What a beautiful little record. If #1 was the most confidently executed record in our top 20, Nick Alan’s homemade masterpiece (he literally mixed it in his bedroom on a not-quite-professional computer system) is possibly the most touching.

Nick Alan is only 24, and yet he approaches this material—it’s just about life and love, really, nothing political, didactic, or out of the ordinary—with the insight, honesty and wisdom of an old soul. When he sings “There’s an ocean outside of my window, and a taxicab out on the street. And if you should choose, I’d send it for you. Taxicab, bring her to me.” You not only remember what it was like to be 24, lonely, and longing for a girl you’ve been afraid to call and ask for a date…you are transported, so that you are literally there again. Over and over, Nick Alan takes you right up to the times in your life when you were at your most vulnerable, your tenderest, your most emotionally intense. He takes you there, draws back a curtain and says, “look, there you are. You saw these things, you felt these things.”

But enough about “honesty.” Honest is a word that’s lost its meaning in the music business for its relentless application as a label for nearly every record that comes out. It almost sounds like a consolation prize for an album that doesn’t have the greatest songs, but Nicholas Alan is, from the standpoint of pure melody and lyric, a legit candidate for the best undiscovered songwriter alive. His songs grow and grow on you until you are compelled to listen.

That’s a testament to Alan’s command of melody at a sophisticated level, and probably his upbringing as the son of an accomplished jazz bassist. His melodies wind, unfold slowly, turn back on themselves, and come to rest at unexpected but entirely sensible ends. You like them at first—but then, at first, you don’t fully understand where he’s going. You have to live with this album for a while, and then you realize every song is beautiful. And his lyrics are as imaginatively imagistic as any artist we’ve found.

His father’s jazz band plays on the album and it was entirely recorded unexpertly by the musicians who played on it. Some of the mix choices—awful reverbs, strange panning choices—are joyfully inexplicable! This meant we were not able to give it high marks for sonic quality, but on the other hand, its sound is positively endearing. And don’t get us wrong: it doesn’t sound entirely amateurish, just a cut below the big-budget-sounding stuff that mostly surrounds it on this chart. These days it seems every unsigned artist has a big-time-sounding demo. Nick Alan doesn’t. His is just better than theirs in almost every other way.