1. “I Wish I Was a Bird” – Luke Rathborne. Builds a cathedral of sound: a stomping, huge-screen affair that manages yet to have low-key fire embedded in it and a humble, earnest vocal performance. This sort of powerful songwriting and production is uncommon and wonderful–it’s indie-rock that manages to be slightly out of phase with the radio (it’s 8:33!) but oh-so-delightful for lovers of the genre. Anyone still rocking the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps” will be all up on this, or anyone who would wonder what Josh Ritter’s “Thin Blue Flame” would be like in indie rock format.
2. “DaDaDa” – secret drum band. I listen to a lot of music while I’m reading or writing. Great songs make me love what I’m working on more. The best songs make me stop what I’m doing and just listen. “DaDaDa” is a perfect amalgam of tons of different percussion elements, low-mixed synths, and the occasional found sound/vocal yawp. They manage to make these basic, skeletal pieces of music into a deeply compelling piece of polyrhythmic indie rock.
3. “Gone Away” – Stolen Jars. Turns fluttering flutes and squealing horns into urgent indie-rock, a la The Collection. The subtle, insistent press forward that underlies this track is a rare thing to capture.
4. “People Like You” – Thumbnail. This tune strides the line between American Football-style emo and old-school indie-rock (pre-major label Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie): complex drums, semi-mathy guitar lines, soft vocals, and gentle trumpet come together into a propulsive-yet-dreamy track.
5. “Tree Trunks” – Basement Revolver. The groove locks in and commands headbobbing. The lurching, loping, slow-moving-train of this indie-rock arrangement contrasts excellently against the intimate female vocal performance.
6. “Part3” – grej. Ominous piano, layered percussion, and stabbing flutes create a tense, atmospheric track the likes of which you would hear in a suspense film.
7. “Great Cop (Fugazi cover)” – New Tongues. All proceeds from this furious post-hardcore rendition of Fugazi’s song about police/policed tensions go to Black Youth Project 100. Timely content, excellent performance.
1. “New Moon” – Namesayers. The lead guitar here is angular, cranky, and brittle, contrasting against the swirling, low-key psychedelia laid down by the rest of instruments and Devin James Fry’s mystical croon. It makes for an intriguing rock that sounds like midnight in the desert with a big bonfire going. (Which is pretty much what the title and the album art convey, so this one has its imagery and soundscapes really tight in line.)
2. “O Zephyr” – Ptarmigan. It’s tough to be a serious alt-folk band without sounding over-earnest or overly ironic. Ptarmigan finds the perfect center, where it sounds like a bunch of people who love folk and have something to say are making their noise how they want. Fans of River Whyless, Fleet Foxes (often violators of the over-earnest, but nonetheless), and Barr Brothers will enjoy this.
3. “Axolotl” – Lord Buffalo. Lord Buffalo specializes in primal, pounding, apocalyptic pieces that build from small beginnings to terrifying heights. This is an A+ example of the form.
4. “A Miracle Mile” – St. Anthony and the Mystery Train. Equally apocalyptic as above, but in a more Southern Gothic, Nick Cave, howl-and-clatter style of indie-rock than the all-out-sonic assault. A wild ride.
5. “Spring” – Trevor Ransom. A tone-poem of a piece, illustrating the arrival of spring with found sounds, distant vocals, and confident piano.
6. “Not Enough” – Sunjacket. This inventive indie-rock song draws sounds and moods from all over the place, creating a distinct, unique vibe. There’s some Age of Adz weirdness, some Grizzly Bear denseness, some giant synth clouds, and more.
7. “Bushwick Girl” – CHUCK. A goofy, loving parody of NYC’s hippest hipsters in appropriately creaky, nasally, quirky indie-pop style.
8. “Ghost” – Mood Robot. Chillwave meets ODESZA-style post-dub with some pop v/c/v work for good measure. It’s a great little electro-pop tune.
9. “Da Vinci” – Jaw Gems. All the swagger, strut, stutter, and stomp of hip-hop and none of the vocals. Impressive.
10. “Disappearing Love” – Night Drifting. If the National’s high drama met the Boss’s roots rock, you’d end up with something like this charging tune with a huge conclusion.
11. “Black and White Space” – Delamere. Britpop from Manchester with a catchy vocal hook and subtle instrumentation that comes together really nicely.
12. “Plastic Flowers” – Poomse. Predictions of human doom over crunchy guitars give way to a densely-layered indie-rock track with claustrophobia-inducing horns. If you’re into Mutemath or early ’00s emo (non-twinkly variety), you’ll find some footholds here.
13. “Lake, Steel, Oil” – Basement Revolver. There’s something hypnotic about Chrisy Hurn plaintively singing her heart out as if there isn’t a howling wall of distortion raging around her.
1. “Crickets” – Some Army. Some Army sounds seamless here, as if every instrument were playing together as one. That’s a credit to their mature, strong indie-rock songwriting, excellent arranging, and immaculate production. Quite a track here.
2. “Flashback” – Astral Cloud Ashes. If you’re into MeWithoutYou, you’ll have a strong connection with ACA’s approach here: speak/sing vocals over a moody, brooding indie-rock backdrop.
3. “Ticks” – Vienna Ditto. This wildly inventive track requires some oddball words to be strung together, but here goes: sassy ’50s girl pop meets Spaghetti Westerns outside an arcade inside a dark carnival. Sometimes it is like dancing about architecture.
4. “The Joke” – Islands. A thrumming, inviting electro beat meshes with a claustrophobic mood and somehow keeps the song from going full dance-rock; big Bloc Party vibes abound.
5. “Johnny” – Basement Revolver. It takes a lot to get me interested in a mid-tempo garage rock song, because there are so many in the world. Basement Revolver’s perfectly-turned vocals, well-done guitars, and excellent build-ups result in a song that balances vulnerability and confidence neatly.
6. “Woman” – Dear Life,. Quirky, crunchy indie-rock with a multitude of influences that create interesting moments when I least expect them.
7. “Real” – Grace Joyner. Joyner’s lilting voice and engaging chorus hooks suck me in, and the bass/synths arrangement keep me swaying along to the rest of it.
8. “Young Green Eyes” – Leaone. This feels like a male-fronted version of a lost Adele song in its dramatic sweep, use of vocals, and general expansiveness. Could be poised for a big breakthrough.
9. “Even If” – Jesse Owen Astin. So it’s sort of a ballad, but there’s an electro-pop edge in Astin’s vocals that keeps this a little more raw than a ballad would otherwise be.
10. “I’m a Sea Creature” – Color Majesty. Space Age Bachelor Pad music meets some Pogo-esque glitchy vocals to result in another really smooth track.