Broadchurch vs. Gracepoint.

The 2013 ITV series Broadchurch was a single-story, eight-episode arc that began with the discovery of the body of 11-year-old Danny Latimer on the beach of the small Dorsetine tourist town and followed the investigation led by new Detective Inspector Alec Hardy and Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller, whose son Tom was Danny’s best friend. The series focused on the personal impacts of Danny’s death and the subsequent revelations uncovered by the police, the media (local and national), and through the consequences of the various questions those entities ask of anyone who might have been connected to the crime. By splitting the show’s attention across two foci, the writers gave us something we seldom see: a show about a murder that depicted real grief, sorrow, anger, and denial. The script gave the characters the space to develop the depth to make them play like real people, able to show a broad range of traits and emotions that don’t appear in shows that try to tell a story in just 44 minutes.

Broadchurch earned broad critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, winning the BAFTA for best drama in 2013 while Olivia Colman won best actress for her performance as D.S. Miller and David “Argus Filch” Bradley won for best supporting actor for his role as Jack Marshall. Alan Sepinwall of HitFix named it one of his top 20 shows of 2013 as well. The show was a huge commercial success in the U.K., and will return for a second season next month, even though its creators originally conceived the series as a one-and-done.

Of course, this called for an American-made version to air on a U.S. network, because God forbid anyone ask us to watch a show that isn’t set here. At times a shot-for-shot remake of the original, Gracepoint lengthened the series by 25%, spending more time with side characters and misdirections that blurred the sharp focus of Broadchurch on the people involved. The superlative cast of the American series continually delivered, with David Tennant reprising his role as D.I. Hardy (renamed Emmett Carver, because reasons), two-time Emmy winner Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) as Ellie, two-time Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook) as Susan Wright, and three-time Oscar nominee Nick Nolte as the renamed Jack Reinhold. I doubt any will receive major award nominations, given the mediocre reception critics gave the remake, but all four were above the threshold for consideration, especially Weaver. However, the story meandered away from the heart of what made Broadchurch great – the focus on the emotional lives of its characters – in what I think was a misguided attempt to heighten the mystery, which misunderstood the point of the original series entirely.

I’m still convinced the main reason FOX chose to remake Broadchurch rather than air the original is the accents. David Tennant’s Scottish accent isn’t as easy to understand as an upper-class English accent would be, and I think in general there’s a belief in Hollywood that Americans won’t watch a TV show where all of the dialogue comes at them in the King’s English. (You’d think by now the success of Downton Abbey would have left that myth as dead as a doornail.) The former part I can understand – I had a few instances where I had to rewind to catch something Tennant said – but I hold no truck with the latter. And FOX made the innkeeper character Becca into English expatriate (named Gemma) on Gracepoint, even though she wasn’t American on Broadchurch.

Such changes in characters made up the bulk of the gap between the American and British versions of the show, and in almost every instance, the alterations were for the worse. Gracepoint appeared to be trying far too hard to appeal to the audience, commensurate with the #SuspectEveryone marketing campaign, with multiple characters rewritten or recast to be more suspicious or just creepier:

* The vicar Paul Coates is just that, a clergyman who runs the town’s computer club for kids and plays the peacemaker in a town with few churchgoers; the American priest Paul has carried a torch for Danny’s mom for over a decade, and becomes increasingly forward with her rather than just providing comfort and counsel, while he engages in a sort of cold war with her husband, Mark.

* Both versions of Mark commit the same transgressions, but the American one is colder to his wife, openly hostile to Paul, and miserly with his employee Vince.

* Vince – called Nige in the British version, which won’t do because no one born in America has ever been named “Nige” – is an angry but sometimes well-meaning simpleton in Broadchurch; his American counterpart is constantly scowling, is more devious and greedy than Nige, and is shown butchering something (which turns out to be a deer he shot) in his shed.

* Susan Wright is irredeemable in both versions, but she’s far more sinister in the remake, appearing to threaten Tom and frequently seen spying on others’ in the background; the only time she reveals her true nature in the original is the threat to Maggie.

* Maggie, meanwhile, was turned into a bad punchline in Gracepoint. The original Maggie receives no backstory; we hear nothing of a personal life or her orientation. The American version is a lesbian who says she “realized (she) didn’t like penises,” and is given a raccoon-like hairstyle that ages her at least ten years. (I assumed her character was supposed to be in her late 40s or early 50s, given her looks and demeanor, but the actress portraying her is only 38.) There was no point to revealing Kathy’s orientation other than to provide a token gay character and play it for that one cheap laugh; her personal life never comes into play in the story, and she’s largely a minor character the rest of the way.

* Karen White, the big-city reporter in Broadchurch, shows actual signs of humanity when her articles on Jack are rewritten to vilify the shopkeeper, and again at the end of episode eight when she twice shows her remorse through tiny yet significant actions. Her American doppelganger, Renee Clemons, has no second dimension beyond her ambition, and appears to be there just to look hot and annoy the viewers with her lack of empathy. She doesn’t appear at all in the Gracepoint finale.

* Even Chloe’s character changed, although at least the Gracepoint actress looked like she could possibly be the biological child of the two actors playing her parents. The American version was more rebellious, and what was an innocent “happy room” her boyfriend created for her in Broadchurch became a more sexualized dance in the bar area by the docks.

There were character shifts in the American version that worked, but those appeared more organic, the result of different casting rather than changes in dialogue or actions. Anna Gunn’s Ellie is a stronger character from start to finish – less mousy, more vocal, less tolerant of Carver’s indignities as they happen, although in the end none of it amounts to much given the conclusion of the story. Jacki Weaver, who was amazing as the matriarch of an Australian crime family in Animal Kingdom, made Susan Wright more three-dimensional with her portrayal, making her seem almost addled at times even as she reveals herself to be vindictive. I found it easier to accept her as a victim than the English version, played more stoically by Pauline Quirke. (According to the Broadchurch wikia, Vince the dog was played Quirke’s dog Bailey.)

Tennant’s performances varied beyond the shift to an American accent – which never bothered me in the least, although I’ve seen several critics harp on it as a problem for them – as he was more curt and dismissive with Ellie in Gracepoint, lacking the signs of empathy he flickered in the last few episodes of Broadchurch. His heart ailment seemed to only factor into the core narrative as a way to force a time limit on the investigation, since he has just a few hours to finish the case before he’s forced to take a medical leave. However, the American remake’s insertion of his daughter as a brief subplot proved a complete waste of time, a way to stretch the original series by 88 minutes of content.

Red herrings – like the backpacker, who was a total dead end – ended up giving Gracepoint a sense of density and slower pacing than Broadchurch with no added payoff; if anything, the result was a net negative, taking a series that focused exceptionally well on the emotional impacts of the murder of a child and the ensuing investigation and turning it into a murder mystery. American police procedurals rarely give much if any screen time to grief; we get a quick police interview with the next of kin, some tears or perhaps some wailing, and then we don’t see the family member again unless s/he is the killer. Broadchurch threw that script out the window; the fabric of Danny’s family starts to strain at the seams, while the investigation ruins one man’s life and exposes secrets and lies in those of several others. The finale of Broadchurch was more British than any other aspect of the series: It was slow by design, so that the viewer couldn’t help but linger over the wounds opened or reopened by the revelation of the killer’s identity, followed by the beautifully shot memorial, for a much stronger buildup to Paul’s “I passed the word; maybe the word was good” response that closes the season.

Below this point, I’ll discuss the ending and the identity of the murder. If you haven’t watched either series, you may wish to stop now.

The writers made a slight change to the conclusion of Broadchurch when remaking it as Gracepoint, although the shift was as much about motive as it was identity, providing a much less satisfying explanation in the end while also straining credibility around Tom’s ability to keep his part of the secret from his mom for the entire length of the investigation. It points, again, to the American version’s compulsion to sharpen its edges, which felt to me like a way of talking down to an American audience that FOX felt wanted a bigger emotional impact. (The conclusion didn’t matter for viewership, though; the series was DOA after the first week’s ratings were weak, something I blame on FOX marketing the show strictly as a murder mystery rather than as a high-quality drama.)

Danny’s murder at the hands of Joe was half a surprise, because the writers shoved it in our faces in the penultimate episode’s confrontation between Ellie and Susan outside the police station, where Ellie asks Susan,
“How could you not know?” and thus sets herself up for an ironic outcome where she learns just how Susan might not have known what was happening in her own house. That heavy-handedness aside, however, the writers did a better job planting the seeds for Joe’s role in Danny’s death in both versions of the show, depicting him at various points as a devoted father and husband who finds himself gradually fading in importance from the lives of his wife and older son. It was a simple explanation, one that took place right under the noses of everyone in town, and Danny’s death is the result of the unmollified rage of a repressed pedophile. Gracepoint made Joe’s attraction to Danny more explicit, and turned Danny’s death into a tragic accident that involved Tom, who was trying to protect his friend, not hurt him. Such things can happen, of course, but the crime was no longer a murder, but the ensuing coverup by Joe. It felt like a change for change’s sake, made because the American series had to offer a different ending.

As odd as it might seem, I’d still recommend both series. If you only want to make the time investment in one, make it Broadchurch – it’s better written, has much more heart, and is 88 minutes shorter. You still get David Tennant, and several of the secondary characters, especially the vicar Paul, get more sympathetic/less prejudicial treatment. But Gracepoint has equal or better performances from several cast members, and because the central story is so similar it’s no less compelling, just a little out of focus when compared to the superior source material.

The City & the City.

China Miéville’s The City & The City, co-winner of the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Novel, takes the idea of the split city – Berlin, Budapest, Jerusalem – to an entirely new level, one where the boundaries are less geographic than psychic. His novel takes place entirely within such a metropolis, where a murder in one part involves the police in the other and eventually invokes the shadowy authority that governs the tenuous territory that connects them.

Besźel and Ul Qoma are twin halves of a whole city, one with a nebulous history that at some point split the population into two groups, with distinct governments, religions, and customs, albeit two languages that appear to be almost the same aside from their alphabets (as with Serbian and Croatian). Citizens of both city-states are taught to “unsee” everything from the other half – buildings, vehicles, people. Streets may be “cross-hatched” – located in both Besźel and Ul Qoma – or may include adjacent buildings in different countries, with salients from one side jutting out to include one Besź building between two Ul Qoman ones. While residents of one country can walk partway into the other, they are expected to unsee any foreign elements there, lest they “breach,” a psychic trespass that calls up the third power, called Breach, that can simply “disappear” anyone shown to have thus ignored the barrier between the two nations.

That setting is by far the most fascinating aspect of The City & the City, which is otherwise a fairly straightforward political thriller/murder mystery. A body is dumped in Besźel by a van that was stolen and apparently crossed the border from Ul Qoma, where the murder was committed. A legal manuever through the one true border crossing (a central building called the Cupola) keeps the investigation away from Breach and in the hands of the Besź Inspector Borlu, the narrator, eventually, an Ul Qoman counterpart who helps with the joint investigation when the trail leads back across the border. The investigation involves a sort of forbidden archaeology that hints at the shared origins of the city-state and the long-rumored existence of a third society, called Orciny, that exists in the spaces between the other two nations, people who would be unseen by both Besź and Ul Qoman people alike, and who’ve inhabited such spaces (called dissensi) for generations.

While review quotes on the book’s cover refer to Chandler and Kafka, Miéville never quite evokes the paranoia of the latter or the panache of the former. Breach is discussed, and eventually its agents appear, but it acts with clear rules and within clear boundaries to its authority – the story is marked by Breach’s refusal to investigate the original murder because the crime occurred beyond its jurisdiction. There’s no sense of foreboding here, or of patently unfair or arbitrary rulings; when Borlu is taken off the case, it’s not as if he’s suspended for no good reason or without an explanation. Miéville creates a wildly compelling setting, with a deeply consider geopolitical construct and even some clever portmanteaux to express it (although it took half the book for me to get some of them straight), but the story he layers on top of this milieu doesn’t measure up to it in depth or imagination.

Next up: Corinne Willis’ Hugo winner, the comic time-travel novel To Say Nothing of the Dog.

Saturday five, 12/19/14.

I’ve been busy writing up transactions all week, which is putting a real damper on my ability to make calls for the top 100 prospects list, but I shall persevere. Here are all of the Insider pieces I’ve written in the last seven days:

* The three-team trade featuring Wil Myers
* The Justin Upton trade
* The Derek Norris trade
* The Nate Eovaldi/Martin Prado trade
* The Chase Headley re-signing
* The Melky Cabrera signing
* The Jed Lowrie, Alex Rios, Brett Anderson signings & more

I also wrote up the Jimmy Rollins trade the week prior, slipping in at least eight references to Black Flag, Henry Rollins’ former band, although to this point no one has mentioned catching them.

As promised, I created a second Spotify playlist, with 40 songs that just missed the cut for my top 100 this year, although I guess I’m using that term a bit loosely:

And now, the links:

San Diego eats, 2014 edition.

I have been writing the things for Insiders, on the Justin Upton trade and the Derek Norris/Jesse Hahn trade just in the last 24 hours.

The best meal in San Diego, our annual big writers’ night out, was at Juniper & Ivy, Richard Blais’ restaurant in Little Italy and one of my favorite restaurants in the country. I arranged the dinner well ahead of time, so we had a prix-fixe menu that included some items (like the amazing mac and cheese with house-made pasta and fontina) that aren’t on the typical menu. The takeoff on the Yodel is a regular item, though, and it’s bonkers … I split one with USA Today football writer Lindsay Jones and it didn’t stand a chance. There was a second dessert, not listed on the menu, that had to be tasted to be believed: blood-orange gelée, frozen yogurt, clementine supremes, lemongrass ice cream, and shards of roasted-citrus ice. I wanted to take that gelée home, but was afraid I couldn’t get a pound of it through airport security. The staff went all-out for us, clearly, and the service was exemplary. I reviewed J&I in full in March, and have now eaten there three more times, never once walking away less than fully satisfied.

If you aren't jealous, you should be. @juniperandivy @richardblais

A photo posted by Keith Law (@mrkeithlaw) on

Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, based in La Jolla, opened a second location a month ago, right across the street from Juniper & Ivy, and it’s now the best coffee option in the city, a small-batch roaster that is also the only direct-trade outlet in San Diego. I had an espresso macchiatto there each morning, but they also offer pour-overs and Chemex brews as well.

My other dinners in San Diego came at Cucina Urbana and Prep Kitchen, both strong, with Cucina Urbana my preference among the two. A new, upscale but reasonably-priced Italian trattoria, Cucina Urbana features a deep menu of pizzas, house-made pastas, and a slew of small plates, including the daily “polenta board,” assembled tableside with a ragù spread on top of a thick smear of creamy polenta on a wooden board. My pasta dish, bucatini with tomato, guanciale, cabbage, chili pepper, and a poached egg, was a great southern-Italian comfort-food dish, satisfying in texture (al dente, with the added bite from the jowl meat and the cabbage; smooth from the egg mixing with the tomato) and flavor (obvious), with just the right portion size between the starter polenta and the fact that I wasn’t leaving without trying the chocolate donuts with hazelnut filling, which didn’t even need the passion fruit dipping sauce except maybe to cool them off enough to eat them.

Prep Kitchen was a little more hit-or-miss. The yellowtail crudo was actually a slight disappointment, with a not-subtle fishy note marking the tuna as less than perfectly fresh, and the chocolate “budino” wasn’t a budino (an Italian custard, often thickened with cornstarch as well as eggs) but a warm chocolate cake served in a mason jar, but the pumpkin bread pudding had great balance of sweet and savory flavors without turning to mush, and the porchetta (which appears to be off the menu already) was superb if slightly fattier than I’ve had elsewhere.

I grabbed lunch twice at Bottega Americano, located just east of Petco Park in a cute space that combines a little Italian market and deli counter with a sit-down restaurant. Despite the grammatical error in its name, the restaurant serves excellent sandwiches and salads and makes a legit French macaron as well. The speck (smoked prosciutto), fuyu persimmon, shallot marmellata, arugula, and goat cheese sandwich on olive bread was my favorite for flavor, although I found it tough to tear through the speck, which they need to slice more thinly before serving; the olive-oil poached tuna sandwich with yellow pepper aioli and farmer’s egg (I didn’t know farmers laid eggs, but perhaps that’s a new mutation) was much easier to eat but needed more acidity somewhere in the mix. That was a better option than Kebab House, which is outstanding if you’re looking for cheap eats near the ballpark but was much heavier and I think a little overloaded with garlic.

I am in love with the Mission for breakfast in San Diego, and ended up eating there three mornings out of four; the one variation was at the Fig Tree Cafe in Hillcrest, where I had a disappointing salmon benedict with a potato/arugula side dish that couldn’t live up to the Mission’s amazing rosemary potatoes. I know the Tractor Room gets raves for its brunches, but I wasn’t there any morning when it was open for breakfast and have to save that for a future trip.

Top Chef, S12E09.

My analysis of the Wil Myers three-team trade went up last night for Insiders, and I held my last Klawchat of 2014 today.

Two amazon sales of interest – Ann Leckie’s Hugo/Nebula Award-winning 2013 novel Ancillary Justice is just $2.99 for Kindle right now; I bought it yesterday, as I’m working my way through the Hugo winners. Also, the excellent iOS app version of Stone Age: The Board Game is still on sale for $2.99.

Top Chef logoWe see Doug waking up Katsuji in the morning, after which he tells the camer that Katsuji “is the most bizarre person I’ve ever met, probably my favorite person in the house; I don’t know why.” Then we find out Katsuji’s wife is seven months pregnant with another little one at home, and she’s running their restaurant while he’s gone and probably cursing his name every twenty seconds. On a related note, I believe we call this “foreshadowing.”

* Quickfire: Gronk is in the house. He’s listed at 6’6”, 265, but he has to be bigger than that, no? He also turned Padma into a 15-year-old girl: “do you mind if I call you Rob? … you can call me honey.” Have we ever seen her blush like that before?

* Gronk says he’s Polish so he wants Polish sausage. The chefs get one hour to make the best sausage they can from scratch, during which Padma will continue to hit on Gronk. Does she know he slept with a porn star?

* When Gronk says “I’d eat a big sausage,” Padma pauses and smiles: “Me too.” I’m just going to leave that there.

* I didn’t hear which chef said it, but someone was surprised there was venison? That makes damn good sausage. I kind of thought wild game sausage was a thing now. There was a food truck festival in Arizona where one truck had sausages made from deer, boar, and even reindeer meat.

* Katsuji uses liquid nitrogen, cooling the mixture so the fat doesn’t break and can maintain an emulsion. I think that’s the first time we’ve seen him talk any food science on the show. Blais would be proud.

* I was surprised and pleased to see them all using the same KitchenAid grinder attachment I use. I assumed they’d have access to much better equipment.

* Both Melissa and George end up struggling to get the meat/fat mixture through the grinder – I haven’t had that happen, so I don’t know if they didn’t cut the meat into small enough pieces or something else went wrong – but while Melissa just ends up making half-sized sausages, George abandons the cases entirely and makes sausage patties.

* Doug says the casing “shouldn’t feel like a used condom.” It’s really the “used” that takes the analogy too far, isn’t it?

* Doug made the most traditional dish – a beer-braised pork sausage with onions and whole grain mustard on a roll. Gronk, who by the way comes off as very personable the whole time, says it’s “a good pregame meal.” Because, you know, before I work out I go crush something fatty with lots of onions. Melissa’s little sausages have wild boar and pork with lentils, cucumber, fennel, and red onion on top. Mei’s Asian-style pork sausage has ginger, garlic, and fish sauce, topped with avocado, coconut puree, yuzu aioli. Gronk loves the sauce – how could you not love a tangy citrus mayo with fatty pork? Katsuji’s sausage has brisket and pork with habanero, cumin, coriander, and saffron. Gregory’s pork and boar sausage has makrut lime leaves (see below), chiles, lemongrass, garlic, cucumber, and carrot salad. Gronk says it got spicier as he ate more of it; I’m shocked Padma didn’t chime in on that. George served his pork and veal sausage patty with a sunnyside up egg, flavoring the sausage with cumin and coriander..

(Gregory uses the common term “Kaffir,” which is considered a racial slur in many parts of the world, notably South Africa where it’s comparable to our n-word, while in Muslim societies it’s a derogatory term for non-Muslims. While the origin of the name of the fruit is hopelessly unclear, there’s no good reason to keep using the term when “makrut lime” refers to the same thing.)

* George meets Gronk and says he “can’t say I’m a fan of yours” before Gronk tastes the dish. What a dipshit.

* Worst: Melissa’s sausages were way too small, not surprising since Gronk emphasized that he likes traditional, oversized Polish sausages. Gregory’s had too much spice and toppings; do Polish sausages ever contain red pepper? I can’t think of one, but I’m not that familiar with Polish food. The best: Doug’s, of course, and George’s, which looked like a burger but was delicious. George wins, despite his inability to shut his trap, and gets immunity. Doug is clearly displeased since it wasn’t a real sausage in casing … but that was never a requirement of the challenge, was it?

* Elimination challenge: Tony Maws – great name for a chef – is in the house; he owns Craigie on Main in Boston and Kirkland Tap and Trotter in Somerville, which I will forever associate with “slummerville” even though it hasn’t been worthy of that nickname in about twenty years. The chefs must create dishes inspired by one literary work from any of a half-dozen New England writers. The diners should be able to visually see the story on the plate in some way.

* Gregory picks first and takes Edgar Allen Poe, which would be (I think) the most fun to work with because you can be macabre without needing gore. Katsuji takes Stephen King, whose work is gory and, more importantly, is not literature. George takes Dr. Seuss. Mei takes Henry David Thoreau. Melissa takes Nathaniel Hawthorne, but ends up not using The Scarlet Letter (as if anyone knows any of his other books). Doug gets Emily Dickinson by default and is unthrilled to have a “depressed chick poet from the 1800s.” But she has the most notable style of anyone but Poe, both in content and in the use of iambic pentameter in every one of her poems. “Because I could not stop for Death” has to be among the top ten poems every penned by an American, right? I need some poetry students/experts to weigh in on this, especially since I can’t put anything but “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” at number one: “In the rooms the women come and go/Talking of F.P. Santangelo.”

* Doug – who jokes that Dickinson “wrote Pride and Prejudice, right?” after which I might have murdered him in his sleep – likes the poem “Bring me sunset in a cup” for its opening image. I don’t think he kept reading, though, or he would have used some honey, some turtle meat, and perhaps some quail or squab in his dish.

* George chooses One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish after Padma warns him not to serve green eggs and ham. Blue’s a tough color, though, so he ends up using purple potatoes. I don’t (or didn’t, at the time I watched) know how literal the judges expect the chefs to be, but if you ask any two- or three-year-old about colors, they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms that blue ain’t purple.

* Gregory chooses “The Raven,” and gives a rather scholarly analysis of its contents as well. HE plans to use grilled cornish hens, parsnips and beets for the snow and love, and some sort of nori “technique” for the blackness clouding the man’s soul. That said, I might have chosen “The Telltale Heart” and actually cooked something like beef hearts – but I’m writing that with the benefit of having already seen the judging.

* Mei’s drawing of her dish is cute – she or Bravo should take stuff like that and auction it off to fans for charity. Stick a frame around that and hang it in your kitchen for a conversation piece. She’s using charred onions to represent the soil, blending them to a powder with butter … like a graham-cracker or Oreo pie crust. I’m surprised it doesn’t just taste like ash, but I’ve never tried it.

* Melissa chooses a Hawthorne book I had never heard of called The Blithedale Romance. Even if you know and like the book, if the judges don’t, haven’t you just shot yourself in the foot?

* Francis Lam is a guest judge. Tom says the chefs’ efforts looked promising in his kitchen walkthrough, but the “proof is in the pudding.” Francis tries to correct him and claims it’s Shakespeare … but Bill never said that, and while the phrase is generally credited to Cervantes, it’s probably not his phrase either.

* Gregory serves first: seared beef tenderloin, grilled hen, parsnip puree, beets, and crispy nori. Tony’s beef was a little medium-rare, while the other four plates had it rare. Is medium-rare that big of a crime? Granted, beef tenderloin is kind of an overrated cut anyway.

* George’s Dr. Seuss riff has calamari, mussels, clams, pan-seared branzino, a seafood emulsion, and red peppers and purple potatoes for the colors. Gail says the dish feels a little “tight.” I have no idea what that means, but that’s four fish, not one or two.

* Mei’s plate has roasted vegetables on charred onion soil, coated with tom kha (I assume coconut milk flavored with lemongrass) “snow,” and a radish and carrot top vinaigrette. Gail says the soil and snow both add subtle flavor. Tom calls it “roasted vegetables ‘Walden Pond,’” which seems like an enormous compliment.

* Melissa’s dish has seared halibut, spring veg, morels, charred baby corn, asparagus, peas, with a mushroom broth served tableside. She claims it’s to represent the four seasons, with the charred corn symbolizing the increasing darkness of autumn, but 1) where’s winter? and 2) would anyone in that room have eaten her dish and said, “oh, man that is totally Blithedale Romance.”

* Katsuji splatters his red beet sauce on his dishes so it “looks like somebody just got killed on this plate.” He gets a reaction from the diners, but then forgets the title and author of his inspiration due to nerves.

* His dish is a fabada with white beans, chorizo, jamón serrano, short rib, veal osso buco, red beet puree and hot sauce (with his voice overdubbed to say the last two ingredients). It’s a long explanation of the connection between the story and the dish. Tom says the “most unappetizing-looking dish I’ve ever seen in my life.” Gail likes the “discordance” in the dish because Carrie is a horror story. No one’s going to mention that he had four proteins from three different animals plus beans in the dish?

* Doug’s Emily Dickinson riff is a carrot bisque with grilled carrots, orange, cumin vinaigrette, radish, and dandelion. The soup has an intense carrot flavor from his various methods of cooking the carrots. The judges rave about it.

* The judges seem to have liked all of the dishes, with a few slight preferences. Mei connected the work, the author, and the dish better than anyone, but Doug executed that almost as well. Gail argues for Melissa’s fish and presentation of vegetables, but again, no one points out the tenuous connection to Hawthorne. George’s presentation was a little underwhelming, but he has immunity. Katsuji’s was big and bold, but it was a mess to behold.

* Judges’ table: Tom says it was all really good, despite a hard challenge. Mei, Melissa, Doug are the top three. Mei wins, which I infer is for a great dish with the most inventive presentation; the “soil” and “snow” weren’t just gimmicks but added flavor to the dish.

* The bottom two are Katsuji and Gregory, with George safe due to immunity. Katsuji’s sauce was too thick, pureed beets rather than a strained “au jus” (sorry, Tom, but the juice itself is just the “jus,” without the “au”) that would have had a more vibrant color without the inconsistent texture. Gregory gets dinged for an overly symbolic dish that was not evocative enough of Poe or “The Raven,” yet Melissa’s fared no better in that department and she was in the top half. This feels a bit contrived, unless something else was amiss with Gregory’s plates beyond one serving of slightly overcooked beef.

* Katsuji is eliminated, as his food didn’t quite hold up to the presentation for Tom. Axing Gregory for an insufficiently literal interpreation of his inspiration would have been ridiculous.

* Quick power ranking: Gregory, Doug, Mei, George, Melissa. Doug may really be neck and neck with Gregory at this point – a little more precise, but a little less imaginative. He’s outperformed everyone of late.

* Last Chance Kitchen: The three chefs must cook with 20+ ingredients, Katsuji-style. Katsuji makes a mole, which is a great way to use twenty ingredients in one shot, and he ends up over 30 ingredients in his dish. Adam wins with a ceviche; Katie is eliminated despite Tom praising her tomato chutney, just saying the other two dishes were better.

The Lowland.

I wrote about the Yankees signing Chase Headley, the White Sox signing Melky Cabrera, and the various signings of Jed Lowrie, Alex Rios, Brett Anderson, and others for Insiders.

Jhumpa Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1999 for The Interpreter of Maladies, a scintillating collection of short stories that focused mostly on the experiences of Indian emigrants to the United States, beautifully crafted stories with empathetic characters and gorgeous prose. Her second collection of stories, 2008’s Unaccustomed Earth was just as impressive, but didn’t earn the same acclaim because it wasn’t her debut work and because in the interim, she only published one work, the 2003 novel The Namesake, a less well-received book turned into a mediocre film that starred Kal “Kumar” Penn in a serious role.

Lahiri’s second novel, The Lowland, came out late in 2013 and has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, and the National Book Award, with stronger critical reviews than Namesake received as well. It’s a melancholy, introspective book of lives destroyed by the ripple effects across generations caused by one seemingly small choice made in the passion of youth. It features Lahiri’s evocative prose and strong characterization, but with the longer form available to her, she takes the opportunity to grab your heart with both hands and wring it out like a damp towel, yet without the critical or philosophical payoff I’d demand of a novel that delves so deeply into personal pain.

The lowland of the title is a swampy area near the Kolkata home of two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, who are as close as any two friends can be despite very different personalities. Subhash, the elder brother, is shy, cautious, scholarly, and eager to please; Udayan is more daring, outwardly emotional, and, ultimately, politically motivated. As the brothers come of age in the mid- to late 1960s, Udayan gets involved in local communist movements, eventually joining the real-life Marxist-Maoist movement known as the Naxalites, which still exists today primarily as a terrorist organization with only superficial political aims. While Subhash is studying marine biology in Rhode Island, the Naxalites’ activities turn deadly, after which Indian security forces arrest and kill Udayan, leaving his barely pregnant wife Gauri living with in-laws who can’t stand her and pushing Subhash to sacrifice himself to save her from a miserable future and raise his brother’s daughter. That choice has far-reaching and unexpected consequences for all three of them, covering the last two-thirds of the novel, during which we also receive more details on Udayan’s actions and his murder by way of explaining Gauri’s alienation and depression.

The resulting book covers four generations of this family, from Subhash’s traditional parents to his daughter (in all but the biological sense) Bela, who is nearly 40 at the end of the book and has a daughter of her own, with an especial focus on Subhash, Bela, and Gauri dealing with the holes left in their lives by Udayan’s death and in particular Gauri’s emotional withdrawal after it. I found it almost impossible to process Gauri’s lack of connection with Bela and eventual decision to leave her family to pursue an aimless academic career; that her sudden widowhood destroyed something in her is realistic, and Subhash would certainly never replace what she had lost, but for her to bear and raise Bela without forming an emotional bond or attachment just didn’t compute for me.

The ultimate problem with The Lowland its lack of any clear direction or point; it’s an engrossing, tragic story of people broken by history, carrying the fractures across an ocean and through generations, but what is Lahiri trying to get across? She is one of the preeminent writers of immigrant fiction, yet with her second novel, she has only added a good story without saying anything new about the experience of Indian-Americans coming here and returning home after the United States has changed them.

Next up: I’m nearly done with China Miéville’s Hugo Award-winning novel The City & The City.

Saturday five, 12/13/14.

My Insider content from this week’s activity in San Diego, which was the best setup I’ve ever seen for the winter meetings and resulted in more trades and signings than any meetings I can remember covering:

* The Jimmy Rollins trade
* The Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon trades
* The Matt Kemp trade
* The Rick Porcello/Yoenis Cespedes trade
* The Wade Miley trade
* The Howie Kendrick/Andrew Heaney trade and Brandon McCarthy signing
* The Dee Gordon trade
* The Jon Lester signing
* The Francisco Liriano re-signing
* The Miguel Montero trade
* The Jeff Samardzija trade (and David Robertson signing) and Oakland’s return
* The Jason Hammel signing
* The Brandon Moss trade

Outside of ESPN, my review of the boardgame Concordia is up at Paste. I’ll have my top ten games of 2014 up for them next week.

Here on the dish, I posted my top 100 songs of 2014 and top 14 albums of 2014, as well as this week’s Top Chef recap.

And now, this week’s links…

Top Chef S12E08.

Sorry this week’s recap was delayed, but I didn’t see the episode until Friday night due to the winter meetings and all-day travel on Thursday (I passed on taking a redeye home, and I’m not sorry about that part).

Top Chef logo* We start with a window on last episode’s decision to send Keriann home rather than Katie. Gregory says in the stew room that “you don’t mix bananas and chocolate and call it a mousse,” to which Katie concurs, saying “that wasn’t a mousse.” Remember Tom and/or Barbara saying you could play hockey with it? Well, I guess we know now. I don’t think anything without whipped cream folded into it could be called a mousse; chocolate mousse has both that and an egg white foam (meringue) to provide structure and lightness by incorporating air.

* Gregory’s an ultra runner and has run 50 miles a couple of times. I’m not sure if I should be impressed or horrified. If I run 50 miles, it’s because there’s a large carnivorous animal chasing me.

* Quickfire: Jasper White’s in the house. I’ve been to his Summer Shack a few times and liked it. I’ve heard him credited with inventing grilled lobster, although I don’t know if that’s apocryphal.

* This is a sudden-death quickfire, involving clams, with a table full of buckets of clams available for the chefs. They’ll be making “chowdah,” as Padma says it, although I could have sworn it was said differently:

The chefs have to create their own unique versions of clam chowder. White wrote a book on the dish, called 50 Chowders.

* The winner gets immunity; the loser has to fight to survive. The chefs have thirty minutes, which isn’t much time to create strong clam flavors.

* Mei grabs the whole bucket of littlenecks, which apparently are one of the most desirable clams up there, but ends up sharing them with Adam when he asks … only to have Melissa swipe them right off her station when she heads to the pantry. That’s bad Top Chef etiquette, at best, and sleazy at worst.

* Gregory is making razor clams, which he chose because they’re juicy, tender, and really quick to cook. I’m light on clam knowledge here, since my wife is allergic and I eat clams maybe once a year when dining out.

* Adam is trying to make a light chowder, which would differentiate itself from everyone else’s, but he’s really just making a Manhattan chowder by using tomato water instead of potatoes.

* Melissa is using lemongrass in her chowder, which will taste like tom kha gai. Katie makes a black tea sourdough chowder, using the bread to thicken the chowder, which sounds like it’ll work for thickness but not for mouthfeel.

* Mei made a steamer clam and lobster chowder with yuzu aioli, celery, and fennel. Katsuji makes a green chowder with oysters, poblanos, jalapeños, and toasted garlic broth. Gregory’s dish is a razor clam and sweet potato chowder with bacon, dashi, and coconut milk broth. He grilled the clams and thickened it with the sweet potatoes, an idea I’ll definitely steal for something. Adam’s Manhattan chowder features red wine poached clams, boiled potatoes, carrots, celery, and tomato water.

* Melissa’s cioppino chowder has clams, shrimp, white wine, onions, leeks, and garlic. Doug made a grilled oyster chowder with a steamed clam broth using the clams’ liquor for flavor and fresh jalapeño. Katie’s clams in lobster stock with black tea and sourdough is a take-off on the bread bowl.

* Katie says “sudden death makes me think of death.” That might be taking it too far.

* The favorites are Adam, Gregory, and Melissa, with Gregory winning. Mos Chef is back … and has immunity. That’s his third quickfire win, with Adam apparently a very close second.

* Least favorite: Doug’s dish was very salty; Katsuji’s masked the taste of the oysters; Mei’s seemed underseasoned; Katie’s raw sourdough bread overpowered the soup and gave it a gummy texture. Katie ends up on the bottom and has to face…

* … one of the previously eliminated chefs. Those seven vote to pick one of their own to face Katie. George, who is Mike Isabella’s business partner and was eliminated in the very first quickfire of the season, gets four of the votes and wins the right to face Katie to get back into the competition.

* The challenge: cook rabbit. Katie hasn’t cooked with it in seven years, since culinary school. They have 45 minutes to cook any part of the animal that they want.

* That’s probably the protein I’d least want to face if I were in a cooking competition – that or venison. I’ve never cooked rabbit, because there’s no one here who’d eat it (my daughter is horrified that people eat rabbit, even though I’ve explained that they’re vicious animals who will chew your face off without a second thought). I also don’t love rabbit, even though I’ve had it several times; it doesn’t taste like chicken, but I find its flavor unpleasantly sharp and gamy. I’ve had it at some pretty good restaurants, but I guess I need to keep trying it.

* Katsuji hopes Katie wins because “we know she’s not the best one,” while George might be better than anyone realized. He’s right, of course.

* Adam’s running commentary doesn’t spare George: “Did I hear glazed carrots? I didn’t realize this was a CIA cookbook from 1996.”

* George’s rabbit legs aren’t braising quickly enough, so he goes back for the loins because he can cook them in less than five minutes. Can you braise any meat in under 45 minutes? Duck legs aren’t big, and they take at least two hours to braise. Even though rabbit legs are smaller, the braising process involves very low temperatures (lower than what George was using on a burner) and long cooking times to dissolve collagen in tough cuts of meat where the muscles received more exercise while the animal was alive. The collagen forms gelatin, and its extraction allows the muscle fibers to separate more easily, producing a tender dish. If you let the braising liquid boil, you’ll let the proteins in the muscle unfold and relink with each other, which produces a tough, chewy result. I know you can’t braise anything in 45 minutes without using pressure; why don’t professional chefs know that?

* Katie serves a braised leg with a Moroccan tomato sauce. George serves his roasted loin sliced over barley risotto (although I could swear he said farro, not barley, while talking to the other chefs), glazed carrots, and a mustard jus. Jasper says the clearcut winner was George. Tom votes for George as well because his rabbit was perfectly cooked. That puts George back in the competition and sends Katie home.

* George sounds exactly the priest character on Gracepoint, which, by the way, we just finished last night. I thought it was spectacular, and now that Broadchurch is on Netflix I’ll go back and watch that too since the latter series is coming back for another season.

* Elimination challenge: The chefs will cater a tasting event for 75 Top Chef fans in the TC kitchen … except the four judges are doing the shopping, and the chefs won’t see the ingredients till tomorrow. Each chef is randomly assigned to one of the judges’ pantries via knife draw.

* Richard warns his two chefs, Adam and Doug, that “I hope you like the vitamin aisle.” Adam is displeased: “there’s going to be agar or some other playful molecular shit,” rhyming “agar” with “dagger.” Just because that’s what Blais buys doesn’t mean he has to use it all, right? Having just had a blood orange gelée at Blais’ Juniper & Ivy that I presume used agar-agar, I’m a big fan of the stuff.

* Blais goes bananas in Whole Foods, taking off with his cart and heading right through produce to the proteins, mocking the other judges for lollygagging over the produce, and saying that Padma probably doesn’t do her own grocery shopping, followed by footage of her struggling to carry two jackfruit into her cart. To be fair, those things are massive. The jackfruit, I mean.

* Richard buys lecithin, a potent emulsifier that’s found in egg yolks and soybeans, among other sources. What the heck do you do with pure lecithin? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a non-dessert recipe.

* Padma gets her revenge on Richard by stealing his cart from the checkout line, spilling (wasting, really) a big cooler of fish. They’re all a bunch of dorks, by the way. I can only imagine the relief at that Whole Foods every time the Top Chef crew leaves.

* Richard’s pantry ends up also including liquid nitrogen (of course) and Versawhip, a modified soy protein that can replace egg whites or gelatin to create highly stable foams. I assume you all have this stuff in your cupboard right now. Adam’s concerns seem to be at least a little bit legit, although Blais did give him and Doug plenty of normal ingredients to work with.

* Melissa is making shrimp scampi with a salad, which the other chefs are pointing to as too safe. Adam, meanwhile, is doing some weird technique (hint: foreshadowing) where he’s not cooking the shrimp but scalding the exterior with very hot oil. I know some folks love raw shrimp (ama ebi, sometimes called “sweet shrimp”), but I find the texture to be gross – slippery and chewy, but with the feeling of breaking all those cell walls and proteins up with your teeth when that process should be started with heat. The only time I’ve ever seen this hot-oil trick was on an episode of Iron Chef America maybe ten years ago, where Chef Morimoto used it to crisp salmon skin by pouring the hot oil repeatedly over the fish, not just once.

* Doug can’t describe Katsuji’s dish without laughing, but says it makes sense because “Katsuji’s batshit insane.” I’d like to see someone font Katsuji that way rather than giving the name of his restaurant.

* Gregory tears open the jackfruit and says it smells like bubblegum. So maybe all those years I wanted to retch up the pink liquid amoxicillin, I didn’t realize it was just jackfruit-flavored.

* Did you know that Katsuji came to this country with just $5 in his pocket? I can’t believe he hasn’t mentioned that before. Seems like he’d want everyone to know that.

* Padma enters the kitchen with vertical striped pants that make her legs look like they’re about ten feet long.

* Richard drops a “plethora” when describing his Whole Foods trip to fans. If he were on every week, we could have a Blais vocabulary drinking game – take a shot every time he drops a ten-dollar word on the show.

* The food … Katsuji (Gail’s pantry): Tunisian potato salad and harissa-poached shrimp, plus a white sangria on the side. It sounds amazing, actually, and I usually think Katsuji’s stuff just sounds weird. Richard says it could use more heat, although he may have been mocking Katsuji there.

* Gregory (Padma): Coconut milk and chicken in Madras curry with jackfruit relish. Padma seems to love it and says the smells were “so authentic.” It’s pretty audacious to make an Indian dish for Padma Lakshmi.

* Adam (Richard): Peppadew piperade with flash-marinated shrimp, mushroom conserva, herbs, and aioli. Gail says her shrimp was just a few seconds undercooked, but that seems to be overly kind based on what the other judges say later on.

* How great is that father who brought his daughter, maybe 11 or 12 years old, to the tasting event? She ended up with Blais’ autograph and Doug gave her his menu board to take home.

* Melissa (Gail): Sauteed shrimp with harissa yogurt, roasted figs, fennel, dill, mint, artichokes, and a shaved root vegetable salad. Richard says it’s not spicy enough, Gail has it as just barely too salty. Richard calls it safe, beautiful for a cafe, not bold enough for a competition. Also, hasn’t she made something like this before? It’s Top Chef, not Top Shrimp and Salad.

* Mei (Tom): Charred eggplant puree with black garlic, rack of lamb, scallion-ginger relish, and lamb jus. The flavors are good, but the lamb starts bleating when she cuts it, a real turnoff for the diners.

* Doug (Richard): Chorizo-marinated mussels with sweet pepper and cauliflower relish, lemon preserve, and bacon crumble.

* Padma says her pantry “had enough chilis to kill a village.” Are we talking a small village or a medium-sized one? Asking for a friend.

* George (Padma): Beef/lamb kabob with green lentils and cucumber-mint yogurt. Padma and Tom praise this effusively.

* Everyone loved George’s, and Gregory’s. Gregory’s vinegar/jackfruit relish wowed Richard and he praised Gregory for introducting a new ingredient to diners. Doug chose his ingredients well (and I think the implication is that Adam didn’t, using the same pantry) and his mussels were well-cooked.

* Mei’s lamb was too undercooked and was light on flavor. Adam used a “mind-boggling technique” on the shrimp per Richard, producing “squeaky,” “slimy” shrimp, adjectives you probably never want used to describe your food.

* George, Doug, and Gregory are the top three. The winner was Doug, so Portland is dominating this season so far: one or both of Doug and Gregory has won, individually or on a team, six of the eight elimination challenges and four of the seven quickfires.

* The bottom three: Mei, Adam, and Melissa. Mei’s eggplant puree and salad were beautiful, but the lamb wasn’t cooked enough. She says she realizes now that she should have taken it off the rack to cook it. Adam says he knows the technique was risky, but Tom says beyond the shrimp being undercooked, the piperade was underseasoned. Padma asks Melissa an obvious (in hindsight) question: If she was cooking shrimp to order, so what did she do with the two and a half hours of prep time? “Knife work” is a weak answer, and I can’t remember anyone winning Top Chef based on knife work.

* Adam is eliminated. That wasn’t my guess at all – I assumed it would be Melissa for playing it safe, rather than Adam for taking a risk that didn’t work. He seems stunned too: “If you don’t love cooking enough to be an emotional mess on national television, put the knife down.” Seems like pretty sound career advice to me.

* Power ranking: Gregory, Doug, Mei, George, Katsuji, Melissa. Tough to say where George should fit, but the fact that he executed two dishes extremely well is at least a good sign. Mei slips one spot behind Doug, although I think the reason at this point is obvious.

* Last Chance Kitchen returns as well, with two episodes the first week. The first part features all the chefs eliminated before this episode, sans George, and they have to remake the dishes that sent them home. Joy, Rebecca, and James end up the top three of the seven eliminated chefs. Joy’s veal was slightly overrested, which knocks her out. Rebecca wins for her revised seared scallop dish, edging out James. Rebecca wasn’t on the show that long, but her boasting in the confessional interviews was unbearable.

* The second part pits Rebecca against Katie and Adam in taking dry and slimy ingredients, which is based on how Katie and Adam were eliminated, to make one appealing dish. Two chefs of the three will advance. One “slimy” ingredient is miso, which is crazy-high in the glutamates that produce umami (as are many fermented foods), so I’d imagine the chefs would want to grab that right away.

* Bacalao (dried salt cod) is also on the table; can you hydrate and desalinate it that quickly? I thought soaking it in milk was an overnight process.

* Adam makes a salt-baked oyster with pickled morels, nori, and white miso glaçage. Katie made morels stuffed with pancetta and mascarpone, with a tomatillo, cranberry, and pepita salad with miso vinaigrette. Rebecca made a warm octopus and confit potato salad, toasted pepitas, and pickled onions. Tom praises all three but says Adam’s was his favorite and Rebecca’s was his least favorite, so Katie and Adam advance, and Rebecca’s “you’re in my kitchen now” speeches fall flat again. Cook more, brag less.

Top 100 songs of 2014.

As with all of my music lists, like my top 14 albums of 2014 and my top 100 songs of 2013, this represents my personal preference. I thought 2013 was a little stronger, but the second half of 2014 brought a slew of very strong albums from veteran acts that boosted the year and made stopping at 100 songs harder than I expected it to be.

If I don’t like a song, it’s not here. That wipes out some critically-acclaimed artists’ 2014 releases entirely, including St. Vincent, FKA Twigs, Run the Jewels, Beck, Mac Demarco, Ariel Pink, Bombay Bicycle Club, and Sharon van Etten. Other folks liked that stuff. I didn’t.

Some songs that were among the last ones I cut from my list, in no particular order, looking just at artists that didn’t make it: Dotan – “Home;” Viet Cong – “Continental Shelf;” Dreamers – “Wolves;” Walk the Moon – “Shut Up and Dance;” Echosmith – “Cool Kids;” Gardens & Villa – “Colony Glen;” Bleachers – “I Wanna Get Better;” Ex Cops – “Black Soap;” The Wytches – “Gravedweller;” Soundgarden – “Storm;” Max Jury – “Black Metal;” Cold War Kids – “All Of This Could Be Yours;” Sir Sly – “Gold;” Knox Hamilton – “Work It Out;” and Arkells – “What Are You Holding On To?” I’ll put together another playlist with those songs and more that “just missed” in a day or two.

The Spotify list includes 98 of the 100 songs. I didn’t take the time to craft amazon and iTunes links because it takes forever; that’s the only real income I derive from this site, so if you already wanted to purchase something, feel free to use the Amazon Link in the header.

100. Kele – Closer. The lead singer of Bloc Party goes trip-hop, which might be a permanent switch given how half-hearted BP’s last album was. The album, Trick, is wildly uneven, but the back-and-forth with the unnamed female vocalist on “Closer” and the musical nods back to ’90s two-step make this the record’s best track.

99. White Lung – Down It Goes. This would be riot grrrl material if it were still 1997, but instead it’s just bright yet angry punk with a female vocalist.

98. Twin Peaks – I Found A New Way. Twin Peaks are a bunch of snotty kids and they sound like it, but I mean that in a good way. Named after a TV show that went off the air before any of its members were born, their music has a raw, old-school feel with more current tweaks like the occasional screamed vocal.

97. Ryan Adams – Gimme Something Good. I know many of you are enormous fans of Adams and his latest album; I don’t quite share that level of enthusiasm, but this song’s sparse roots-rock hooks stood out for me. In the battle of solo albums from guys who led beloved bands, Adams beat Jack White handily in 2014.

96. Midnight Masses – Am I A Nomad? A side project from two members of …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, a band you’ll see twice further up on this list, Midnight Masses have a spacier, more ethereal sound, with pulsating drums and heavy keyboards, with reverb and delay giving the song a chaotic feel despite its simple arrangement.

95. Death From Above 1979 – Always On. Ten years after their debut album, DFA1979 came back with their second record and the same hybrid of rock, dance, and even punk; “Always On” has the best balance, which for me means more rock, including a killer guitar riff.

94. Band Of Skulls – Himalayan. Himalayan was one of my favorite albums of the year, incredibly underrated because (I think) it’s not groundbreaking and quaffs deeply on the 1970s … but Band of Skulls does it so well and the production is so strong that it feels like a fresh record. The band crafts great riffs that really groove without losing the essence of classic rock that informs much of their music. The title track was one of three to make this list, with another (“Toreador”) just missing.

93. Sleeper Agent – Waves. One of a few alt-novelty hits on my list this year, affected in part by which of them my daughter liked the most; I think this was in the middle of her list, but I found it didn’t hold up that well under a hundred or so listens.

92. Opeth – Eternal Rains Will Come. Death-metal icons turned prog-rock revivalists Opeth put out an album, Pale Communion, that has barely a metal element on it (I suppose that makes it a non-metal album) and has half of its ten songs clocking in past the six-minute mark. If you like guitar and keyboard noodling, it has some fantastic passages, although I found the middle of the disc lagged. This song opens the disc and the shorter “Cusp of Eternity” follows, serving as a more accessible intro before they get too proggy with the eleven-minute third track. I also find it fascinating that a band so closely associated with the technical/melodic death metal subgenre could morph so completely into a different genre over the course of just a few albums.

91. The Kooks – Bad Habit. The Kooks are just a goofy, fun British rock band who produce great hooks and often slip over the line into self-parody; their September 2014 album Listen had a handful of great singles, balanced out by a few songs I’ll never listen to again. “Bad Habit” was one of the great ones, the song that I heard most on Sirius XM, not quite as distinctly British as “Down,” with a little more American blues influence instead.

90. Hundred Waters – Innocent. The best album of 2014 for me wasn’t full of great singles – it’s a cohesive, imaginative soundscape that uses Nicole Miglis’s vocals as another instrument on top of the layers of keyboards and drum machines. My two favorite tracks from The Moon Rang Like a Bell are on this list, but Hundred Waters’ genius is much better appreciated on the level of the full album.

89. Colony House – Silhouettes. Another alt-novelty hit, “Silhouettes” has the good sense to get in and out inside of three minutes, which is about how long the chorus’ hook works. There’s actually more nuance in the music behind the verses with off-beat guitar strumming before the traditional chorus (complete with the cute bit of workplay) kicks in.

88. Bestfriends – Lakeshore. Indie-electro-pop with the Passion Pit-type vocals, but with a more electronic and upbeat sound than PP or Foster the People.

87. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – Cecilia And The Satellite. Another alt-novelty hit, right down to the name of the song and the band. A friend of mine, upon hearing the name of the then-new band Coldplay, asked, “what the hell kind of name is that? Why don’t you just name a band ‘I Wanna Poke You in the Eye.’” Coincidentally, that’s the name of my new djent-folk side project.

86. Run River North – Beetle. I felt like these guys showed a lot of promise on their debut but didn’t go far enough to creating their own sound independent of their influences, bands like Mumford and Sons and the band they mimic quite well here, Of Monsters & Men.

85. Kaiser Chiefs – Coming Home. The lead single from their Education, Education, Education, and War was their biggest hit in about a decade, and it brings the kind of wit and irony they showcased on their first two albums, but here presented over what’s practically a ballad.

84. Ásgeir – Summer Guest. This Icelandic folk singer/songwriter features lyrics written by his 72-year-old father when singing in his native tongue, but he’s found international success thanks to a reissue of his debut album with new vocals recorded in English. It’s not normally my cup of tea, but his wistful delivery and the combination of melancholy textures and lilting folk melodies is addictive. It deserves a much wider audience than it received here.

83. Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting On You). The feel-good hit of the summer, or the spring, in large part because of that dance the lead singer did on Letterman. I haven’t liked anything else they’ve done, but this is about as great as a pop/rock song can be without a guitar.

82. alt-J – Hunger Of The Pine. Lead singer Joe Newman takes top billing here, but ended up overshadowed a bit by the Miley Cyrus sample in the chorus that just didn’t add enough to the song to make it worthwhile. Of everything on their bizarre sophomore album, This is All Yours, “Hunger” did the best job of recapturing the band’s attempts to play with textures from their debut, although it wasn’t the best song on the disc.

81. Dan Sultan – Under Your Skin. Sultan won Australia’s equivalent to the Album of the Year Grammy for Blackbird, which marries blue-eyed soul with some heavier guitar riffs. If you’re old enough to remember what Little Caesar tried, Sultan does something similar but much more effectively.

80. Animals As Leaders – Tooth and Claw. Highly technical metal – I’d say this is the metal equivalent of set-theoretic topology – with masterful guitarwork from bandleader Tosin Abasi, a fretwork virtuoso who incorporates elements of jazz with speed-metal shredding for an amazing instrumental experience on their 2014 album The Joy of Motion.

79. Broods – Mother & Father. This New Zealand brother-and-sister duo produced an understated album of atmospheric electronica that hid some enormous hooks below Georgia Nutt’s soothing ambrosiac vocals. This second single from the album was its most overtly poppy song, impossible to get out of my head once I heard it. They did not receive any bonus points for the fact that I think the lead singer is really cute.

78. Speedy Ortiz – Doomsday. A one-off track recorded for the Famous Class/LAMC 7” series, which has also featured Parquet Courts and Ty Segall, “Doomsday” reminds me a lot of Helium, the former band of Mary Timony (see #72), with a deliberately dissonant, lugubrious rhythm line beneath Sadie Dupuis’ sweet, melodic vocals. One of only two tracks on this list that’s not on Spotify.

77. Young Rising Sons – High. Yet another alt-novelty hit, one of my true favorites of the year though, even with the trite lyrics, because of the vocal turns and tumbles in the chorus and its unexpected truncation a half-measure too soon. YRS will release their debut album early in 2015 after recently scoring a major-label deal.

76. Interpol – All The Rage Back Home. El Pintor marked a comeback of sorts, although I still think these guys spend every album trying to recreate Joy Division’s solitary LP. My longtime friend Pete, who has similar tastes in music, wants you to know he thinks “My Blue Supreme” was a better Interpol choice for this list.

75. Darlia – Queen Of Hearts. The Nirvana comparisons held for the length of this song, but their remaining releases didn’t have the same hook or urgency as this lead single.

74. Spoon – Knock Knock Knock. Spoon might be the most important American rock band going right now, and They Want My Soul did nothing to hurt that status … but it was a little light on experimentation. “Knock Knock Knock” and the follow-up track “Outlier” saw Britt Daniel et al stretch their legs a little and incorporate different sounds and borrow from other genres, with more electronic influences adding a new dimension to their core roots-rock sound.

73. The Kooks – Forgive & Forget. Don’t let the intro fool you; this song rocks as soon as the drums kick in, and it bursts back into life with every return to the chorus.

72. Ex Hex – Beast. The big comeback album for Mary Timony (ex-Helium and Wild Flag) was a lot of fun, with tight songs full of big hooks, more accessible than her earlier noise-rock endeavors, as if Timony matured and decided to make music that might get played on the radio. Rips has its share of airplay-worthy tracks, with “Beast” the best showcase of Ex Hex’s high-energy approach.

71. Waylayers – Magnets. The best Coldplay song of the year wasn’t actually by Coldplay; this synth-heavy Waylayers track sounds a lot more like material from Parachutes with a drum machine behind it.

70. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – Sound Of The Silk. It wasn’t the best song from IX but it was the most interesting; the Trail took their share of risks and pushed some boundaries and other cliches on the album, never more so in this mini-suite of segments that pulls a few hairpin turns before arriving at the giant climax that brings every element together.

69. Young Fathers – Get Up. Surprise winners of the 2014 Mercury Prize, this British alt-hip hop trio comprises one Liberian-born MC and one born in Scotland to Nigerian parents, so it’s not surprising that you hear African influences in their rhymes and portions of the music … but they lack the technical prowess of the old-school rappers I favor. “Get Up” is here because the track itself is strong enough to make up for some deficiencies in the vocals, and both MCs also handle some singing duties. It’s not a hip-hop track; it’s a neo-soul song that happens to have rapped verses.

68. The Creases – Static Lines. A Brisbanite quartet that bears some of the distinctive sounds of the Australian punk-pop icons the Saints, bearing better production qualities and a vocal delivery that’s laconic rather than angry. Based on their EP Gradient, which leads with “Static Lines,” I’m cautiously optimistic about them breaking out in 2015 when they finally drop a full-length album.

67. Stars – This is the Last Time. I was back and forth between this and “Trap Door” for my favorite song from Stars’ latest, but the latter track imitates New Order too closely whereas “Last Time” has Stars showing off a more independent identity within the same shameless poppy sound that their singles always seem to bear.

66. The New Pornographers – Fantasy Fools. Brill Bruisers is such an effusively upbeat experience, with so many talented musicians seemingly subverting their disparate identities to produce this cohesive album that seems like it shouldn’t have been possible. “Fantasy Fools” is a high point, without quite slipping over the edge of pretentiousness the way they do on “Dancehall Domine,” never sacrificing the energy that powers the album to its various peaks.

65. Glass Animals – Pools. I know “Gooey” was the big hit, but I found it cloying and have no interest in discussions of anyone’s peanut butter vibes. “Pools” employs drums filled with water to give it that jungle-percussion effect, and the tempo and mood are much easier on the ears and the part of the brain that handles imagery.

64. alt-J – The Gospel of John Hurt. If your favorite tracks from An Awesome Wave were “Matilda” and “Fitzpleasure,” this is the song from This is All Yours for you, with the gradual, organic buildup of diverse elements (and the harmonies spelling out a key word in the lyrics) to a giant crescendo at the finish, as well as the same allusion to a classic film.

63. Faded Paper Figures – Real Lies. A synth-pop trio from Los Angeles that produces upbeat, electronic tracks heavy on keyboards and drum machines (clap your hands everybody) with mixed results when it comes to memorable hooks. This lead single from their fourth album, Dynamo, has that solid melody in the chorus and the allure of the south Asian-style guitar line in the second half of the track.

62. Superhumanoids – Come Say Hello. A dream-pop acted fronted by Sarah Chernoff, whose powerful voice – I think she gets high enough to be safely called a soprano – stands out even over the curtains of shimmering, reverbed guitars and synths behind her. “Big Bang” is another favorite of mine from them from 2014.

61. Banks – Beggin for Thread. Do her friends call her Banksy? (Probably just once, if they’re smart.) Jillian Banks strikes me a little as the American Lorde, a singer-songwriter with clever lyrics and a distinctive, low-alto delivery.

60. Little Daylight – Overdose. A favorite of my daughter, who latches on to songs based largely on how strong their melodies are and, before I even know she likes it, seems to have the words memorized (not always accurately, but that’s one of the many true joys of parenthood – hearing how your kid fills in the blanks to song lyrics she doesn’t know). Anyway, “Overdose” is a silly alt-pop confection and we’ll probably never hear from Little Daylights again.

59. King Tuff – Black Moon Spell. Love the guitar work here, with giant riffs and stoner distortion that call Marc Bolan to mind, as well as the modulation to a minor chord right in the middle of the main lick. It almost doesn’t matter that there’s anything after the first 45 seconds of the song, although that’s all solid work that refers back to those same ’70s hard rock icons.

58. Band Of Skulls – Asleep at the Wheel. More highly referential hard rock with deep roots in ’70s rock, “Asleep” opened Himalayan in style, with a heavy, deep twist on a traditional blues shuffle before the car hits the skids and the guitars open up for an enormous offbeat riff behind the chorus. Band of Skulls’ music is time out of joint and I love it.

57. The Rentals – Thought Of Sound. The return of the Friends of P fifteen years after their last full-length was a pleasant if totally unexpected development of 2014, and they sound like they never left, with that same similarity to early Weezer (where lead singer Matt Sharp formerly played bass) in a highly pop-inflected form of guitar-and-keyboard indie rock. “Thought of Sound” will probably bring you back to the late ’90s with its music but it’s very tightly produced and less deliberately messy than their first two albums were.

56. The Kooks – Down. The goofiest, most British song on the album probably never stood a chance of airplay over here, and I didn’t even like it that much on first listen, but the more I played it the more I found it sticking with me, as long as you can get past the drunken yodeling that starts the song. Listen didn’t have enough creative moments overall, but this song was their most successful attempt to do something out of the norm, especially in the way the guitar and vocal almost do a call-and-response in the verses, and the way they layer sounds in the final chorus.

55. Gap Dream – Fantastic Sam. Light up a joint and plug in your Moog. The minimal lyrics inspire a few grins, but Gap Dream’s strength is his ability to redraw the boundaries of psycheledic music to create something that doesn’t sound 40 years out of date.

54. Doss – Softpretty. This solo electronic artist breathes her vocals on “Softpretty” rather than singing them, but her voice is just a veneer over the high-voltage drum machine and the (synthesizer) steel drum melody that powers the song.

53. HAERTS – Giving Up. HAERTS was one of my favorite albums of the year, but four of the best songs were released on an EP last fall that I didn’t hear enough until after crafting my top 100 of last year. That means some of their best songs (especially “Wings”) fell through the cracks in my rankings; “Giving Up” is the best of the album’s new songs, putting the power of Nini Fabi’s voice to good use over yet another St. Lucia-produced pop gem.

52. TV On The Radio – Lazerray. When TV on the Radio really rock, they’re great; “Wolf Like Me” and the one-off 2013 single “Mercy” are among my favorite songs of the century so far. Their new album was more mellow than I’d hoped, and more commercial than anything they’ve put out so far, which felt like a bit of a letdown. “Lazerray” is one of the two best tracks because it fucking rocks.

51. Cloud Nothings – I’m Not Part of Me. Another album that fell a bit short of expectations for me; Dylan Baldi’s indie-rock stylings haven’t grown or even changed all that much through three full-lengths, perhaps the inevitable result of how quickly he writes and records all of Cloud Nothings’ material. “I’m Not Part of Me” and “Now Here In” were my favorite tracks from the album, simple, catchy, mostly three-chord rockers … just a lot like what we’ve heard from Baldi before.

50. Radkey – Feed My Brain. This trio of brothers appeared on my list last year with “Cat and Mouse,” and now have two EPs and a few singles to their credit, with a full-length LP expected in 2015 before any of the members turn 20. They’ll get Bad Brains comps because they’re an African-American punk band, but they’re much more accessible (if no less angry), and the lead singer sounds more like the singing brother in British rock duo Drenge than H.R. I’ll be very disappointed if their album next year is anything less than great and commercially successful.

49. Hospitality – I Miss Your Bones. One of the most original singles of the year, “I Miss Your Bones” almost dares you to dislike it with the hard strumming behind the opening verse and a drum pattern of which J.P. (not Stephen) Sousa might approve. It also contains the best expression summing up the deep longing for another person I’ve heard since Everything But the Girl’s “Missing.”

48. Hooray For Earth – Keys. I hadn’t heard of HFE before Racy, their fourth album, appeared in July; their indie-rock formula often includes heavy, distorted guitar lines contrasting with New Wave-style synthesizers and a lot of very upbeat melodies – if they were on a major label, I’m sure I would have heard of them by now by virtue of the airplay they would have received. I found their slower stuff (like the title track) a little overwrought, but “Keys” and “Say Enough” are both great examples of how fresh they can sound when they go uptempo.

47. The Raveonettes – Killer in the Streets. The Raveonettes dropped an album in June with no advance notice whatsoever, which seems like it would be impossible to do in the age of leaked records and social media, but there it was. The Danish indie-rock duo sound like they could be from California with their sunny, fuzzed-out guitars and shimmering reverb throughout Pe’ahi; the sliding guitar riff made “Killer” my favorite track from the disc.

46. CHVRCHES – Get Away. I didn’t expect any new music from CHVRCHES this year with the release of their debut album last September, itself about a year in the making, but the BBC project to re-score the movie Drive brought us this track, which would have fit perfectly on The Bones of What You Believe.

45. Dum Dum Girls – Rimbaud Eyes. The lyrics to this song are all drawn from the poems of French romantic poet Arthur Rimbaud, who was known for his libertine lifestyle and eyes that a childhood friend described as “pale blue irradiated with dark blue—the loveliest eyes I’ve seen. Lead singer/guitarist Dee Dee Penny has an appealing, smoky yet not too-low voice, and the swirling guitar lines here seemed to call back to some of the acts from the early-90s Madchester scene like Inspiral Carpets.

44. Jenny Lewis – Just One Of The Guys. Lewis, formerly part of the indie-rock heros Rilo Kiley, writes and sings seriously precious folk-rock tracks, and some of that threatens to take this song into the abyss … but it never quite goes there, in part because the subject, the pressure a woman in many male-dominated settings feels to conform, is a damn good one.

43. Night Terrors of 1927 – When You Were Mine (feat. Tegan & Sara). NT27 made my list last year with their morbid “Dust and Bones,” but headed in a much poppier direction in this collaboration with Canadian duo Tegan & Sara, sounding more like the Killers than their previous songs. The fact that Blake Sennett, half of NT27, was once in Rilo Kiley with Jenny Lewis, who’s in the previous slot on the list, is a coincidence.

42. Twerps – Heavy Hands. This Melbourne quartet sound a bit like they recorded this entire EP in the back of a bus, but seldom has a band name better described an artist’s music. The song is delightfully annoying, with earworm single-note guitar lines and whisper-song vocals.

41. Cymbals – Erosion. Another band that appears to have worn out their old Joy Division records, Cymbals would have been called “darkwave” when I was younger, with gothic, gloomy, new wave-inflected songs that reflect the sensibilities that existed in the wake of the initial punk movement. They also put out a two-song EP earlier this month called What Eternity that seemed to find them in a happier mood than they showed on the late-2013 album that contained “Erosions.”

40. Wild Beasts – Wanderlust. Wild Beasts’ Present Tense was wildly acclaimed on its release, especially in the U.K., but it’s too eccentric for me and not grounded enough in the kind of pop/rock foundation that I typically enjoy, kind of like Everything Everything without the hooks. “Wanderlust” is the most accessible and ear-friendly song on the album and features the unforgettable line “don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck.” I won’t, I promise.

39. Bear In Heaven – Autumn. I liked their single “Sinful Nature” a few years ago, but “Autumn” ratchets up the tension with a driving drum-and-bass line before the walls of noise arrive with the tribal chorus accentuated by reverb on the vocals.

38. Ty Segall – Tall Man, Skinny Lady. So simple, yet so great. The song is built almost entirely around one drum loop and a six-chord guitar pattern, barely even varying when it reaches the bridge and we get another electric guitar noodling around without apparent direction or destination. Not on Spotify.

37. Hundred Waters – Xtalk. The best track on the year’s best album, although it isn’t a collection of singles so much as a single work of art that functions best as a complete record. The little piano line that opens the song is one of the few true pop hooks on the album, but it’s the syncopated drum line and singer Nicole Miglis’s use of her voice as a melodic instrument that makes this song the standout on a standout disc.

36. Courtney Barnett – History Eraser. I love Barnett’s storytelling both on this song and “Avant Gardner” – which has a better story but weaker music – and just wish she wrote better, less languorous music. “History Eraser” is about a night of drinking gone somewhat awry, whereas “Avant Gardner” is the best song ever written about an asthma attack (at least since “The Pop Singer’s Fear of the Pollen Count”).

35. alt-J –Left Hand Free. The story behind this song is already becoming apocryphal, but it seems like the A&R men didn’t hear a single so the band members wrote this song as something of a joke, only to discover afterwards that they actually liked it. So do I, even though it’s kind of dopey in its own way, but it is the most immediately catchy song they’ve written so far.

34. Ben Howard – In Dreams. I loved Howard’s Mercury Prize-nominated 2012 album Every Kingdom, a somewhat traditional yet intelligent and technically sound indie-folk record, but his latest album, I Forget Where We Were, takes a much darker turn; it’s a more ambitious record, with seven songs that stretch past five minutes, and featuers more musical experimentation, but it’s also less melodic and accessible as a result. “In Dreams” has the disc’s best compromise between those darker tones and the beauty of his first album.

33. To Kill A King – Love is Coal. “Love is not like diamonds/love is coal to keep you warm.” A lovely if unexpected metaphor, one which describes both this song as a whole and their Exit, Pursued by a Bear EP as well, marks the chorus of this multifacted song which adds texture with each movement, moving from a stark piano-and-vocal opener to a rock-paced third passage that leads into a traditional guitar solo that shouldn’t even be in the same song – but it all works together because TKaK understand how to build tension and then tear it apart without ever interrupting the flow of a song.

32. Snakehips featuring Sinead Harnett – Days With You. Snakehips are a pair of producers/DJs who were better known for remixes before putting out their own music this year, but the reason this song is on here is the vocal performance by Harnett, who elevates a solid trance/trip-hop backdrop with her sultry delivery.

31. Movie – Mr. Fist. Movie, the second least-googleable band name of 2014 (the first one was Perfect Pussy … seriously, don’t google that), put out a two-sided single earlier this year, “Ads” b/w “Mr. Fist,” both unabashed throwbacks to the early years of Britpop, particularly the first Blur album and its immediate followers, with a distinctly British sense of humour that permeates all of their lyrics. “Ads” and their latest song “Tusk Vegas” are also worth a listen, available on their soundcloud page.

30. Twin Peaks – Flavor. There are a ton of great hooks among the sixteen songs on Twin Peaks’ Wild Onion, an uneven effort but an impressive one for a band whose members are still unable to drink legally. The album shows more influences than you’ll hear on the two Twin Peaks songs I have on this list, but at heart they seem to be a power-pop band with garage-rock tendencies.

29. KONGOS – Come With Me Now. One of the bigger crossover alternative hits of 2014, “Come With Me Now” is actually three years old. First released in KONGOS’ native South Africa in 2011, the song popped up on U.S. alternative stations in the first half of this past year, eventually hitting the pop charts and ending up on Dancing with the Stars (in my daughter’s favorite dance of the season). KONGOS blend rock with kwaito, which Wikipedia describes as a South African variant of house music. None of that explains the accordion, though.

28. Strand of Oaks – Goshen ’97. Easily the best song on Strand of Oaks’ autobiographical Heal, “Goshen ’97” features J. Mascis (of Dinosaur Jr.) on lead guitar, and you can absolutely hear those hints of “Start Choppin” whenever his guitar enters; Mascis’ style of playing is distinctive and provides “Goshen ’97” with an energy that’s lacking on much of the rest of the album, and provides a needed contrast to the wistful lyrics of the song.

27. Band Of Skulls – Nightmares. The Skulls get psychedelic here, a brief respite from the harder sounds throughout Himalayan, producing my favorite song on the album – it grooves rather than rocks, to use the technical terms for the things.

26. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – Jaded Apostles. Not that Trail of Dead care about hit singles, but if there was one to be found on their 2014 album IX, I thought this would be it. Coming in with a twelve-note guitar riff that repeats in the background of the entire song, just to end up one of a host of layers of guitars and drums that create the complex, nuanced backdrop to the vocals. In a related story, Keith Law and the Jaded Apostles are currently shopping for a record deal.

25. Ages and Ages – Divisionary (Do The Right Thing). Perhaps the best music video of 2014, although I don’t watch enough to award such an honor to anyone. It’s fantastic, though, and reflects the song’s lyrics and the way the vocals build up over the course of the song, with all eight band members singing at least four different parts.

24. Kaiser Chiefs – Cannons. It seems very Kaiser Chiefs to write an anti-war song that’s rather upbeat, featuring a refrain that mocks one of Tony Blair’s slogans while talking about “smashing regimes between courses.” It’s ambitious by their own standards, but doesn’t lack the pop sensibilities that populated all of Education, Education, Education, and War. The song concludes with a spoken-word performance by actor Bill Nighy, reading a poem written by the Chiefs that fits with the song’s theme.

23. The War On Drugs – Red Eyes. I know for many of you, Lost in the Dream was the best album of the year, but the Bob Dylan references turned derivative for me after just one full listen; there are solid ideas here, but it never carved out its own sound to my ears. The length of the songs – six of the ten tracks clock in at 5:48 and up – didn’t help either. (The only sub-four minute song is a filler instrumental.) “Red Eyes” was the obvious single, one of the album’s shortest tracks so that the central riff doesn’t play itself out, and the Dylan influences sit more in the backdrop rather than front and center as they did on the nine-minute opener “Under the Pressure.”

22. Wye Oak – Glory. I liked Wye Oak’s previous stuff, which was guitar-driven, more than their sparse, synth-and-drum album Shriek released this year, both due to the shift in instrumentation and the presence of a lot of slower, minimalist songs. “Glory” is more uptempo and Jenn Wasner’s voice works better with more music tracks behind it.

21. Yellow Ostrich – Shades. Yellow Ostrich started out as a solo project of lead singer and songwriter Alex Schaaf, who later expanded the band to its current four-piece alignment. (One former member, Jon Natchez, is now part of The War on Drugs … and is also a reader here, so, hi, Jon.) Schaaf’s songwriting took a huge leap forward on their fifth album, Cosmos, which boasts a fuller sound (thanks in part to the addition of a second guitarist) and the highest production quality of any of their discs.

20. Thumpers – Unkinder (A Tougher Love). This British duo create much bigger sounds than any two-person outfit has any right to produce, although obviously they have some help in the studio. “Unkinder” was one of the most enthusiastic songs of the year, with rapid-fire, stuttered lyrics and music that practically begs you to get up and “shake the building into piles.”

19. TV On The Radio – Happy Idiot. Not quite as good as “Mercy,” TVOTR’s one-off 2013 single that was inexplicably omitted from their November album Seeds, “Happy Idiot” still satisfies my personal desire to hear these guys let ‘er rip, even though it’s more of a slow boil this time around, with singer Tunde Adebimpe drily describing the emptiness after a bad breakup over a high-bpm drum loop.

18. Grimes featuring Blood Diamonds – Go. Grimes and her partner-in-crime Blood Diamonds offered this song to Rihanna, who turned it down, which just proves once and for all that Rihanna is a box of rocks, because this would have been by far the best song she’d ever recorded. I didn’t like Grimes’ 2012 album Visions because of her babydoll delivery, but on “Go” she dials her voice down a half-step to the perfect level, and Blood Diamonds submits maybe his best work yet, with an experimental mix of trance, dubstep, and dark electronica.

17. Manchester Orchestra – Top Notch. This song’s opening riff is the Sam Cassell’s “Big Balls” dance of guitar riffs, daring you to come up with something bigger, louder, more testicular than that one sound. It puts the lie to the extreme-metal myth that guitar riffs must be faster to be better. Some other things happen in the middle, and there’s a story here about two brothers making some kind of difficult choice, but this song is about that gigantic riff.

16. La Sera – Losing to the Dark. Ex-Vivian Girl Katy Goodman now records under La Sera, and this anthemic post-punk track marries a classic hard-rock guitar track of which Iron Maiden would approve with a depressing story of dealing with a partner who can’t stop abusing alcohol and drugs.

15. Amplifier – Black Rainbow. When the Astros sign me to be their closer, this will be my entrance music. This Mancunian band draws heavily on ’70s British rock and metal acts, especially Pink Floyd Black Sabbath, but without the slow pacing. Their 2014 album Mystoria was their most successful yet, but the most interesting aspect of the album is the wild effects pedals used on the lead guitar lines.

14. Tove Lo – Habits (Stay High). This unsparing account of Tove Lo (pronounced like the Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu) trying to get over a bad breakup via drug use and casual sex set over a bouncy, R&B-tinged electronic track became a surprise crossover hit, reaching #3 on the Billboard top 100, the highest performance (per Wikipedia) by a Swedish artist in 20 years. I was just surprised the lyrics didn’t prevent pop stations from playing it, but that probably shows my age.

13. Spoon – Rent I Pay. They Want My Soul made my top albums of 2014 with a mix of what I’d call American rock and some more experimental tracks; “Rent I Pay” led the former category, still distinguishing itself with the staccato guitar line and Britt Daniel’s almost equally punctuated delivery.

12. Sleater-Kinney – Bury Our Friends. Nothing says “we’re back” by releasing one of your best songs ever as your first new track in nine years. Their album, No Cities To Love, comes out on January 20th.

11. Jungle – Busy Earnin’. I thought this London R&B collective had a shot to win the Mercury Prize, perhaps co-favorites with critical darling FKA Twigs (whose music and lyrics I find insultingly juvenile), but Young Fathers surprised everyone with their victory. Like most of Jungle, “Busy Earnin’” delivers a faithful rendition of the best soul/disco sounds of the ’70s, for whatever reason reminding me in particular of “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.”

10. Foster The People – Are You What You Want to Be? Supermodel was a top 20 album for me this year, but I only went to 14 because it’s 2014 and I need something to keep me from making these lists infinitely long. “Coming of Age” and “Best Friend” are solid, but “Are You What You Want to Be?” brings the African beats behind the verses before the big four-chord riff that opens the song comes back for the chorus. I want Mark Foster to do a whole album of experimental pop like this, without the expected moments like “Coming of Age” provided.

9. Broods – Bridges. The song that put Broods on the map, varying from the sweet, balladesque introduction to the trip-hoppy chorus where singer Georgia Nutt dials up to falsetto notes she just barely reaches.

8. Prides – The Seeds You Sow. It’s all about opportunity; this song reminds me quite a bit of Bastille’s massive hit “Pompeii,” certainly enough that “The Seeds You Sow” should have merited some airplay on alternative stations, but this Glaswegian pop trio, who have yet to release a full-length album, garnered just a brief appearance on the British top 100 and no notice whatsoever here in the U.S. This isn’t the ideal test of a song’s merits, but everyone I’ve introduced to this synthpop anthem has raved about it.

7. Milky Chance – Stolen Dance. The vocal style here annoyed me at first, as did the German duo’s ridiculous name, although I guess it’s possible that ridiculous just makes it more memorable. The chorus of “Stolen Dance” gets my earworm of the year award, though, and I love the lo-fi approach to an electronic genre that usually abides by a more-is-more philosophy. Their debut album, Sadnecessary, is just $5 right now on amazon.

6. The Holidays – Tongue Talk. Another obscure one, at least in the U.S., since The Holidays are successful in their home country of Australia, winning the Australia Music Prize award for the best debut album in 2010. Their second album, Real Feel, came out in February, with a few solid singles including “All Time High” and “Simple Pleasures,” as well as the standout “Tongue Talk,” which elevates their normally mellow pop sound with the addition of one fast guitar riff to turn it into a pulsating driving song.

5. Phantogram – Black Out Days. A good electro-pop song that becomes sublime thanks to the soaring vocals of Sarah Barthel, who reminds me of the vocalist from School of Seven Bells but with more power to hang with the gyroscopic synth line in what amounts to the song’s chorus, the strongest track from their second album, February’s Voices.

4. alt-J – Every Other Freckle. This is the alt-J we know and love, a song about obsession that features wild and sometimes inappropriate analogies (“I wanna bed into you like a cat beds into a beanbag/Turn you inside out, and lick you like a crisp packet”), unexpected musical shifts, tempo changes, and layered vocals. It’s looser than anything from their incredible debut album, An Awesome Wave, but the closest link between that album and their 2014 follow-up This Is All Yours.

3. Belle & Sebastian – The Party Line. Raise your hand if you saw this coming: an unapologetic dance track from sardonic Scottish folk-rockers Belle & Sebastian. Well, it’s here and it’s awesome, as if this was the kind of music the group was born to make. (You can’t have “The Boy with the Arab Strap” back, though.) The title of their forthcoming album, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, due January 20th, promises more of the same.

2. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers. The title track of their 2014 album is the ne plus ultra of the New Pornographers’ sound, that of six musicians fusing all of their individual talents into one ebullient, stomping whole. Brill Bruisers was my #2 album of this year because of how well A.C. Newman, Dan Bejar, Neko Case, et al all melded their sounds, never more fully than on this indie-pop gem.

1. Royal Blood – Out of the Black. My pick for the best song of 2014 is this dark, menacing, bass (with octave pedal) and drum track that would sound equally at home in a doom-metal mix as it does here on a list that’s mostly alternative rock. Their self-titled debut album didn’t quite live up to the expectations of this massive single, especially the four-note lick at 2:37 that brings it back to the chorus one last time, the best guitar riff of the year.

Top 14 albums of 2014.

My Insider content from the last few days:
* The Jimmy Rollins trade
* The Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon trades
* The Matt Kemp trade
* The Rick Porcello/Yoenis Cespedes trade
* The Wade Miley trade
* The Howie Kendrick/Andrew Heaney trade and Brandon McCarthy signing
* The Dee Gordon trade
* The Jon Lester signing
* The Francisco Liriano re-signing
* The Miguel Montero trade
* The Jeff Samardzija trade (and David Robertson signing) and Oakland’s return
* The Jason Hammel signing
* The Brandon Moss trade

My review of the boardgame Concordia is up at Paste, and I did an interview about baseball and metal with Decibel.

My ranking of the top 14 albums of the year is below, and reflects my own personal preferences, with a balance between albums that have a few standout songs and ones that worked better as cohesive units. You can see last year’s top 13 albums list for a comparison and to see if something you expected to see here actually made last year’s list (e.g., CHVRCHES, Arctic Monkeys). I heard a lot more than I ranked here, but getting to fourteen albums I truly liked and would recommend wasn’t even easy.

Linked album titles go to full reviews. My ranking of the top 100 songs of the year will follow in a few days.

14. The Kooks – Listen. Goofy British pop-rock songs that didn’t work so well as a collection, especially with a few tracks worth skipping, but featured a number of very strong singles, including “Bad Habit,” “Down,” and “Forgive and Forget.”

13. Animals as Leaders – The Joy of Motion. (amazoniTunes) An all-instrumental technical/progressive metal-fusion record … or something like that. If you love guitarwork, including jazz-inspired soloing, with unconventional song structures, featuring numerous musicians operating at the far right end of what is possible with their instruments, you’ll love this album. Otherwise, maybe just move on to #12.

12. To Kill a King – Exit, Pursued by a Bear. (amazoniTunes) It’s an EP, which is kind of cheating since I hadn’t included EP releases on previous lists, but 1) this is my list so I get to make up the rules 2) I love the title and 3) it’s a really fucking good EP. They remind me in particular of Animals that Swim, a British band from the 1990s and early 2000s that made folk-rock songs that often sounded like great drinking songs and made great use of horns as well as guitars. To Kill a King aren’t afraid to work the horns, the acoustic and electric guitar, the piano, unconventional percussion sounds, and backup harmonies that range from the typical to the borderline-annoying. Wikipedia’s entry compares them to The National, but To Kill a King’s lead singer actually sings rather than mumbling his lyrics. Opener “Oh My Love” plays like a dirge with a nod to Andrew Marvell; “Love is Coal” seems like a straight middle finger to Mumford & Sons and all of their clones, saying “this is how you do the slow-fast-slow thing, posers.”

11. Insomnium – Shadows of a Dying Sun. The best metal album of the year for me comes from this Finnish melodic death-metal act previously known for primarily downbeat and often soporific music that wasn’t saved by the technical prowess of its guitarists. Shadows brings them much more firmly into the melodic camp, with the occasional clean vocal, far more ornate song structures (with actual movements in some tracks), and somewhat less dreary lyrics. There aren’t many bands operating in this demilitarized zone between classic thrash, classical metal, and straight-up death metal, but it’s a sweet spot for my particular tastes.

As an aside, my top metal albums of the year: Insomnium, Animals as Leaders, Pallbearer’s Foundations of Burden, Horrendous’ Ecdysis, and At the Gates’ At War With Reality.

10. Band of Skulls – Himalayan. I like to rock, or more specifically, I like to listen to bands that rock, preferably without apology or relent. (I do like to rock a little, though.) Band of Skulls draws deeply on genres from 1970s classic rock to the more commercial part of 1990s grunge, and most of this album is driven by huge guitar riffs, blues shuffles, and bass-heavy grooves. This is music for people who just love hard rock that isn’t metal and still boasts great melodies, from the title track, “Asleep at the Wheel,” “Toreador,” and the psycheledic “Nightmares.”

9. Ex Hex – Rips. It’s good to have Mary Timony, formerly of noise-rock icons Helium and the all-female Wild Flag (with Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney, whose 2015 album should appear on my list next year), back with a new band. Ex Hex is punk-pop more than anything else, hook-filled with a slew of short, punchy, fast-paced songs that are a little light lyrically but incredibly fun to listen to, including “Beast,” “Don’t Wanna Lose,” and “New Kid.”

8. Kaiser Chiefs – Education, Education, Education, and War. The big comeback album for the band best known for their 2004 hit “I Predict a Riot” was by far their most mature, measured, balanced effort ever, easing up on the overly clever lyrics just a bit and filling the album with compelling hooks and more nuanced songwriting. Lead single “Coming Home” found them almost serious and pensive, while “Cannons,” “Ruffians on Parade” and opener “The Factory Gates” brought the electricity you’d expect from the Chiefs along with newly thoughtful, sardonic lyrics. This album, with a title mocking a speech once given by Tony Blair, didn’t chart in the U.S., but hit #1 in the UK and went gold, their best showing since their second album came out in 2007.

7. Broods – Evergreen. (amazoniTunes) This New Zealand brother-and-sister duo first hit with their single “Bridges,” a top 10 song for me this year due to its stunning contrast from the sweet, piano-driven verse to the thumping chorus where singer Georgia Nutt shifts up to a falsetto that almost strains her range. Their full album has great contrasts throughout within that dream-pop/electronic framework, most with strong melodies, showing a lot of range for a very young pair of songwriters on their first album.

6. …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – IX. With their ninth album (duh), the ol’ Trail of Dead are at their most melodic and textured, with tremendous percussion work by their tandem of drummers and hypnotic, swirling guitar lines, without losing the structural complexity that has marked nearly all of their work. It might not have received the insane acclaim of Source Tags and Codes, but it’s a more accessible and thoughtful album, led by “The Doomsday Book,” “Jaded Apostles,” “Lie Without a Liar,” and the closer “Sound of the Silk” that just left me on the floor gasping for air.

5. Spoon – They Want My Soul. Spoon has become, for me, the definitive American rock band, or perhaps rock-and-roll band, drawing as they do on influences from throughout rock history while incorporating folk, country, and more current electronic elements in their songs. They Want My Soul was a bounceback of sorts after a pair of less exciting albums, bringing more experimentation and a wider range of styles with barely any hiccups along the way (other than the single “Inside Out”). You’ve heard and probably liked the straightforward singles “Rent I Pay” and “Do You,” but when Spoon get nostalgic on the cover “You Just Don’t Understand” or start playing around with structure and synths on “Outlier” or “Knock Knock Knock” they manage to expand boundaries without losing their ability to craft compelling hooks.

4. HAERTS – Haerts. Three of the five best songs on here appeared on an EP late last year, but that’s not to say the remaining songs on the band’s full-length debut, produced by St. Lucia (who appeared on last year’s list with his own debut album), which all showcase singer Nini Fabi’s powerful, slightly smoky voice over masterfully crafted strata of keyboards and drum machines. “Giving Up” is the best new song and the only one on my top 100 this year, but “Wings,” “Hemiplegia,” and “All the Days” are standouts from their first EP.

3. alt-J – This is All Yours. It wasn’t as groundbreaking or mindblowing as their debut album, An Awesome Wave, my favorite album not just of 2012 but of the decade so far, so I could call This is All Yours a mild letdown … and yet it’s still a work of great imagination and continues the trio’s refusal to work within the conventions of modern music, even within what’s generally called “alternative” but isn’t quite as radical as the name might indicate. This is All Yours is uneven, with a few songs they could just as easily have omitted (“Choice Kingdom” and “Pusher” in particular), but they soar with the manic complexity of “Every Other Freckle,” the slow expansion of “The Gospel of John Hurt,” the four-vocalist gimmick that actually plays on “Warm Foothills,” and the so-bad-it’s good “Left Hand Free.” It’s not as cleanly produced as their debut, unfortunately, which cuts into the atmosphere it creates and stunts the beauty of tracks like “Warm Foothills” or “Hunger of the Pine.”

2. New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers. I don’t know how a collection of singers and songwriters this broad and diverse could push out an album this cohesive, but Brill Bruisers is an ebullient power-pop masterpiece; what it might lack in invention (compared to, say, Twin Cinema) it more than makes up for via its sheer pop brilliance. The title track is one of the best songs of the year, landing in my top 10, but “Dancehall Domine,” “Fantasy Fools,” and “War on the East Coast” all shimmer with gorgeous pop hooks and note-perfect performances across the board.

1. Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like a Bell. (amazoniTunes) I never reviewed this album because I didn’t quite get it when I first received it a review copy back in May; it was just too weird, too unconventional, almost the way I never quite got the Cocteau Twins. But I kept coming back to certain songs that stuck with me – “Xtalk,” “Innocent,” “Out Alee” – and realized the issue was that I had to get used to the production, which put singer Nicole Miglis’s voice so front and center that you can almost hear her thinking. This is cerebral music, but that doesn’t mean it requires more of the listener than an open mind; think of Hundred Waters’s songs as the pattern on a lake when hit by a raindrop or a skipped stone, with each track within a song rippling outward on its own to create a gorgeous, cohesive whole. I haven’t heard anything quite like it before, which is something I want to say about any album I’m calling the best of its year.