1. “Your Brand” – Mo Troper. Between huge guitars, emotive vocals, incisive lyrics, and a triumphant conclusion, everything good about power-pop is jammed into this 2:19.
2. “Invisible Man” – Cassandra Violet. Punchy ’80s vibes meet ’60s-style girl group vocals and some ’70s Fleetwood Mac dreaminess for a timeless, thoroughly modern pop track.
3. “High Enough ft. Propaganda” – The Gray Havens. TGH is usually a folk-pop duo, but they sound pretty slick purveying some low-slung, head-bobbing R&B/hip-hop. If you aren’t convinced by the beat-heavy arrangement, then take it from 1:40 when they employ some bars from Propaganda to great effect.
4. “Beat Wave” – The Holy Gasp. If you’ve never heard The Holy Gasp, this song is a pretty good place to start: frantic, chaotic, jubilant music that almost defies explanation. There’s some crazy surf-punk vibes, marimba, B-movie theatricality, cheerleader chants, Gregorian chants, and Benjamin Hackman’s howling baritone all thrown in together. If you’ve heard The Holy Gasp before: yep, they’re back. [Editor’s Note: the band noted that the instrument is a xylophone, not a marimba.]
5. “Cool Kids” – Shana Falana. The jumbo-jet-huge guitars here have some shoegaze influences, but they’re used in the service of vocals instead of obscuring them. The results are a big, arms-wide-open pop song with catchy melodies and a memorable arrangement.
6. “Every Decision Counts” – Russell and the Wolf Choir. I grew up on Transatlanticism, and wherever I hear that indie-pop vibe I turn my head. Russell & co. have the easygoing vibes, nonchalant guitar work (at least until the big push), and airy vocals that can make any fan of mid-era Death Cab for Cutie swoon. It’s a blast.
7. “Happy Pills” – Dirty Sunset. Somewhere between alt-country, funk, and jam lies this unusually groovy acoustic-led tune. The vocal delivery is particularly engaging.
8. “Hunt Your Love Down” – Royal and The Southern Echo. This bass-heavy folk-pop tune had a lot going for it, and then the horns kick in. Yes yes yes.
9. “Tulsa” – Pro Teens. This downtempo, relaxed psych-pop tune is named after my hometown, played by a band from my new city of residence (Phoenix). Chill in so many ways.
10. “Sims” – DROO. The battle between loopy casio-pop and skittering breakbeats creates a tune that isn’t quite either thing–neither aggressive nor relaxed, twee nor brittle. It’s an intermediate state. Very unique and interesting.
11. “Petal” – Hovvdy. If you’re into sleepy, rainy-day emo/indie, Hovvdy has a delicious slice of it for you.
12. “Beds” – Sierra Blanca. Just nails it: the sleepy folk vibe, the subtle bass groove, the world-weary vocals, the warm organ, the barely-there background vocals, they’re all there. Just great stuff.
13. “Leave It to Fate” – Emily Magpie. Delicate fingerpicked guitar, soaring vocals, tom-heavy drums, and wubby electro bass make for a unique, intriguing folk tune.
14. “Welcome to Being Human” – ODDA. A floating, lithe indie singer/songwriter track with a bits of Jonsi, Sufjan, and Frightened Rabbit mixed in.