1. “e. silver” – Roco. Noises, riffs, rhythms, and vocals collide in atypical ways, creating an exciting, “what will happen next?” environment. Sort of like The Avalanches, or weird trip-hop, or a Beck fever dream, or none of the above.
2. “Where I’ll Be Waiting” – Why We Run. This Snow Patrol-esque tune that falls between alt-rock and indie-rock rides a memorable guitar riff with an engaging guitar tone. The tune’s about a friend with a mental illness, which many of us can relate to.
3. “Permission” – Slow Falling Sun. If you’re into ’90s Britpop, you need to be listening to this bouncy track.
4. “Fatal Vision” – Brice Randall Bickford. Bickford uses his smooth baritone to turn out a vulnerable, engaging vocal performance. His voice leads the way through this almost-weightless, pristinely recorded indie rock tune that will be appreciated by fans of Spoon.
5. “The Great Attractor” – Qualms. Big, round bass and an attractive variety of synth sounds build out this midtempo tune; the vocals ride the waves nicely. Comes out like some mix between Spiritualized and Manchester Orchestra.
6. “The Blue Hour” – Brand New Moon. BNM fuses folk, slowcore electro, and trip-hop to create a unique, fascinating, imaginative track.
7. “Books for the Holidays” – Halcyon Drive. Hits you with the Antlers-style blue-eyed soul/R&B vibe that’s so popular right now, then shifts gears with a ratatat snare into a charging, Bloc Party-esque rock tune without changing vocal style. Now that’s a hook.
8. “Imaginary You (feat. Stahalamora)” – Lyfe Indoors. Ambient? Chillwave? Found sound? Whatever you want to call this, it’s got admirable movement, melody, and arrangement skills. Chill, hypnotizing, mesmerizing.
1. “War and Opera” – Montoya. The careful, restrained arranging that Montoya deploys in this melodic indie-pop tune gives it a maturity and dignity that separate it from other tunes. The delicate guitar and alto vocals still create thoroughly enough interest to power this intriguing song.
2. “ALIEN” – Laura and Greg. The duo has transformed from a pristine acoustic duo into a punchy, noisy indie-pop-rock outfit. It’s not exactly Sleigh Bells, but they’re heading in that direction–but Laura’s charming vocals and fun keys keep the song on this side of full-on-indie-rock assault.
3. “Call Me Out” – Jesse Alexander. A former member of Cobalt and the Hired Guns keeps the ska / indie-pop fusion tunes coming: this one has horns and organ to keep the good vibes flowing.
4. “Fire Up the Bilateral Brain and Draw” – Word to Flesh. Here’s a quirky tune that employs the keys-focused sound structures of formal pop, but has no real formal structure: the only phrase in the two minute tune is the titular mantra, surrounded by guitar noodling. It’s remarkably engaging, and then it’s over–sort of like a less manic They Might Be Giants.
5. “Rainer” – Lull. A hammering rock intro flips on its head and unveils a delicate, early ’00s emo sound. They get back to the rock, but they take their sweet time getting there and make it worth your while when they do.
6. “A Moment to Return” – Why We Run. Moody bass/drums meets The National vocals with some U2 ambient/anthemic guitars on top. The results are a surprisingly uplifting post-punk tune–post-punk generally doesn’t make me want to dance or smile, and there’s some of both to be had here.
7. “When We’re Clouds” – Slow Runner. So indie-rock used to be shorthand for “rock songs that are definitely rock but kinda don’t play by the same rules.” Slow Runner’s tune is a song of (government?) scientific experimentation on human subjects (I think?). The music itself is slightly off-kilter rock, like a louder Grandaddy, a chillaxed Flaming Lips, or something altogether different. Here’s to Slow Runner.
8. “Dance Baby” – Luxley. That rare electro-rock song which doesn’t hammer listeners over the head with massive synth blasts–instead, there’s a bit of Cobra Starship restraint in the vocal-heavy arrangement. There is a bit of punk-pop attitude in the vocals (Good Charlotte came to mind), giving this a bit of a unique flair.
9. “Maria, Mine” – Don Tigra. Former folkie Stephen Gordon has slickly and impressively reinvented himself as an indie-rocker with post-punk vibes, coming off as a cross between Interpol, Cold War Kids, and Leagues. (Full disclosure: I’ve given some professional advice to Gordon over the years.)
10. “Psychopaths and Sycophants” – Keith Morris & the Crooked Numbers. Bluesy, swampy roots rock with whiskey-sodden, raspy vocals and all sorts of swagger. The great backup vocal arrangement and performances put the song over the top.
11. “Polaris” – Shiners. Minimalist electro-pop usually doesn’t have enough structure and melody to keep me interested, but Shiners do a great job of creating a cohesive, immersive whole out of small parts.