1. “We All Breathe the Same Air” – Nathan Moore and Alfred Howard. A song of protest that calls out the murder of Ahmaud Arbery amid the rest of the trouble of this year: “Won’t wear a mask but a hood’s not restricting / I refresh the feed cause the news is addicting” is a particularly poignant couplet, among many. The song itself is a well-developed acoustic arrangement, a lament fit to jaunty, Spanish-guitar vibes to keep the mood from going too low. Howard will be releasing two songs a week for the rest of the year (!!) with half of the proceeds going to Black Visions Collective.
2. “Interval” – Jim Perkins. This lithe, lovely little trebly piano composition is part of Perceptions from Bigo and Twigetti, a compilation of piano tracks that point out different styles and methods of piano performance. The comp is being released sequentially: two songs every three weeks until September, when it’s fully out.
3. “From All Who Came Before” – BPMoore. A beautiful, carefully-emerging piece for strings and electronics that evokes the slowly-unfolding majesty of John Luther Adams crammed into the bottle of 3 minutes and four seconds.
4. “Messed It Up” – Of the Vine. OtV is known for big, howling post-rock tunes, but this one is a haunting, mournful track that consists of little more than the repeated phrase “I really messed it up this time” and a chiming, ringing, delicate guitar line. It’s a fragile, earnest, painfully sad track.
5. “Stay Gold” – B. Snipes. This is a pristine, highly stylized, deeply affecting form of indie-folk that evokes M. Ward, the ballads of the Avett Brothers, and the Barr Brothers’ work. Snipes’ voice is perfectly situated within a cocoon of elegant acoustic sound.
6. “American Foursquare” – Denison Witmer. 2005’s Are You a Dreamer? left an imprint on me, and Witmer’s first album since 2013 opens up with a track that could have fit right in on that album: a peaceful, hushed form of singer-songwriter/folk that puts laser focus on the details of moving home from the city to your hometown. Is it autobiographical? Is it a tale? It is equally powerful both ways. If you’re into old-school Damien Jurado, William Fitzsimmons, or the original version of Iron & Wine, you’ll love this.
7. “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” – Josh Garrels. I’ve never been a huge fan of this hymn, as the arrangements I’m familiar with are a bit too maudlin for me. Garrels takes the haunting melody and pulls all of the dourness out of it, falsetto-ing it into a fragile piece of ice carefully balanced so as not to fall and shatter. The spartan acoustic arrangement is perfect to make sure his voice stays front and center without collapsing. It’s a lovely, refreshing take on the classic. The rest of the record is equally as refreshing.
8. “Summer Sun” – Alex Rainer. If you crossed sun-splashed acoustic performances of Nick Drake with the laconic drama of James Taylor, you’d come out with something as easy-going and yet meaningful as this track.
10. “Blossoms” – Drexler. An ostinato piano line anchors this neo-classical piece that moves from small to wide-screen in no time flat. This composition only lasts 2:34, but it covers a wide range of emotion and layers of sound in that short time. Both mysterious and hopeful, this is a fascinating track.
11. “Elders of Kaytete County” – AJ True. I went through a short ambient phase last year and this track is the very best of the reasons that I did so. The core of the track is a simple, unadorned sound: it barely sounds like an instrument, more like the sun breaking over the horizon on a new day. It’s clean, pure, elegant. The rest of the track is the very specific addition of little sounds, barely even melodies, to build and shape the piece. It’s just really excellent, beautiful ambient work.
12. “Four” – New Dog. Anar Badalov doesn’t usually produce instrumental ambient / electronic work, but from the textured, highly detailed, synthy singer-songwriter work he often puts out as New Dog, I’m not surprised that he’s great at this too. This particular record leans on forlorn pedal steel, pad synths, and the sound of feet walking (maybe crunching leaves?) for a heavily evocative piece about fall.
13. “Heartbeats” – Derrick Hodge. A heartbeat-like kick drum and gentle piano give Hodge a framework within which to present lead bass melodies as the engine of this track. As a bassist myself, I can’t help but love it. Subtly jazzy, but thoroughly accessible to those outside the realm, this is a beautiful instrumental ballad.