1. “I Won’t Be Found,” The Tallest Man on Earth
Bob Dylan comparisons in music reviews are old hat, but I think this one is particularly deserved. This guy is from Sweden, and with nothing but his gravelly voice and his dexterously finger-picked acoustic guitar, he weaves heartbreaking songs. The Dylan comparison comes in the voice, which is a little strained, a little whiskey-soaked and all heartfelt. The guitar playing here is even more advanced than Dylan played in his early years.2. “Smash it Up (Part II),” The Damned
The Damned is a seminal early punk band. This song comes from the album “Machine Gun Etiquette,” which, released in 1979, sees the band shedding some of the typical punk leanings of their earlier albums to embrace a more experimental approach. Some of you may recognize this song from the Batman Forever soundtrack, where it was covered by The Offspring. This version is exponentially better with a driving organ that The Offspring’s version leaves out.
3. “Land of The Freak,” King Khan and the Shrines
This is a garage rock band out of Montreal. They play sort of revivalist Rock’n’Roll, complete with a horn section. Sometimes the songs sound like they were pulled from a 70s R&B record, sometimes like they are from 60s pop and sometimes just straight-up rock. This whole album sounds like a lost gem from a different era, and this song is no different.
4. “White Winter Hymnal,” Fleet Foxes
If the Beach Boys had grown up in Appalachia instead of California and had been raised on a steady diet of 60s folk rock, this is what you would get. The harmonies in this song are absolutely gorgeous, with front man Robin Pecknold’s high-pitched, reverb-soaked voice leading the way. It doesn’t matter much that the three verses are the same lyrically; the music continues to grow through the song, keeping it interesting until the very end.
5. “Heron Blue,” Sun Kil Moon
Mark Kozelek had marginal fame in the 90s with the band The Red House Painters, a band known for its stripped down aesthetic and paralyzingly sad lyrics. Along with Low, the Red House Painters were at the forefront of a subgenre coined “slowcore.” Now Kozelek fronts a new band, Sun Kil Moon, which strays more in the direction of folk-rock than alt-rock, but he loses none of the emotion. Here we find Kozelek and a sparing nylon-stringed acoustic guitar presenting some of the most depressing lyrics of his career.
6. “Two Seats Gold Reserved,” Centro-Matic
Will Johnson is a genius, and luckily for music fans, a prolific one. Not only has he released a couple of solo albums, but he has put out several albums with the band South San Gabriel, and of course he fronts his long-time band Centro-Matic. This track, along with the fuzz-tinged, folk-inspired Rock’n’Roll, Will delves into the area of Beatles-esque pop. Of course, wearing a Beatles influence on your sleeve is a common tactic in Indie bands these days, but luckily for Will Johnson and Centro-Matic, this influence works seamlessly into the sound that fans already know and love.
7. “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory,” Guided by Voices
What can I say about Indie rock behemoths Guided by Voices that hasn’t already been said? This track comes from their 1994 release Alien Lanes and goes to show that Robert Pollard, the unlikely high school teacher turned rock star, really knows how to weave a catchy melody. With lyrics nearly incomprehensible, a trait not uncommon with Pollard lyrics, GbV still manages to paint a picture of helplessness.
8. “That’s Not Me,” The Beach Boys
I got into the Beach Boys later than any human should. With Indie bands paying heavy-handed tribute to the band everywhere I look nowadays, it’s a damn good thing that I finally listened to them. This track comes from Pet Sounds, the album that Brian Wilson created to compete with the US release of the Beatles’ album “Rubber Soul.” The entire album is a giant leap forward from the meager surf-rock beginnings of the Beach Boys, but I like this track for the exact opposite reason; it really harkens back to those beach bum days and it is really catchy.
9. “Die Die Die,” The Avett Brothers
Coming from more straightforward country and bluegrass roots, the Avett Brothers have released a solid pop record with emotionalism. The harmonies between Seth and Scott Avett are always tight, and the melodies catchy and singable. They’ve managed to move forward from their previous genre bounds without layering too much gimmick on top.
10. “Story of Isaac,” Leonard Cohen
With Leonard Cohen, the focus is always the lyrics, and Cohen’s low baritone is the perfect vessel to carry forth his lyrical stories. This track is from his second album, “Songs from a Room,” and he hasn’t yet added the musical ambition that ruined some of his later albums. The music is sparse and the striking lyrics are in plain view.