1. “Into the Unknown” – The Lighthouse and the Whaler. Just an absolute, A+, oh-wow-2010-was-great, stomping, soaring folk-pop song. It’s like a Lord Huron and Lumineers collaboration that preserves all the best parts of both of their work. There are even “HEY”s. I’m in love.
2. “No Mamma” – Animal House (UK). This is the most infectious British guitar rock tune since Marsicans showed up. It’s got a lot of early ’00s Strokes in it, but it’s more rubbery, more bouncy, and way less preening than Casablancas and co. Yep, just a really great pop song about being young. Ace.
3. “Free Like a Broken Heart” – Birdtalker. If you like your folk/alt-country with a heavy dose of Motown soul, you’ll whip your head in the direction of Birdtalker. The dual vocals are strong, the arrangement is excellent, and the whole thing comes off like a Dawes track coming out of a historic Detroit studio.
4. “Miss Him Too” – Nate Daviau. “You miss the man you fell in love with / honey / I miss him too” is about the most alt-country sentiment I can imagine. It’s aggressive yet mopey, self-aware yet miserable. The crunchy, Jayhawks/Old ’97s-style arrangement fits perfectly with these lyrics. Daviau has a lot of swagger going on in this track.
5. “Less Than Positive” – Michael Nau. There’s some ’50s pop mixing, some loping country-style bass, some Gregory Alan Isakov vocal performance, and bright-shiny guitars all thrown together into a great pop song. If you need a smile but don’t want to go full-on happy, there’s just enough downer here to keep it real (while still being a lot of fun).
6. “Glow” – Brooke Annibale. Power-pop that doesn’t go for the Big Crunch–more like Fountains of Wayne, or Spoon, or even the fuzzed-out elements of Spiritualized. The song keeps an even keel but stays exciting throughout.
7. “Dreaming About You” – Polychrome. Dreamy electro-pop with ODESZA-style post-dub vocal blips and twiddly melodies over a thick synth base. There’s a lot of songs that could be described like that, but this is one that nails it with an X factor, where others just sound like ODESZA.
8. “Please Don’t Let My Art Die” – Marc with a C. Uber-satirist Marc with a C turns his gaze toward the hereafter and pens a plaintive, honest look at what it means to leave behind a legacy as an artist and person. It’s couched in a jangly, punchy power-pop tune that Marc has refined to a T. The a cappella bit at the end is just lovely.
9. “Lake Erie” – Wild Pink. John Ross manages to sound vulnerable and confident at the same time–conveying the emotions of uncertain and confusion in a rock-solid performance. His gentle voice mixes excellently with the jangling indie-rock guitars. This song is full of happy-sad; the sort of sadness that makes some people just happy inside.
10. “Round but Jaded” – Dear Life,. Alternating between a delicate alt-pop tune and a stomping indie-rock one, this track has a lot of sonic diversity. I love a good arpeggiator, and their use of synth is the beating heart of this song. The vocals are also a unique touch.