1. “When We Go” – Freedom Baby. Trumpet harmonies get me almost every time–there’s something just so beautiful about the way two horns can interact. Freedom Baby opens up with trumpets, which means that I am totally sold before the track barely has a chance to get anywhere. The rest of the track does not disappoint, as this contemporary folk has very indie-pop inspired melodies that are hugely singable. The burst of instruments and vocals halfway through calls to mind The Collection’s orchestral-folk enthusiasms, which is high praise from over here. This is a fantastic track. Highly Recommended.
2. “The Garden Song” – Cuchulain. Cuchulain’s sonorous voice and chipper low strings ground this romantic tune–it’s a love song, but one full of earthiness and real life. (Thus, the garden–a metaphor and/or a real place.) It hits all the right emotional buttons without getting maudlin.
3. “Presidential Silver Lining” – John Craigie. Protest songs can be disenchanted, violent, angry, apathetic, hopeful, determined, or some of all of that. But in my opinion, protest works best when it’s funny–and boy, John Craigie is hilarious. This song, written right after the last presidential election, is so great that it feels like ruining the punch line to explain it any more than than saying it’s more about music than politics (but there’s plenty ‘o politics in it). The folk itself is fantastic too, as Craigie has an excellent voice, a strong guitar strum, and fantastic melodies. He can also speak-sing with the best of them, which is a solid attribute in a folksinger. Man, this is just great.
4. “Keep Falling” – Gregory Ackerman. What if Grandaddy had been happier? What if Clem Snide had been less, uh, snide? Maybe Gregory Ackerman. This acoustic-fronted piece is full of little glittering things–little notes, small melodies, pieces that add together into a warm, enveloping whole. This is one of the happiest songs I’ve heard in a long time, in that explains its happiness in an unusual, but totally recognizable way.
5. “dawn song (morning pepper)” – the modern folk. A loping, lo-fi, instrumental folk piece that includes found sound, unusual percussion, twee melodies, and an overall inviting vibe. Sounds like a humble, backporch version of Sufjan Stevens’ weirdest acoustic moments.
6. “Give Me Back My Heart Again” – Bird in the Belly. Fans of the vocal folk tradition will love the opening minute of this track, a mournful a cappella duet. The rest of the track is sprightly folk of the British Isles–some Irish rhythms and some English melodic vibes power the (still-sad, but fast-sad, not slow-sad) song.
7. “New Sweden” – Marmalakes. There’s not a direct line between Marmalakes and The Mountain Goats, but I would wager that if you like TMG you’d like Marmalakes. There’s a confident, knowing sort of approach to this indie-pop; it starts off as a folk fingerpicking before jumping into a stomping distortion section and then drawing back down to something much more akin to the Kings of Convenience. These are faulty touchstones, but they’re what I’ve got. Marmalakes is doing something interesting in folk/indie-pop/indie-rock, and I commend it to you.
8. “Stay Off My Mind” – Skott. I just totally love the verses of this track: the drums, bass, and vocal performance come together amazingly well. Skott’s vocal tone fits perfectly into the lightly-forward-pressing indie-pop verses. The chorus is fun too, but the verses are what got me.
9. “Black Chemicals” – Rainbrother. The sort of lazy enthusiasm that marked the best of ’90s Brit-pop (save Blur) is present in this walking-speed indie track. The falsetto vocal lines from the verses feel sort of like they’re tossed over a fence, soaring up and then drifting downward comfortably. It’s a fun, easygoing, unavoidably cool track.
10. “Drifting” – Alex Tiuniaev. A delicate, relaxing piece gets a bit of dissonance thrown at it, and the work transforms from a wafting breeze to something more complex, more earned. A strong solo piano piece.