1. “No Road Without a Turn” – Mano Le Tough. This tropical instrumental cut is one long elastic groove accentuated by reverbed percussion trying to puncture the vibe. The punchy hits can’t damage it, though; the intrusions merely give the smooth energy an even more infinite feel. Nothing can bring this song down.
2. “Even When it Rains” – Jeremy Fisher. Fisher’s opener from his latest album misfits. could be the perfect creep-back-into-life cut of our post-pandemic summer, with its perfectly irreverent strut matching its indie pop musicality. —Lisa Whealy
3. “I Know You Know” – Lore City. Portland, Oregon’s Lore City chose “I Know You Know” as the lead single for its fourth album Participation Mystique. Songwriters Laura Mariposa Williams and Eric Angelo Bessel’s perfected hypnoticism emulates an aura of soul-shifting transformation. Visual simplicity demands deeper contemplation, as the male and female figures are shrouded in shades of saffron. Signifying abundance, this golden tone serves as the transport vehicle into the rose tone of Shakti. Hindu belief personifies these through a host of goddesses with universal virtues and archetypal energies we all share. For new and old fans, this track connects the primal to its spiritual source visually and sonically. As a taste of Participation Mystique, this one might be 2021’s coolest drumbeat to follow yet.–Lisa Whealy
4. “Roadkill” – Joe Hythe. A haunting, elegant alt-folk track about the fears inherent in the narrator’s experience of the gay hookup scene. The airy, flowing track reminds me of Sufjan’s Michigan in its arrangement.
5. “Drive the Cold Winter Away” – Agent Starling. The band has this to say about the excitable, Medieval-sounding romp: “This tune is taken from Playford’s Dancing Master published in 1651.” Agent Starling breathes a lot of life into this 370-year-old song.
6. “Vila dos Pássaros” – Ricardo Bacelar & Cainã Cavalcante. Speedy fingerpicking and a rush of piano keys introduce this jazzy piece that manages to be smooth and yet frenetic. Very intriguing.
7. “Bad Karma” – Paper Man. A delightfully off-kilter folk-rock tune that throws back to the raw production of days before pristine indie-folk. Brian Sousa’s voice sounds perfect amid ragged rhythms, whoo-oo-oos, and sprightly guitar lines.
8. “Kerouac Revisions” – Red Sammy. The band advertises itself as “honest, slow-burn Americana”; this track is honest but moves up a notch to medium-burn with a two-minute jam complete with jangly guitars that would make the Jayhawks happy. Adam Trice’s vocal melodies are catchy and fun.
9. “Soil” – Zement. I did not expect that combining motorik precision with high-drama post-rock guitar would create an outsider dance-rock tune, but lo, here we are. Manages to be fun and serious at the same time; pretty impressive.
10. “Where I Am” – Atto Seguente. A delicate, mysterious cascade of what sounds like nylon-string guitar notes is the gentle, elegant opening to this piece. By the end of the piece, lonely vocals keen “Where are you?” over a buzzing synth and that suddenly-relentless guitar pattern. The transformation doesn’t require much, but the shift from calm to desperate is distinctive and impressive.
11. “Dee Dee” – Nimrawd. Meshes ’90s big beat with smooth ’80s synthesizer action to create a playful future-past mashup.