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.