1. “Lie With Me” – Roan Yellowthorn. Immediate, engaging female vocals grab the ear, and the rest of the song follows in a similarly irresistible way. The chamber folk is just right–not too ostentatious, but suitably quirky. Love it.
2. “Let’s Be Happy” – Fire Chief Charlie. So if She and Him arrangements met Civil Wars chemistry but with Ray LaMontagne passion, you might end up with something as shiver-inducing as as “Let’s Be Happy.” It’s a head-turner.
3. “Ontario” – Faint Peter. Spacious, gravitas-laden acoustic work that lands like a cross between Alexi Murdoch’s wide screen work and Joshua Radin’s intimate major-key intricacies.
4. “Loved You Good” – Justin Klump. I’m a sucker for a folk pop tune, and this one’s a pristinely arranged, excellently recorded slice of Peter Bradley Adams-esque folk-driven alt-pop.
5. “Floating in Space” – Jacob Faurholt. Seems so fragile as to fall apart at first, but the cinematic indie-pop song instead builds off its delicate beginnings into a moving, expansive tune.
6. “Three Words” – The Holy Smokes. It’s remarkable how much tension people can get into the calmest of tunes. This low-key indie-rock duo (think Alt-J) knows how to wring attention out of the smallest bits of melody and percussion. Great work here.
7. “Anger Tango” – Nevada Nevada. This is literally an anger tango, so fans of Gotan Project and Beirut will be way into this. Surprising and unexpected: Amanda Palmer fans will also be really into the vocalist and the overall arch vibe of the track.
8. “Like What I See” – Kindatheart. It feels kind of boring to complement chord changes in a tune, but Kindatheart really knows how to maximize the chord change for dramatic effect. It’s a subtle thing, because comfortably self-assured performances don’t need to shout it out, but the bass and guitar really power this folk/indie-pop tune. It’s just lovely. As my brother likes to say, you can do some sensible swaying to this tune.
9. “Bobey Breaks a Wineglass” – Bobey. Cascading, looped acoustic guitar notes form a chaotic-yet-structured whole that wouldn’t be out of place in a Delicate Steve piece. The vocals call up Sufjan Stevens comparisons, making the overall product something unique and interesting.
10. “Complicated Hearts” – Jenny Bruce. Love songs that point out the hard-but-committed aspect of love have my serious respect.
11. “get out of here” – John’s Snow. A homespun, lo-fi acoustic piece that evokes humble workers like Novi Split and Right Away, Great Captain.
12. “Sleepless Nights” – Charlie Pollard. This minimalist slowcore track manages to feel much heavier and darker than its instrumentation list would suggest due to the strong presence of bass and the ragged, intense vocals.
13. “Parade” – Ryan Dugre. Anyone who throws a pump organ at me has basically won my heart, but you put some spartan, careful, melodic guitar over it and you’ve got raves from this quarter. Just gorgeous work here.
14. “Gold Park” – Blahvocado. Early-to-mid-’00s low-key indie-pop, for fans of (but not exactly sounding like) Grandaddy, The Shins, and others. It’s got that odd warmth that those indie tracks had, where you felt disillusioned but also sympathized with the disillusionment for an unusual solidarity.
15. “Koi” – Color Majesty. Space age bachelor pad music is one of the more descriptive genre terms we’ve come up with, and it fits this instrumental track to a T: subtly spacy arpeggiator, ethereal pad synths, occasional keyboard plunks–all the stuff you’d expect to hear in the chill section of a cool sci-fi flick.
16. “Sarcophagus” – GLYPTØTEK. The beats of Ratatat with the guitars of Fang Island produce something that’s both chill and oddly energetic.
17. “Elephant Walk” – Hunter Sharpe. I’ve written off guitar rock lots of times, and each time it takes a larger talent to pull me back into the fold. Sharpe’s controlled chaos and way with a chorus hook made my eyebrows raise; there’s something real big going on here.