As with all of my music lists, this represents my personal preference. If I don’t like a song, it’s not here. That wipes out some critically-acclaimed artists’ 2016 releases entirely, including Frank Ocean, Angel Olsen, and Bon Iver. Other folks liked that stuff. I didn’t. Everything’s fine.
The top 100 playlist has all tracks ordered from 100 to 1, as usual. I have changed one thing from past years; the last three years I posted a top albums list first, and this a day later, but this year I’m saving the albums list till the following week. I started that post, realized I only had about eight albums I felt strongly about, and decided to go back and listen or re-listen to about a dozen others before writing up whatever number I can reach.
If the Spotify widget won’t display for you, you can access the playlist directly.
100. Dinosaur Jr. – Goin Down. The opening track on Dinosaur Jr.’s first album in four years, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, sounds very much like vintage Dino Jr, but the album ended up feeling repetitive to me … just like vintage Dino Jr. I like this song though.
99. HAELOS – Separate Lives. This British electronic trio produces music that is clearly influenced by 1990s trip-hop but manages to transcend that genre’s tendency towards, uh, music for the heavily stoned with faster beats and more pronounced melody lines on top of the spaced-out rhythm.
98. The Aces – Stuck. A one-off single from a then-unsigned quartet, this is one of the year’s best straight pop songs, effervescent without being cloying. I do wonder if they’ll have to change their name at some point to avoid confusion with the blues band of the same name, who backed up singer Little Walter and recorded a few songs on their own.
97. The Faint – Young & Realistic. A new single to promote their retrospective Capsule album, this is dark electronic indie music from the Omaha stalwarts and perhaps my favorite song of theirs since their 2004 record Wet from Birth.
96. D.A.R.K. – The Moon. A sort-of-supergroup, D.A.R.K. stands for Dolores (O’Riordan, of the Cranberries), Andy Rourke (of the Smiths), and Ole Koretsky (of … I don’t know what). Their first album, Science Agrees, came out in September, and it’s full of dark, moody songs like this one, light on melodies and not particularly sounding like either O’Riordan’s or Rourke’s old bands.
95. Preoccupations – Stimulation. Formerly known as Viet Cong, Preoccupations issued their first album under their new name this September, but their sound hasn’t changed, a meld of garage-rock sounds from the 1960s and early punk/guitar-driven new wave from the late 1970s. I like their overall sound more than I like their songs, and I do not stick around for the 10-minute tracks they have included on each album to date, but “Stimulation” shows their potential when they hit on a memorable melody.
94. Bastille – Good Grief. I assume I’m supposed to dislike this because Bastille is so popular, but guess what – it’s a great song, just like “Pompeii” was, and both pair a cheerful melody against a song about death and despair.
93. Sleigh Bells – I Can’t Stand You Anymore. Sleigh Bells have a critical and cult following of which I am not a member; I loved “Rill Rill” and got off the train before it derailed (derilled?) into noise-rock. This lead single from their album Jessica Rabbit, which just dropped a few weeks ago, does a better job of keeping Alexis Krauss’ voice out in front, and has a minimalist backing track led by a solid guitar riff without the trappings of some of their earlier, more dissonant works.
92. Spirit Animal – World War IV (To the Floor). Spirit Animal’s EP World War IV is as eclectic as this song, with bits from all different genres, in one measure drawing on 1970s funk, then shifting into an ’80s metal riff for the chorus.
91. Christine & the Queens – Tilted. This song first appeared in 2014 in French as “Christine” but was rereleased earlier this year in a mostly-English version, and the chorus is one of the year’s best earworms, not to mention the indelible image of the line “I’m doing my face/With magic marker.”
90. Cloves – Better Now. Kaity Dunstan, aka Cloves, made my top ten last year with her incredible piano-and-vocals track “Frail Love,” and is back now with this lead single from her debut album, due out at some point in 2017. Still just 20 years old, she should be a mainstream star by this point next year, based on her output to date.
89. Bear’s Den – Auld Wives. Bands with “Bear” in their names are almost as trendy as those with “White” in their names right now. This London duo seems to have drunk heavily on darker, gothic music since their first album of Mumford-esque folk-pop, although “Auld Wives” was the only real standout from their sophomore album.
88. Descendents – Victim of Me. I wanted to love Hypercaffium Spazzinate, the Descendents’ first album since 2004, but I just kind of liked it; it’s older, wiser (one song is called “No Fat Burger”), but a little tamer too. I still like their general sound, a poppier take on classic punk that isn’t sanitized like Green Day’s commercialized version.
87. Atomic Tom – Someone to Love. A soaring new-new-wave track that gave me a-ha flashbacks, but in a good way, with the same kind of huge energy as that branch of ’80s synth-pop, but with more guitars and less artificiality.
86. Animal Collective – Golden Gal. The song opens with a sample from the show Golden Girls, which has somehow come back around to cult popularity – if you’ve ever been in a Big Gay Ice Cream shop, you’d think the show never fell out of favor – but it’s a good example of how AC’s Painting With showed them dabbling more in conventional song structures without losing their inherently experimental style that made them distinctive in the first place. “FloriDaDa” is the best song on the album but appeared on my top 100 last year.
85. Wire – Numbered. Think of a number … Wir(e) sound remarkably young on Nocturnal Koreans, their 15th album, coming out more than 38 years after their first record Pink Flag introduced the world to “Three Girl Rhumba,” to which this new track alludes in multiple ways. Wire remain cynical post-punksters who seem to drop melodies almost in spite of themselves, and their latest album, only 26 minutes long, was one of the year’s best.
84. Daughter – No Care. Daughter’s album Not to Disappear tended more towards lugubrious quietcore, but this one track brings a manic, angry energy that breaks up the album. The way the song seems about to careen out of control puts the lie to its title and chorus, as if the lady, singer Elena Tonra, doth protest too much.
83. The Wans – Run Baby Run. A hard-rock trio from Nashville with some blues or even country underpinnings, like the Black Keys did a few lines and got angry. This is meant as a compliment.
82. Kate Nash – Good Summer. I miss the lyricist behind “Foundations,” but I still love Nash’s voice and she has a knack for crafting a pop hook, even though this bit of candy veers towards bubblegum more than I’d like.
81. Black Honey – All My Pride. This female-fronted post-punk act from the UK appears twice on my list, not including the song “Black Honey” by a completely different band. If you were into White Lung, who also appear here, you’d like Black Honey, which has a similar vibe with maybe 10% less rage.
80. Lucius – Pulling Teeth. Lucius are weird, practically a walking stereotype of Brooklyn hipster musicians, but they had a huge year in 2016, with an album in March, Good Grief, that had a couple of outstanding singles on it, and this track from an upcoming 10″ along with “The Punisher.” If you can get past the superficial stuff, Lucius actually produces some really novel pop sounds that draw upon many different eras going back to the 1950s.
79. Broods – Free. I could listen to Georgia Nott sing just about anything – and she’s not too hard on the eyes either – but this duo’s new album marked a significant change in direction from their debut record, which made my top albums of 2014, bringing bigger production values, more electronic elements behind her vocals, and a clear right turn towards commercial pop. I worry they’ve lost a little of what made their debut special to try to appeal to a broader audience, but two core facets are still here – Nott’s voice and strong vocal melodies.
78. The Big Pink – Hightimes. Nothing will ever match “Dominos,” but this was a solid return from The Big Pink after years of meh singles that followed their kick-the-doors-down debut track.
77. Mt. Si – Oh. This new project from Sarah Chernoff of Superhumanoids, an absolutely superb vocalist, dropped a four-track EP in February that showcases her voice with sparser electronic backing than she’d get with her regular gig.
76. Halsey – Castle. Halsey’s everywhere thanks to that awful song she did with the Chainsmokers – who are on my short list for Worst Artists of 2016 along with Twenty-One Pilots and DNCE – but this track, released as a single this spring thanks to its inclusion in the dud film The Huntsman, is both a great showcase for her voice’s smoky qualities and the swirling melody in the chorus.
75. Grimes – Medieval Warfare. A mediocre Grimes song is still better than a good song by a lot of other artists; this track, which sounds like a B-side from a single off Art Angels, appeared on the Suicide Squad soundtrack.
74. Hey Violet – Brand New Moves. Get used to this group, as I think they’re about to break through as a pure-pop act aimed at teenaged listeners, with their abysmal “Guys My Age” already getting some airplay and their label the new one formed by the 5 Seconds of Summer boybanders. “Brand New Moves,” the title track from their latest EP, is by far their most sophisticated song, with elements of R&B and even some darkwave distinguishing it from the pure-pop crowd.
73. of Montreal – it’s different for girls. If you can handle Kevin Barnes’ idiosyncratic vocal delivery – before I knew this band was from Athens, Georgia I assumed they were from another country – of Montreal creates some compelling experimental pop music, sometimes exasperating but sometimes clicking, as it does on this comical semi-feminist track.
72. Lush – Out of Control. A very quiet comeback from these early 1990s shoegazers who had a brief moment in the sun with their modest alternative hit single “Ladykiller” back in 1995, but one that found Lush moving back to its Spooky/Split roots.
71. Chairlift – Romeo. Their best song to date, “Ch-Ching,” made my top 10 of 2015; the album Moth didn’t quite live up to the expectations set by the lead single, but this was the second-best track on the record.
70. Regina Spektor – Grand Hotel. Just vocals and piano, with Spektor managing to craft something of a story, heavy on physical imagery, about a hotel that has a direct connection to the underworld.
69. Dawes – When the Tequila Runs Out. This has a little bit of a novelty-hit feel to it, but I’m not averse to novelty hits if they’re smart and still catchy.
68. Wild Beasts – Tough Guy. Get used to this band, as they’re going to show up again on this list; Boy King was the best rock album of the year. Wild Beasts was always an experimental outfit, a la alt-J or Everything Everything, but on this latest album they toned down a little bit of the madness to create more compact, accessible songs that are still way out of the mainstream.
67. Thrice – Black Honey. Another of my favorite albums of the year, Thrice’s post-hardcore To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere had a bunch of standout tracks, including this one, the complex opener “Hurricane,” and one more song higher up this list. I feel like Thrice has taken up the mantle of bands like Clutch or Corrision of Conformity fell off, making music that clearly descends from hardcore but works with slower tempos and real hooks. Full disclosure: I know their drummer, and perhaps so do you, as it’s Riley Breckinridge of the Productive Outs podcast.
66. The Struts – Kiss This. I like this song. Don’t @ me.
65. Black Map – Run Rabbit Run. This group’s members are all parts of other bands I’ve never heard of, so forgive me if I balk at Wikipedia (which is never wrong) terming them a “supergroup.” This is an extremely catchy hard-rock song with a real bluesy riff underpinning it.
64. Banks & Steelz – Giant. So many of these rap/rock partnerships turn out to be disasters that I was shocked when this one – Paul Banks of Interpol and RZA of Wu-Tang Clan – produced a couple of decent songs, including this one, which is probably the strongest rap performance I heard from RZA on this record. Ghostface Killah also appears on the lead single, “Love + War,” although I found the chorus to that song really week.
63. Leagues – Dance with Me. This Nashville outfit had a couple of minor hits in 2013 with “Spotlight” and “You Belong Here” and returned this fall with Alone Together, which has a similar sound that blends indie and electronic sounds with alt.country tempos and riffing. I like their way of bringing those styles together, as it’s less cloying than other bands that try to mash them up into something pop, but Leagues hasn’t found the commercial success they deserve yet.
62. Car Seat Headrest – Fill in the Blank. So everyone comments on the funny intro to this song, which sounds like a college student on the campus radio station announcing the next song, which is by some artist she’s never heard of so she has to look it up. I think that’s genuinely funny … the first time. And then it’s never funny again. I also was totally underwhelmed by this album, which is making a lot of folks’ top ten lists for the year, between Will Toledo’s whiny voice and the fact that it sounds like it was recorded in a storage locker. That’s a lot of words about not liking Car Seat Headrest, but I think this song has a good hook.
61. Hippo Campus – Boyish. Minnesota indie-rockers who sound nothing like Prince, which I thought was illegal if you were from the Twin Cities or something. The pairing of the keyboard line and the vocal melody gives this song its most persistent hook, more than the call-and-response act in the chorus. Their debut album, Landmark, is due out on February 24th.
60. Suede – Outsiders. Anderson, Oakes, and company have put out a couple of solid albums the last couple of years for an unexpected second act that will never match their “Metal Mickey” heyday but brings some lyrical and musical maturity to their Britpop roots, even hitting the top ten in the UK. There’s a real sense of yearning and loss in a lot of songs from these two records, as on “Outsiders,” which marries some great guitar work from Oakes with melancholy vocals from Anderson.
59. Temples – Certainty. Temples’ second album is due out in March, with this as the teaser first single, driven by an organ riff after the chorus that reminds me of the earliest output of the Charlatans and their own reliance on a Hammond organ on their debut record.
58. Sad13 – <2. That’s Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz, who have a song much further up this list; she issued her solo debut, Slugger, this summer, and it sounds a lot like Speedy Ortiz’s two albums to date, which is a good thing – melody and anti-melody, often using dissonant sounds, vocals that seem to be fighting the music at times but always manage to come together by the end of the song. If anything, “<2” is a bit more melodic than the best Speedy Ortiz songs (like “Tiger Tank”), but if you liked her work before the solo album you’re going to like this.
57. The Kills – Doing It to Death. It’s not quite “Sour Cherry,” but what is? Jamie Hince’s guitar work is really the star of the song, even overshadowing Alison Mosshart’s vocals when the latter are mixed toward the front of the track.
56. Jagwar Ma – Give Me a Reason. Jagwar Ma are an Australian indie-pop trio, and they’re only “indie” in the sense that they haven’t really broken through yet – this is great, smart, complex music that would fit in fine on pop radio except for the fact that it’s better than almost everything else on those stations. “Give Me a Reason” sounds like a lost Madchester track that’s been remastered but would rank among the best songs by the Happy Mondays or the Inspiral Carpets.
55. ELEL – Animal. This eight-member outfit finally released their first full-length album, Geode this fall, including their minor hit “40 Watt” from last year and this song, my favorite from them to date, which encapsulates their mixture of soul and Caribbean rhythms into typical rock song structures.
54. Hundred Waters – Forgive Me for Giving Up. Hundred Waters had my #1 album of 2014, then released this one-off single this year, along with a very weird remix of their song “Show Me Love” that included Chance the Rapper. (I didn’t like it.) This song is more like HW’s other output, using Nicole Miglis’s potent vocals as another layer of melody.
53. White Lies – Come On. This is unapologetic ’80s new wave revival music, one of the two best tracks on their October album Friends, along with “Don’t Want to Feel It All.”
52. Nani – I Am Volcano. They describe themselves as “manic-wave,” but this sounds like very early post-punk to me, like what Siouxie Sioux might have produced had she stayed in a more guitar-driven direction than going towards what would become new wave. I think this is a band to watch.
51. Jeff Beck – Live in the Dark. Yes, that’s the Jeff Beck, the 72-year-old guitar virtuoso and author of the song “Constipated Duck.” His Loud Hailer was his first album in six years, and he hasn’t lost anything as a guitarist or author of memorable licks. Singer Rosie Bones (of the London duo Bones, with guitarist Carmen Vandenburg, who also appears on this album) can get in the way of Beck’s work sometimes, but on “Live in the Dark” her deep, bluesy vocals complement his work and turn what he’s called a “guitar nerd” sort of track into a viable radio single.
50. The Temper Trap – Fall Together. TT’s best song since their 2008 hit “Sweet Disposition” also carries a big chorus and anthemic feel tailor-made for playing to a big stadium crowd in their home country of Australia.
49. The Coral – Fear Machine. I thought the Coral’s album Distance Inbetween was one of the best of the year, and a criminally underheard rock record that particularly satisfies me as someone who grew up on the hard rock of the ’70s and ’80s but bailed on the stylized, overproduced groove and rap-metal acts of the 1990s. The Coral quaffed deeply on what was called metal in the 1970s and this song grooves in a way that so-called “groove metal” doesn’t. Recommended if you like Band of Skulls.
48. Last Shadow Puppets – Bad Habits. LSP’s surprise second album left me pretty cold other than this one single, and even this isn’t close to “Standing Next to Me,” the glorious throwback single from their first album. Alex Turner is capable of better.
47. Trashcan Sinatras – Let Me Inside (Or Let Me Out). I loved the first two albums from these Scottish folk-rockers, which produced alternative hits like “Obscurity Knocks” and “Hayfever” (the latter featured in a Beavis and Butthead episode). Wild Pendulum, their first album in seven years, leans more towards the folkier side of their sound, but the first three songs on the album have a little more energy to them, like their best singles from their 1990s period did.
46. School of Seven Bells – Ablaze. The farewell album from SVIIB was finished after the death of member Benjamin Curtis, who recorded with partner Alejandra Deheza up until a few months before leukemia ended his life; Deheza returned to the studio after taking over a year away from music and completed the album, which is a tremendous, emotional record in its own right, and a fitting tribute to Curtis. SVIIB never broke through as they deserved, but I hope this album will find its audience in time given the presence of several great singles and the crushing suite of ballads that closes the record.
45. FREAK – Nowhere. I wrote in November’s playlist how FREAK has been compared to Nirvana, but I don’t hear that as much as I hear Drenge and Royal Blood and other stripped-down British garage-rock acts, maybe with a little more hard-rock edge to it.
44. KONGOS – Take It From Me. The South African (by way of Arizona) quartet behind the 2012 hit “Come With Me Now” put out a presciently-titled album called Egomaniac this summer, featuring more of their kwaito-infused rock; this received moderate airplay but I thought it was the best song and most radio-friendly single from that full-length.
43. Stone Roses – All for One. It’s not vintage Stone Roses – if it were, it would probably be in my top five – mostly because someone seems to have emasculated Ian Brown between Solarized and his reunion with John Squire, whose guitar work sounds pretty much as it did in his abortive efforts with the Seahorses.
42. Corinne Bailey Rae – Stop Where You Are. Rae’s first album in six years, The Heart Speaks in Whispers, was a welcome return for one of the most beautiful voices in music, absent since the album she recorded after her husband’s death in 2008.
41. Van William – Revolution. Van Pierszalowski of WATERS recorded two songs as Van William this year, with help from First Aid Kit on this folky track, although it’s still very clearly the same voice (literally and figuratively) behind WATERS’ hooks and lyrics. Full disclosure: Van’s a Dodgers fan and a fan of third-wave coffee, like I am, and we’ve chatted about both a number of times over the last year-plus, so I won’t pretend to be objective here.
40. SULK – Black Infinity (Upside Down). It’s a better Stone Roses song than either of the songs the re-formed Roses released this year, although in this case I’m talking first album Roses more than second.
39. Monica Heldal – Coulda Been Sound. Heldal’s vocals remind me of Kat Edmondson’s bubbly, evocative style, and the fingerpicked acoustic guitar here would have fit perfectly on Ben Howard’s 2011 Mercury Prize-nominated album Every Kingdom.
38. Lapcat – She’s Bad. I need to spend more time with the new album by this Swiss-American electronica trio; this title track features a hypnotic guitar line over a classic trip-hop rhythm that could easily have come off Massive Attack’s Mezzanine.
37. Ten Fé – Overflow. Still waiting for a full-length album from this new wave-ish duo, who’ve produced a couple of great singles so far in the same vein as White Lies.
36. Drowners – Pick Up the Pace. Named for a Suede song, this quartet had a couple of songs I liked in 2013 that appeared on their debut album, but this year’s On Desire was a relative letdown, sounding too derivative of their Britpop idols without enough hooks like the ones that drive the chorus and bridge of this track.
35. DMA’s – Too Soon. This Australian band sounds right out of mid-90s Britpop, to the point that Noel Gallagher (ex-Oasis) said he’d “boo them” when he saw them at an event where his new band was playing with the DMA’s. I’m over the antics of the brothers Gallagher, and the hackneyed music they put out now, but this DMA’s track does a pretty good impression of that particular moment in music time without coming off as unoriginal (the way Drowners can).
34. Sundara Karma – The Night. A British band (from Reading) whose members cite Bruce Springsteen as an inspiration, although I don’t hear that directly in this swirling, yearning song, more like a focused version of Arcade Fire’s brand of slow indie-rock.
33. Porches – Be Apart. I can be pretty harsh on songs that have this kind of sound, like a bunch of kids playing around with their first Casiotone keyboard, but man this song, from Porches’ album Pool, is just creepy as hell and that makes it great.
32. Thrice – Blood on the Sand. The best pure single off Thrice’s To Be Everywhere is Nowhere, although I think their album as a whole rewards full listens.
31. Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life. I’ve said before I wasn’t a big fan of Japandroids’ critically acclaimed 2012 Celebration Rock album, which I thought was more noise than melody and lacked the big hooks I’d expect from an album with such plaudits. This lead single and title track from their upcoming album is far more memorable, with the vocals getting more emphasis in the production as well.
30. Swet Shop Boys – Tiger Hologram. The unexpected partnership between actor Riz Ahmed (The Night Of and Rogue One) and Heems (ex-Das Racist.) produced this alternative rap gem that seems to nod to Indian music but is firmly grounded in the shorter musical lines of American hip-hop. Riz outrhymes Heems here, but it’s the repeated synth line that hooked me on this track.
29. Sløtface – Empire Records. Punk-popsters from Norway who had to change their name from Slutface because no one wanted to write about a band called Slutface. I think they’re better off this way. This is the title track from their four-song EP, with a full-length album to come in 2017.
28. Dinosaur Pile-Up – Nothing Personal. Finally released in the U.S. this year, nine months after it first appeared in their native UK, Dinosaur Pile-Up’s Eleven Eleven yielded this very Nirvana-esque rocker with a driving core riff. There’s some good heavy stuff on Eleven Eleven, like “Willow Tree” and “Anxiety Trip,” although I found their slower or lighter material more like bad grunge.
27. Frightened Rabbit – Get Out. These Scots received a lot of favorable reviews for their latest album, Painting of a Panic Attack, but I thought most of the record lacked any clear hooks or strong melodies, with the exception of this song, which perfectly balances their normal folk-rock sound (think early Belle & Sebastian) with a cathartic release in the chorus.
26. White Lung – Hungry. This Vancouver punk act seemed poised for a big breakthrough with their 2016 album Paradise, which featured a couple of strong advance singles, including this one, and very positive reviews, but it sank without a trace here in the U.S. That’s a shame, as it’s made a number of publications’ best albums of the year lists and will be on mine as well.
25. The Head & the Heart – All We Ever Knew. TH&H seem to be good for one really great song per album, which isn’t to say their other stuff is terrible, just that I find a lot of it to be repetitive, and maybe too folky for me. This song has a couple of good hooks and the violin lines in the bridge bring real textural interest to a part of the song that might have been an afterthought.
24. Yeasayer – I Am Chemistry. I stand for science, and songs about science, or songs that just make a lot of allusions to science. Also, this song is really mesmerizing to listen to.
23. Broods – Heartlines. I noted above that Broods seemed to aim for a wider audience with their sophomore album, but there’s still enough of their atmospheric sound on the record to retain me as a fan, along with Georgia Nott’s outstanding vocal work.
22. Bob Mould – Voices in My Head. Hüsker Dü’s lead singer bounced back with a surprising return to his power-pop roots on Patch the Sky, an album that fits in the space between his first band and the short-lived Sugar; it’s as if Mould can’t help but write one memorable guitar riff after another, and this song, “The End of Things,” and “Hold On” rip open the album in fine form for someone who should be thirty years past his peak.
21. Black Honey – Hello Today. God, this song makes me miss Velocity Girl.
20. Wild Beasts – Get My Bang. I could probably have stuffed five Wild Beasts songs on the top 100 but I settled for three. It’s probably sacrilegious to say a band of four British white guys is continuing the tradition of funk-electronic-pop founded by Prince, but the way they’ve amped up the bass here bears his unmistakable influence. I could even see Prince writing about toxic masculinity, the overarching theme of their album Boy King.
19. Bat for Lashes – Sunday Love. Natasha Khan, who records as Bat for Lashes, wrote an entire concept album called The Bride about a woman whose fiance is killed en route to their wedding. It’s depressing as hell. This is a beautiful song, though, even though it’s about grief.
18. HAERTS – Eva. The longest song I’ve ever included on a year-end list, this nearly eight-minute opus is really a great four-minute HAERTS song with a three-minute instrumental outro.
17. With Lions – Down We Go. Never look back, Sister Sociopath. Heavy southern blues-rock that just grooves like there’s a foot on the accelerator the whole time.
16. ATCQ – We The People. The first single from the Tribe’s triumphant final album is an angry rant about black lives not mattering, with a hint of defeat about the political climate that isn’t supporting the change we need.
15. Van William – Fourth of July. A slice of sunny acoustic pop that Van Pierszalowski released this summer, his first song under the Van William moniker, although the upbeat guitar work and the various “whoa-oh-oh-oh’s” mask some dark lyrics about losing one’s faith.
14. Gone is Gone – Violescent. A new side project featuring the lead singer of Mastodon and one of the guitarists from Queens of the Stone Age, Gone is Gone has produced a short album and a couple of singles already in the last year, music that’s a little heavier than straight stoner rock but I think not fast enough to be called metal. This song is my favorite by them to date; they take the depressed-grunge sound of Alice in Chains and tune it down, with heavier, less slick production.
13. The Naked & Famous – Higher. I’ve liked TNAF’s sound but compared them unfavorably to CHVRCHES, who mine similar territory with better results. This, however, is a real standout track from the New Zealand group, their best song to date, an anthemic work with a pulsing synth line and shout-along chorus.
12. Phantogram – You Don’t Get Me High Anymore. The duo really dug deep for the title of their third album, Three, which featured this lead single comparing a lover to a drug in the most unflattering of terms.
11. School of Seven Bells – Open Your Eyes. Released too late for my 2015 top 100, this song from SVIIB hit the perfect melange of poignancy for late bandmember Ben Curtis and the spacey electronica the duo made on their previous three albums. Alejandra Deheza’s whispered lyrics seem so much more melancholy in the context of her former romantic and professional partner’s death.
10. Lucius – Almost Makes Me Wish for Rain. It’s not quite Shirley Manson saying she’s only happy when it rains, but Lucius has managed to craft a clever song about looking for the bad when everything’s good – to the point of an inability to just be happy in the moment – in a song that infuses indie-pop with a healthy dose of Motown.
9. Bear Hands – 2AM. I mean, the core message of the song is an essential truth: Nothing good happens past two a.m. It’s less of a rock song than their previous alternative radio hits “Agora” and “Giants,” and there’s real craft in its crescendo from the ambling verse, like a drunkard who’s stayed too long at the party, to the voice of conscience in the tight chorus.
8. Jagwar Ma – O B 1. It’s a slow build, but a big payoff in Jagwar Ma’s best song to date, a minute and a half to the two-stage chorus that turns the song’s rhythm and tempo on their heads. Unlike their first hit, “Save Me,” which was great for three minutes but then seemed like a song that couldn’t find the exit, this one keeps the beat going strong right past the five-minute mark thanks to the long intro and the layered backing music.
7. FKA Twigs – Good to Love. I hated FKA Twigs’ highly-regarded but, in my opinion, utterly juvenile debut LP1, which showed she had many influences and could use them to curse in lots of different musical styles. Then she blew me away with this stunningly gorgeous ballad. “I’ve got a right to hurt inside.” Yes, you do whatever you need to do, just keep writing music like this, please.
6. Wild Beasts – Big Cat. Boy King was one of the best albums of the year, and if you listen to this and don’t find yourself singing “Big cat top of the food chain” over and over for hours, you might be tone-deaf.
5. Everything Everything – I Believe It Now. I’ve lumped Everything Everything with Wild Beasts and alt-J as British bands doing experimental things within alternative rock’s frameworks, with Wild Beasts veering towards art-pop and Everything Everything writing the musical equivalent of Zadie Smith’s hysterical realism. This one-off single, written for British soccer telecasts, is their most focused track yet, a huge, bombastic anthem that finds the quartet keeping themselves just a shade more under control than usual.
4. Speedy Ortiz – Death Note. Go figure: Speedy Ortiz’s best song so far was a rejected track from 2015’s Foil Deer that they released as a one-off this spring.
3. Glass Animals – Life Itself. Glass Animals always does interesting things with their percussion, but I haven’t thought much of their songwriting to date because they seemed more focused on being weird than writing tight songs. This, though, flattened me on first listen. It’s a perfect pop song, with multiple melodic elements, witty lyrics, and, of course, interesting percussion sounds.
2. ATCQ – Dis Generation. It’s about as close as we’ll ever get to a “Scenario” reunion, with Q-Tip, Phife, Jarobi White, and Busta Rhymes rapping fast, with each other, over each other, around each other, and, in Busta’s case, back and forth to himself. It’s the best he’s sounded in twenty years, and the energy of the studio is palpable in every line. Jarobi “imbibing on impeccable grass.” Tip making “a jubilant noise” and praising the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt as “extensions of instinctual soul.” Busta Rhymes rhyming “In the church of Busta Rhymes, it’s my sermon you’re getting/Horizontal spittin’, I’m the exorcist of your writtens/’Don’t interrupt me n****!’/Sorry, that’s the sin I’m forgivin’.” And Phife, may he rest in peace, reminding us all that “we still the highest of commodity grade.” Yes, you were, and will forever be.
1. Radiohead – Burn the Witch. No song this year stayed with me like this one; their album A Moon Shaped Pool was too tepid for my tastes, but the interplay between the strings and Thom Yorke’s vocals – reminiscent of his work on P.J. Harvey’s “This Mess We’re In” – is like a surge of electricity that won’t stop, and some of the lyrics, including the line that “this is a low-flying panic attack,” stand as reminders of the art that Radiohead is capable of producing.