1. “Immigrant Warrior” – Sunny Jain. My personal goal this year has been to listen to at least one artist from every country in the world. I did some research and put together a personal Spotify playlist to help achieve this goal. I’ve found that I really like soca and Eastern European brass band music. This last newfound interest in Eastern European brass band music meshes neatly with discovering Sunny Jain, whose brass band work draws on “shuddering walls of post-rock guitar, howling tenor sax, the persistent thump of Indian brass band music, rhythms from Punjab and southern Pakistan, film soundtracks from around the world, and swaggering West Coast rap.” In this track, there’s propulsively bass (tuba?) motion, thrilling melodies, and a great rhythm section. It’s an amazing, excellent track.
2. “Still” – Dan Roseboom. In contrast to saying “I’m purposefully working on listening to music from around the world,” I feel like jazz itself is coming for me. Jazz seems potentially comprehensible to me, but it hasn’t unfolded yet; I haven’t found the right jazz style or artist that makes it click yet. Roseboom’s solitary, lonesome jazz trumpet performance here is something I can recognize and grab on to–something that transcends genre and gets to the heart of conveying emotions through melody. That jazz aficionados will recognize the tradition is important, but even those who can’t recognize it can take much away from this lovely tune.
3. “Tony Sendo” – Underground Canopy. Speaking of jazz, I love it when it’s mashed up with other things I love: Jazz, hip-hop, and downtempo vibes come together in a smooth, solid slice of keys-led instrumental work.
4. “Electric One (Part B)” – Elkhorn. An electric guitar, an acoustic guitar, and an electric bouzouki in a 7-minute improvisation that manages to meld a ton of complexity into an almost-meditative, reverent piece. Last year I was into organ drone for the first time, now I’m into bouzouki improvisations. If you’re checking in for the first time in a while, I’m not really a folk-pop guy anymore, I’m as surprised as you are.
5. “Echo Chamber” – Adam Hill. Just kidding, I’m totally still a folk-pop guy. (I’m just much more expansive.) Adam Hill’s got the whole troubadour-folk thing on lock, calling out the ills of the world as he seems and calling people to (secular) repentance: “It’s time to start feeling good about feeling good about feeling good about feeling good.” His vocal performance is ace. Shout-out to the saloon-style piano that caps this all off.
6. “To My Brain” – Aryl Barkley. I used to be a punk-rock guy, but the occasional introspective acoustic track from pop-punk bands got me into quiet acoustic music; The New Amsterdams emerging from The Get Up Kids was formative for me. I can still revel in a beautiful acoustic track such as this delicate-yet-confident whisper-folk tune from Aryl Barkley. Barkley really makes me believe it, really sells the whole thing with a careful touch on the vocals and guitars. It’s a very comforting track.
7. “Sweet Sweet Remedies” – The Pistachio Kid. Before I was a punk-rock teenager, I sang in choirs. I mostly listen to instrumental music these days (because I mostly listen to IC music while I work; at home I mostly listen to songs about dinosaurs.), but vocal music was my first love; a pure vocal tone with thoughtful harmonies will still get me. The Pistachio Kid has taken what would have been a great indie-pop song or maybe folk song and turned it into a sun-dappled a cappella track that I can’t listen to without smiling. A cappella may not be your thing, but this is real high-quality work of the form; I think you’ll be into it.
8. “How Much Homework” – Nimrawd. I once was a school kid myself, before I was a singer or a punk rock kid of any of that. This track incorporates the sounds of schoolkids playing as part of the loping, live-bass-and-synths piece. It’s a fun piece that defies genre expectations and labels; it’s just good composition. I look forward to this full record.