Folk and Pop
1. “Sun” – Cavegreen. Stomping toms, dense synths, heavily reverbed guitar squalls, and feathery female vocals drop this piece into a triangle between synth-pop, folk-pop, and earthy new-age work. It’s an impressive, unique sound.
2. “Back to Life” – Mama Ghost. It’s got a folk-pop chassis, but the engine is “Lean On”-levels of pop catchiness and chanting vocal hooks and the paint job is a sweet whistling hook. If this were the type of thing that was on the radio, I’d be listening to the radio more.
3. “Hold Us Together” – WILD. I am pretty sure I will always have room in my heart for an anthemic folk-pop song featuring group vocals, big melodies, clapping, and thumping tom hits.
4. “February” – Smith and Thell. These Swedes meld the soaring drama of Irish folk melodies (that fiddle!), the stomp-and-clap enthusiasm of folk-pop, and the soulful piano of Hozier-style work to come up with a bold, very catchy sound.
5. “Ghosts” – Mara Simpson. Theremin is a really cool concept, but it has to be used really well to connect with me. Simpson here implements long notes held by the instrument to contribute an eerie cast to a singer/songwriter tune.
6. “Portraits” – Runabay. Hypnotic, jangly guitar meets swooping cello and layers of percussion and vocals to create a thick, full sound. The jaunty violin melody at the very end seals the deal.
7. “What a Life” – Ziegler Co. Old-timey acoustic pop is a tough thing to pull off without sounding cheesy, but Ziegler Co. keep things simple enough that the vintage songcraft doesn’t sound cliche. Instead, it’s recognizable and smile-inducing.
8. “Cheap Words” – The Bergamot. Songs with a lounge-singer vibe usually aren’t mining a deep emotional vein, but this one is an exception. Fans of Josh Rouse, Josh Radin or Josh Ritter will find that the gentle vibraphone, male/female duet, and subtle groove create an engaging emotional experience that is right up their alley. The glitchy, unexpected coda makes the track even more exciting.
9. “Border Town” – Boom Gallows. A bed of dreamy pad synths; muted, trumpeting synths; rattling percussion; and casual guitar strum allows the female vocals to mosey through a environment that sounds as if Braids had gone acoustic. It’s a lovely, lush experience without being over-produced or overwhelming.
10. “Brother Mars” – L-Space. Here’s a tender, wide-eyed song depicting what it would be like emotionally to live on Mars. The vocal melodies and harmonies mesh wonderfully with the lyrics to create a real sense of wonder.
11. “Get Physical” – PEP. I’m not usually a fan of spoken word in pop songs, but the chorus here is so much fun that it’s hard to resist. Fans of Grouplove will be all into this.