1. “We’re So Close” – MOON. Heavy doesn’t shock anymore, but it certainly can still make a big bang. As such, the thundering electric guitar entrances in this indie-rock tune are really, really rad. I would love to see this live: I can imagine it would be an impressive experience.
2. “Chaperone” – TOLMAN. I hear electro-indie-pop tunes all the time, and yet some still make me turn my head (and fast; somehow the song makes me know in seconds that it has arrived). This electro jam has some zinging treble synths, sultry female vocals, and squelchy bass synths. The words don’t do it justice–it kicks.
3. “Cold Sunshine” – Dan Webb and the Spiders. Webb usually throws down brash and speedy pop-punk, but this one slows down into a mid-tempo rocker that makes me think as much about The Hold Steady as it does The Gaslight Anthem and other not-quite-pop-punk-but-whatever bands. Webb turns in a great, evocative vocal performance here.
4. “I Can’t Resist” – The Great Escape. Sassy organ, squawking guitars, roaring vocals, stomping percussion; this reads like a mix of The Black Keys and Alabama Shakes.
5. “Show Me Your Facebook Page” – Samantha Echo. This is a wild ride: Echo creates a cabaret/show-tune style piano-pop song about the emotional troubles that Facebook causes. That simple statement can’t encompass the many twists and turns of this song, but it’s the best I got. Just listen to it.
6. “Cigarette” – PANG! feat. Cameron Douglas. Manages, manipulates, and ultimately owns the space between introspective folk and Avicii-style electro-pop-folk. Beautiful, but also catchy and punchy.
7. “Bad Girlfriend” – Keith Monacchio. The downtempo, talking-style singer/songwriter work is immediately arresting. The lyrics are fantastic as well; the sort of simple, “I could have written that but I guess I didn’t” sort of plaintive concern that connects deep.
8. “Evening Light” – Paul Sweeney. This instrumental acoustic piece is the sort that has distinct, robust lead melodies that could have been vocal melodies, had Sweeney so desired. Instead, it’s a highly melodic piece with a lot of body and development.
1. “County Line” – Susto. Susto is one of the very best alt-country acts working today, and if you don’t know that you haven’t heard their stuff yet. Let this nigh-on-perfect tune serve as your introduction.
2. “King” – The Amazing Devil. This incredibly intense song wrings every last drop of emotion out of dramatic vocal performances, a cinematic lyrical set, and a churning full-band acoustic performance. Cello has rarely sounded so incredibly vibrant and necessary in folk-rock. The video that accompanies the tune is equally impassioned; it’s a rare thing that the video enhances the experience of listening to the song, but this one totally does. Highly recommended. Their album comes out Monday, so if you’re in London you should check their release show out. If it’s anything like this video, it promises to be a wild affair.
3. “Window” – Stephen Douglas Wolfe. Saxophone and French horn are not common inclusions in a woodsy folk tune, but Wolfe makes them sound totally natural. Between them and the bassist going absolutely bonkers (you go!), this sounds almost more like Anathallo than it does Bon Iver, but fans of both will find much to love in this tune.
4. “Dancing in the Dark” – Josiah and the Bonnevilles. This song is infinitely coverable: I would listen to almost anyone cover this tune. The fact that Josiah and the Bonnevilles are my favorite new band of the year makes it even more excellent.
5. “Standing” – Melody Federer. This singer-songwriter/indie-pop tune has a melodic maturity that stands up against Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Watkins, and Sleeping at Last. It has gravitas while still remaining light; it’s a very rare balance that is to be celebrated.
6. “Why Don’t You Call Home” – Deni Gauthier. Sometimes all you need is a great falsetto and a tiny guitar riff to steal hearts.
7. “Sunset Road” – Kathryn Overall. Here’s a folk-pop tune about contentment, local beauty, and home played in a low-key, no-frills, earnest way. I broke into a smile, and I think you will too.
8. “Under a Rose” – Dylan Addington. Always space in my heart for a folk-pop tune with a catchy vocal melody and stomping percussion. Fans of The Lumineers should be all up on this.
9. “The Captain” – Adam Topol. Fans of the easygoing acoustic joy of Dispatch and Guster will find a lot of love in Topol’s swaying, airy, summery tune.
10. “Catch Your Fall” – The River South. The iconic shuffle-snare is employed to great effect here, providing the backbone for a delicate love song. The keyboards, bass, and dual vocals fill in the warm, comforting vibe.
11. “White Sky” – Lilla Clara. A solemn, emotionally powerful tune that sucks all the air out of the room.
12. “Between the Bars” – Andrea Silva. Elliott Smith cannot have very much added to him, but reinterpretation keeps a legacy alive. This cover features a great vocal performance, too.
13. “Once Upon a Child” – Eleanor Murray. Tape hiss, nylon strings, room reverb, and an arresting alto vocal line come together for a deeply affecting tune.
14. “Loss” – Paul Sweeney. This contemplative solo guitar piece has a consistent motion in the melodic line that makes the song both evocative and emotional.
15. “Improvisation I” – De Martenn. This solo piano piece explores a dark blue mood; it feels like the street corner late at night, when you know no one is around but it still feels like something is going to happen. It’s peaceful but not serene; there’s some undercurrent going right there under the surface. You look twice; no one is there either time. You’re a little disappointed, but but also relieved. You walk home. You sleep well.