1. “Don’t Go Quietly” – Light Music. Is this indie-rock? Post-rock? Electronica? All of the above? All I know is that this gorgeous track is one of my favorite songs of the year.
2. “Our Little Machine” – Last Good Tooth. The lyrics here sound straightforward till you read them a second time; the dense, melodic sounds here are similarly deceptive, unveiling their details as you listen repeatedly.
3. “The Closing Door” – LVL UP. Balances Weezer-esque guitar-wall crunch with “aw, shucks,” nose-in-a-book indie-pop for a unique, pleasant tension.
4. “Brother in Arms” – Annabelle’s Curse. The smooth easiness of indie-pop meets the complexity of indie rock while the spectre of alt-country hangs over it all. Taking the best of multiple genres and creating something new is a worthy goal, and Annabelle’s Curse knocks it out of the park here with a great tune.
5. “Modern Language” – Postcards from Jeff. Intertwined flute and guitar open this nearly-seven-minute indie-rock title jam from PfJ’s new record. It’s the sort of arrangement that balances delicate sounds with the drum-forward enthusiasm that makes a great live track.
6. “Answered Prayers” – Terribly Yours. This quirky indie-pop tune includes the fattest bass sounds and thickest groove I’ve heard in the genre this side of Of Montreal’s “Wraith Pinned to the Mist.” The song floats along like a tropical breeze on a vacation where you’re really and truly not worrying about going back to work.
7. “New Colors” – Kennan Moving Company. Sometimes you need that blast of horns in your life, no matter if you’re a soul tune or a pop-rock tune (as this one is).
8. “Glory Days” – 1955. The high-drama indie-rock (equal parts early ’00s Hives, early ’00s Elbow, and Cold War Kids) is perfectly tuned to be in one of those adventure-laden Heineken ads (and their spin-offs–what’s up with those Kohler ads?). In other words, it’s the sort of way-too-cool thing you want to score your life’s soundtrack.
9. “Swings & Waterslides” – Viola Beach. Straddling the line between Hot Chelle Rae’s radio-pop-rock and Tokyo Police Club’s left-field take on the same, this tune pushes all the right buttons.
10. “Porch” – Long Beard. All emo-inflected indie-rock bands want to sound effortlessly nostalgic, but few of them hit the mix of guitar tone, vocal reverb, walking-speed energy, and gentle melodicism.
11. “Mamma’s Gotta Secret” – Them Vibes. Rootsy rock with enough ’70s vibes to keep things unusual.
12. “New Vibration” – ALL WALLS. Grumbling guitar distortion and a chiming guitar riff collide with falsetto “oohs” to make a funky/poppy/fun track that would make Prince jealous.
13. “Rock N Roll Disco” – James Soundpost. Do you need a primer in how to write timeless pop-rock music? If so, listen to this tune and learn how to write a no-nonsense guitar line, sing a catchy hook, and rip off a guitar solo. Rad.
1. “Find My Way” – Jinja Safari. The sort of exuberant, gregarious pop music that seems unavoidable and unhateable. Tropical vibes, mid ’00s MGMT-esque melodies, and overall fun had by all.
2. “Petrichor” – Light Music. This one’s the sort of indie-pop-rock tune that rides a great vocal hook, intricate-yet-fun arrangements, and sheer ebullient charm to great heights.
2. “Visions of Plumerias” – Rudy De Anda. Wistful, lazy, slow-motion days now have one more song for the soundtrack: De Anda’s vintage pop sounds just retro enough without getting tribute-band-y.
3. “Guess You Never Thought of It That Way” – Theo Berndt. Overstuffed, zinging, exuberant, vocals-and-instruments-in-the-same-melody pop songs aren’t the exclusive products of Scandinavia, but it sure seems like they have a big claim on the territory. Theo Berndt is a band from Sweden, and thus parlay their mandate into a wildly entertaining track that just keeps throwing more stuff at you.
4. “Virginians” – IOLA. It’s always fun to hear a song go in a completely different direction than I expected. This indie-pop tune goes from 0-60 and back in a most satisfying way.
5. “Trisha Please Come Home” – Advance Base. Lo-fi ideals and hi-fi production co-exist in this meandering, endearing tune from this post-Casiotone for the Painfully Alone project.
6. “Eye to Eye” – Astronauts, etc. More and more indie-rockers are coming around to how funky, soulful, and fun R&B can be. It’s working its magic on me too: I’ve not historically been huge into R&B, but this track is a sweet jam that sounds amazing.
7. “Our Bodies” – Ghost Lit Kingdom. Affectionate, big-melody ballads can eat a whole lot of elements from different genres and still be recognizable: this one pulls in some tropical vibes, R&B grooves, and indie-folk instrumental arrangements.
8. “A Dead Man’s Song” – Roger Lion. Joe Pernice and Budo (Macklemore) come together to create a head-bobbin’ down-tempo tune with ’90s Brit-pop and trip-hop influences.
9. “Gunsmoke” – Ancient Warfare. A good transition can make a song: Delicate, traditional piano taps leads smoothly into the huge, noisy, guitar-bound chorus. The moment works.
10. “Ghost Legs” – Dreamcoat. Some band names are just ways to differentiate one entity from another, but Dreamcoat’s name fits the sound of this tune perfectly: a round, warm, gently rolling indie-rock tune grounded by unobtrusive pad synths and lightly accented by slapback guitar and distant vocals. It feels like I could wrap myself up in this and go to sleep–hence Dreamcoat.
11. “Parliament” – Sunday Lane. Insistent bass notes create a pleasing tension against Lane’s gentle, patient vocals. In a parallel development, a skittering electronic beat pushes on careful piano chords. The resulting tune fits together like a puzzle, somehow turning out a surprisingly cohesive dream-pop whole from a variety of parts.