1. “Me to Bleed” – Madeleine Dopico. Dopico’s powerful voice and large range are on full display here, as she just powerhouses her way through a churning, pounding indie rock tune. It sounds like an unhinged Lake Street Dive working a minor key. Wow.
2. “Pin on a Map” – Fiesta Morose. The band name is perfect here, as the high-drama dourness of Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave meets the full-band enthusiasm and stylistic precision of early Arcade Fire in a beautiful collision.
3. “Property” – Jillian Steele. Sometimes a pop song jumps out of the pack and impresses itself upon my brain. This female-empowerment anthem is a acoustic-pop jam that opens up into a big, memorable, Lilith-Fair-esque chorus.
4. “Orbit Berlin” – Evil Astronaut. This thrumming, brooding electro-pop tune has a big human heart via the vulnerable vocal performance and and expertly-employed vocal modulations, harmonies, and counterpoints. The big, heavenly-sounding synths at the end help that warm feeling along.
5. “This Mess Won’t Make Itself” – Dead Seem Old. Songs influenced by flamenco guitar are just always so jubilant and lively, even when not in a major key. This dance-inducing track includes rat-a-tat vocal rhythms, perky horns, and a great mood. Awesome.
6. “Captain’s Ship” – Sasha and the Bear. This swaying, undulating indie-pop track is woozy in the best way: there’s a sense of the unusual and unexpected hanging over this track, from the rhythms to the unique vocal tone to the mix of delicate stringed instruments and big synths. It’s infectious.
7. “Live Like You (The Empty Vignette)” – Eli Otterholt. The lovely instrumental mood is a mix between the calm of Alexi Murdoch and the sweep of Gregory Alan Isaakov. The multi-generational lyrics spin a compelling tale of hope and love.
8. “Walk Towards the Fireworks” – Liam Paton. Ostensibly a solo piano composition, this excellent track combines gentle brushed percussion, lush strings, melodically interesting piano, and even horns to create a whirling, enveloping landscape.
9. “Rain” – Delafaye. A sleepy, reverb-laden acoustic piece that really evokes the mood of grey day. The vocal melodies in the chorus are particularly great.
10. “Sweetly” – The Show Ponies. There’s always room in my heart for a tender, unfussy love song. The warm acoustic guitar performance, earnest female vocal performance, and ear-catching vocal melodies put this tune on the top shelf.
1. “Backseat Pressure (Summer Dregs Remix)” – Dirty Blonde. I don’t know what filter, patch, or setting Summer Dregs used to augment the piano here, but it sounds unique and just plain cool. The rest of the arrangement plays out with the best lessons learned from both EDM and indie-electro pop. A thoroughly satisfying jam.
2. “Time Traveler” – Emeryld. A squiggly electro-pop verse arrangement unfolds into a delicate, moving chorus. Then the post-chorus instrumental section explodes into a Postal Service-style soaring electro-indie-pop bit. It all is held together by Emeryld’s perfectly-fit vocals.
3. “On a Bus” – Baseball Gregg. Bouncy, charming, a little goofy, but grounded enough by a rattling percussion line to not float off into untethered whimsy, this indie-pop tune is the audio equivalent of a gap-toothed smile on a sunny day.
4. “Trails” – Sisters. Somehow manages to sound exactly like 1985 and 2016 at the same time: the trumpeting synths, the arpeggiator press, the way-up-front vocal mix, the whole nine yards. Is it Paul Simon? Yes? Arcade Fire? CHVRCHES? Who can say?
5. “Colors” – Honest Men. Everybody needs a bouncy electro-pop jam in their life every now and then. You can’t really roll the windows down in a lot of places right now, but if you’re still in a place where you can…
6. “Close to Be Close to Me” – Echo Ladies. My general formula on popular music 1980-1989 is “closer to the ’80s = farther from my interest.” There was just a lot going on in that era that didn’t connect with me: gated drums, giant towers of guitar reverb, icy moods, and lots of medium-speed tempos. Somehow, Echo Ladies took all those things I hated about ’80s pop and turned them into a really sharp, enjoyable electro-pop tune. The vocal melodies really pop in this one.
7. “Half a Billion Miles” – Vagabond Specter. Space-rock was always kind of hanging out just off-screen. Sure, David Bowie did his thing, and yeah, there was that early ’00s moment where space-rock got real serious, but in a lot of ways we haven’t mined all we can of space-rock. (There’s also The Lovely Few, who are holding it down.) Vagabond Specter gives us a version of space-rock that sounds like what a spacefaring roadtrip song might sound like. It’s all burbling synths, headbobbing percussion, and soothing vocals. Rad.
8. “Red Roses” – Leisure Tank. This female-fronted indie-rock track has ominous overtones all over it, from the powerful vocal performance to the charging full-band coda. Sounds like an early Elbow track on steroids.
9. “Manta Ray” – Sam Brockington. Lightly funky, rhythmically interesting, and blessed with a bouncy bass line, this indie-rock tune rattles, dances, and sways its way through the three-minute runtime.
10. “Cupid’s Drunk” – Danny Starr. Fans of Oasis will find much to love in this acoustic-rock tune, especially Starr’s vocal melodies in the chorus.
11. “Staying Together” – ATTU. Combines mopey bedroom pop with unassuming dance-rock to create something that’s not either thing. It’s friendly but not exactly warm; it’s approachable but not saccharine; it’s fun but not giddy. It floats, but it’s not wispy. I could go on.
12. “By the Ocean” – Kid Indigo. Chipper acoustic melodies, a refreshingly earnest mood, and a subtle cool make this song into a smile-inducing charmer that’s reminiscent of early Jason Mraz work. (Remember when he was the coolest? I do.)
13. “Dreamers” – Delafaye. The mood Delafaye sets fits the title perfectly in this one, as the soft reverb and carefully-selected instrumental tones give this acoustic-led track a dreamy indie-pop feel. It’s a little more alt-country than Grandaddy, but it’s in the ballpark.
14. “Boulders” – Lucas Laufen. Pop in the way that Damien Rice and Jose Gonzalez are pop–not exactly folk, not adult alternative, but distinctly drawing on formal pop traditions in an acoustic vein. The “Quiet is the New Loud” folks would be all into this for sure. Laufen’s vocals fit excellently with the arrangement.