1. “Old Freight” – Alan Barnosky. Barnosky’s evocative, high-pitched voice grabbed me from the first note he sang. He pairs his oh-so-gripping voice with some excellent folk work–this is how you update trad sounds to sound modern. And the song’s about trains! It doesn’t get folkier than this, friends. Fans of Justin Townes Earle’s bright folk will fall over this one. Highly recommended.
2. “These Days” – Ali Morrison. I love the jaunty, folky guitar style here, reminiscent of Langhorne Slim and others. Morrison takes that upbeat folk base and builds a much sadder song on top of it via synths, his vocal performance, and his downtrodden lyrics. The tension between the guitar and the rest of the arrangement is unique and interesting.
3. “Pieces of a Puzzle” – Daniel Pearson. Fans of the Barr Brothers and Gregory Alan Isakov will find this full-band folk tune much to their liking. Pearson’s wordless vocal melodies in the chorus feel timeless and immediate; the rest of the song slots in perfectly behind it. It’s a song that seems like I’ve always known it, but it’s new to me. Excellent stuff.
4. “Portland” – Strangers by Accident. The drums provide a lot of atmosphere and lift for this folk-pop tune from the very get-go; they keep it rolling in the fun, upbeat chorus. This is top-shelf folk-pop that doesn’t compromise on the folk or the pop: the arrangement is a strong and thoughtful folk tune, while the chorus is one big sonic blast of pop enthusiasm. Also there’s a well-played harmonica, which is always +10 point folk points.
5. “Where Do I Go From Here?” – Liisa. Ukulele-fronted indie-pop will always grab me, but it’s an even easier sell with a chipper vocal performance, fun melody, and handclaps. The most surprising bit of this song is the bassist, who goes off on swift runs and bouncy rhythms like it’s Graceland up in here. Rad rad rad.
6. “Deep Down Yonder” – Strange Pilgrims. Transforms the strutting bass groove so intrinsic to funk into something that splits the difference between rustic and futuristic: the tambourine and wheezing, accordion-esque sounds keep it grounded in a historic past, but the overall vibe very much points toward the future. Very cool track.
7. “Stenograph Letters” – Astroboter. The guitar line dances along the edge of melancholy and sinister; it gets a lift from the speedy breakbeats and the thumping bass. The whole piece comes together into a fantastically cool, driving, groove-heavy instrumental piece that draws from a lot of different genres.
8. “Future Unfolding” – Thomas Carleberg and Emil Nilsson. A broad, sweeping soundtrack piece from the titular video game that slots in with some of the best of the genre: Monument Valley, Journey, Alto’s Adventure, et al. The simple, unadorned arrangement conveys a sense of wonder in a most beautiful way.
9. “Översiktskarta över Kullahusområdet” – Jäverling ◇ von Euler. A nostalgic, wistful melody gently guides this delicate, elegant piece. If you’re scrambling over “too much to do and not enough time to do it,” do yourself a favor and have five minutes of mental rest to this lovely work.
10. “Winter” – Koronis. Treble notes tentatively search across a sufficiently wintry soundscape–lots of long-held bass notes that create an earthy grounding for the track. The tension between the treble and the not-that-much-lower bass hand create interesting moments throughout this instrumental piano piece.
11. “La Danzatrice” – Roberto Fusco Di Maso. This neo-classical piano piece has several beautiful melodies and satisfying development of the piece throughout. There are some treble runs and some melodic theatrics, which are a lot of fun. This is a piece that shows off some strong compositional and performance chops in a more traditional classical style.