rain Thoughts” – Frith. You walk into a new club that’s supposed to classy. You find yourself greeted with the gentle sounds of a musician trained in Tom Waits drama but purveying that work via strings, stand-up bass, gentle piano, and a relaxed tenor. You’re going to like it here, and you’re going to visit more often. (Alternatively: the gravitas of trip-hop worked its way into a singer/songwriter tune.)
5. “All Day All Night” – River Whyless. River Whyless has always wanted to be more than just a folk band, and here they expand their sound with some rhythmic group vocals and satisfying thrumming bass that drops this tune somewhere between Fleet Foxes and Fleetwood Mac.
6. “Firetrain” – Todd Sibbin. The raw, youthful vocal presentation of Bright Eyes’ mid-era work meets the polished horns and wailing organ of early-era Counting Crows alt-pop. (I just mentioned two of my favorite bands.) In short, this is a fantastic pop tune.
7. “Absolute Contingency” – The Ravenna Colt. The lead guitar work and background vocals point toward an alt-country tune out of the slowcore, Mojave 3 school, but the rest of the tune is a shuffle-snare folk tune that’s just lovely.
8. “4th July” – Daniel Pearson. This chipper folk-pop tune has a great harmonica part, a friendly vibe, and really depressing lyrics. At least it sounds happy!
9. “Revolver” – Vian Izak. It’s got that Parachutes-esque Brit-pop mystery to it, paired with the sort of chords and mood that evoke sticky, slow-moving days in the city. The results are unique and interesting.
10. “Out Loud” – Jason P. Krug. Brash but not aggressive, Krug pairs confident melodic delivery and chunky indie-pop/folk with a swooping cello to create an intriguing tension.
11. “Pack of Dogs” – Jesse Lacy. Here’s a full-band folk reminiscence on the joy of youthful friendships that brings banjo, acoustic, wurlitzer, and smooth tenor vocals together excellently.
12. “I Won’t Be Found” – Simon Alexander. The smoothness of traditional singer/songwriter mixed with the raw angst and passion of The Tallest Man on Earth’s vocals creates a distinct push and pull between punchy and silky.
13. “What It Is” – Alex Hedley. The purity and honesty of a fingerpicked guitar line and an emotional vocal melody are never going to get old to me. This particular tune is earnest without being cloying; moody without being morose. Well-balanced. Deeply enjoyable.
14. “Someday feat. Devendra Banhart” – Akira Kosemura. A fragile piano melody is joined by hushed vocals and romantic strings. It’s the sort of song that lovers have their first dance to.
15. “Dear, be safe” – Rasmus Söderberg. What a tender, delicate acoustic plea this is.
1. “Sunrise” – Knaan Shabtay. Cascading, patterned acoustic guitar notes layer on top of each other to create an impressive waterfall of sound. The breathy, high-pitched vocals and electric guitar notes add to the beautiful maelstrom. There’s a lot going on in this song: it begins with complex, patterned melodic acoustic guitar lines before opening up into a male/female duet. Shabtay’s vocals are a cross between Brett Dennen’s high pitch and Passenger’s distinctive delivery, while the woman’s are a soft alto. Then there’s an incredibly beautiful harmonica performance to cap it all off. Wow.
2. “Braille” – Sir Croissant. Gently rolling fingerpicking, ethereal backup vocalists, and quaveringly emotional vocals form a piece suspended historically between Sufjan Stevens’ Michigan and the Barr Brothers.
3. “Lucky” – Ships Have Sailed. The standout power-pop outfit goes acoustic, leaving only romantic piano, guitar and some pad synth in a stripped-down pop ballad.
4. “Water” – BONOMO. I really love the stand-up bass work in this subtly jazzy, Dispatch-esque acoustic track.
5. “Sometime a While” – Chaperone Picks. A no-frills, just-the-goods, mid-tempo garage-pop acoustic tune with surprising Beach Boys influences/overtones. Totally rad.
6. “fried chx” – lost valley. Pristinely produced, this gentle, down-on-my-luck acoustic tune jumps out of the speakers with an arresting immediacy.
7. “Paper Wings” – Brooklyn Doran. The quiet yet sturdy acoustic arrangement frames Doran’s voice and gives her lovely alto room to roam.
8. “Pocket of Lint” – Jack Ellis. The acoustic guitar leads this track, but the intensity of the performance and excellent lead guitar work give this a vibe closer to Radiohead than Damien Rice.
9. “I Lied” – Danielle Deckard. There are a whole lot of piano-led break-up ballads with big strings, but Deckard’s strong vocal tone and careful vocal performance put this one on the top shelf.
10. “liberty (ft. john garner)” – matthew. A somber, pensive instrumental for guitar and violin, this piece searches through the atmosphere without anchor, roving from beginning to end with the tension of someone who wants to get somewhere but is being subtly stopped by this or the other. In other words, it’s evocative and interesting.
11. “Follow” – Nowhere. A spacious tune that falls somewhere between post-rock and singer/songwriter; a wide-open plain with fog hovering above it and no certain path.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.