1. “You, Forever” – Sam Evian. If you somehow crossed Spoon’s minimalist arrangements and the quiet version of Conor Oberst’s vulnerable vocals in front of a Motown producer, this genreless song might appear. It’s a slow burner, working its way into your ears steadily over the unhurried three and a half minutes.
2. “I Don’t Mind” – Aaron Ward. There aren’t enough songs in the world about friendship. Many of those that exist would bring a party connotation to the line “Meet me for a pint / we’ll throw it down.” But this intimate folk/singer-songwriter track (that features a big crescendo to the finale) is about getting vulnerable in friendship, sharing tough emotions and being there for each other. Those are the sort of friendships I want. Here’s to friendship, and to this powerful, vulnerable track.
3. “Roll Around” – Kate Vargas. This sounds like a lost Tom Waits tune in its clanking, vaguely cabaret arrangement. Vargas helps the comparisons with her scratchy, intense voice and the lyrics of tough living (“You can’t get lower than the ground / but you can roll around for a long time”). Very unique.
4. “Soggy Humans” – God Bless Relative. The yearning, searching vocal performance steals the show in this one, even though there’s some tasty organ, strong drumming, and solid bass work in this West Coast Country/folk-rock tune. The tune has the easygoing spirit of the Laurel Canyon folks, but a bit more melancholy than you’d expect. Kinda like what Dawes has been doing lately, but more compelling.
5. “sure, bert” – Tyler Berd. Troubadour folk meets introspective bedroom pop in a collision of styles and expectations. The song sure seems oblivious of that though, as it confidently and earnestly wobbles its way through the slight 1:47 runtime. RIYL: early Bright Eyes, Angelo de Augustine.
6. “Love Me Now” – Ziggy Alberts. Cross the simplicity of Jack Johnson and raw emotion of Ray LaMontagne and you’ve got this Ziggy Alberts tune. This is strong acoustic pop songwriting, right here.
7. “Waiting / On My Own” – Duke Bluebeard. These two tracks are meant to be listened to back-to-back. The first has a folky-to-Brit-pop transition in the middle, while the second is a little bit more introspective and dark in mood. Both feature high-pitched male vocals that convey a lot of emotion and thoughtful arrangements.
8. “Standing Still” – Rebekah Rolland. Fans of Gillian Welch and Sarah Jarosz will love this relaxed folk tune that focuses on Rolland’s lilting, engaging voice. The trumpets and piano interaction will make fans of Sufjan’s Michigan sit up and take notice. In short, if you’re anywhere on the folk music spectrum, you should be checking this out.
9. “Easier (feat. Molly Parden)” – Sons of Bill. I know I throw the word “lush” around a bit too much when I hear songs like this, because I want to say things like, “OK, so, some songs are lush, but not this lush. THIS is lush.” There’s not a gap or space anywhere in this folk tune–it’s all full of cascading guitars, big-yet-friendly percussion, cooing vocals, and even more guitars. The effect is glorious.
10. “Married Young” – Elise Davis. A beautiful, tender depiction of young love, flush with dramatic strings, big wordless vocals, and enough pathos to get me a little misty-eyed. Anyone who’s ever been young and poor and in love will recognize this immediately, whether or not you got married.