Abby Sherman – I’ll Be There
Abby Sherman’s “I’ll Be There” is not a Jackson 5 cover, but the sentiment is much the same. It rocks a lot harder though, with some punchy swagger in the instrumentation and a killer guitar solo. The sound underpins Sherman’s bluesy belt in the Susan Tedeschi vein, which she really unleashes near the end. [Update: I must be prescient – a few days after I drafted this blurb, Susan actually sat in with Abby on this exact song!]
Adam Rabin – Maiden Voyage of the Acrolite
The slide guitar on “Maiden Voyage of the Acrolite” at first sounds like early Fleetwood Mac, but over the course of the two minutes the song morphs entirely, to a electro-prog-funk mash. It’s weird, but all those genres packed into such a small package works far better than you’d expect.
Bark Dog – American Spirit
“American Spirit” is named after, yes, the cigarette. The yearning in Bark Dog aka musician Blair Jasper’s voice recalls Okkervil River’s Will Sheff, double-tracked for twice the emotive power.
Beneath Black Waves – Rites and Passages
Brothers Nathan and Jesse Meunier deliver doomy Cure on their duo Beneath Black Waves’ self-titled debut EP. Nathan’s low voice adds a post-punk grandeur, theatrical and brooding with music to match.
Francesca Blanchard feat. Vermont Symphony Orchestra – Like a Hurricane
Blanchard’s “Like a Hurricane” (not a Neil cover) was my third favorite song of 2020, and it gets appropriately lush and reverent treatment in a new live video with musicians from the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. If MTV Unplugged ever gets rebooted, this would fit right in.
Isabel Pless – Call My Own
Hell of a timely opening couplet: “I kinda hope the billionaires will stay in space / And I hope that I will finish my degree.” Every line of Pless’s new single is that good, so much so she needs nothing more than a simply strummed acoustic guitar to get her point across.
Lavenderlux – Itching
A remote collaboration between Vermont singer Amelia Wilcox and Washington musician Joseph Human, Lavenderlux arrives fully formed on their debut EP Nest Inertia. “Itching” touches on depression and boredom with phase-shifting guitars and Wilcox’s buttery vocals.
Portraits of Sawyer – Mullet Action
Ben Wiggins and Adam Henry Garcia of Portraits of Sawyer released two very different songs in advance of their album Whatever You May Say. The title track is a lighters-in-the-air piano ballad, while “Mullet Action” is a hearty ’80s-inflected rocker. Though the genre is experimental indie-rock, the combination of a big holler-along rock jam and a sensitive piano ballad feels very hair metal.
Reid Parsons – Here Comes My Baby
Reid Parsons can make a meal of even the simplest line. At one point, she sings the word “arm” with six or seven different notes, leaping across octaves like a rock skipping over water. But her vocal prowess isn’t show-offy. Though she could probably deliver some American Idol belting-to-the-rafters were she so inclined, she keeps things in service to the song.
Rivan C – Tom Hanks Freestyle
“Tom Hanks Freestyle” is not, to be clear, a freestyle by Tom Hanks (though if he ever wanted to, maybe his son could teach him how). It’s a freestyle about Tom Hanks – for the first two lines or so, at which point, like any good freestyle, it veers off into some surprising and inventive connections.
Rough Idyll – Jacks, Kings & Queens
Michael Metivier’s simple acoustic ballad is beautiful enough in its demo version he put on the flipside of his new single. But, on the main track, the offbeat production touches like a backwards-sounding guitar and an explosion of brushed drumming – bet you didn’t think brushed drums could explode – steer it into wonderful old-weird-America territory.
The Smittens – Year of Happiness
A pure little blast of pop balladry that barely tops a minute, “Year of Happiness” seems destined to serve as a quick concert intro number. After all, it ends with “Let’s start with a song / let’s start with a beat / Let’s start with a 1-2-3 / 3-2-1 / Let’s go.” From there they could segue right into their similarly-themed old song “Year of the Lake.”
The Young Love Scene – It All Leads Down From Here
The Young Love Scene’s debut single “Honey” landed on my aforementioned Best Songs of 2020, so the bar was high. “It All Leads Down” doesn’t disappoint, even as it gets decidedly more low-key than the ’90s shoegaze of its predecessor. Double-tracked vocals and downcast acoustic guitar set the scene for a surprise guitar-hero finish.