1. “Wiwasharnine” – Mdou Moctar. A jangly, enthusiastic, fully engaging performance of Tuareg guitar and vocals. If you like any African-inspired indie music, here’s an excellent example of the real deal.
2. “Marjorie” – Reddening West. A haunting, immersive folk track that yet manages to keep the endearing folk-pop melodies in the instrumentals and the vocals. There’s a lot of space here, as if it were recorded in a very tall building such as a church; that sort of grandeur gives the track a blend of the intimate haunting melodies of Blind Pilot and the sweeping expanses of the Barr Brothers.
3. “Down by the Water” – Abigail Lapell. Here’s a beautiful, pure, clear-as-a-bell Americana track reminiscent of Gillian Welch. The lead and harmony vocal performances are breathtaking.
4. “Even in the Tremor” – Lady Lamb. My favorite proggy, ambitious singer-songwriter streamlines her sound a bit but still emerges with a uniquely contoured song that fits somewhere between punk rock, singer/songwriter, and artsy indie.The song bobs and weaves and dances and pounds and wavers through all sorts of moods. Fascinating.
5. “Live to Love” – Further North. If you have ever been a Relient K fan, especially of the first four records, you’ll love this straight-up-and-down early ’00s pop-punk track. It punches all my pop-punk buttons.
6. “If Only” – Streets of Roya. I’m all about slow-burn dance-rock tracks. This one features a deeply emotional vocal performance, a sweet bass line, and a solid dance-rock drumbeat (when it comes in). That the guitars never move out of U2 dreaminess makes this song even more dope.
7. “Let Go” – Saxsyndrum. There’s a saxophone, synthesizers, and drums in this track (get it?). These are blended into a low-key, dusky dance groove that ratchets up to a club-ready chorus that contains a solidly chantable vocal mantra. The post-dub wub that burst in around four minutes creates a highlight moment.
8. “Hard of Hearing” – Radical Face. As a card-carrying Postal Service lifer, I love electro indie-pop in all its forms. This one splits the difference between indie-pop, synth-pop, and whisper-folk to create a deeply hummable, very melancholic sorta-dance tune (and the video proves it!).
9. “Memories of Nanzenji” – Mark de Clive Lowe. Some jazzy saxophone noodles over some classy Rhodes work to form the basis of this song, but this isn’t just a jazziest. There’s a dense gravitas to this work that transcends the experimental, adventurous vibes trying to break out and ties it to an introspective vibe. There’s a lot going on here, but Clive Lowe corrals it all together into a thoughtful, carefully constructed, at times even mellow experience.
10. “Schluss” – Bunkr. Math-rock technicality fused with post-rock emotion and post-hardcore intensity creates a remarkable track. That so much sound comes out of two people is massively impressive: the band uses looping and layering to maximum effect here.
11. “Something Out of Nothing” – Urchin. Kit-based breakbeats, modulated vocals, burbling guitar, and some soul vibes all get cooking to make something that sounds like a ’90s funk track sped up and time-travelled to the future. Very neat.
12. “Prince William Sound” – Mark Vickness. Smooth, soothing solo acoustic guitar work with tons of variations and developments on the sound throughout the five-minute run-time.
13. “New June” – Ryan Dugre. In contrast to Vickness’ long, flowing work, Dugre’s efforts here are short, mysterious, unsettled solo guitar work. The conclusion is ambivalent–it feels like a conclusion, but it also carries the uncertainty of the piece with it. A very interesting piece of work.
14. “Circle” – mouse on the keys. A delicate, airy, even jazzy piece of full-band instrumental music explodes into a full-on post-rock onslaught of distorted guitars. The conclusion of the song brings these two ideas together, mashing jazzy rhythms and melodies with the texture and tone of distorted post-rock for a novel, innovative experience.
15. “Ody at Sea” – Erik Wøllo. Wafting, wavering, gently pulsing ambient with no percussion whatsoever – just the dreamy, gentle, subtle variations of wispy synth layers. Truly ethereal.
16. “Feel the Love” – Prins Thomas. Mellow disco revivalism at its finest, but with an modern, airy quality to the synths and vocals that anchor it in the now.