1. “C’mon Armageddon” – Fantastic Cat. This is a perfect alt-country barnburner that evokes the sounds and lyrics of Bob Dylan, Josh Ritter, Langhorne Slim and many more. Also, the jokes in the credits are specifically for anyone who has ever been in a band; I couldn’t stop laughing about the jokes for a half-hour. (You have to watch the whole video to get the jokes, though.) Highly recommended.
2. “All of the Women” – Allison Russell. This politically timely song from Canadian songwriter Russell’s late May 2021 release Outside Child screams in its banjo-driven roots vibe. Subtle, angry brilliance oozes from Russell’s vocals. Highly recommended. —Lisa Whealy
3. “Jenny and James” – Wes Collins. This is storytelling folk in pure form: Collins’ smooth vocal delivery spins a tale of people trying so hard. The arrangement is just about as picture-perfect as it can get, too. Highly recommended.
4. “Sirena” – Lisa Morales. Morales celebrates her cultural heritage in this reverie, an homage to the sirens of the night. Braving the dance of love, Morales shines, letting her nimble vocal style fly. She weaves a stunning contrast to the intricate Spanish guitar work that is the foundation of her EP El Amor No Es Cobarde. —Lisa Whealy
5. “While We’re Here” – M. Lockwood Porter. Alt-country songwriter Porter returns with an earnest assessment of personal and professional meaning, in light of his father’s death. The heartbreakingly honest vocal delivery fits wonderfully atop the restrained and lovely arrangement.
6. “Dog Stay Down” – Opus Kink. Opus Kink are at their unhinged best here, throwing down a near-chaotic mix of folk-pop, funk, punk, Nick Cave, Gogol Bordello, and … wrestling. You’ve not heard anything like Opus Kink before.
7. “Flow Clasico” – Ankris. Columbian duo Ankris create the mood of true love and its dance of misplaced passions. Despite its light musicality, nuanced production choices drive the narrative here: Hot and cold, burning with spoken word desire and a Latin beat. Haven’t we all watched that special someone slip out of our lives, cold as ice? —Lisa Whealy
8. “Humble Heroes” – Demon and Lion. Demon and Lion might be known only as the Las Vegas act that sings in English, Italian, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. But this original song’s beauty, beyond its message, is the vocal tone that results from the blending of accents. —Lisa Whealy
9. “CHEERS” – Jordy Benattar. I love a good protest song, and this low-key acoustic-pop tune really is one (albeit an unusual one). Benattar rails against Gen Z / late Millenial ennui, taking the state of normal life to task in this surprisingly fresh and subtle tune.
10. “I Want More” – KALEO. KALEO might have earned rock supergroup status, but they did so by ignoring conventions. Instead they sing folk songs in their native language and perform in Iceland’s Skálholt Cathedral, one of its most holy and historic places: the center of ecclesiastic power for nearly 700 years. They chose to film a stripped orchestral performance with JJ Julius Son solo.This video’s magnificence is the strings, that include violins (Sigrún Harðardóttir, Ásta Kristín Pjetursdóttir, Guðbjartur Hákonarson, Chrissie Guðmundsdóttir), violas (Karl James Pestka and Þórunn Harðardóttir) and cellos (Unnur Jónsdóttir, Hrafnhildur Marta Guðmundsdóttir, and Júlía Mogensen). —Lisa Whealy
11. “Hangover Game” – MJ Lenderman. Lenderman throws the listener right into the sordid details of an athlete’s life (and death?), set to a scuzzy indie/garage rock shuffle. Hits the spot right between Pavement and the Mountain Goats.