Nik Freitas

As I was putting this post together, and listening to “All the Way Down,” I started thinking about a conversation I had a few years ago with Jen Larson. At the time, she was my student; now, she’s a college grad in a half-dozen Chicago bands and is cooler by three-and-a-half times than I ever was. Anyway, one day I made a random comment about how I don’t really care all that much for The Beatles. I was like, “Who really listens to them anyway?” And you can probably guess how she looked at me — This guy doesn’t like The Beatles? How can he be qualified to teach me anything? This is a long way of saying that of course I was wrong, and that Nik Freitas reminds me of clean 60s and 70s pop in all the right ways. “Sun Down” might be one of the nicest little songs of the year, smooth yet inspirational (as if those are contradictory). For some fun, and a little Built to Spill style without all the noise, check out “Normal” from Freitas’ 2002 debut. And if you still want to hear more, check out his website for a few more free downloads.

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McCarthy Trenching

That Omaha ain’t that great sometimes isn’t really news. I’m from Detroit; tell me about it. That glimmer of hope for a better tomorrow is usually dashed somehow, in political scandal, murder, the weather, whatever. McCarthy Trenching, fronted by Nebraska singer-songwriter Dan McCarthy, captures acutely the extinguishing of that glimmer. All three of these songs are about as down as you can get, full of missed opportunity, booze, etc. And based on how natural and real they sound, you’d think McCarthy was a Michigan boy.

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The Felice Brothers

The Felice Brothers seem to have a good time spinning out bizarre, wistful Bob Dylan-esque songs about deals gone wrong and inevitably bad relationships. The sloppy fun of “Frankie’s Gun!” makes me wish I’d been in that studio, banging on something, making some noise as the tape rolled. Made up of three actual brothers from the Catskills — Simone, Ian and James Felice — plus “a 19 year old called Christmas,” according to the press info, these guys don’t mind playing a wrong not or two. It’s the thought that counts, right? And their thoughts seem as pure and sincere as a streetcorner singer in the middle of summer, telling everyone how it is.

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A Weather

A Weather are a whisper out of Portland, Oregon, playing the some of the softest and easiest sounds of the year. Slow, smooth, captivating, trance-inducing — the intertwined vocals of Aaron Gerber and Sarah Winchester are hard to break away from once they’ve caught you. There is an incredible beauty to these tracks, all off the band’s debut efforts on Team-Love Records. If you like things low, lush, hushed and hazy, this is the place to be.

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Gruff Rhys

The singer for Super Furry Animals has a knack for writing Super Catchy Songs all on his own. Well, he did take his recordings down to England to add some strings, courtesy of Sean and Marcus of the High Llamas, then down to Brazil for Mario Caldato Jr.’s percussive touch. So songs that began as meditations for acoustic guitar and voice ended up sounding greater than the sum of their parts.

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