1. “I Love You Like a Brother” – Alex Lahey. Not a trick–this song is actually about Alex’s totally appropriate (“Just like I oughta”) fraternal affection. The lyrics are shouted above buzzing, fuzzed-out guitar and punchy drums, ultimately landing this track somewhere between pop-punk and power-pop. High praise: Alex Lahey knows how to write great guitar songs.
2. “Terribly Popular” – Marc With a C. Marc contributes a smart, funny satirical take on Taylor Swift and/or Tumblr culture via a chunky, chant-able power-pop tune. If you like power-pop, nerd culture, or satire, you probably are already hip to Marc with a C–but if not, he’s got a new record out called Obscurity that’ll be to your taste.
3. “I Like Taylor Swift” – Coach Hop. We’re equal opportunity here at IC on the T-Swift front. If you loved early ’00s pop punk and early ’90s Weezer, you’ll love the sonic aesthetics, the spot-on vocal melodies, the humorously earnest lyrics, and, oh, basically all of it.
4. “Head Down / Heart Up” – Towers and Trees. A blast of fun from the first goofy image of a pixelated arcade racing game to the final falsetto over the last crunchy power-pop chord.
5. “We Almost Failed, Brian (Epilogue II)” – Cubs Refrain. There is so much deliciously perfect melodrama in this soaring-higher-than-skyscrapers electro-pop tune that I can’t namecheck the probably-very-uncool-artist-that-I-love which it makes me think of. The bass synths provide the frame for the awesome arpeggiator and super-great vocal melodies. The message here: Just revel in a great pop song.
6. “Lydia” – The Magic Lantern. The Magic Lantern delivers a carefully considered, subtly dignified, self-assured folk tune in the great tradition of Paul Simon and followers. (Those who love Fionn Regan will also find themselves swooning.) It’s the sort of perfect vocal performance that speaks volumes without raising its volume.
7. “And Still I Question” – Chaperone Picks. Already a master of the lo-fi recording and distribution aesthetic, Chaperone Picks has one-upped himself/itself and distilled the songwriting into the essence of the songwriting and no more. This song is 63 seconds long, but it says everything it wants to say and does everything it wants to do. It leaves me wanting more, which is a compliment for anyone, no matter how long the track. RIYL: gritty ’90s lo-fi indie.
8. “Uncertain” – Robert Deeble. Deeble’s made so much music under the radar that he has fully developed his own oeuvre. This tune has all the Deeble staples: walking-speed tempos, airy arrangements, a heavy mood, subtle melodies, and Deeble’s feathery voice. The tune comes together beautifully, with a lovely set of strings in the chorus giving the tune extra oomph. This one comes from a record about a complex, difficult adoption, which gives the tune even more emotional weight.
9. “Oh Deep Water” – Great Peacock. Fans of Dawes will resonate with this spacious, well-developed Americana track. The vocal performance is surprisingly grand and very effective.
10. “Small Talk” – Maria Kelly. Dang–this is a knockout quiet tune. Kelly exerts total control over her affecting vocal performance, the somber arrangement, and the vulnerable mood. The results are “knock me over with a feather”-good.
11. “Time Immemorial” – The286. Shades of The Old ’97s, The Beatles, and the tender moments of the Avett Brothers color this lovely, vintage ballad. I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a harpsichord hiding somewhere in this tune, but it may just me appreciating this entry in the long craft tradition of pop songwriting that could reasonably include a harpsichord.
12. “Desert Song (a lullaby)” – Swimming Bell. Layers and layers of vocals and reverb create a sonic equivalent of the aurora borealis over a delicate, spartan guitar. This is majestic.
13. “Fragment II” – boerd. Minimalist techno that’s not quite ambient, this piece skitters along with low-key beats and subtle piano to create a chill, exploratory atmosphere that makes me think of Boards of Canada.