1. “Hold Your Head Up” – Darlingside. A cross between the icy reverie of Bon Iver and the mystical, quiet folk of Sufjan’s Michigan creates one of the most lovely folk tracks I’ve heard all year. The vocal melodies and harmonies are just astounding. Highly recommended.
2. “RUN” – DANSU. A sleek-yet-punchy indie-pop track that’s a little dancy, a little dreamy, a little guitar-rock-y, and a little Vampire Weekend-y. All of that comes together into a bright, fun track.
3. “Wild Heart” – The Singer and the Songwriter. This is an huge, major-key folk-pop explosion, complete with charging drums and surging guitar. The dignified, careful vocal performance is the perfect counterpoint to the instrumental enthusiasm. The music video does everything right too: a perfect match for the lyrics, the choreography the dance troupe performs is wonderful and inspiring.
4. “Crane Song” – TOLEDO. A waltzing, lilting acoustic guitar strum is matched by a softly crooning voice to create some quiet indie-pop in the vein of Jens Lekman, Belle and Sebastian, and Fionn Regan. The song passes through different movements over its nearly five minutes, showing off different angles of TOLEDO’s sound, and all of them are impressive.
5. “Childhood Ghosts” – Alan Barnosky. Fans of old-school Joe Pug will hear the creaky voice, fans of old Tallest Man on Earth will hear the fingerpicking, and fans of folk will rejoice. This is the second Barnosky track of the last few days, because I’m just so taken with his sound. Great stuff here.
6. “Stay With Me” – The Minnesota Child. Dusky, full-bodied folk-pop that has the gravitas of Fleet Foxes and the enthusiasm of The Oh Hellos. The wordless vocal lines in the bridge are just beautiful, and the organ in the last chorus caps it off perfectly. This is how it’s done, folks. Highly recommended.
7. “Where the Good Buzz Goes” – John John Brown. Brown knows how to spin a story, play a mean folk guitar, and sing like it’s no work at all. This particular track is a blues for a veteran, and Lord knows there aren’t enough blues for them to go around. John John Brown is someone you need to hear. Highly recommended.
8. “The Herpetologist” – Driftwood Scarecrow. If you wished that folk sounded more like Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, boy do I have a tune for you. This slightly strummed, delicately sung, fairly twee track has the chord structure and melodic structures to suggest the most disciplined version of Conor Oberst. As a result, this fantastic song is a glistening soap bubble, a beautiful feather floating upward, and a lazy day in a hammock all combined into one.
9. “Savannah” – Brooks Dixon. This alt-country tune features strong instrumental performances in the verses and a knock-out chorus. Dixon’s vocal melodies in the chorus will stick in your head for a long time. There’s a lot of charm and heart in this tune.
10. “Forth Year” – Jack Shields. A gritty vocal performance flows over a smooth, warm west-coast country track. The multiple layers of vocals really make this track special.
11. “Richmond, Meet Richard” – Richard Sherfey. Sherfey knows how to use his voice to best effect: he’s able to subtly sing over delicate fingerpicking and also soar a huge line out of nowhere for the chorus. Fans of serious songwriters (Joseph Arthur, Damien Rice, and Richard Buckner for starters) have a new songwriter to track.
12. “Lone Bulb” – Crooked Cat Adams. Starts off slow, but builds to include electronic percussion, horn, organ, and electric guitar crunch in a very impressive arrangement. It’s hard to come up with comparisons for something so unique, but I guess it sounds somewhat like Neutral Milk Hotel (the horns at 2:50!) merged with a mellowed-out Lord Huron (?). It’s just good music, okay? You should go listen to it.