1. “kid.” – Arwen & the Mega Reset. Man, I was super-into Braids when Native Speaker came out, so I am predisposed to like any spacious, dreamy, female-fronted indie-rock. Arwen & the Mega Reset (what a rad name, btw) here take a more direct approach to vocals than Raphaelle Standell-Preston, creating a nice tension between the wisping, chiming, processed guitar sounds that form the mood and the powerful vocal lines (a la Lake Street Dive, maybe?). Also, the artwork for this song makes me totally want to try riding down a hill on a mattress held up by skateboards. In short, this is totally rad. Check it out.
2. “Hyaena (Vols. 1-3)” – Naked Waste. This tune has a lot going on, so you’re going to have to prepare yourself. Naked Waste uses mostly just a bass guitar (awesome!) by manipulating the sounds that come out in a wide variety of ways. So it actually doesn’t sound like there’s a bass guitar at all in the song. The vocals here are very idiosyncratic, especially in the verses–but they resolve into a glorious chorus melody that hooked me. There are also three parts to this song, and one of them is a gospel-style chorus of people who sound more traditional than lead vocalist Paul Cumming. It’s a five-minute journey that I highly recommend that the adventurous listener take.
3. “Company” – Pepa Knight. Pepa Knight’s run of infectious singles continues with a tune that meshes huge tom percussion through burbling, low-key electro work to create a carefully-managed tension between electronic and organic sounds. Knight’s vocals fit perfectly over the arrangement.
4. “Bottles” – Bad Pony. Here’s a live band fusing mid-’00s dance-rock enthusiasm with tasteful, accentuating post-dub electronics. Nerdy connection: Anyone remember Head Automatica? I immediately thought of Beating Heart Baby when I heard the tune. This is nothing but a good thing.
5. “Getting Through” – Inspired & the Sleep. Sometimes you just want to hear a stuttery, low-key indie-pop song a la Generationals. Eat it up.
6. “Long Way to the Moon” – Alright Gandhi. Bass guitar, skittering beats, squiggly synths, and commanding female vocals drive this atypical indie-pop song. Totally interesting.
6. “Take Me Away (ft. Filous)” – Tigertown. And sometimes you want to hear a danceable yet low-key electro-dance song.
7. “The Wicked” – Ender & Valentine. A careful fusion of acoustic, electro, and pop-rock results in a song that’s a lot of fun but also wistful and resonant. The delicate balance pays off in a fantastic tune.
8. “Always on Fire” – Troup. The aura of Bruce Springsteen floats above this intense, earnest roots-rock tune, but never gets in the way. Instead, the punchy percussion and deft vocal performance take front and center. The engineering work on this pushes the bass way up in the mix, which I love.
9. “A Beautiful Mystery” – Katie Costello. Cars-esque New Wave meet ’00s guitar pop (a la KT Tunstall) for a chipper, perky blast of pop that yet resists being saccharine.
10. “Float” – Silver Liz. Adds scuzzed-out garage rock guitars to feathery female vocals and some woozy synths for a stomping, punchy rock tune.
11. “Who’s Afraid of Sarah Little?” – Tim de Vil and His Imaginary Friends. A manic fever dream of a song, with singer Justin Robbins speak/singing (and then hollering) over an stoic-by-contrast acoustic indie-rock backdrop. It packs more punch in two and a half minutes than many bands can in 10 or 20. There’s some unavoidable Nick Cave comparison to be had, but unhinged modern indie rockers like The Yellow Dress and MeWithoutYou are closer to the core.
12. “Scarecrow” – Apricot Rail. What if The Album Leaf included a clarinet? This freeflowing, wide-eyed, soothing instrumental answers that question.