1. “JUNGLES” – Rina Mushonga. The sort of exciting, carefully-crafted electro-pop tune that always has one more trick up its sleeve, from Mushonga’s engrossing vocals to unexpected synth melodies to sudden stop-start mechanics and more.
2. “Eghass Malan” – Les Filles de Illighadad. An all-female trio from Niger, they create music in the tende genre: it’s desert music, shifting, sinuous guitar work over stripped-down percussion. The vocals are impressive as well. This will appeal to people who like West African sounds, sitar (the melodic structures bear a resemblance), and adventurous listening.
3. The Wave – Los Colognes. This is a 43-minute long continuous video for a whole album. It’s such a gutsy, unusual move that the sheer audacity alone is enough to get it on this list. The space-rock-meets-psych-flutes indie rock of the opening track is a convincing bit as well.
4. “Bombay – Nairobi – London (Repeater)” – Holy ’57. Alex Mankoo’s exuberant indie-pop project makes a left turn on this track, a groove-heavy fusion of worldbeat, funk, and electro-indie capped off by a horns-waving brass line. The lyrics are an interview with Mankoo’s grandmother about her immigration to London (as reflected in the title). You haven’t heard anything like this in a while.
5. “Scarlet Fever” – Skye Wallace. The lyrics are about long-distance love in the steamboat/gold rush era, but the music is 100% mid-to-late-’00s hyper-enthusiastic indie-rock. Anyone who still pines for Ida Maria will absolutely love this track. It’s a total blast.
6. “Big Boys Don’t Cry” – Melissa Bel. Fans of the ’50s pop revival that seems to have been percolating for years but never hitting critical mass will enjoy the Meghan Trainor-esque tune here. The handclaps, hammering piano and skronking bari sax all pitch-perfect, while Bel’s vocals are thoroughly modern.
7. “We’re Alive” – Rivera. The chorus of this tune features the sort of well-written hook that I find myself humming absent-mindedly days later. It’s a pop song, but it doesn’t go for the “big anthemic explosion” type of chorus–there’s some subtlety involved, which I like. h
8. “No More Stones” – Oh Geronimo. Sort of like a cross between Manchester Orchestra and Frightened Rabbit, this song dances back and forth over the minor/major key line. The alternating moods of jubilance and melancholy create a fascinating blend.
9. “Americo” – Americo. A poem about WWII spoken against a solemn, pensive, keys-led post-rock backdrop. Americo is mostly a distortion-laden rock band, which only makes this atypical, impressive track stand out even more.
10. “Song of the Highest Tower” – Cut Worms. Sounds like the lost link between Simon & Garfunkel/America-era folk and mid-nineties lo-fi indie-rock, which is pretty rad.
11. “Never Be” – Meg McRee. Close harmonies in an almost rap-sung style over a turbulent adult-alternative arrangement create a tune that’s close to an alternate-universe Jason Mraz song.
12. “Bus” – Woochia. Starts off with a hypnotic acoustic guitar line and slowly turns into a smooth, bass-heavy instrumental electro track. The marriage between the electronic and acoustic is impressive here.