1. “Bones” – Lowlight. The female vocals here are just dripping with emotion, touring the listener through distinct, evocative spaces. The video is enigmatic but similarly suffused with emotional images. A great example of a tune that clearly has a folk tune soul, even though it’s set up in an electro environment.
2. “Fountain” – Démira. A zeitgest-capturing piece that’s just specific enough to relate to a lot of things going on in the world today. The mantra/hook “My hands are up / my hands are up” seems like direct appropriation of language included in the ongoing policing discussion, but Démira immediately following it with “for both of us” complicates the relationship. (The ongoing refugee crisis seems to be relevant here as well.) Ambiguity, purgatory, and surrender weave their way through the lyrics. The piece is an electro-pop work, but it doesn’t announce itself prominently; it keeps the song flowing, but at times melts away to give the stage to the engaging vocals and lyrics. A fascinating, deeply interesting song. The video gives even more layers of complexity.
3. “Back to Earth” – Jackie Venson. The patter of hollow toms matches the subtle strumming of the rattling electric guitar, creating a feeling of rushing water that Venson’s voice dances over. It’s a dramatic song without going for any of the normal high-drama approaches, and in that way it is spectacular.
4. “WIRES” – SNOWDRIFTS. The heavy, buzzy synths and wavering vocals seem unmoored from the beats, creating the impression of a School of Seven Bells song being played slightly out of phase. It’s an intriguing, enveloping soundscape.
5. “Carry Me” – Heart Years. At its core, this is a dreamy indie-pop tune, but it’s got layers of static, zipping arpeggiators, and other effects that create a mysterious, engaging mood.
6. “[Re]Cycle” – Lunacre. The dusky, too-cool atmosphere of trip-hop is combined with the subtle motion and gentle beats of electro-indie-pop for a lithe, smooth, headbobbing experiene.
7. “Macroburst” – Scaphoid. Post-rock? Prog-rock? Rock? Whatever this winding, twisting, riff-heavy, dramatic piece is, it’s certainly not ambient in the Brian Eno sense of the term. Although, if Eno’s original intent was to create a tint for the room, barely noticed, but changing the feel, this could work, if your room was an tension-ridden action film in a dark, gritty, nighttime urban environment. Semantic quibbles aside, this piece captures the drama that post-rock is often going for by leansing on intricate riffs rather than the soft/wall of sound/soft trope. A fascinating piece.
8. “Molded Ocean” – Candy Cigarettes. The sea shanty is often exaggerated for effect, but here Candy Cigarettes turns the oft-careening form into a gently swaying, carefully-crafted, thoughtful acoustic indie song. Even with the occasional towering percussion line and the giant crescendo ending, this is probably the sweetest sea shanty I’ve ever heard.
9. “Psycho Killer” – Smoke Season. Turns the Talking Heads’ jittery art-rock into an ominous, slow-motion, post-dub electro biopic. There’s a lot of people who want to pull this sort of cover transformation off, but few really take a song and own it the way that Smoke Season does here.
10. “Heathens” – Blondfire. The ominous hip-hop of the Twentyone Pilots original is transmuted into a desperate plea over an acoustic guitar.
11. “Autumn Falls” – Erik Jonasson. There’s a remarkable tenderness all through this tune that sets this folk/electro ballad apart from the pack. The ending goes a bit stadium, and it still sounds intimate. Wow.
12. “Wrapped Up” – Allen Tate. If you’re a fan of The National but think that their theatricality can get a bit out of your depth, this low-slung, unassuming, yet very thoughtfully created indie-rock tune will hit the spot perfectly.
13. “Dissolving the Dream” – Scaphoid. Here’s another side of Scaphoid: this version draws on acoustic sounds, especially flowing Spanish-inspired ones, to create a distinct, unique mood. This one is more “anxiously searching a forest for a downed technology before the enemies find it” in the images it evokes for me.
14. “Henry Green” – John White. Somewhere between between Simon & Garfunkel and Irish folk, this tune sounds like a traditional sea/murder ballad of an imagined country.
15. “You Are Here” – River. Any ballad that includes a harp has a lot of good going for it, de facto. This ballad has more than just harp, but everything flows from that smart inclusion in this piano-led piece.