Flower Crown – The Billy
Dream-pop mainstays shrug off their depression blanket and gaze, dazed behind Ray Bans, up to the sun. The purest, most buoyant expression of joy that the quintet has produced to this date, “The Billy” sees frontman Richie Colosimo enlist booming drums, jangling guitars, and radiant synths for an infatuated serenade.
Arsinel and Fam Ross – Emaculate
Who needs percussion? Not these self-described “Pen Lordz,” apparently; the two wordsmiths keep time with their voices, chopping blankets of cascading strings and twinkling piano into defined bars using loose, relaxed flows that sound like the product of an after-dinner cigar and whiskey session.
Haven State – Pelican Mouth Pouch
On their debut album, Haven State took the often-ponderous prog sound and bent it into shapes resembling jazz, ska, ambient, and DJENT, often within single tracks. This one is an eight-minute odyssey led by the soaring drama of frontwoman Josie Banks’ voice. The group displays surprisingly delicacy in its arrangements, turning on a dime between passages of curlicue guitar and sweeping, anthemic climaxes. Your head will spin.
Stacia Vonne – Revolution
Where the ragged little boy from the Christmas song has his signature “Pa rum pum pum pum” ad-lib, reggaefied R&B singer Vonne dropped the “Pa” and turned the bass up to 11, delivering the percussive hook overtop a towering instrumental that could topple monuments.
The Real Sea – Paper Machete
People claim that French is the most romantic language. This is just a hivemind opinion, but Sharon Mok’s interpolation of French lyrics on this dream-pop track, along with some rapturously chiming guitars, lends it a bittersweet poignancy that will wring a tear from even the most stony-faced gazer’s eye.
LaRue June – I’m Finished
“Before I met you, I was incomplete/Now that you’ve broken my heart, darling, I’m finished.” Is that doozy of a line from Patsy Cline? Johnny Cash? Nope, Donora’s Casey Hanner, gone full, heartbroken country. This shuffling trot, though resigned, contains teeth, with a thorny slide guitar delivering the bite.
Sheridan Woika – Beehive (Strength)
Leave it to this heart-on-the-sleeve art-popper to craft one of the year’s best power ballads, albeit one featuring ramshackle shards of percussion, chaotically layered vocal climaxes, faint buzzes, and lyrics about anthropomorphic beehives. It’s a tower of raw emotion stitched together from vibrant, ragged threads.
Samurae – Cotton Candy Clouds
Samurae, a breakout R&B talent with a truly powerful voice, swankily stitches together images that mark the end of a youthful relationship. Like a sashay down the Sunset Strip District, a furtive glance in a Penn Ave piano bar, or a piece of candy, sweet but corrosive, chucked in a velvet-lined trash bin.
Canary – Fools
Like slowcore stalwarts Low, Canary specialize in gossamer ballads that use empty space and silence to convey deep wells of emotion. The opener to October’s Here, “Fools,” builds from a bed of burbling synth and delicate bells to a crescendo of strings, flute, and brushed cymbals. It suggests the beginning of a long conversation punctuated by pregnant pauses and weary sighs.
Gator Shakes – East Coast Fear
Don’t let the NASCAR meme album cover or the song titles (“P!$$ BOAT!”) fool you; these guys deliver heavy doses of raw angst. The opener to March’s Well, Hell, this one desperately seeks comfort in a world without any, deploying barked, despairing mantras overtop dissonant breakdowns, bareknuckle drum breaks, and knotted riffs.