1. “The Age of Man” – Diva Faune. The vocal melodies here are magnetic: I can’t stop thinking about them. They are somehow optimistic and wistful, enthusiastic and pensive. The restrained electro-pop that accompanies the acoustic guitarwork is just as subtly brilliant. Highly recommended.
2. “My God” – Bitter’s Kiss. Bet you weren’t expecting a plucky, swaying piano-pop tune about religious tolerance.
3. “Love Not Hate” – Penny Mob. This rock’n’roll tune isn’t skate punk, but the distinctive vocal style, punchy ska-esque horns, and massive enthusiasm remind me of late ’90s/early ’00s skate-pop-punk. This one is also about tolerance. Bonus!
4. “I Need You Closer” – Eric Reid (A Prince). Muted, bouncy 808s; handclaps; anthemic sing-alongs full of big cursewords; Beatles-esque string arrangements. What more can you ask for in a busted-heart breakup tune?
5. “Take Me Over” – Ari Roar. Most woozy pop has distortion slathered all over it, but Roar prefers to layer slightly-off-kilter casio sounds with his feathery voice to create the a pleasingly woozy effect.
6. “What of Me” – Corey Crumpacker. If you mash the Southern rock of Needtobreathe with old-school Mumford and Sons theatricality, and you’ve got a fist-pumping, stadium-sized folk-pop tune.
7. “The Holy Ghost” – decker. decker really goes for it here, hammering away on every available instrument (including vocals) in creating an almost claustrophobically intense piece of rock’n’roll-meets-folk. Wow.
8. “Liberations” – Martin Forsell. The humble “ooo-ooo” line gets deployed to great effect here in this troubadour folk tune swaddled in layers and layers of reverb. (It’s not quite to Fleet Foxes levels of reverb, though.) The drums and bass ratchet up to a post-punk thrum, giving this folk tune great aspirations that pay off in a rewarding tune.
9. “Cabin Fever” – Candy Cigarettes. A downtempo acoustic guitar at the heart of this track is surrounded by slow-moving strings, descending rhythm guitar, ascending lead guitar, stacks and stacks of background vocals, and eventually pounding drums & keys to make a dense, charging rock tune.
10. “Aristide’s Entry into Paris” – Belly of Paris. So you’re Beirut on a bender with a cohort of gypsies shambling down the back alleys of some ancient-yet-modernizing city, and then you start getting chased. Inventive, carnivalesque, and fascinating.
11. “Or Not” – The Clydes. Everyone needs a good desperate-sounding guitar-rock song at their disposal when things are going off the rails. Keep this one close at hand for business partner backstabbing, romantic deceptions, or certain unsavory characters with outsize influence on your life.
12. “Schtum.” – Lunacre. A subtly askew guitar performance opens up into a deep, Radiohead-esque pool of barely-soothed anxiety.