1. “Tune In [Prelude]” – Alivenique. The opening lyrics of this track are “now that I’ve got your attention.” It’s bold to claim that eight seconds into a song and further bold to repeat it throughout 3:40 of a tune, but Ali Beletic fully pays it off. The opening seconds are a highly manipulated set of notes and beats that serve as a hyperpop intro that’d make 100 Gecs jealous. The tune expands into a deep groove with the lyrics chanted like a mantra, and the combo of beats and bass-heavy notes is one that indeed grabs my attention. I can’t help but move when hearing it. It’s totally bereft of the dread and steely-eyed resolve that has characterized so much of the music in the last four years: check the steel drum sounds halfway through that celebrate themselves. This is music that’s urgent because it’s joyful and vital and powerful, and lo, we all need that right now. Highest recommendation.
2. “Patterns” – Freya Lily. This solo piano piece evokes a stream of water rushing over rocks, with clicks and clacks of the piano hammers serving as subtle percussion support for the lovely patterned melodies. Very soothing.
3. “Pick a Day to Die” – The Sunburned Hand of the Man. My early votes for 2021’s Most Ominous Song Title and Best Band Name (Welcome Back Category) go to this cut and its proprietors. The jammy, elongated, lightly psychedelic, weirdly western, and altogether interesting instrumental cut lopes from beginning to end, giving us a tour of a strange-but-not-as-ominous-as-the-title landscape.
4. “Pinocchio” – Mike Dillon. Hand percussion, melodic percussion, and squiggly guitar comprise this low-key composition that swings between meditative and ominous (due to the grumbling guitar tone). A unique composition with a neat vibe.
5. “Acid Mountain – Roni Size Remix” – Moon Hooch. Moon Hooch’s two-saxes-and-a-drum-kit dance music gets a blitz treatment, adding breakbeats to turn it into a speedy techno cut. It sounds like it has become more of itself, which is one of the highest compliments I can give a remix. Highly recommended.
6. “Girl” – Sal Dulu. Flips a wide array of vocal and instrumental samples into a low-key hip-hop mood that’s perfect for wandering around a city at night.
7. “Sign Language” – Blue Water Highway. A beautiful alt-country ballad that calls up Jason Isbell comparisons. The arrangements are similar (although there are some synths in this one that are beautifully employed), but mostly it’s because I believe this song the way that I believe Isbell songs. Man, this one gets me.
8. “Dindi” – Urban Village. Zulu vocal enthusiasm plus Postal Service indie-electro-pop makes for a thrillingly happy song.
9. “How Much a Dollar Cost” – R+R=Now. Robert Glasper, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, and an outstanding crew give an instrumental version of a Kendrick Lamar tune. Need I say more?
10. “Whoa Hey!” – Barra Brown. A boppin’ bass line, hectic kit work, burbling keys, and trumpet soloing set to clips of the ’60s space program? Sign me up for that.
11. “Whatever Disease” – Buffalo Moses (Buster Blue) drops by Loud as Folk for a recording session. In the final track, Moses delivers a lyrical authenticity that resonates through the collective consciousness of America, captured simply through Tony Cantini’s stellar stripped video production. Check out all of the artists on Loud as Folk through Tony Cantini Productions, highlighting the best of roots, blues, and Americana.–Lisa Whealy
12. “Strawberry Milk” – Cameron Knowler and Eli Winter. I always felt strawberry milk was too sweet as a kid, but this beautiful cut is not saccharine at all. This earthy guitar duo has just the right amount of folk and just the right amount of composition chops to put this in a sweet (pun intended) spot.
13. “Sojourner’s Truth” – SleapingDreaming. Fuzzed-out, groove-heavy, high-energy (did y’all play in a punk band at some point?) post-rock of the loud/quiet/loud variety; the chanting at the end is alternately soothing and terrifying, which is still an uncommon thing, even after living through 2020 and 2021.
14. “Passengers” – Wave of Sound. At some point I am going to have to impose a temporary moratorium on songs that feel like impending doom, but that point has not yet come. As a result, please enjoy this piano-led instrumental that sounds very significantly like impending doom. RIYL: impending doom, nice melodies. Bonus: the video is eerie-scary, on top of the sonics.
15. “Demons” – Sarah Coponat. Grows from an anticipatory, burgeoning roll to a torrential slew of keys and back. It truly feels like a depiction of fighting internal demons, the push and pull of good thoughts vs bad, peaceful vs chaotic.