1. “A Laughing Heart” – Steve Benjamins. I am a sucker for steel drums and horns; Benjamins includes both in this jubilant party of a song. If you were waiting for a song to kick off your summer appropriately, let me suggest this one.
2. “I Confess” – Cody Hudock. Hudock possesses the rare skill of being able to sound dramatic and chill at the same time. His skyscraping vocals bring the theatrics (in the best of ways), while a lazy piano and moseying drummer keep the vibes relaxed. The end ratchets up to a big, satisfying conclusion, but for a while, being suspended between the two moods is quite an experience.
3. “Take Your Time” – Night Drifting. The vocal melodies and the gentle, airy synth inclusion take this slightly fuzzed-out acoustic indie-pop tune to the next level. He’s on a rolling release schedule, so hit up his Bandcamp frequently for more music.
4. “I Hope You Hear This On the Radio” – Will Bennett & The Tells. Bennett and company barely keep all their enthusiasm contained on this folk-rock blaster; and if the band is that excited, how can the listeners not get excited? Great stuff here. I love songs that sound like the drummer is about to take off into space.
5. “Completed Fool” – Hollis Brown. Soul is hot right now, and Hollis Brown has some crunchy, electric-guitar-heavy soul ready for those who are all up on the Nathaniel Rateliff train and want more. Brown and his band have a month-long residency at Berlin in NYC, so if you’re around, you should hit that up.
6. “Take That” – CRUISR. Punchy, grooving electro-pop that sounds like MGMT fused to Vacationer.
7. “Drop Your Sword” – Joy Atlas. The fact that this electro-indie-pop song works is amazing: it’s an abstract, angular sort of thing, full of claps and snaps and keys and high-neck bass notes. It’s held together by Imogen Heap-esque vocals and its own internal logic. It made me press repeat just to try to figure out what happened.
8. “Talk About Us” – The TVC ft. Jayme Dee, Connor Foley. The lyrics and the huge, rubbery bass synth give off a hugely ’80s vibe, but in a pleasant way. I feel like I’ve been transported to the montage sequence of a dramatic ’80s teen movie, the part where things have gone south but the protagonists are collecting themselves and gearing up for the final confrontation. tl;dr raaaaaaaaaad.
9. “The Fear” – Amaroun. Amaroun’s engaging vocals power this churning indie-pop/R&B tune.
10. “Elizabeth” – Stephen Hunley. Some serious adult alternative vibes going on here, augmented with some bluesy cred in the arrangement (check that wurly).
1. “All I Can Give” – Haring. Chillwave forever: bright synth washes, gentle beats, and burbling melodies. Chillwave forever,
2. “Petrol Station” – Sorcha Richardson. Right when I think that I can’t take one more downtempo electro-pop tune, Sorcha Richardson renews my faith in the genre. This is slinky, groove-laden, and funky in all the best senses of those terms. Her vocals are just so smooth.
3. “Outro (Entry Code, Dial Tone)” – Heart/Dancer. Warm, refreshing, and intimate electro pop; the male/female vocals remind of Chairlift or Mates of State.
4. “Everything” – Wall of Trophies. Brittany Jean and Will Copps return as Wall of Trophies, showing off their particular skills: whirlwinds of artsy electronic/acoustic sound marshaled by Jean’s acrobatic vocals and passionate delivery. The sonic conclusion at the end of the tune will raise your eyebrows.
5. “Surrender” – Briana Marela. Somewhere between the intimate voice morphing of Imogen Heap and the cinematic vocal loops of Julianna Barwick lies Briana Marela. “Surrender” is a burbling electro/acoustic track that relies on complex beats, layers of sounds, and delicate/feathery melodies.
6. “Ready 2 Wear” – Loveskills. What would dance music sound like if there were no drum machines or synths? That’s the question Loveskills admirably tackles here, creating a bouncy, infectious track out of piano, finger snaps, strings, and intriguing vocals. This is a great pop song.
7. “Wavering Down” – Kasey Keller Big Band. Starts off as an abstract, outsider electronic piece, ends in a bit of a hooky electro jam–all in under 90 seconds.
“Grainy” – Cotton Claw. You know that scene in action movies where the spy is in a club, and then he spots his guy, and then a noir-ish chase scene through a dark, glamourously-lit urban landscape erupts without the music changing all that much? Plug and play.
“Rooftops” – Sick of Sarah. Is it a dis to say someone sounds like Paramore these days? If not, the confident vocals and tight dance-rock beats makes this tune sound like an enthusiastic Paramore club remix. If yes, this sounds nothing like that at all.
“No Exit” – Nightmare Fortress. Dry industrial beats meet round, warm synths and biting alto female vocals; it’s oddly accessible.
“Broken Angels” – Jade the Moon. Other than the wub in the bass, this is a vocals-heavy, female-fronted mid-tempo club banger from the ’90s. (That’s totally great with me.)
“Raincoats” – Maribou State. Got me wondering: what’s the politically correct term for Tribal House these days?
“Enchanteresse” – Scattered Clouds. Dissonant, disorienting flashes of guitar lightning crash on an ominous plateau of baritone speak/sing vocals and plodding bass. For fans of apocalyptic post-rock.
“State of Low” – Cajsa Siik. I know this sort of delicate, feminine indie-electro-pop existed before I heard Frou Frou on the Garden State soundtrack, but I can’t escape thinking about Imogen Heap’s vocals whenever something this light (yet dark, always dusk where they are) appears.
“Lost” – Zohara. An unusual fusion of pop chanteuse vocals, dissonant orchestration, and pleasant piano produces an enigmatic, interesting track.
“Forest Fires” – Axel Flóvent. If you’re the sort of person who longs for winter as soon as it gets warm, this acoustic- and piano-laden track will give you all the snowy-cabin-folk chills you need to get you through the hard months.
“True Colors” – Johanna Warren. Surprisingly technical guitar playing gets matched with calming vocals and very serious arrangements of piano and flute. This results in a tune that is both calming and unsettling.
Independent Clauses is but one man right now, and I can’t get to everything. Here are some really quick hits on stuff I like but haven’t had a chance to cover in detail.
Shine Your Light – Gap Dream. Burger Records loves garage-rock, but Gap Dream goes against the grain for some psych-influenced pop-rock. The tunes here are smooth, powered by shimmering, pulsing synths and trilling, chiming guitars. These are really fun tunes that take some of the irony out of indie-rock’s version of pop-rock. Perfect driving music, excellent chilling-out music.
Light on the Lake – Signals Midwest / Banquets – Banquets. I didn’t listen to a lot of punk rock this year for a bunch of silly reasons. These two bands, whom I dearly love, bore the brunt of my sabbatical. Both are really talented bands that deserve the attention of those who love muscly punk rock that doesn’t get too abrasive and keeps an artsy streak.
Spooky Action – The Fierce and the Dead. If a punk band and a post-rock band were in a head-on collision, the resulting fusion would sound as frantic and expansive as this album. If you’re into post-rock but think it can get way too navel-gazing sometimes, you should hear the pounding riffs and rhythms this English band throws down.
Unravel – Debbie Neigher. Neigher is an alto singer/songwriter with a mature approach to songwriting, along the lines of Regina Spektor, Imogen Heap, and Feist. She relies heavily on keys–but not necessarily piano–which creates a nice vibe to her work.
Save Your Heart – Lights & Motion. If you like your post-rock in major keys, with huge crescendoes, and with jubilant conclusions, Lights & Motion is far and away the best at that. This is beautiful stuff that intends to make you sigh with wonder. You know who you are.
Multiple Releases – Qualia. Dan Leader put out six releases in 2013 under his post-rock moniker. Similar to Lights & Motion, but with a pinch more nuance and minor key action, this is still incredibly beautiful work. If you’re into it, there’s a ton of it to be into, so jump on that.
Falling in Waves – Black Birds. These Australians marry guitar crunch and heavy reverb for a post-shoegaze throwdown. If you’re into rock riffs without a blatantly self-indulgent rock’n’roll attitude, check it out.