1. “For B 2” – Jake Aaron. A lovely little acoustic guitar piece, a river running smoothly and beautifully over rocks.
2. “A Large, White Vase” – Art Contest. This track is like the dark indie rock of Manchester Orchestra being eaten by Anamanaguchi–it’s glitchy, quirky, video-game-inspired, but also dark and volatile emotionally. There are stuttering math-rock patterns, spoken word, and punchy bass lines. It’s a whole lot happening, which is all for the best.
3. “Smash / Hit” – Thirsty Curses. Did you think Beat the Champ was a great album and want more indie-rock/wrestling crossover? Thirsty Curses and Fire Star Pro Wrestling have got your back. Here’s a mashup of Thirsty Curses’ yelpy, enthusiastic indie rock and Fire Star’s pros going at it as best they know how. The song is catchy as all get out, and the wrestling is fun.
4. “Heliotrope” – Runnner. I got worn out after covering acoustic indie-pop for almost a decade, but the cream of the crop still catches my ear. This track has all the earnest charms of a Guster track (honest yet interesting lyrics, gently clever arrangements) with a sonic palette similar to Freelance Whales (but with more gravitas). It floats despite being serious, and it slaps without … actually slapping. (“Slaps” is a state of mind, I suppose.) The M83-esque coda is impressive, too.
5. “The Seminar” – Stables. Dear heavens, I want to be in Stables’ music video so bad. The Lord Huron-esque tropical indie-folk with Vampire Weekend overtones charges along so enthusiastically that I want to live in this song. Then the music video is a backyard concert: no masks, just people dancing in summer dresses and hipster short-sleeve buttondowns. People are taking video on their phones inexplicably (as someone always is). The whole thing is filtered through a bright yellow filter. TAKE ME WITH YOU, STABLES!
6. “I’ll Do Anything But Breakdance for Ya, Darling” – Kate Davis. Davis interprets Daniel Johnston here (as part of a whole album cover of Retired Boxer) and does Johnston great justice. Johnston’s warm, weird charm and offkilter lyrical approach are maintained. Davis amplifies the warmth here, delivering the vocals with pitch-perfect earnest. The enthusiastic arpeggiated synthesizer that takes the chorus to great heights is the cherry on top. This is just a wonderful cover–I don’t cover covers that often, but this one is immaculate. Please check it out. In addition, proceeds from the record go to Johnston’s memorial foundation concerning mental health, the Hi How Are You Project.
7. “The Ruckus” – Schimanski. Funky, punchy, goofy, loopy, excitable, and altogether fun. Lots of funk bass, big ‘ol trumpet synths, and more.
8. “Decision Dollars (with Hollie Fullbrook)” – The Phoenix Foundation. Hazy, melancholy, ’80s-inspired, dark blue dream-pop that makes me think of the Dream Academy. The arrangement is perfectly done here–it feels nostalgic and fresh at the same time, an extremely difficult trick to pull.
9. “Rebounder” – Night Sports. Lookin’ at a different type of nostalgia, this video compiles hundreds of short video clips compiled from social media (or at least, made to look like that). It’s all pre-COVID, no-mask, joyful snippets of life. Shoutout to the dude who’s using his guitar as a cellphone and vice-versa. The guitar-pop is fun too, but this video is hard to look away from in the best of ways. Come on back, regular life. Come on back.
10. “Of a Million” – Thunder Dreamer. “Helplessness Blues” is over: “Of a Million” is the new cry. The pushback on just being part of some big machine is trenchant and solid. (Although, not in an uncomplicated way, as the chorus points in two directions, both away from and toward being in that frame of one of a mass. Clever.) The easygoing, walking-pace folk/indie-pop arrangement here is brilliant as well.
11. “Ubaba” – Urban Village. Here’s a brilliant South African song that combines peaceful acoustic guitar and traditional Zulu singing patterns for a sonically warm, comforting, encouraging song.
12. “Lunar Acropolis” – Xander Naylor. I love it when drone and rhythm compete with each other, and that’s exactly how Naylor starts off this six-minute journey. Guitar wanders in, and then eventually it gets dark and heavy with thunderous horns/sax/drums. It gets jazzy and wild before calming back down for the coda. A really fun experience.