1. “Holding Hands” – The Magic Lantern. Sometimes something comes along that has such a fresh perspective on things that I don’t have clear genre labels for it. Saxophones are lead players here, as well as Jamie Doe’s confident vocals. It’s sort of indie rock, I guess, or maybe indie-pop, or maybe deconstructed-acoustic-Bon Iver-type stuff. The song expands with a drum kit and grumbling bass, tying some of its beautiful meandering to a beat. But it never loses its beautiful quality. Totally wild. Highly recommended.
2. “Baltimore (Sky at Night)” – Kevin Morby. Morby is an even more expansive, good-natured, easygoing Josh Ritter. This song sounds like Morby’s sitting on the back porch and also the Silver Bullet band is somehow with him there too.
3. “Before This There Was Everything” – Big City Cough. Here’s six minutes of rolling, exploratory instrumental acoustic guitar with an occasional supplemental instrument or two. If you need a moment of zen amid the chaos of your day, here’s an option.
4. “In a Galaxy Far Away” – Mixtaped Monk. This ambient track is much less Star Wars and much more Hubble Space Telescope: a swirling aura of pad synths featuring subtle motion and development.
5. “Idea of Order at Kyson Point” – Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno. Keys tumble over keys like a babbling brook or a tiny waterfall, a cascade of pure, lovely sound that soothes and excites.
6. “Summer Is Away” – Easy Wanderlings. This delicate, gently dramatic acoustic folk tune has overtones of Joshua Radin, Billy Joel, Paul Simon and more. It’s a lovely, lilting tune.
7. “Where the Morning Glories Grow” – Dear Nora. It’s a testament to both the original songwriting and the brand-new arrangement that this 100-year-old folk tune sounds fresh, vibrant, and relevant in 2017 at the hands of Dear Nora. The vocal style and the clear respect for the subject material really make the tune what it is.
8. “Third Time” – The Flowerscents. The guitar-forward alt-country of the Old ’97s crossed with the vocals-forward approach of ’90s Brit-pop creates a thoroughly entertaining rock song.
9. “Him” – Silver Liz. The song opens with reverb-laden vocals of indie-pop layered on top of minimalist drumming and sawing synth before expanding into a ghostly-yet-towering indie-rock arrangement. Then it dramatically disappears. We barely knew ye.
10. “Cold Caller” – Julia Jacklin. The best of the ’50s revival filtered through hazy indie vocals and deeply confessional lyrics about the uncertainties of growing older and having different responsibilities. The video is oddly, endearingly intimate.
11. “December” – Yumi Zouma. Feathery, new-wave-inflected indie-rock that seems to glide along effortlessly.
12. “Infinite Space” – Young Mister. Young Mister is leaning into the pejorative term “soft rock” by titling his new EP with it. I must say, it’s not a bad term to describe YM’s music (especially if you stripped all the connotations out and just went with denotations). This particular track is a little more soft than rock, as bandleader Steven Fiore focuses the tune on an acoustic guitar and his lazy, hazy vocal performance. It’s a warm, inviting track.
13. “When January Comes” – Greta Stanley. The uplift that rushes in with the chorus makes this feel like a spring wind breaking across a wintry field. (Although, because Stanley is Australian, this sonic interpretation doesn’t fit with the lyrics–January is summer down under.) It’s an impressive, exciting folk tune that includes a big, post-rock-esque conclusion.
14. “Old Kisses” – Dan Michaelson. A lovely, sweeping, dramatic singer/songwriter tune that uses strings in a way that doesn’t feel maudlin or tired. It’s also really, really sad, but you probably guessed that from the title.