1. “Into Yellow” – Martin Luke Brown. You got up early to see it. You had to hike up a mountain in the dark and you nearly rolled an ankle three times. Is all this worth it? Really? You question things. You wonder things. You start to grumble at the person who set you up with this idea. But you crest the last incline onto the peak and you see it: a beautiful yellow warming–delicate, tentative–over the horizon. And pink, and orange, and yellow again, and your heart leaps. You’d do it again. You’d do it again. You’d do it again.
2. “You Gotta Sell Something” – Blair Crimmins and the Hookers. Super-enthusiastic, jaunty Dixieland folk with a viciously satirical take on the contemporary music industry and modern life in general. I don’t know how something this sarcastic can be this much fun, but it’s a party and a half over here.
3. “The Lilac Line” – Karla Kane. Has a little bit of Kimya Dawson in the quirky lyrical content, but it’s the bubbly vocal melody in the chorus that really seals the deal. I also can’t resist a well-placed accordion (a la Laura Stevenson).
4. “Collision” – Hayden Calnin. Layered drones are in right now, and saxophones are in right now, and emotive pop melodies never go out of style, and yet when you put all of them together you get something that transcends them all. If you’re a person who (like me) unironically likes Coldplay, you’ll love the vocal tone and melodies here.
5. “Prom” – Monk Parker. Anyone who loved Clem Snide is going to grab this song in a giant hug and not let go it for a long time: Parker’s vocal tone echoes Eef Barzelay’s, and the weirdly indie-fied country Parker is purveying here was what Snide was best at. This song is an indie alt-country cornucopia, really: it’s even got a theremin.
6. “On My Side” – Gordi. Is folk-pop becoming cool again? Because this is definitely a folk-pop song: all yearning melody and stomping rhythms. Love it.
7. “Soulmate” – The Shivers. You can hear Tom Waits and The Antlers in this vaguely funky, soulful (but not over-the-top soulful), piano-led ballad.
8. “Two Hearts (Two Peninsulas)” – Gifts or Creatures. A vintage-y, spartan electric guitar sound meshes with a round keyboard sound to create the basis of this interesting tune. It’s sort of indie-pop (has a lovely male/female harmony thing going on that’s like Jenny & Tyler or Mates of State), and yet seems like folk (despite the absence of acoustic guitars). Thoroughly interesting.
9. “Inches Apart” – Magana. Trembling yet sturdy vocals sucked me in to this fingerpicked acoustic tune. It’s high-drama in the best way, where you feel the ache and want to know what will come next.
10. “Oh, Spaceman” – Micah P. Hinson. Hinson’s baritone pairs neatly with the trebly, soft fingerpicking of this folk tune. The fiddle and accordion add an old-world character to the piece that sets it apart from other tunes of its ilk.
11. “One More Waltz” – Redvers and Mélissa. A delicate, acoustic, love song waltz that tells the story of how the musicians met? Does it get any more romantic?
12. “The Horses Will Not Ride, The Gospel Won’t Be Spoken” – Tom Brosseau. Almost all of this song is a solo a capella piece, with Brosseau’s mellifluous voice holding the listener close the whole time. Not so many singers can do that, but Brosseau knocks it out of the park.
1. “Somethings” – Sariah Mae. This song sounds like it was blown out of a bubble wand: a round, gleaming, shimmery, light thing that lolls along in the wind. Indie pop at its shiny, bubbly best.
2. “Super Natural” – Turnover. Does the thing has emerged in my family as a term of high praise: you need to do something, you select a tool to do it, and the tool works perfectly. It does the thing. This dream-pop tune does the thing: it has reverby guitars, delicate vocals, loping bass, and enough energy from the drums to keep the “pop” part working. Just totally solid.
3. “Bright and Blue” – Tomo Nakayama. This indie-pop track feels like walking on clouds, what with the ethereal pad synths in the background, the walking-pace shuffle snare, and the friendly vocal approach. Very excited for this upcoming album.
4. “All My Faith” – The Last Dinosaur. An intimate-yet-sweeping acoustic indie track that calls to mind Michigan-era Sufjan and other lush-arrangement singer/songwriters.
5. “Altaïr” – Camel Power Club. Well, isn’t this a wild mix: synths, acoustic guitar, ’90s hip-hop beats, bongos, breathy vocals, theremin-esque sounds, and more are all wrapped up in a smooth, grooving electro-indie-pop tune. Whoa.
6. “Living in Fame” – Fever Kids. The feathery vocals that provide the lead hook for this tune fit perfectly with a slightly ominous, LCD Soundsystem-esque bass line and create a sort of post-disco indie-pop track. The vibe here is unusual and exciting.
7. “Duluoz Dream” – Sal Dulu. A bleary-eyed jazz trumpet provides the entry point into this low-key indie-electro instrumental, squiggly bits, mournful piano, and other sounds come together to create a chill, head-bobbin’ piece.
8. “July” – Ellie Ford. Some jaunty flamenco rhythms on a nylon-string guitar provide the base of this song, which then expands into a carefully-coordinated minor-key indie-rock tune led by Ford’s delicate voice.
9. “If You Saw Her” – Mark Bryan. The quirky, plunk-plunk lead melody in this folk/country tune is a weirdly infectious riff. The rest of the tune is a bright, clear, folk/country tune guided to its satisfying conclusion by an assured hand and a lithe voice.
11. “Watching From a Distance” – David Ramirez. Ramirez updates his country sound with burbling electronics, Simon and Garfunkel-esque percussion, and a large arrangement more reminiscent of indie-folk than stark country ventures. It’s a surprising, excellent turn. His voice is still amazing–nothing changed there.
12. “I Wanna Go Down to the Basement” – Wooden Wand. Loopy, chilled-out folk that asserts “I am no longer afraid”; despite these reassurances, James Jackson Toth’s voice has a jittery quality that gives the song energy.
13. “Take Over” – Tom Rosenthal. Fans of Greg Laswell and Rush of Blood to the Head-era Coldplay will love this piano-driven tune, which pulses and pushes forward and yet still remains intimate.
14. “Killing Me” – Luke Sital-Singh. The emotional piano ballad is tough to pull off, but Sital-Singh here provides a master course on how to do it right. This song is emotionally devastating.
(Sorry about the downtime! Something got corrupted and we were out of commission for a while. It’s good to be back. Many thanks to Chris Krycho for the technical assistance needed in getting us back online.)
Last year I was totally enamored with JPH’s Songs of Loss. The album is a singular wonder: a fully-realized turn of a musician putting strong songwriting powers to the difficult subject of personal grief. The sonics are adventurous but humble, the lyrics are raw, and the whole product comes off as a unique experience. There are a lot of unexpected left turns, sonically. JPH has given me the great honor of premiering the video for “Song 7” from the album today. Like the album, it’s a hushed, delicate piece that throws a different light (or lack thereof) on the subject of mourning.
The video is simple: a dancer in an almost-dark room moves gracefully. Sarah Ingel is never seen head to toe; the camera frames her at odd angles and casts her motions in unusual ways. The music takes its time starting (almost fifteen seconds of silence), and then ends mid-video; Ingel continues dancing in silence for almost two minutes after the song is over. She eventually fades away from the screen, flickering, here and there, and then gone. Grief does feel like that–it keeps going long after the events surrounding a death are over, emerging in fits and starts, in unexpected moments, in unexpected ways. It’s startling and even somewhat uncomfortable to keep watching a video in silence; that rupture of the normal further cements the connection between the video and its subject matter. It’s an unconventional music video for an unconventional album, and it works beautifully.