1. “You” – David Gorman. The first 45 seconds are a beautiful a cappella chorale reminiscent of the best moments of early Mumford and Sons. At 45 seconds, a delicate, pristine, fingerpicked acoustic guitar line comes in. The rest of the track continues to expand, somewhere between Mumford and Fleet Foxes. It is an excellent track. Highly recommended.
2. “Dollar General Blues” – John John Brown. Gentle, finger-picked, back porch folk that rolls off Brown’s tongue with unbelievable ease. Brown could sing anything and it would sound great, but he chooses to sing a song of (very) contemporary rural America. It’s an unusual type of protest song (probably has too many words for Woody Guthrie’s taste), but it’s one all the same, and it is a poignant (instead of brash) example of the form. This is exemplar: this is how folk should work. Highly recommended.
3. “Tearing Seams” – Micah McCaw. If you’re into major-key folk, you need to jump on this track immediately: this one has the major-key strumming of Josh Ritter, the smooth vocals of Josh Rouse, and the lyrics of early Joe Pug. The triumphant conclusion of the track, led by blaring organ, is just off the charts in terms of satisfying endings. I got shivers. Highly recommended.
4. “Let This Wind Blow” – Sam Alty. The flamenco influences that Alty brings to the table are more subtle in this evocative, expansive acoustic tune. The interest in ostinato rhythms, bass patterns, and pushing forward motion are all present, but in ways that put Alty’s own stamp on the work. His specific vision is coming into focus before our ears.
5. “Mischief” – Dead Seem Old. Flamenco influences always create tunes that seem unable to sit still: there’s always insistent motion, bass groove, big melodies, and punchy moments. This acoustic tune wears its flamenco influences on its sleeve and pairs it with vocals tempered in an contemporary vocal performance fire. Groovy and fun.
6. “A Dog’s Humanity” – Bashful Hips. Insistent, off-kilter speak-sing vocals elevate an unusual folk/indie-rock arrangement into a unique, experimental tune. There’s some pizzicato strings, theremin and thrumming string-bass all threaded between each other. The lyrics are somewhere between the apocalyptica of Modest Mouse, the detailed observations of Emperor X, and personal/collective tensions of I’m Wide Awake-era Bright Eyes.
7. “Good Times” – The Macarnos. The vocals have a touch of Colin Meloy in them and there’s a guitar solo (!), both of which perked my ears up in this heavy-strummed folk/acoustic tune. The acoustic strum meshes tightly with the drums, creating a impressively solid base for the track.
8. “Lull” – Cherophobiac. A slow-burning, minor-key piano tune that would fit easily in a companion to OK Computer, what with the long introduction that includes computer sounds, the lyrical emphasis on human senses (seeing/feeling), and the grumbling bass. The layered vocals throughout the piece create a bit of Imogen Heap flavor, as well. The piece, as a result, is satisfyingly unusual.
9. “Goin’ Home” – Barzo. I’m not really into funk, but every now and then a band can catch my ear with a bass groove, a solid rhythm section, and a lead melody. This one does that, as the bass is thick and rubbery, the drums have some flair, and the lead sax melody is juuuuuuuust right.
10. “you cant repeat the past” – Behind Clouds. Melds trip-hop influences, future bass sounds, and delicate piano into a unique instrumental vision. This is a head-bobber for sure.
11. “Exploration” – Floris Boere. Layers on layers of piano sounds are undergirded by a cascade of piano notes that sound like rushing water. The complexity here is what drew me in: there are a lot of ideas going on in the 5:48 of this track. A very impressive, very soothing track. Highly recommended.
12. “Hamerstraat” – Klangriket & Sjors Mans. A lilting, floating, waltz-style tune that marries piano and strings together in a beautiful way. The pensive, restrained mood is perfectly conveyed by the strings.
13. “Tucson” – Hautefort. Rather than lock into a specific song structure or pattern, this piece flows in many directions, following melodic ideas and rhythms as they appear. The song’s mood is held down by the ghostly synths that hover just outside the frame and the occasional intrusion of a synth bass pulse. Overall, it creates a mysterious, expressive experience.