1. “New Moon” – Namesayers. The lead guitar here is angular, cranky, and brittle, contrasting against the swirling, low-key psychedelia laid down by the rest of instruments and Devin James Fry’s mystical croon. It makes for an intriguing rock that sounds like midnight in the desert with a big bonfire going. (Which is pretty much what the title and the album art convey, so this one has its imagery and soundscapes really tight in line.)
2. “O Zephyr” – Ptarmigan. It’s tough to be a serious alt-folk band without sounding over-earnest or overly ironic. Ptarmigan finds the perfect center, where it sounds like a bunch of people who love folk and have something to say are making their noise how they want. Fans of River Whyless, Fleet Foxes (often violators of the over-earnest, but nonetheless), and Barr Brothers will enjoy this.
3. “Axolotl” – Lord Buffalo. Lord Buffalo specializes in primal, pounding, apocalyptic pieces that build from small beginnings to terrifying heights. This is an A+ example of the form.
4. “A Miracle Mile” – St. Anthony and the Mystery Train. Equally apocalyptic as above, but in a more Southern Gothic, Nick Cave, howl-and-clatter style of indie-rock than the all-out-sonic assault. A wild ride.
5. “Spring” – Trevor Ransom. A tone-poem of a piece, illustrating the arrival of spring with found sounds, distant vocals, and confident piano.
6. “Not Enough” – Sunjacket. This inventive indie-rock song draws sounds and moods from all over the place, creating a distinct, unique vibe. There’s some Age of Adz weirdness, some Grizzly Bear denseness, some giant synth clouds, and more.
7. “Bushwick Girl” – CHUCK. A goofy, loving parody of NYC’s hippest hipsters in appropriately creaky, nasally, quirky indie-pop style.
8. “Ghost” – Mood Robot. Chillwave meets ODESZA-style post-dub with some pop v/c/v work for good measure. It’s a great little electro-pop tune.
9. “Da Vinci” – Jaw Gems. All the swagger, strut, stutter, and stomp of hip-hop and none of the vocals. Impressive.
10. “Disappearing Love” – Night Drifting. If the National’s high drama met the Boss’s roots rock, you’d end up with something like this charging tune with a huge conclusion.
11. “Black and White Space” – Delamere. Britpop from Manchester with a catchy vocal hook and subtle instrumentation that comes together really nicely.
12. “Plastic Flowers” – Poomse. Predictions of human doom over crunchy guitars give way to a densely-layered indie-rock track with claustrophobia-inducing horns. If you’re into Mutemath or early ’00s emo (non-twinkly variety), you’ll find some footholds here.
13. “Lake, Steel, Oil” – Basement Revolver. There’s something hypnotic about Chrisy Hurn plaintively singing her heart out as if there isn’t a howling wall of distortion raging around her.
1. “Who Are You” – The March Divide. Jared Putnam turns to formal popcraft, creating a splendid little perky acoustic pop tune. Somewhere between “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” and a Shins song, this tune is a lovely surprise.
2. “I’ll Be True” – Crockett Hall. Standing in front of a big Stax Records sign, a raw, rough-throated reverie with soulful, mournful horns in the background.
3. “Low Hymnal” – Told Slant. The dark flipside of twee shows its sleepy, anxious head here. This song is somehow both tiny and expansive in how it sounds.
4. “Already Gone” – Travis Smith. Like a less hyperactive version of Dan Mangan, Smith has a bouncy, chipper flair to his troubadour folk.
5. “Vanishing Shores” – Tom West. Here’s a big, Australian indie-folk singalong with gentle, marimba-esque arpeggiator below it. Hard for me to dislike anything with that description.
6. “C’Mon and Sing” – Chaperone Picks. While we’re on the topic of singalongs, here’s a song about singing along. A rootsy, bass-laden guitar strum creates the structure and most of the arrangement for this not-quite-folk-punk tune, and the results are smile-inducing and foot-tapping.
7. “Burning Bridges” – 2/3 Goat. Led by a clear, bright, strong female vocal, this alt-country tune has a killer chorus that stuck in my mind.
8. “Francesca” – Thurdy. Sometimes you need a gentle, kind ukulele instrumental in your life.
9. “Windfall” – Kalispell. The majestic folk spaciousness of Bon Iver paired with striking, disarming, immediate tenor vocals creates a unique, deeply enjoyable atmosphere. The arranging and recording engineering here are truly remarkable.
10. “Curse the Road” – Austin Miller. The easygoing shuffle of a old-school country song meets careworn vocals to create a tune reminiscent of Rocky Votolato’s early work.
11. “Rattlesnake” – Fog Lake. An appropriate band name to fit this hazy, swaying tune. There’s some angular guitar and some abstract sounds thrown in for good measure, but other than that this is grade-A strength walking-speed bedroom pop.
12. “Everything” – Cavalry. First it made me feel like the first rays of dawn coming over the horizon, then like a gem opening up to the light for the first time, then the great expanses of wide canyons and huge mountains. It’s indie-rock that uses the same instruments you would expect, but their sense of wonder and careful restraint make this an incredible track.
13. “Ruelle (feat. Olivia Dixon)” – Trevor Ransom. Starts off in beautiful piano-based minimalism, grows to dramatic post-rock grandeur, then drops off to develop again.
In the Minor Key
1. “Works for You” – Σtella. Sleek, slinky pop that bridges the gap between electro and Fleetwood Mac with ease.
2. “Throw the Game” – Sky vs. Heath. Electro-indie bands are a dime a dozen, but Sky vs. Heath manages to rise above the pack with pristine production, a breathy vocal performance, and solid vocal melodies.
3. “Future Ex” – Plastic Knives. Somehow things still sound futuristic, even though we’re definitely living in the future. This electro-meets-rock-meets-post-rock-meets-soundtrack tune achieves an unusual amount of clarity, consistency and vision for a tune of its type.
4. “Come to Your Senses” – MNNQNS. Ping-pongs between post-punk verses, party-friendly indie-rock pre-chorus, and an almost alt-rock chorus. The results are a lot of fun.
5. “Stay” – Sabbatical Year. Performing the balancing act between hipster-friendly indie-pop and radio-friendly OneRepublic-style pop takes a deft hand, and Sabbatical Year shows off that they’re up to the task.
6. “3 A.M.” – New Dog. A surprisingly perky arpeggiator anchors this late night indie-pop; it’s perhaps a gentler version of Digital Ash-era Bright Eyes. The sort of song that you feel like you’ve known and loved forever, starting right now.
7. “Dodged a Bullet” – Greg Laswell. Laswell is in full-on mope-out mode, making breakups sound just as weird and uncomfortable and all too familiar as we know they are.
8. “All In Time” – Hospital Ships. If you pull out elements of The Postal Service, Songs: Ohia, and LCD Soundsystem and mash them together, you might end up with something along the lines of this intriguing, low-key indie-pop jam.
9. “Cut Love” – Hayden Calnin. A brilliant, icy, arch, James Blake-ian electro-mope (with piano).
10. “The lamp kept us warm, but now we walk (Feat. Olivia Dixon)” – Trevor Ransom. A thoughtful, atmospheric piano-heavy piece (post-rock? modern classical? I don’t know anymore) that includes lots of found sound; it’s the sort of thing that turns an ordinary place into an extraordinary one with a simple pair of headphones.
11. “Back Home” – Lyfe Indoors. It’s tagged “coldwave,” which I’m sure is a specific term, but I like it because this tune is like a spartan chillwave tune in a minor key. It’s got subtle groove and evocative atmospherics.
12. “Dissolve” – TIHMTGB. A fractured, tumbling, almost architectural sonic piece; it relies heavily on impressions and interpretations of the mood, rather than melody.