1. “Stanley and Seafort’s” – Kye Alfred Hillig. Hillig has been at this singer/songwriter game so long that he’s gone through his rock phase and his voice-and-guitar-only phase to come back out at the other end with a sound that’s matured but not all that different than his original ideas. What has developed is his lyrical approach–moving from (devastatingly effective) straightforward folk storytelling to a much more poetic approach, dropping evocative, picturesque lines next to each other and asking the listener to interpret. This song is short but packs a huge punch lyrically; there’s more going on that can be easily explained, and explaining any of it would detract from the joy of listening to it. Highly recommended.
2. “Here We Go Again” – Big Little Lions. We can always use more uplifting, group-sung pop-folk goodness.
3. “Conversations” – Little Chief. I basically don’t believe that any band is actually broken up these days, and so it’s with great excitement that I found out that Little Chief is back (albeit greatly slimmed down in the personnel department). This track is slightly less stomp-‘n-holler than their earlier stuff; there’s more sonic diversity and mature melodic development. Except for the big guitar build toward the end of the song, it sounds like a quieter version of The Head and the Heart (themselves graduates of the stomp and holler class, mostly). If you’re in for folk-pop, you’ll be in for this.
4. “At a Bar Downtown” – Steph Casey. Here’s some really great storytelling in an easygoing indie-folk track. The arrangement is rock-solid, Casey’s vocals soar, and the whole piece comes together beautifully.
5. “Point of no return” – Slowburner. It takes a lot of skill to make a solo piano piece tense and yet not overtly dissonant. This is a cleverly written and recorded piece that has lots of atmosphere.
6. “Siberia” – Lorenzo Masotto. Mid-way through summer in Phoenix, I start to long for Siberia and other incredibly cold places; get me to where it’s chilly and I’ll be happy. Lorenzo Masotto can’t take me there physically, but he’s certainly trying to take me there sonically. This piece is actually a bit warmer and friendlier than you might expect, but it still has rich, dark overtones of the perpetual winter. There’s also some classy, Romantic elements in the melodies. A lovely piece.
7. “Something” – Wall of Trophies. Dense walls of distortion and staccato arpeggiated rhythms are tamed into a backdrop for an track that’s somehow both grooving and thumping. Throw in some group chant and Brittany Jean’s excellent vocal delivery, and you’ve got a winner that’s not quite any genre: it lives in its own airspace between electro, indie-pop, and School of Seven Bells.
8. “How Do You Like Me Now” – The Local Strangers. Well, hot dang–that’s one way to start a record. A torrential blast of alt-country guitar and attitude-filled vocals power this big ‘ol kiss-off track. There’s even a brass line thrown in there to make it a bigger, badder, get-out-of-here tale. This is some killer alt-country. Highly recommended.
9. “Air On Line” – Anamanaguchi. There’s nothing quite like Anamanaguchi.