1. “Great White Shark” – Hollands. Maximalist indie-rock/pop music with groove, noise, melodic clarity, effusive enthusiasm, strings, harp, and just about everything else you can ask for. If the Flaming Lips hadn’t got so paranoid after At War with the Mystics…
2. “Coyote Choir” – Pepa Knight. Still batting 1.000, Pepa Knight brings his exuberant, India-inspired indie-pop to more mellow environs. It’s still amazing. I’m totally on that Pepa Knight train, y’all. (Hopefully it’s The Darjeeling Limited.)
3. “Peaks of Yew” – Mattson 2. I love adventurous instrumental music, and Mattson 2 cover a wide range of sonic territory in this 10-minute track. We’ve got some surf-rock sounds, some post-rock meandering, some poppy melodies, some ambient synths, and a whole lot of ideas. I’m big on this.
4. “Firing Squad” – Jordan Klassen. Sometimes a pop-rock song comes along that just works perfectly. Vaguely dancy, chipper, fun, and not too aggressive (while still allowing listeners to sing it loudly), “Firing Squad” is just excellent.
5. “Droplet” – Tessera Skies. There’s a tough juggling act going on in this breathtaking indie-pop tune: flowing instruments, flailing percussion, cooing vocals, and an urgent sense of energy. It’s like if Jonsi’s work got cluttered up with parts and then organized neatly.
6. “Available Light” – David Corley. If Alexi Murdoch, Tom Waits, and Joseph Arthur all got together and jammed, it might sound something like this gruff yet accessible, vaguely alt-country track.
7. “Blue Eyed Girl” – Sam Joole. I’d like to make a joke about blue-eyed soul here, but it’s actually closer to Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” than that. Lots of laidback guitars, good vibes, but not Jack Johnson twee, if you know what I mean.
8. “By the Canal” – Elephant Micah. I’m a big fan of people who aren’t afraid to let an acoustic guitar and voice splay out wherever they want and however long they want. Here, EM acts as an upbeat Jason Molina, putting the focus on his voice instead of the spartan-yet-interesting arrangements. Totally stoked for this new album.
9. “If It Does” – Robin Bacior. In this loose, smooth, walking-speed singer-songwriter tune with maximum atmosphere, shades of early ’00s Coldplay appear. That’s a compliment, people.
10. “Storm” – Dear Criminals. Not that often do I hear trip-hop, even in an updated melodic form. Way to go, DC–you pick up that torch that Portishead put down.
11. “You Open to the Idea” – Angelo De Augustine. Beautiful, delicate, wispy, earnest whisper-folk. They don’t make ’em like this very often anymore.
12. “Billowing Clouds” – Electrician. The mournful, affected spoken word over melancholy, trumpet-like synths makes me think of an electro version of the isolated, desolate Get Lonely by The Mountain Goats.
13. “Blue Chicago Moon (demo)” – Songs: Ohia. Until Jason Molina, I’ve never had a personal connection to the art of a troubled artist who died too early–Elliott Smith was gone before I knew of his work. Now with unreleased demos coming out consistently after Mr. Molina’s death, I feel the sadness of his passing over and over. Each new track is a reminder that there was work still to be made; it also feels like a new song from him, even though it’s objectively not.
Is this how a legacy gets made in the digital era? How long will we keep releasing new Molina songs, to remind us that he was there, and now he is not? (Please keep releasing them.) Will the new songs push people back to “The Lioness”? Will we keep these candles burning to light our own rooms, or will we bring them to other people? “Endless, endless, endless / endless depression,” Molina sings here. Is it truly endless? Are you still depressed? Does your permanent recording of the phrase make it truly “unchanging darkness”? “Try to beat it,” he intones, finally. Try to beat it, indeed. Keep trying until you can’t anymore. And then let your work stand forever. I guess this is how I mourn.
Mid-year pt 2: Acoustic Happy / Acoustic Sad
1. “High Up” – Wonderful Humans. WH has it all together to make perfect indie-pop: energy, enthusiasm, twee instruments, percussive elements, and melodies galore. Wonderful Humans is really good.
2. “Big River” – Wonderful Humans. ANOTHER WH TUNE BECAUSE I DO WHAT I WANT AND IT’S GOOD FOR YOU. WHOA-OH-OH-OH, WHOA-OH-OH-OH.
3. “Clams” – Pepa Knight. Exuberant indie-pop filtered through a Hindi-pop lens. It’s enveloping and enthralling. I’ve been super pleased with both of Pepa Knight’s singles so far.
4. “Give Me a Drug that Works Forever” – One Finger Riot. Mid-tempo Brit-pop, burbling electro, and American indie-pop collide in an infectious, memorable tune.
5. “Girls” – Slow Magic. Chillwave meets The Album Leaf meets Pogo. I APPROVE.
6. “Run Run Run” – Jenny Scheinman. Scheinman has a strong voice and a deft Americana songwriting touch. You won’t be able to ignore Scheinman much longer.
7. “Black Crow” – Juliette Jules. A voice mature beyond her years, songwriting beautiful beyond expectations, and production of excellent quality: Jules has everything working for her on this gorgeous, tender track.
8. “Wedding Day” – Anand Wilder and Maxwell Kardon. The lyrics grabbed me by the throat, and the folky/celebratory arrangement kept me involved. This is an impressive tune.
9. “Green Eyes” – Cancellieri. Originally by Coldplay, Cancellieri strips some of the pop sheen from this and gives it a romantic intimacy befitting the gorgeous lyrics.
10. “Is What It Is” – She Keeps Bees. This female-fronted singer/songwriter track is stately, composed, and elegant without becoming icy or distant. SKB creates great atmosphere here.
11. “Confederate Burial” – Snowblind Traveler. Snowblind Traveler matches up the icy arrangements of For Emma and the traditional melodies of old-school Americana to great effect.
12. “Blue Valentine” – Bloom. If you’re a fan of the sad but not hopeless sound that Pedro the Lion made, Bloom will scratch your itch for it with this beautiful track.
13. “Hold on to Your Breath” – Sleepy Tea. These Aussies live up to their name with a relaxing, refreshing vibe reminiscent of a slightly more energetic Parachutes-era Coldplay. Just a beautiful track.
It’s release season, which means that there are literally more things coming out than I can possibly review. The way I can best make sense of this is by dropping massive singles lists and then augmenting with reviews of the very best stuff. So here’s part one of a massive amount of singles.
MAXIMUM SINGLENESS (cheery part)
1. “Rahh!” – Pepa Knight. I’m generally anti-congas, but Pepa Knight makes them sound so delightful in this jubilant indie-pop/pop gem.
2. “Murphy’s Law” – Clockwise. JUST START DANCING NOW. ALSO GET READY TO CLAP. SUMMMMMEEEEERRRRRRR
3. “Suns Out Guns Out” – Concord America. Garage rock needed a shot of the Beastie Boys’ mid-’80s total abandon, and Concord America delivers.
4. “Melody” – Plustwo. This song was a hit in 1983, at the tail end of disco. Now it’s been redone and re-released. Since it sounds pretty much like it could have been written today, it’s now time to say: DISCO IS ALIVE, FOLKS.
5. “Gold Soundz” – Ray and Remora. Respectin’ their indie elders with a low-key indie-electro verzion.
6. “Dirty Mouth“- Killing Kuddles. Here’s a folk song that just couldn’t contain all the raucous energy it had, so it turned into a punk song. Excellent slice of folk-punk here, complete with wicked guitar solo.
7. “Faucet” – Samuel Cooper. Tons ‘o dudes doing the hazy-indie-pop thing, but not so many can do it with such endearing vocal tone and strong melodies.
8. “Running Game” – Awning. Melding ’90s pop to gentle electro to acoustic-pop, Awning are doing something a little different than the rest of us.
9. “When You Call” – July Child. Sometimes R&B is too limp for me, but the energy and strong vocal performance here make this track wistful without being wimpy.
10. “I Can’t Wait (to Get My Hands on You)” – Kelly Lee Keel. Fun, raw, lo-fi, female-penned alt-country ode to the female libido.
11. “Better Ride” – Curtin. Sometimes I hear a song and think, “damn, s/he must have been writing songs for a long time.” This chill alt-country tune just smacks of experience and expertise. Absolutely gorgeous.