All of Fuzz Steilacoom’sbest qualities are revealed in “Alabama Movies” and “A Little Late,” the opening and closing tracks of the Oklahoma City duo’s third full-length. The relationship between them unveils the worst.
1. Sooner the Sunset, “All Because of You” If there is a formula to writing the perfect folk pop song, Graham Colton clearly has it, and to give him an equally formidable singer-songwriter to play off of (Lindsey Ray) with Sooner the Sunset kind of feels like cheating. It's a case study in romantic pop, the sort of thing any aspiring songwriter should listen to and marvel at … and the timelessness of it all but assures a healthy life well beyond 2012.
2. Cusp, “Shivers” Try as I might, I haven't been able to shake “Shivers” all year. It's as hopeful as it is heartbreaking, and as rich and textured as a song could ever hope to be. There's echoes of Bon Iver, Grizzly Bear and The National here, and given the fact that Cusp mastermind Taylor Rapp hasn't even hit 21 yet, the future sounds even brighter.
3. John Fullbright, “Gawd Above” John Fullbright's voice is only matched by his wit, and that's never as apparent as it is on “Gawd Above,” a searing folk anthem and clear highlight of the Grammy-nominated From the Ground Up that might just be his masterpiece. Fellow Okemah native Woody Guthrie would have been proud … and maybe a little jealous.
4. Myke Brown, “Atlantis” While music trends seem to move more and more towards louder, bigger, faster and stronger, “Atlantis” is just the type of gem to make people rethink that. The beat — an absolutely genius piece of work by Blev Beats — is downright dainty, glinting like diamonds sinking in the ocean that Myke Brown swallows up like a sea monster. It's a study in contrasts, the type of whip smart hip-hop that just made Kendrick Lamar a star in 2012, and “Atlantis” is just as strong as anything you'd find on good kid, m.A.A.d city.
5. Deerpeople, “Walter Matthau” The only thing that matches Deerpeople's penchant for indie pop is its energy, and trust me, it's the perfect combo. Like Vampire Weekend hyped up on PCP, “Walter Matthau” goes from a deep organ groove to spastic guitar lick in the drop of a hat, inspiring equal parts hip shaking and head banging.
6. Other Lives, “Take Us Alive” The outstanding Tamer Animals and a steady bit of touring helped garner Other Lives a spot opening for Radiohead across the Midwest. “Take Us Alive” seems to compress that time and experience into song form. There's no mistaken this is still the same Stillwater band that blew us away last year, but Radiohead clearly has a stamp on this. It's like Other Lives mashed up “Everything In Its Right Place” with “For 12,” and the final result is just as good as that sounds.
7. Defining Times, “Outlaw” Hands down the most gripping and beautiful song on the list, “Outlaw” is spectacularly crafted. Songs this technically impressive rarely match that in terms of heart, but Defining Times do just that with “Outlaw” of the stellar Separate Tongues. It hits at a perfect intersection of Bon Iver and Radiohead, a song that is big and bold, but not afraid to spill its heart.
8. Colin Nance, “Dream Cove” You can walk into any bar in Oklahoma and catch a good singer-songwriter, but it gets considerably harder to find a good pop artist. Like M83 soundtracking a John Hughes film, Colin Nance fills that void, doing bright, washed out pop songs with the very best of them. “Dream Cove” is his crowning achievement, a controlled blend of chillwave and dream pop.
9. The Sheiks, “Faker” Post-punk might have fallen out of vogue since its mid-2000s heyday, but The Sheiks seem undaunted, and “Faker” has all the elements that had people buzzing about Bloc Party and the like almost a decade ago. It's one of — if not the — catchiest songs on this list; you wouldn't think twice if someone told you it was some long-forgotten Strokes B-side.
10. Josh Sallee, “Big Kid Bars” The most unbelievable thing about Josh Sallee is his rapid-fire delivery, shooting out clever line after clever line quicker than most people can spit out a full sentence. A standout from Probable Flaws, “Big Kid Bars” also displays Sallee's artful control over tempo, slowing down and speeding right back up for special emphasis of his brightest moments. It's a physics lesson in hip-hop form. —Joshua Boydston