1. “Russian Roulette” – Sons of London. Well, damn. Right when I thought Deep Elm was out of the game for post-Blink-182 emo-punk-pop, they go and drop this on us. This is one of the most memorable, can’t-stop-listening pop-punk tunes I’ve heard in a long, long time.
2. “Solitude” – Alpenglow. The good people of Alpenglow seem like the sort of good-natured, thoughtful, interesting people who I’d like to get a beer with and talk about water rights politics. I think they’d most likely have an interesting stance, tell me an anecdote or two, and leave me feeling better off in my intellectual life. I think I mean that this song is smart and fun in equal parts, but that’s reductive and makes it look like I didn’t try (although I think Alpenglow would probably be cool with either description, because when you know yourself, you care less about what others are thinking about it.)
3. “Roll It” – Nap Eyes. Nap Eyes has my vote for breakout band of the year–their loping, engaging indie-rock tips its hat to all the coolest references without feeling derivative. “Roll It” just sounds so immediate and fresh that it’s hard to imagine people won’t jump on this train.
4. “Walking In My Sleep” – Kris Orlowski. Orlowski takes another step farther from his folk roots and closer to an indie-rock home with the debut single from his upcoming record Often in the Pause. Crunchy guitar noise, headbobbing rhythms, and his unchanged ability to write/deliver a compelling vocal melody power this tune that seems always ready to burst but never quite explodes, giving a nice tension.
5. “The Uninvited Guest” – Gladiola. If there’s a Weakerthans-sized hole in your heart, Gladiola is here to fill it with tight power-pop melodies, tight lyrics and an overall sense of weary-yet-determined urban knowledge.
6. “In This Lifetime” – Scary Little Friends. Big, punchy power-pop with a bit of glam creeping in around the edges of the vocals.
7. “Lava” – Pleasant Grove. The distillation of an expansive divorce record that took a decade to complete, “Lava” combines the tough guitar exterior and gentle melodic interior that comprise the tensions of The Heart Contortionists’ early -to-mid ’00s indie-rock. Death Cab for Cutie and Grandaddy fans will find much to love here.
8. “Butterflies” – Wyland. Do you miss The Joshua Tree? Fear no more: Wyland’s got your back with this arena-filling, stadium-rocking anthem.
9. “Come Down” – Water District. Remember that weird, brief moment where Silversun Pickups made grunge into a cool indie-rock thing? Water District remembers, creating their own pensive, emotive brand of grunge-inspired indie-alt-rock.
10. “From Far Away” – SayReal. This infectious, smile-inducing tune will thrill those who like good pop songs and those wished that Michael Franti and Spearhead sounded more like their one unusual pop hit all the time.
11. “Start Right Here” – Jennifer O’Connor. O’Connor takes the basic elements of modern indie-pop songwriting (jangly guitars, plain vocal style, catchy melodies, full-but-not-noisy drums) and turns out gold. I don’t know how that works, but it does.
12. “Guns” – Andy Metz. Punchy, rhythmic piano-pop verses open up into a smooth, memorable chorus, complete with timely political commentary on gun control.
1. “Running Away” – The Royal Foundry. It’s actually kind of astonishing that we’ve had less acoustic-pop/electro mashups than we’ve had (I see you, Magic Giant!). TRF manage to pull the best elements of both chipper-yet-thoughtful acoustic pop and fist-raising MGMT electro-pop into this really rad tune.
2. “One Less Thing” – Curtsy. I should be used to the type of distortion that makes things sound dreamy instead of grungy, but every now and then you hear something that restores your faith in an effect. This tune walks the line between hazy and energetic beautifully.
3. “Mixer” – Nap Eyes. You know that dude who shows up at your parties and he’s the friend of a guy you know, and you’ve met once, and he turns out to be awesome, and your friend never shows up, but the friend-of-a-friend is coming over next Tuesday? Nap Eyes isn’t a garage rock band on this track, but their chilled-out Cali rock is rad.
4. “Is He Gone” – The Echo Field. Giddy indie-pop that could easily pass for a first-British Invasion “rock” track.
5. “Monday Morning” – Paradise Animals. The arpeggiator synths create a post-chillwave framework for the baritone vocals to leap about in. It’s like Teen Daze paired with an alternate universe version of Matt Berninger from The National.
6. “Believer” – Paper Lions. Think of the most pleasant possible mash-up of Tokyo Police Club and Passion Pit, and you’d get this grin-inducing track. We need a better work for this specific indie-pop-rock-dance type work, ’cause it’s totally a thing.
7. “Technicolor Souls” – Flight of Ryan. Manages to combine wubby bass, chopped vocals, vocoder and high-tenor wails in an exciting way that doesn’t sound overdone. (Okay, maybe the vocoder is a bit much.) If you can’t wait for The Naked and Famous to finish up that third record…
8. LA Takedown – LA Takedown. This 44-minute album streams as one track on the linked website. It works perfectly because the electro-heavy post-rock/digital soundscape is the sort of abstract wonder that can make me stare at an empty screen quiet contently while the sounds swirl about my ears.
9. “Headlights” – Grandsister ft. Sarah Belkner. The vocals, arpeggiated bass, and percussion just all come together great on this one.
10. “TMI” – Daphne Willis. Sick of Meghan Trainor dominating all public spaces but actually love her style of music and really wish you had an alternative? Daphne Willis’s latest EP is exactly the sort of too-fun-to-be-real pop that you’ve been secretly hoping for. Seriously sasstastic.
11. “No Way” – Naives. This off-kilter electro jam sounds like M.I.A. rejected a beat made for her and to salvage it the beatmaker tried to repurpose it into an indie-electro jam, coming up with something altogether different along the way.
12. “Tokyo Megaplex” – Art Contest. I wonder if Coleman Monroe showed up at their practice space and said, “Yo, Garrett, I wrote this insane, fast guitar line that doesn’t really believe in time signatures. Think you can keep up?” If you need your mind bent by a good-natured math-rock tune today, here’s a good candidate.
13. “Flame” – Controller. So you’ve got a good fuzzed-out guitar riff, a great vocal line, and a big chorus: you, my friend, are in business.
June Rock List
1. “Whine of the Mystic” – Nap Eyes. Major-key guitar-rock infused with so much martial tension from the drums and the wavering high guitar part that it feels like it is always about to explode–with the exception of the preternaturally calm vocalist that tethers the tune the ground. The tune never explodes in giant guitar fury. I’m impressed.
2. “Getaway” – Jaill. Bass-heavy surf-rock that eschews much of the whining treble that categorizes the genre: suddenly, it just sounds like tip-top driving pop-rock music.
3. “Be What You Are” – The Cairo Gang. The less garage-y garage rock gets, the more it sounds like ’60s rock and pop. This has Beach Boys, Beatles, Kinks, and more influences crammed into it. Rock on.
4. “Incarceration Casserole” – Barrence Whitfield and the Savages. Uncorked James Brown-esque soul/funk complete with sax meets blast-off ’50s rock in a high-energy blender of a song that’s about not knowing how to make food and eat because his wife is in jail. This is the first time you’ve heard a song like this.
5. “Creature” – It Looks Sad. Every now and then a punk song jumps out of the ether, slaps me across the face, and demands that I cover it. This one, with its towering choruses, huge-yet-not-abrasive guitars, and early ’00s/White Octave-esque emotional palette did that to me.
6. “Kashyyyk” – We Take Fire. A mind-bending genre blender of a song that combines post-rock, post-hardcore, dance-rock, and Coheed & Cambria-esque flights of fancy into one massively headturning rock song.
7. “Smokesignals” – The Feel Bad Hit. Here’s an punk-inspired instrumental rock tune that has nothing post- about it: the band just crushes it without vocals. ‘Nuff said.
8. “Love Like Crazy” – Jessica Lee Wilkes. Wilkes offers up some sax-powered, vaguely surfy vintage pop that sounds fresh as anything.
9. “Crossing on a Bend” – Bourbon Street Beat. Not a big rockabilly fan? Try this track, which includes enough modern melodic sentiment to seem less uncomfortably foreign and more exotic and interesting.
10. “Port City” – I Am the Albatross. Buoyant acoustic rhythm guitar, crunchy electric guitars (complete with guitar solo!), jubilant chorus, creaky vocals, big drums: this is an old-school rock tune, y’all.
11. “Business” – The Good Field. I have an ambient understanding of what ’70s AM radio rock sounded like: warm, major-key, fuzzed out, concerned with formal songwriting tactics, and generally hooky. The Good Field fit my impressionistic ideas of what that style sounded like to a T.
12. “Aubrey” – Lake Malawi. Low-slung but still peppy, chilled-out but still energetic, this sounds like a Strokes-ian indie band accidentally getting lost in ’80s radio pop and emerging with an artifact that isn’t either genre, exactly.
13. “Young” – Kyle and the Pity Party. This song declares “I’d do anything for you/I’d even listen to Brand New/if that’s what you want me to.” Without waxing poetic about the early 2000s (Deja Entendu forever), I can confidently say that this sort of emotional rock and roll is a direct descendant of that scene (with some of the angular edges worn off).