1. “Travis County” by Gary Clark Jr.
Despite being about confinement, this song is perfect for the summer. It inspires movement, and makes listeners appreciate their freedom. It also has impressive instrumentation, and is good accompaniment for anything from backyard barbeques to walks in the neighborhood.
2. “Sweet Spots” by the Fiery Furnaces
My favorite thing about this song is Eleanor Friedberger’s early reference to the Lake Street “L.” Having spent the better part of my life in a house right next to the Lake Street L, I take that one line as a welcome shout-out to my home. While the Fiery Furnaces have a fairly extensive catalogue of great music, this song is one of their more accessible numbers, and is a good introduction to a wonderful band.
3. “David Christmas” by Fucked Up
Christmas may be six months away, but this song is good for any time of the year. It is easy to shrug off Fucked Up as any other metal-rock band with lots of screaming and banging, but a closer listen reveals catchy and impressively-written songs. The drums on this song are enough to make anyone appreciate the band’s skills. Also, if you can hear past the gravely shouting, Damian Abraham’s voice actually carries a nice melody.
4. “Youth Knows No Pain” by Lykke Li
This song has been around for a couple of years now, and it still sounds as fresh and enthralling as the day it was released. This slightly stripped-down version of the song highlights Lykke Li’s superb song-writing skills.
5. “Always in Love” by Edithbeake
This song is another shout-out to my hometown of Oak Park, as that is also the hometown of Chris Bunkers, who is the mastermind behind Edithbeake. He and his friends originally recorded some songs under the name of Sunsquints, which were also good. Hopefully, Edithbeake will find a way to break further into the music scene, because, as this song shows, they have the capability of writing worthwhile music.
6. “Real Boy”/“Drive On” by La Sera
La Sera is an interesting band, because their songs have an antiquated feel, but the music does not sound like it is forced. The band gives off a natural vintage vibe, but the songs also seem quite original. The music video for these two songs is great because it perfectly balances creepy and funny.
7. “Laundry Room” by the Avett Brothers
In a time when the banjo is making a comeback, and bluegrass instruments are a part of popular music (Mumford & Sons), the Avett Brothers are one of the few highly-listened-to groups that actually has the chops necessary to really play their instruments. In addition to their musical capabilities, they also write excellent and beautiful lyrics, which are highly specific, yet somehow broadly relatable at the same time.
8. “Got to Lose” by Hollerado
This song starts off sounding like a slow gospel song, and then bursts into something resembling early Weezer music. With lyrics like “you’ve got to lose love if you want to find love,” this song is reminiscent, but also reassuring. It promises that good things don’t come from nothing, and a little heartbreak is okay because it can lead to better things.
9. “Bavarian #1” by Miike Snow
Here is a beautiful and calming song. The melody is catchy, but the layers beneath it are also interesting, especially as the song progresses. And beneath all of the calm, the song suggests that a storm is brewing, which makes it interesting throughout.
10. “Jordan Am A Hard Road” by Jonas Friddle & the Majority
Jonas Friddle is a Chicago musician who teaches at the Old Town School of Folk Music, which is one of the Chicago’s greatest music organizations. The OTSFM vibe is always friendly, sincere, and welcoming. Jonas Friddle is a good example of the school, because he exudes happiness in his music, and he shows that folk/bluegrass can be fun for anyone. He is a talented multi-instrumentalist who spends a huge part of his time sharing his talents with others, and helping his students master their own instruments. The attitude from Jonas Friddle and the Old Town School of Folk Music sets a good example for new musicians, and it would be great if such a friendly atmosphere could spread to more mainstream music outlets.