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.

November music update.

My analysis of the Nelson Cruz signing went up yesterday for Insiders, as did my annual gift guide for the home cooks on your list this year, the latter here on the dish.

I’ve already begun sketching out my top 100 tracks of 2014 list as well as a ranking of my favorite albums of the year, but I’m holding that until after baseball’s winter meetings, which are next week in San Diego, just to steal myself another week or so to make sure I haven’t missed any songs I’ll regret omitting. In the meantime, here’s one more monthly playlist to tide you over, with a few songs that will appear on the year-end ranking.

Kele – Closer. Bloc Party’s lead singer goes in a totally different direction in his solo work, with elements of trip-hop, two-step, and more traditional electronica. The album is uneven, but “Closer” is its best track between the tempo changes and the duet with an unknown female artist (I can’t find proper credits for the track anywhere).

TV on the Radio – Lazerray. I was psyched for their latest album, Seeds, to come out, but was mildly disappointed in how much of it is 1) mid-tempo or slower and 2) vaguely commercial-sounding. When they really let ‘er rip, they’re at their best; “Lazerray” should bring back memories of last year’s one-off single “Mercy” or their first crossover hit, 2006’s “Wolf Like Me.”

Young Fathers – Get Up. Young Fathers were the surprise winners of the 2014 Mercury Prize; this British rap trio’s album Dead was … well, let’s just say I wouldn’t have given it the award. But “Get Up” winks back at ’60s/’70s Motown-era soul in the chorus, and YF’s technical shortcomings are far less evident because the verses are tight and the music is strong.

King Tuff – Black Moon Spell. That fuzzed-out guitar riff seems lifted off some lost ’70s vinyl, maybe a Thin Lizzy B-side, and the slight shift into a minor chord when it repeats the second time through each chorus is just perfect. I’m a sucker for a distorted lead guitar hook.

Dreamers – Wolves. Indie-rock with a good sense of melody, not terribly distinguished (so far) from a few dozen other bands with similarly ungoogleable names, but with the benefit of some early support on Sirius XM that at least is getting this strong lead single (“and if you lie down with wolves/learn to howl”) some airplay in advance of their debut album, due next year.

Death from Above 1979 – Always On. I didn’t know these guys did heavy, but the grinding guitar riff overpowers the grunge-pop drum and vocal lines here to take the song beyond the generic.

Ex Cops – Black Soap. I actually assumed Ex Cops were from somewhere in Scandinavia, just based on their sparse arrangements and lead singer Amalie Brunn’s voice (turns out she’s Danish, but the band is based in Brooklyn). I guess she was involved in a controversy earlier this year when she put out a dark metal record under the name Myrkur without revealing her identity, to which I give a giant ¯\_(?)_/¯. Anyway, “Black Soap” is a solid alt-pop track that’s gotten some quick buzz thanks in part to the involvement of Billy Corgan in producing the record. Not to be confused with Futurecop, which also put out an album last month.

Empires – Please Don’t Tell My Lover. It’s electro-pop, I think, but the guitar riff is more pronounced than most tracks in that subgenre, which is worth extra points in my book.

Dan Sultan – Under Your Skin. Winner of the ARIA award for Best Rock Album for his Blackbird (just $5.99 on iTunes right now) this year, Sultan is an Australian Aborigine singer/songwriter who draws deeply on 1960s/1970s soul sounds … which a lot of folks do these days, but Sultan actually pulls it off without sounding a bit like a fraud. “The Same Man” is the other standout track from Blackbird, but I like “Under Your Skin” best for its snarling intro riff and tight two-and-half minute run time.

Stars – This is the Last Time/Trap Door. Stars made my 2012 top 40 with their New Order-mimicking “Hold On When You Get Love.” Their latest album doesn’t plow any new soil at all; they’re playing it very safe, hewing close to their new-wave inspirations, but they do that sound particularly well, regardless of which vocalist takes the helm. The former has a hint of New Pornographers when Neko Case takes the mic; the latter is the song that reminded me most of that 2012 standout track.

Broncho – Class Historian. This song is going to annoy me if I listen it too much, due to that weird “duh-duh-duh” thing they do every thirty seconds, and I don’t love tracks that overproduce the vocals to make them sound low and distant, but there’s a decent pop hook underneath here and I think the song’s going to get a ton of airplay.

CHVRCHES – Get Away. Mentioned earlier this year, now available on Spotify. The song is from the BBC’s “re-scoring” of the movie Drive.

Banks – Waiting Game. Yeah, “Begging for Thread” is the best song from her Goddess album, but I figure you’ve probably heard that already; this was my second-favorite.

Ex Hex’s Rips.

My ranking of the top 50 free agents (with capsules on each one) is now up for Insiders, along with the first of six buyers’ guides, this one on starting pitchers.

Ex Hex is the new project for longtime alt-rock guitarist Mary Timony, who first rose to prominence in the very out-there Helium in the early 1990s (where her cherubic face clashed with their love of dissonant sounds) and more recently surfaced in the one-and-done supergroup Wild Flag, which also featured Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein. (And boy do I love Sleater-Kinney’s newest song, “Bury Our Friends.” Welcome back.) Timony’s newest project, Ex Hex, is probably her poppiest one yet, a power trio writing simple, punk-tinged, mostly upbeat songs that never sniff four minutes. Their debut album, Rips (iTunes), is basic, and a little surprising from a former Helium member, but very catchy, to the point where it would have been great summer listening – there’s a definite Beach Boys vibe to the vocals – had it come out a few months earlier.

Ex Hex’s formula is pretty simple: One hook per song, with a big chorus, lots of power chords, and some high-gain guitar riffs for accents. You could split the album into two parts – the uptempo power pop tracks that hint back to early post-punk acts like the Slits, and the slower tracks that expose the lack of technical difficulty in the guitar lines. Fortunately, there are very few of the latter, because Ex Hex’s real appeal on Rips is when they just let ‘er rip like a high school garage punk act, just with better production. Opener “Don’t Wanna Lose” comes in with a bang and hits on all cylinders, banging drums and reverbed-up guitars, before the power chords arrive like a souped-up “Mama Kin,” but with a dash of riot grrl in the lyrics. “New Kid” gets in and out inside of three minutes and never lets up its pace, even when it’s just Timony over the drums and hand-claps, leading into one of the album’s best choruses, full of roll-the-windows-down-and-hit-the-gas energy from start to end. “Waterfall” has the same kind of electricity, built on a basic blues shuffle compressed into four bars, although it has some of the album’s more insipid lyrics (“You took me to a party and you/hid behind the door/then you stole my wallet and passed out/on the kitchen floor”), certainly Rips‘ biggest weakness.

When Ex Hex slows things down, it sounds like demo territory, stuff that probably should have been left on the cutting room floor. “Outro” closes the album in contrary fashion – we just rocked out for most of the last thirty minutes, so now you give us a slow-dance number to end it? “Hot and Cold,” the first single from the album, borrows its main riff from Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover” and follows the mopey chorus with huge guitar bends that seem lifted from “My Sharona.” The Knack might be a good point of comparison for Ex Hex, skinny ties aside; Ex Hex has that kind of intensity when they let it rock, but part of why “My Sharona” was a hit was that it was all hooks and no slack. Timony and company may have wanted to vary their output a bit, but simply slowing down the same three-power-chords and a chorus framework doesn’t work.

Ex Hex’s Rips doesn’t fit with the rest of Timony’s history, opting for simpler, more commercial sounds, but doing so successfully thanks to strong hooks and tight song structures. Her ex-boyfriend, Ash Bowie, got his old band Polvo back together a few years ago, releasing Siberia, an album as relentlessly complex as their pre-work, last autumn. We all get older in our own ways.

I’m heading out on vacation on Wednesday, which will make posting here sparse and my presence on social media sparser. I’ll still try to get a Top Chef recap up later this week, and there will be a new ESPN Insider column from me almost every day while I’m gone.


HAERTS – yeah, I’m not big on the deliberately-misspelled band names trend either – put out a strong EP late last year as a teaser for their full-length debut; “All the Days” made my top 100 songs of 2013, “Wings” would have made my top songs of 2012 had I heard it when it was released, and I liked their overall sound and lead singer Nini Fabi’s powerful, slightly smoky voice. Their self-titled debut album came out last Tuesday, including three of the four songs from last year’s EP along with six new tracks that follow the same general aesthetic – indie-pop, a little new wavish but never retro, all buttressed by Fabi’s tremendous vocals.

Produced by Jean-Philip Grobler, who records his own music under the moniker St. Lucia, Haerts isn’t as bright as his own work but features the same kind of lush, layered sounds that made his album When the Night (which made my top albums of 2013 list) so compelling. Haerts’ songs work best when Fabi is at the front, as on lead single “Giving Up,” where she begins singing just over a repeating keyboard line, after which her vocals are doubled before we get the remainder of the band involved. Like “Wings” and “All the Days,” there’s a relentlessness in the backing key and guitar lines, like a haertbeat beneath the voice that gives the album’s best songs their energy.

That’s lacking when the pace slows, as on “Call My Name,” the intro to which is way too similar to Chris Deburgh’s “The Lady in Red” (good luck unhearing that now); Fabi gets to belt it out during the chorus, but by that point I’d lost some interest, and the formula doesn’t work any better on “Lights Out,” which sounds a bit like a mediocre ’80s ballad and doesn’t let Fabi show off at all. Haerts sound best when they hit the gas from the first measure and leave the cruise control on for the whole four minutes – even deep tracks like “Be the One” (with the perhaps unintentional double entendre “can you show it/when you go down?” in the bridge) and opener “Heart” cast a spell with solid hooks and Fabi’s performance. I understand the desire to vary their sound and tempo across the 40 minutes of a full album, but their style doesn’t work as well at ballad speed.

Those songs from last year’s Hemiplegia EP are the strongest, though – the two I mentioned above plus the title track – with mesmerizing vocals and richly textured synth-bass-drum combinations that grow as each track progresses. “Hemiplegia” might be the unlikeliest title for a pure pop song, but it’s a remarkably crafted track that recalls the best moments from When the Night as it adds layers (like the guitar riff at 2:20) to increase its complexity without losing its hookiness. “Wings” is the only track on the album that feels driven by percussion, but the strength of the beat contrasts beautifully with the flow of Fabi’s vocals, but when everything drops out behind her at the halfway point, she hits this series of notes that mark the highest point of the entire album. There’s enough consistency on this album to make it well worth the purchase, as long as you didn’t buy the EP last year; it’s among the year’s best albums, on the strength of those three songs and one of the best new voices in alternative music.

…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead’s IX.

I wrote about the Giants and Royals hitting on high draft picks for Insider, as well as a look at the top 30 prospects for the 2015 draft (with Chris Crawford). This week’s Klawchat will have to tide you over for two weeks, since I’m heading off on vacation on Wednesday.

My October playlist is up on Spotify now, featuring tracks from Ben Howard, Sleater-Kinney, Soundgarden, Ásgeir;, HAERTS, Belle & Sebastian, To Kill a King, and Wytches.

There’s also a new CHVRCHES track out, but it’s not on Spotify yet.

…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead have one of my favorite band names ever, but despite my occasional references to them, I don’t have a lot of history with their music. I thought Source Tags & Codes, one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the last twenty years, was much less memorable than the glowing reviews indicated. It was a landmark album of the “emo” subgenre of alternative rock, a point where their earlier noise-rock inclinations found balance with more ambitious song structures and lyrics. Pitchfork even gave it a perfect 10/10 rating, which means some editor there fell down on the job by allowing such a score to be applied to a record that’s this accessible. But because I didn’t come to their subsequent work from the perspective that Source Tags was their magnum opus, I never held the view that they were a band in decline that seems to have affected views of their next four albums.

Coming to their latest release, simply titled IX, rather fresh probably helped me get into the album as quickly as I did – or maybe it’s just one of their more hook-laden records, with five or six tracks that boast strong melodies on top of their usual walls of distorted guitars. What sets this album apart in particular is the tremendous percussion work by Jason Reece and Jamie Miller; the drums drive nearly all of the album’s best tracks through tempo shifts and time signature changes, and they’re mixed towards the front the way John Bonham’s drums were on vintage Zeppelin albums. It’s a new dimension for the band as they continue to evolve within their particular niche of alternative rock.

The new emphasis on heavy, layered percussion work starts up with the first track, “The Doomsday Book,” where the rich drums and cymbal crashes set the tone for the guitars rather than the converse; it feels like a race where no one else can let up for a second because of the pace set by the drums. The track bleeds directly into “Jaded Apostles,” which I think is the album’s best shot at a successful single, starting with a hypnotic, rotating guitar line that subtly changes shape when the drums arrive with a tropical-accented rhythm that pulses through nearly the whole song. (It must be exhausting to play the drums for for these guys.) “Lie Without a Liar” is the first appearance of truly guitar-driven music, with a jangly lead line contrasting with the quicker rhythm section until the wave crashes in the chorus; it’s their best use of textural shifts anywhere on the album, moving from quiet to loud, slow to quick, appearing to peter out after the second chorus before the solo and wall of noise return before the final verse.

There’s some bloat on the disc, especially in the midsection, with two songs crossing the six-minute mark (and becoming tedious strictly due to their length) as well a pair of instrumentals that suffer from the lack of lyrics, which would have forced a more elaborate structure on to each song. The second one, “Like Summer Tempests Came His Tears,” starts out as a piano-and-strings song before the guitars kick in about halfway through, but it’s only effective as a prelude for the album’s closer, “Sound of the Silk,” which has the complexity of a ten-minute track in half that length. “Sound” starts with a two-minute mini-song that, by Trail of Dead standards, is practically a pop tune, although with an unconventional time signature, but then it ends abruptly with a drum breakdown (with a lot of bongos and Caribbean drumming patterns), which itself seems to peter out before we get a spoken-word passage over a guitar fill that crescendoes through the entire poem until reaching its apex in the last thirty seconds with a final chorus that alludes to the earliest part of the track without repeating it. That’s all in 5:13, by the way, and it’s masterful, even if it’s about as uncommercial as any track on the album.

I’m not qualified to say if IX, which is already out in Europe and comes out here on November 11th, is a “comeback” album for …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, because I’m just not familiar enough with their catalog and don’t line enough with the consensus on their earliest work. IX is better than mere “emo” – a term I always thought was pejorative anyway – with art-rock leanings, complex structures, and among the band’s best hooks ever.

At War with Reality.

At the Gates’ first two albums, both released in the early 1990s, were generic black-metal releases, with the same silly lyrics and abortive stabs at classical influences as many other bands in the nascent genre. By their fourth album, however, the group’s sound changed into a tighter, cleaner, thrash-influenced form of melodic death metal that became a surprise hit in Europe, where death-metal acts have long found more commercial success than in the U.S. That disc, Slaughter of the Soul, turned out to be the band’s last before a nineteen-year hiatus, one which saw some of its members form The Haunted, a harsher, less melodic extreme-metal act. The same lineup from Slaughter of the Soul reunited a few years ago to tour, and their first album since 1995, At War with Reality, dropped on October 28th … and feels just like the band never broke up at all.

At the Gates’ style remains straightforward and, as death-metal goes, relatively accessible. Of the thirteen songs on At War With Reality, only one, the closer “Night Eternal,” goes past four and a half minutes. There’s no blast-beat drumming, no indecipherably fast riffing, and lead vocalist Tomas Lindberg scream-growls the words (as opposed to the Cookie Monster death grunt style) so that you can understand most of what he said. The real appeal of the music for me is that the riffs are so distinct, more reminiscent of the “death-and-roll” sound of Entombed than of other leading lights in the Gothenburg death-metal scene who rely more on machine-gun riffs and higher-gain distortion.

“Heroes and Tombs” begins with a decoy lick, a series of arpeggiated chords that seemed to nod to peak Slayer (Seasons in the Abyss or South of Heaven era) with round, muscular power chords through the verse before the drawn-out lead guitar line separates itself above the chorus – a technique At the Gates uses several times to introduce that melodic element to songs that would otherwise sound like early speed-metal with growled lyrics. Both “The Circular Ruins” and “Death and the Labyrinth” lean toward the same end of the metal spectrum; you’ll think Slayer and Testament but also Wolverine Blues-era Entombed and even hints of Carcass’ Heartwork. “Upon Pillars of Dust” has an opening riff that would make Rust in Peace adherents proud before shifting into the fastest tempo of anything on the disc for the verses – but one that downshifts for the chorus for some real contrast wrapped up in a song that clocks in under two minutes. There’s a similarly quick staccato opening riff to “Conspiracy of the Blind,” a counterpoint to the slow lead guitar line on top of it, although we lose that contrast in the verses because the drums never vary – but as a fan of fast-picked rhythm guitar this was my favorite riff on the album.

Even better death-metal albums tend to wear on the listener if they run too long, as there’s an inherent sameness in a dozen songs that all have the same tempo, the same vocal style, and the same detuned guitars. At the Gates probably could have kept At War with Reality even a little tighter than its 44 minutes, as the album becomes repetitive near the end. The main pedal-point riff in “Eater of Gods” sounded a little familiar, and the best bit of the song is the interlude at 2:30 where we get one undistorted guitar, allowing the second guitar to play the main riff more clearly than at any other point on the track. (Then the third line comes in, borrowing so heavily from Dream Theater’s “Pull Me Under” that I started singing “Thiiiiis world is/spinning around me” in the car.) I imagine the members of At the Gates generated a lot of material after a nineteen-year layoff from working together, so I’ll forgive them some overexuberance on what is still one of the best metal albums of 2014.

September 2014 music update.

September was a heavy month for new releases, but a light month for good new tracks. I reviewed the new alt-J album, the best release of the month, earlier and haven’t included them here. Here’s the newest Spotify playlist, which includes all of the tracks I listed here but two:

Superhumanoids – “Come Say Hello”/”Hey Big Bang.” I was remiss in omitting these tracks from the August playlist. Sarah Chernoff’s vocals are just incredible, a true soprano soaring over two memorable dream-pop backing tracks.

Snakehips ft. Sinead Harnett – “Days With You.” A soulful trip-hoppy track with unforgettable vocals from Harnett that I first mentioned back in June but that wasn’t released until the very end of August.

The Kooks – “Forgive & Forget.” Maybe the best track from their newest album, reviewed here.

Strand of Oaks – “For Me.” I found their new album to be wildly uneven, often far too low-key given their overall sound, but when Tim Showalter cranks up the tempo just a little bit he finds a sweet spot where the contrast between the guitars’ distortion and his lyrical laments is perfectly balanced.

Broods – “Mother & Father” Not quite as good as their first single, the amazing “Bridges,” but boasting a similar combination of a strong melody and Georgia Nott’s ethereal vocals. This is listed on Spotify but the song isn’t playing for me right now, so it may no longer be available.

Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – “Cecilia And The Satellite.” Modern synth-pop, reminiscent of the Hooters (perhaps because that band had a minor hit called “Satellite” too) with earnest vocals at the front of the mix.

Tweedy – “Low Key.” Mostly included just so I can link to the video, directed by Nick Offerman and starring, among many others, John Hodgman and Michael Shannon.

Max Jury – “Black Metal.” A bit precious, perhaps, but I got a laugh out of the lyrics and video, and the chorus is rather catchy. The 21-year-old singer-songwriter from Iowa draws on folk and country influences in his better tracks, but at other times veers off towards faux-jazz territory, which I’d say is the wrong direction for him or anyone else who wants to maintain his self-respect.

Cold War Kids – “All This Could Be Yours.” I’ve always found their music to be a little histrionic, mostly the result of Nathan Willett’s vocal style but also found in their dramatic piano/drum riffs. Sometimes it works really well, sometimes less so, with this song, released in July as the first single off their forthcoming album, somewhere in between those two points.

Death from Above 1979 – “Trainwreck 1979.” It seems like a lot of music critics/writers are making of a big deal about this group’s reunion ten years after their apparently one-and-done debut album, of which I have absolutely no recollection whatsoever. For electro-rock, it’s not bad, but I’m a little confused by all the hype; it seems like there are a few dozen U.K. acts putting out similar music right now.

Ex Hex – “Beast.” A new trio led by Mary Timony, former lead singer of noise-rockers Helium and member of Wild Flag, Ex Hex just released their debut album yesterday and it’s full of tight, power-pop tracks that betray Timony’s post-punk roots but are among the most melodic things she’s ever put out.

Animals as Leaders – “Tooth and Claw.” I think I mentioned these guys a few months ago, and I recognize this is pretty out there even for me, but Animals as Leaders’ highly experimental, technically precise brand of instrumental metal is totally riveting for me as a longtime guitar player and occasional fan of melodic death metal – which this resembles, just without the growled or screamed vocals.

Opeth – “Eternal Rains Will Come.” I left this track and “Tooth and Claw” at the end since they’re so unlike everything else on the playlist, moving way into the progressive realm right down to the Hammond organs and psychedelic harmonies. If you only know Opeth from their death-metal past, give this track a listen with fresh ears.

Tracks not on Spotify:

Ty Segall – “Tall Man Skinny Lady.” Getting a ton of play on Sirius XM right now, this song is one of seventeen on Segall’s latest album, with a simple guitar riff over a two-step percussion line that repeats incessantly throughout the song. I don’t know why they ran Segall’s vocals through reverb, which makes it sound like he recorded them from out in the hallway, but otherwise it’s a strong slice of psychedelic rock with an anarchic guitar solo.

Telegram – “Regatta.” An obnoxiously British-sounding act, from the Libertines influences in the music to the lead singer’s almost indecipherable Welsh accent, so the result sounds like a bit like the Arctic Monkeys replaced Alex Turner with Gruff Rhys. The video features the band’s members wandering around Tokyo.

This is All Yours.

alt-J’s 2012 debut album An Awesome Wave, winner of that fall’s Mercury Prize, remains my favorite album released since the turn of the century, a hypnotic, hypercreative, genre-bending masterwork that plays with sounds, tempos, and tension to subvert typical rock song structures without every losing sight of the critical elements of melody and rhythm. The album featured stunning production that offered clear, precise sounds in a minimalist framework, while the then-quartet carried lyrical and musical themes across multiple tracks to present the listener with a diverse yet cohesive whole. The Mercury Prize doesn’t always go to the most deserving album – last year’s snoozer would be a perfect example – but alt-J deserved it as much as any other winner ever had. (Of course, Pitchfork trashed the album, shocking no one.)

That means that expectations, mine and the music world’s, have run very high with the long crescendo to today’s release of This Is All Yours, the sophomore album from alt-J, now a trio after the departure of bassist Gwil Sainsbury. The new disc moves the band in a direct I didn’t anticipate, opting for slower tempos and brighter sounds, creating a more melancholy record overall, one with fewer standout melodies than An Awesome Wave and a muddled production quality that contrasts with the precision of its predecessor’s. It is every bit as bizarre a record as you’d expect from a band that named itself after a keyboard combination (their name is technically Δ) and that produced an album as weird as their debut. It is less consistent than their first record, but it is never, ever dull.

The three singles released from This is All Yours showcase the album’s brilliance alongside its inconsistency. “Hunger of the Pine” works from a trip-hop foundation, layers guitarist Joe Newman’s languorous, high-pitched vocals – occasionally delivering entire lines without changing the note – over keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton’s baritone, only to throw in a sample of Miley Cyrus incongruously singing “I’m a female rebel” in the chorus. “Left Hand Free,” a song the boys have acknowledged they wrote because their label’s A&R man said he didn’t hear a single from the album, listens like a deadpan parody of American indie or jangle-pop, with suitably ridiculous lyrics that still manage to slip in the kind of literary allusions that they used so well on An Awesome Wave. The third single, “Every Other Freckle,” is the album’s best song, bridging the gap between those first two songs in a way that recalls their first album’s highest points, shifting gears suddenly between tempos or even genres, with lyrical flourishes that offer competing interpretations (the transition from touching to creepy in “I wanna bed into you, like a cat beds into a beanbag/Turn you inside out, and lick you like a crisp packet” is a highlight of their career) and perfectly timed hard-stops before the next miniature movement begins. The three songs don’t really sound at all like they’d come from the same band, with an almost anti-commercial song in “Hunger of the Pine” alongside the disposable “Left Hand Free,” diversity without the explosive creativity of the band’s first record.

Instead, the trio appear to have channeled their creativity into crafting lush soundscapes like the gorgeous acoustic track “Warm Foothills,” which features vocals from no fewer than four guest singers, including Lianne La Havas, whom alt-J beat out for the Mercury Prize two years ago. The vocals are stitched together to give you odd transitions before we get our payoff in beautiful harmonies – although there’s no big finish or massive textural shift as you might have expected on An Awesome Wave. The lyrics of the Alien-inspired “The Gospel of John Hurt” blend that film’s mythology (it doesn’t go well for Hurt’s character) with the Book of Jeremiah, over a tripartite backing track, starting with a xylophone-heavy introductory passage, leading to a sluggish passage where we get the band spelling out a key word (as on “Fitzpleasure” and “Bloodflood”) before the guitar moves to the front in the final, cathartic movement. How that song can be followed with the throwaway acoustic track “Pusher” is one of the most puzzling aspects of the disc; I could have done without “Pusher” entirely, but after one of This is All Yours‘ strongest, most intense songs, it dissolves the momentum the band has just built up with the previous song.

alt-J have always been fond of referring back to their own songs, and do so explicitly with “Bloodflood pt. II,” which brings back both “Bloodflood” and “Fitzpleasure” from their first album, reusing certain lyrics and musical themes but reworking them into new settings while carrying over the violence implicit in “Fitzpleasure,” which itself drew from the book and film Last Exit to Brooklyn. They’re also big on unusual covers, and the album’s bonus track completely deconstructs Bill Withers’ classic soul song “Lovely Day” and builds it back up with multiple flows of shimmering keyboard lines that move over you like fluids of varying viscosities – to the point where you might only recognize the original track by the lyrics.

The brief review by the Guardian compared This is All Yours to Radiohead’s Kid A for their shared abandonment of the traditional rock format in favor of playing with sounds and textures, but Radiohead’s departure was far more shocking – here was one of the greatest straight-up rock bands in history, coming off an album that should have won every award for which it could possibly have been eligible, metaphorically lighting its guitars on fire to play with keyboards and other synthetic sounds. alt-J had no such sound to abandon, so their capacity to shock us more than their debut already did so is muted.

This is All Yours includes repetition of themes and imagery in its lyrics, just as their first album did, here with recurring ruminations on loss and dependence in relationships, and several songs refer to the African quelea, a nomadic passerine bird of African that travels in large flocks, or other flying creatures; as well as to lungs, to waves, or to the sea. Their lyrics are more cryptic and less narrative this time around; most songs on An Awesome Wave told a story somewhere, while the songs on This is All Yours have fewer lyrics overall and none tells a complete story from beginning to end. That may be the most shocking shift of the album, rather than the change in music – the way that alt-J thinks about crafting a single song, or an album as a collection of songs, seems to have changed, as if they couldn’t or wouldn’t reproduce the style of their first album, which was five years in the making. This is All Yours comes out only two years and a few months after their debut, but in many ways feels more ambitious and bold. It is uneven compared to their debut, and presents a less immersive listening experience, but also shows a group unwilling or unable to rest on their laurels, for whom an effort that doesn’t match their best work can still be among the most important and impressive albums of the year.

Puig Destroyer, FKA Twigs, and other new albums.

Puig Destroyer started out as something of a joke (their name alludes to American grindcore act Pig Destroyer) among a few baseball-loving musicians, including Riley Breckenridge and Ian Miller of the Productive Outs podcast, but they’ve now morphed into a real if virtual hardcore punk band that performs loud, fast, short songs about baseball topics – including one song I can honestly claim to have inspired, “Umpshow.” Their first full-length album, Puig Destroyer, includes twenty songs, none over 2:06, with the best song titles anyone’s produced since Seth Putnam died, including “Three True Outcomes,” “Trumbomb,” and the entirely truthful “No One Cares About Your Fantasy Team.” This kind of post-hardcore isn’t for everyone – I’ve seen them described as grindcore, but Puig Destroyer isn’t in Napalm Death territory – with blast beats, shouted vocals, and heavy bass lines, but it’s tightly produced and you can hear the strong musicianship underlying the jokes about sabermetrics and ligament reconstruction surgery. The album is available for preorder for $7 now through that link, and you get an immediate download of the song “Mike Trout.” (Full disclosure: I’ve met Ian, been on the Productive Outs podcast, and received a digital review copy of the album.)

* Meanwhile, longtime hardcore stalwarts Sick of It All are about to release The Last Act of Defiance, their first album in four years, one that shows a band in steep decline. Not only are the fourteen tracks generic and tired, but the song “2061” sees the group espousing 9/11 conspiracy-theory nonsense, claiming that the U.S. government is hiding the “truth” about the attacks until confidential documents are made public in the year of the song’s title. That kind of “truther” bullshit is an intelligence test, and Sick of It All just failed.

* In Flames’ newest album, Siren Charms, continues in the vein of their more recent work, where they try to straddle the space between their melodic death metal roots and more radio-friendly American metalcore, which produces a very unsatisfying end result. In Flames’ signature twin guitar leads are present all over the album, but aren’t front and center on enough tracks for fans of their work or, in my case, fans of that particular brand of extreme-metal riffing.

* FKA twigs (née Tahliah Debrett Barnett) might suffocate under the weight of all of the positive reviews of her debut album LP1, including a nomination for this year’s Mercury Prize. While Barnett shows beauty in her emotional, restrained style of singing, I can’t add to the effusive plaudits thrown her way because the severely understated trip-hop style where she plies her musical trade strikes me as little more than background music. There’s almost nothing here to praise or critique; it’s barely music, an unstable foundation for Barnett’s impressive vocal acrobatics, unable to hold my attention for even the length of a song. She may very well win the Mercury Prize, which alt-J took home two years ago for An Awesome Wave, given the critical acclaim LP1 has received; I’m just not hearing what everyone else is.

* English hard-rock band Amplifier draws influence from about three decades of rock and metal, from the ’70s (notably Pink Floyd, with hints of Black Sabbath) to the ’90s (Nirvana, Soundgarden), but the result on their forthcoming album Mystoria is surprisingly tame. I certainly expected more experimentation based on their reviews and press clippings, but after the opening pair of tracks, we get some generic album-oriented rock tracks made marginally more interesting with heavy use of effects pedals. The instrumental opener, “Magic Carpet,” and second track, “Black Rainbow,” are the only standouts here, with the off-beat percussion line in the latter track giving it the experimental feel that the guitar riff lacks.