December 2015 music update.

I published my rankings of the top 100 songs of 2015 and top 15 albums of 2015 in mid-December, which is nearly always a dead month for new releases anyway, so in past years I haven’t even bothered with a new playlist until the end of January. This time, however, there were about a half-dozen tracks I wanted to mention before we got too far along in the calendar, so I’ve put together this shorter-than-normal playlist to tide everyone over.

Animal Collective – FloriDada. This song reached me in time to make my top 100 for 2015, and it’s one of my favorites from Animal Collective alongside “My Girls,” but even more accessible. I’m still trying to piece together some of the lyrics, but I love the way the music, including the layered vocals, seems like it’s always about to veer off the road into the wild grass.

School Of Seven Bells – Open Your Eyes. SVIIB’s final album is due out in February, their first and thus only release since the death of co-founder Ben Curtis from cancer in 2013, including parts he recorded before his passing. I found their music beautifully melancholy to begin with, so I can only imagine how this record will feel knowing that Curtis is gone and the band is finished.

Bloc Party – The Good News. I’m mixed on this song; it seems a bit too much like Four, but after the promise of the first single from their upcoming album I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Wild Nothing – TV Queen. Good Wild Nothing tracks manage to sound upbeat and depressing at the same time, kind of like Joy Division and early New Order. This isn’t on par with “To Know You,” which I still say was practically lifted from Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life,” but still would have fit well on 2012’s Nocturne.

St. Lucia – Physical. Included because it’s St. Lucia and I have liked just about everything he’s released to date, but I don’t like this track anywhere near as much as “Dancing on Glass” or the bulk of his first album.

DIIV – Under the Sun. Zachary Cole Smith, who records as DIIV, is putting out a double album on February 5th, which seems to have a lot of the music press excited, but I’ve yet to see evidence Smith can fill a single album with enough worthwhile and non-repetitive material. Part of the problem is that every DIIV song I’ve ever heard sounds like it’s just a clone of the one original DIIV track, so if there were some sort of Panama disease that affected that one song his entire catalogue would be wiped out. This track is pretty good, though.

Conrad Keely – In Words of a Not so Famous Man. This quiet, pensive track is about the last thing I expected from the lead singer of …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. There’s still a hidden tension in the song, as we get from most Trail of Dead material, but where his main project creates huge shimmering walls of sound, this track is almost intimate by comparison.

(The London) Suede – Outsiders. They’re never going to make another “Metal Mickey” or even another “Beautiful Ones,” but Suede have settled into something comfortable for their middle age, with this track, released in late September, continuing in the same vein as their solid 2013 comeback album Bloodsports.

Killing Joke – Euphoria. I whiffed on Killing Joke’s album Pylon – I didn’t hear it until I’d already gotten well into writing my year-end posts and didn’t get to spend any time with it until after Christmas, but it should have slipped into the last spot on my top albums list. It’s not quite vintage Killing Joke, which was more punk than anything else, with many of their best-known songs (“The Wait,” “Eighties”) running long for punk but about the norm for radio-friendly rock; it’s more like an album full of longer, dark songs like “Love Like Blood,” six minutes and up, heavier, driving music that I’d call metal but might only qualify as “hard rock” by today’s standards. Whatever you call it, it’s fucking boss.

pop. 1280 – Pyramids on Mars. I admit I knew nothing of this band before hearing this track, and still don’t know much about them other than that they’re named after a great noir crime novel; this song is sort of noise-rock experimentalism with hints of early gothic new wave stuff like Bauhaus.

Top 100 songs of 2015.

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’ 2014 releases entirely, including Sufjan Stevens, Kendrick Lamar, Drake (are you kidding me with this?), Deafheaven, Father John Misty, and The Weeknd. Other folks liked that stuff. I didn’t.

The top 100 playlist has all tracks ordered from 100 to 1; I excluded one song, Everything Everything’s “Regret,” from the list because it’s not technically available in the United States and isn’t on Spotify here either.

You can alsy try this direct Spotify link if that doesn’t work.

Here’s last year’s top 100, andmy top 15 albums of 2015; I refer to both links numerous times below.

100. Heartless Bastards – Gates of Dawn. A bluesy four-piece from Cincinnati with a fantastic name, Heartless Bastards have been around for a decade, but this was the first time they hit my radar, with a yearning, gloomy guitar-driven track.

99. Hinds – Garden. This quartet from Barcelona has had a ton of hype that might exceed the quality of their output, but I find it hard to resist their ebullient acoustic-folk sound and their crude-by-design vocals.

98. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Can’t Keep Checking My Phone. UMO’s sound varies widely across their output, but when they click, as they do here, it’s the vocal hook that keeps you coming back.

97. Battles – The Yabba. Incredibly experimental and, well, just flat-out weird, but that’s Battles’ whole output, isn’t it? Just bear with the intro, which sounds like some sort of test pattern, to get to the meat.

96. Rose Windows – Glory Glory. This Seattle-based psychedelic rock band called it quits abruptly in March, just weeks before their second album dropped, although singer/songwriter Chris Cheveyo is already in a new outfit called Dræmhouse. In the meantime, this was Rose Windows’ best song, a blues-rock number reminiscent of the best work of Trouble.

95. Drenge – Favourite Son. Their second album barely made my top 15 albums of 2015, and this was the best track by virtue of being the most like their first album – fast, angry, a bit obnoxious, yet underneath all the youthful arrogance, undeniably melodic.

94. Boxed In – Mystery. It’s a bit sparse, but this single from Oli Bayston, who records as Boxed In, has a great little hook in the keyboard line that brings you into the song and a bigger one in the chorus, kind of like a Bombay Bicycle Club track but more focused and less experimental.

93. Floating Points – Peroration Six. Speaking of experimental, Floating Points, the nom de music of English musician and neuroscientist (!) Sam Shepherd, is way out there too, but Shepherd goes the electronic route rather than following Battles’ rock-based approach. It’s not trance music, but the vibe is trance, although nothing is as potent here as the sudden end of the crescendo of sound with ten seconds left in the track.

92. The Gills – Rubberband. A fun hybrid of a very standard garage-punk song and heavy blues rock, as if two forces were competing to pull the song in their separate directions.

91. Ten Commandos – Staring Down the Dust. I was hoping for a bit more from this supergroup of members of Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and QoTSA, but the album is very light on memorable hooks; this track, featuring former Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan, is by far its best.

90. Ghost BC – From the Pinnacle to the Pit. I went back and forth between this and “Cirice” as the album’s top track over the last few weeks, but while “Cirice” got a little airplay and is the more accessible song, this one is the superior track musically – although none of their lyrics, most of which sound like a ten-year-old obsessed with Satanism wrote them, do them any credit.

89. Total Babes – Blurred Time. The other guys from Cloud Nothings made a band and a record and no one seemed to pay any attention – but me, of course. Unsurprisingly, it sounds a lot like Cloud Nothings, but with a purer energy and less of the thrown-together feel of Dylan Baldi’s weaker material.

88. The Little Secrets – All I Need. This British duo has released exactly one song as far as I can tell, and I’m not sure if they’re even signed anywhere, but I couldn’t get enough of this track, which reminded me both in melody and in the sound of Stacy Jo’s vocals of the late, lamented Velocity Girl.

87. Sunflower Bean – Wall Watcher. I’m definitely drawn to groups that seem inspired by a couple of specific genres from my youth – late-70s British metal, 1980s New Wave and post-punk, and early-’90s grunge. Sunflower Bean definitely draw on the latter, more on the Mudhoney/Seaweed side of the house than the kind of grunge that crossed over into the mainstream, which is probably why this sounds fresh even though it’s rooted in a familiar sound.

86. Zhu – Hold Up, Wait a Minute. There are a few songs on here that I expect to get some flack for including, led by this one, which features Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Trombone Shorty. I think it’s incredibly inventive and catchy while also feeding some of my nostalgia yen with some dope rhymes from the members of Bone Thugs and a brief nod to “Billie Jean” when the boys start singing. I could have used more Trombone Shorty, though.

85. Wolf Alice – Freazy. This album is so strong and so even that I could have slipped a number of songs into this spot, including the Grammy-nominated “Moaning Lisa Smile” or the stop-and-start “My Love’s Whore” (which has a tremendous coda), but the way Ellie Rowsell sing-talks this chorus is the album’s best earworm and also gives the disc its title.

84. Bloc Party – The Love Within. Bloc Party’s fifth album, Hymns, is due out in late January, and this lead track gives me hope that it’ll be miles above their disappointing fourth record, and more in line with Kele’s electronic-heavy, more experimental solo work.

83. Wavves – Heavy Metal Detox. Sneering California punk-pop with some big hooks all across the album; this track, the opener, presages several of the later ones and packs the most punch of all.

82. Veruca Salt – Laughing in the Sugar Bowl. The album was a huge letdown but this one single showed Louise and Nina recapturing their old magic for two minutes in a track that fits just fine between “Volcano Girls” and “Seether.”

81. Of Montreal – Bassem Sabry. I dig a lot of experimental music, but a lot of Of Montreal’s work goes a bit over my head – I know it’s good, but I just can’t quite get into it. “Bassem Sabry” wraps up that experimentation in a funk-rock track that has the feel of improvisational jazz but keeps the structure tight enough to feel familiar.

80. Orchid – Helicopters. You could say they’re highly derivative of Black Sabbath, to which I would respond by asking what the hell is wrong with that?

79. Animal Collective – FloridaDa. Much like Of Montreal, Animal Collective produces some wild stuff that manages to stray beyond the boundaries of what I can digest and enjoy – it’s a me problem, so to speak – but when they confine their sound into more conventional song structures, as they did on “My Girls,” there are few artists that can match their ingenuity. This lead single from their album Painting With, due out February 19th, has a very traditional structure, but the layers of sound here are like little else I’ve heard.

78. The Creases – Point. Another indie-pop act out of Australia, this time out of Brisbane, the Creases don’t seem to have made a dent here in the U.S. yet even though this is their second great jangle-pop track in two years, with “Static Lines” making my top 100 last year.

77. Kero Kero Bonito – Picture This. The sound is very J-Pop, especially with lead singer Sarah Midori Perry singing and rapping in both English and Japanese, but there’s an ironic undercurrent to the lyrics, mocking the selfie phenomenon from within and blunting the saccharine nature of the music.

76. Young Fathers – Shame. The 2014 Mercury Prize winners dropped their second album a few months after they received that award, continuing in the same vein of melding hip-hop with alternative rock, reminiscent of earlier TV on the Radio releases but lyrics that are rapped rather than sung.

75. Twerps – Back to You. More Australian jangle-pop, dancing on the edge of catchy and annoying, and the best track from another of my top albums of the year.

74. Shy Technology – High Strung. Shy Technology seems to reclaim the earnest piano-driven emo sound of the 1990s from the bastardized versions we hear on pop radio (looking at you, Gavin DeGraw), with stronger lyrics than almost any other artist in this vein.

73. Speedy Ortiz – Raising the Skate. Sadie Dupuis is a minor heroine of mine, resurrecting the half-dissonant noise-pop sound of artists like Helium that came and went way too fast in the mid-1990s, drowned in a wave of Britpop that crowded it out of even alternative radio slots. There are great melodies underneath the apparent cacophony of most Speedy Ortiz songs; both this and “Graduates” were highlights from their second album.

72. Courtney Barnett – Elevator Operator. The lyrics … I mean, I can’t get over how brilliant Barnett is, especially for someone so young. She’s an incredibly gifted storyteller and her first album (my #2 album of 2015) saw her incorporate heavier rock melodies to craft a masterful full-length debut.

71. Belle & Sebastian – Allie. Stuart Murdoch is at his best when setting dark stories to sunny melodies, as in this track about a disturbed young woman who tries to run away in response to news stories of bombings and terrorism.

70. The National – Sunshine on My Back. The side project El Vy didn’t do it for me – again, it’s Matt Berninger’s laconic delivery that just turns me off – but this one-off single featuring Sharon Van Etten shows that they can craft some really beautiful pop music.

69. Grimes – REALiTi. We got a demo version of this song in March from the album Grimes recorded and deleted, then got a slicker version when she finally released the amazing “Art Angels.” I think I prefer the rawer first attempt, although it’s such a great song it still works even though the cleaner production took off some of the edge.

68. Viet Cong – Silhouettes. There’s a strong Interpol vibe here, blended with some post-punk elements along the lines of Television. The band announced in September that they intended to change their name due to the negative connotations of their current one, which surprised me … it’s not like they named themselves Khmer Rouge, which was an actual punk band in the early 1980s.

67. Daughter – Numbers. This London trio may be about to cross over in a huge way, based on the two lead singles from their album Not to Disappear, due out on January 15th. It brings me back a bit to Coldplay’s first album, Parachutes, which couldn’t be more different from the disposable pop act they’ve become – they created suspense and intensity even in softer soundscapes, and Daughter has that same knack, along with much better lyrics.

66. Mourn – Gertrudis, Get Through This!. Another quartet of teenagers from Barcelona, Mourn go the punk route, melding deliberate dissonance with this wonderful sneering arrogance to create something that sounds new even though this kind of fusion has been around for decades.

65. CHVRCHES – Make Them Gold. The best showcase of Lauren Mayberry’s voice on their hugely successful second album, Every Open Eye, one of my top five albums of the year.

64. Telekinesis – Sylvia. Michael Lerner, who records as Telekinesis, changed his entire sound for this album, Ad Infinitum, going all-in on an homage to classic new wave sounds, very heavy on the synths. This and “In a Future World” were both standouts.

63. Sons of Huns – An Evil Unseen. Their album While Sleeping, Stay Awake just missed the cut for my best albums of the year, but if you like old-school thrash with some 1970s psych-rock elements, I strongly recommend it. This track had the best hook, whereas most of the album struck me as more atmospheric but less immediately catchy.

62. Of Monsters and Men – Crystals. I mentioned on the albums ranking that I thought this LP was somewhat maligned because it wasn’t like their first record, which was poppy and accessible but certainly became repetitive by the time you reached “The Lake House” near its conclusion. “Crystals” was the transitional track here, bringing back some of the harmonies from My Head is an Animal while introducing the mellower, more introspective bent of the new album.

61. Saint Motel – My Type. Pure pop goodness with “one-hit wonder” written all over it, especially since their follow-up single, “Cold Cold Man,” wasn’t one-tenth this catchy.

60. Coeur de Pirate – Carry On. Béatrice Martin’s voice is absolutely intoxicating, a little smoky, a little kittenish, a little mysterious with the hints of her Quebecois accent. This song came from her first album recorded in English and deserved a much better reception than it received.

59. Passion Pit – Until We Can’t (Let’s Go). I feel like this song, my favorite of theirs since “Little Secret,” was overshadowed by Michael Angelakos’ public acknowledgement that he’s gay, which shouldn’t even cause a ripple at this point. Passion Pit are strongest when they write music like they’re about to play a giant warehouse party, and that comes through here like it hasn’t in years.

58. Death Cab for Cutie – Black Sun. Death Cab’s album Kintsugi will be their last with guitarist/producer Chris Walla, and even here it already sounded like his influence on the songwriting had waned, with the record more uneven than Codes and Keys and lacking that record’s epic feel. “Black Sun” has Walla and Ben Gibbard rocking out like they did on “You Are a Tourist,” and this is the kind of song at which I think DCFC excels.

57. Ceremony – Your Life in France. They’re nominally a punk band, but their latest album was more post-punk like Joy Division of Gang of Four, led by this song and “The Separation.”

56. Wilco – You Satellite. I’m not a huge fan of Wilco’s overall output so I didn’t react to their release of the surprise album Star Wars with quite the enthusiasm as their longtime fans showed, but there were a number of standout tracks here … just not “Random Name Generator,” the song everyone else seemed to love.

55. Iron Maiden – Speed of Light. I’m not remotely sorry for including this, so don’t even start. Their album The Book of Souls floored me, as it was their best in more than two decades and one of the best albums of the year, good enough to forgive them the eighteen-minute closing track/endurance test.

54. SEXWITCH – Helelyos. That’s Bat for Lashes, singing folk songs from non-Western cultures in various foreign languages (I think this is Farsi), with the band Toy backing her up on the group’s six-song EP.

53. Wolf Alice – Giant Peach. The first Wolf Alice song I heard, one that really establishes the group’s rock chops, especially Ellie Rowsell’s merits as someone who can sing over a heavy rhythm and distinguish herself with her vocals.

52. Neon Indian – Annie. I’ve heard lots of Neon Indian stuff in the past, but his work on 2015’s VEGA INTL. Night School was brighter and a little more accessible, all to the good on songs like “Slumlord” and this track, which at first I thought was a new song from St. Lucia. (That’s high praise.)

51. Frank Turner – Get Better. Another album that really failed to meet my expectations, since I loved 2013’s Tape Deck Heart, although this lead single could easily have come from the preceding album given its music and lyrical theme.

50. Allison Weiss – Golden Coast. Indie-pop is such a mixed bag and as a result an increasingly worthless (decreasingly worthful?) term. Ingrid Michaelson still gets the tag, but she’s had two top-five albums and a handful of crossover hits. (She’s also cute, which never hurts a female musician and I find often is what people really mean when they say “indie.”) Anyway, Allison Weiss is better than Ingrid Michaelson and this song is one example.

49. Metric – The Shade. I’m pretty serious about lyrics; great lyrics often overcome mediocre music, and if the lyrics are dumb, then the music better be pretty fucking awesome, which the music and melody on “The Shade” are.

48. Hot Chip – Huarache Lights. A meditative track from some of the masters of electronic pop music; they’re not the edgy group that brought us the mocking “Over and Over” any more, but they’ve retrained their sights on more serious subjects like the depersonalization of man in an increasingly technological first-world society.

47. Lower Dens – To Die in L.A.. Dream-something – it’s not poppy, more ambient than anything else, but with a quicker tempo. I get a Robert Plant Principle of Moments vibe out of this for some reason.

46. Sleater-Kinney – Price Tag. The best song from their comeback album was “Bury Our Friends,” which made my top ten in 2014; this was #2 for me on No Cities to Love, followed by “Surface Envy.”

45. Superhumanoids – Anxious in Venice. Encouraging you all to listen to Superhumanoids is becoming an obsession of mine; not only is lead vocalist Sarah Chernoff incredibly talented, with both great range and precision in her voice, but the trio keep churning out smart, immersive tracks that feature slow builds and choruses that provide cathartic releases of all that pent-up energy. This was the lead single from their 2015 album Do You Feel OK?, another of my top albums of the year, and my second-favorite track from the record.

44. Wild Nothing – To Know You. A very promising return from Wild Nothing echoes Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life” in both music (bass line and chord changes in the verse) and lyrics (“Funny how…”). Their new album drops February 19th.

43. Savages – The Answer. These four women are back and they appear to be seriously pissed off. “T.I.W.Y.G.” is also solid, with both tracks on their sophomore album, due out January 22nd.

42. Grimes – Flesh Without Blood. The lead single from Art Angels, my favorite album of 2015, and the most acclaimed track from what I’ve seen so far … and hey, it’s a great song all around, although I think she reached greater heights both in her experimentation with structure and in her pursuit of her own brand of pop perfection. She does use her vocal range to great effect here.

41. Tame Impala – Let It Happen. Everyone but me loved this album; it’s too monotonous for me, so that a song like “Cause I’m a Man,” which is so smart and well-crafted, blends right into the rest of the album’s many soporific rhythms. “Let It Happen” is the longest song on my top 100, but Kevin Parker makes good use of the nearly eight minutes of the track – and lets his psych-rock inclinations come through a bit more.

40. Chemical Brothers – Go. I’m not gonna lie to you – you put Q-Tip on a track, I’m going to put it on my top 100. It’s pretty much automatic. Bring on The Last Zulu!

39. Kid Astray – Diver. I had this just a bit ahead of “Cornerstone” among singles from this Norwegian group’s first full-length album, Home Before the Dark; neither is as good as their first minor hit, “The Mess,” but these guys (and gal) have a great sense of melody and an overall sound like Naked & Famous.

38. Deerhunter – Snakeskin. Their 2015 album Faded Frontier is a bit of beautiful chaos, although some of the experimentation doesn’t quite work; this lead single’s syncopated rhythm (with a chord change that reminds me of Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” of all things) gives you an uncomfortable sense of being off-balance through the entire song’s groove.

37. Kenneths – Cool As You. A London punk trio who revel in the melodic hardcore sound first popularized by groups like the Descendents.

36. Waxahatchee – Under a Rock. There’s a little-but-fierce quality to Katie Crutchfield’s voice here, set against a jangly guitar riff that wouldn’t be out of place in an playlist, one that works better on this rock track than on the more lugubrious songs that flesh out her newest album, Ivy Tripp.

35. Modest Mouse – Lampshades on Fire. They’re at their best when they’re a little crazy, which they are here and on “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box,” songs that are more “Dashboard” than “Float On” even though Johnny Marr has moved on.

34. The Wombats – Greek Tragedy. Probably the best-known song from Glitterburg, a joyous pop trip from start to finish that’s fueled by Matthew Murphy’s utterly bonkers lyrics with their strongest melodies yet. How many artists could work in a reference to falling up a set of Penrose steps without sounding ridiculous?

33. Dagny – Backbeat. This debut single from a Norwegian solo artist (real name Dagny Sandvik) gets a big boost from my daughter, who latched on to this song on first listen and has made it one of her most-played tracks of the year.

32. The Dead Weather – I Feel Love. With Jack White’s solo output rather disappointing, I’m glad we at least have the Dead Weather to give us some of that unapologetic ’70s heavy-blues sound that influenced so much of the White Stripes’ best work.

31. St. Lucia – Dancing on Glass. The first single from his upcoming sophomore LP was very promising; the second single, “Physical,” was far less so. St. Lucia’s debut album was one of my favorites of 2013 but attracted almost no attention; I’m hopeful he won’t change his sound as a reaction to the lack of sales.

30. CHVRCHES – Never Ending Circles. Of the hits on their second album, this was the one that I think would have fit best on their debut album – which is very much a compliment, since The Bones of What You Believe was so strong, but I was also happy to see some evolution in the trio’s sound on Every Open Eye.

29. Jamie xx – See Saw. I’ve never been wild about The xx, but their keyboardist/producer outed himself as some kind of genius with his debut album In Colour, full of these atmospheric, dense electronic tracks, here highlighted by vocals from his xx bandmate Romy.

28. Prince – Stare. I think he’s now put out four albums in the last fifteen months, although much of his output these days amounts to quantity over quality. I’ve been a huge fan of Prince since 1982 or so, but his material tailed off badly from 1994 on, starting with Come, the last record he released as Prince before the whole name-change folly. The funky, horn-driven “Stare” is stripped-down compared to the glam-funk style he pioneered in his heyday, but it’s his strongest track in over two decades.

27. The Libertines – Gunga Din. On the one hand, I’m glad the Libertines are back together, not least because it means Pete Doherty hasn’t died of a drug overdose yet. On the other hand, the likely lads seem to have grown up a little too much – the joyous excess of their first two albums is muted by maturity and perspective here. “Gunga Din” is the main exception, a song about, what else, drinking too much (and perhaps regretting it).

26. Gardens & Villa – Fixations. I feel like they should have named their album Music for Degs instead of Music for Dogs, but maybe that’s just me. If I hadn’t known who sang “Fixations” when I first heard it, I would have assumed it was a Shins song – and I mean that in a good way, with a really memorable hook and very specific, immersive, piano-and-keyboard sound.

25. HAERTS – Animal. I assume this track, released as part of a two-song single or EP or whatever the hell we call it these days when it’s all digital anyway, presages a 2016 album release. HAERTS goes a different route here than on their previous songs, with a very long, slow build that doesn’t bring lead singer Nini Fabi into the track until just past the two-minute mark. It’s highly effective primarily because Fabi’s voice is so strong that she can appear on less than half of the song’s length and still own it.

24. Mimicking Birds – Dead Weight. I admit that the opening lyric “I am a corpse/you are a corpse/we’re just corpses floating without a course” could be a bit of a turnoff, but give the song a chance – it’s dark folk, a sound I might expect to be on the soundtrack of a film set hundreds of years ago, with Nate Lacy’s always thought-provoking lyrics.

23. Purity Ring – push pull. Megan James’ lyrics are outstanding and her voice can be a real strength, but too much of their sophomore album Another Eternity puts her vocals through effects that distort it and emphasize some of the higher registers, to the songs’ detriment. She’s singing with little interference here, and the tenuous relationship between her vocal melody and the music gives the song a beneficial tension that never really lets up.

22. White Reaper – I Don’t Think She Cares. This Louisville quartet melds punk, hard rock, and some late-60s psycheledic elements on their amusingly-titled debut album White Reaper Does It Again, with this song and “Pills” the two standout tracks.

21. Django Django – Shake and Tremble. Born Under Saturn couldn’t quite live up to their Mercury Prize-nominated self-titled 2012 album, but if you wanted more of the same vibe from this genre-fusing British band, you certainly got it here – it wasn’t as innovative but it was still a lot of fun.

20. Atlas Genius – Molecules. Australia is producing so much great pop/rock right now I can barely keep up with it. Atlas Genius broke through with “If So” off their first album but had several more great singles off their followup Inanimate Objects, including this and “Stockholm.”

19. Potty Mouth – Cherry Picking. I thought this song, which draws directly on early-90s alternative groups from Belly to Lush, would be a huge hit, but perhaps it’s a little time out of joint. It’s punk-inflected pop with a definite riot-grrl sneer to the vocals.

18. Waters – Up Up Up. Lead singer/songwriter Van Pierszalowski is both a huge Dodgers fan and a coffee snob, so I’m predisposed to like the band’s music anyway, but this is a great, sunny, southern California kind of pop/rock song.

17. Houndmouth – Sedona. It got overplayed once pop-radio discovered it six months after its release, but hey, I told you about the song back in April. I don’t know how this quartet can ever avoid comparisons to the Mamas and the Papas, although that’s pretty good company for any band.

16. Wolf Alice – You’re a Germ. I loved this whole album, but no single song encapsulated its greatness as much as “You’re a Germ,” where Ellie Rowsell goes from sultry to scream and absolutely owns the shit out of the entire track; my favorite vocal on the entire album is in the chorus here, a line I’m not even 100% sure I understand but definitely involves sending someone to hell.

15. Foals – Mountain at My Gates. Foals seem to be a lock for one great song per album; last time around it was “Inhaler,” and this time it’s “Mountain at My Gates,” even though the “I see it more and more each day” line is such a throwaway that it detracts from the imagery Yannis creates across the rest of the lyrics.

14. Grimes – Venus Fly. Janelle Monae takes control of most of the lyrics here, but the two girls combine for a feminist rant that keeps defying lyrical and musical expectations. When both women say “Why you looking at me” don’t you expect to hear something like “…boy?” afterwards? In an industry still too driven by men who evaluate female musicians by looks, this song inserts itself into the conversation with a declaration of independence for two musicians who just happen to be attractive but matter because they’re so talented.

13. Freddie Gibbs – Extradite. The best new rap song I’ve heard in years, powered by Gibbs’ very old-school, precise delivery and a tremendous guest appearance by Black Thought, over a track that sounds like vintage Eric B. and Rakim.

12. San Cisco – Too Much Time Together. This Australian group focuses on bright, witty material that fits in with the Wombats for the combination of upbeat music and ironic lyrics, often making use of dual vocals thanks to multi-talented drummer Scarlett Stevens.

11. Belle & Sebastian – Nobody’s Empire. The music alone would have put this song in my top 50, but “Nobody’s Empire” has some of my favorite lyrics of the year, as Stuart Murdoch – who always manages to tell a good story – has created something of an epic here, with more quotable, imagery-drenched lines than most groups fit in a whole album. The last verse just kills me.

10. Superhumanoids – Norwegian Black Metal. This song title is just pandering to me, even though there’s no hint of metal anywhere in the track, let alone metal of the Norwegian black variety; it is the best showcase for Sarah Chernoff’s voice on the album, and I can vouch for her talent, having seen them play live in September.

9. The Wombats – This is Not a Party. I don’t know why their label didn’t push this out as a single, as it’s incredibly catchy and has some of the funnier lyrics on the record; “Edward’s on the big white telephone to God” just creates this image in my head of a stoned preppie talking on an oversized telephone to … well, I’ll let you decide that for yourselves.

8. Chairlift – Ch-Ching. Their new album should be out in January, but if this is a taste of what we’re getting it should be a contender for the best album of 2016, with Caroline Polachek’s vocal gymnastics leading the way. I know there’s speculation over what the combination “27-99-23” means, but I keep imagining it as some kind of NFL play call.

7. Cloves – Frail Love. Cloves is just 19, from Melbourne, Australia, with a very distinctive (if odd) way of pronouncing certain words, and I hear a young Fiona Apple all over again, especially when she drops to the lower end of her vocal range. It’s a song to rip your heart right out of your chest.

6. Pure Bathing Culture – Pray for Rain. This song came out of nowhere for me – I knew PBC but can’t say I ever connected with any of their songs as I did with this slice of smart synth-pop that

5. Grimes – California. It’s a sunny pop song masking a harsh vocal indictment of the music industry’s treatment of independent artists: “When you get bored of me, I’ll be back on the shelf.” The metonymical use of California as a stand-in for the industry is one of many poetical flourishes on Art Angels, my top album of 2015.

4. Jamie xx – Loud Places. Jamie xx’s debut solo album was a revelation, as he seemed to grasp the mantle from pioneers like the Chemical Brothers even as the latter put out their first new album in five years. This song is Jamie xx and electronica at their best, using samples to create multiple layers of sound, shifting tempos, setting Romy’s soft, breathy vocals in counterpoint to the rising wave of music he’s building beneath her. By the time the song reaches its devastating close, you feel like a hundred musicians have appeared on the song.

3. CHVRCHES – Leave a Trace. Every Open Eye was more of the same from CHVRCHES, but better, and no song exemplified that so much as “Leave a Trace,” the lead single from the album. The track keeps Lauren Mayberry out in front where she belongs, with a powerful crescendo leading up to each chorus, and it benefits greatly from the album’s higher production quality.

2. Courtney Barnett – Pedestrian at Best. Barnett is the best lyricist in music right now, telling Dylanesque stories with irony, wit, and empathy for the characters she creates, even when the character is herself. “Give me all your money/and I’ll make some origami, honey” is the greatest fake come-on of the year, and I think the biting nature of her humor works much better when the songs are uptempo.

1. Beck – Dreams. Yeah, he’s a member of a dangerous cult, but Beck is certainly a genius, and a shapeshifter too, as comfortable making mournful folk albums as he is here, making a song replete with funk elements that has been a mainstay on my playlists for the six months since its release. “Dreams” seems too complex to be pop but, because it’s Beck, is so infused with hooks and melodies that it seems silly to call it anything else. I wasn’t on the Morning Phase praise train, but when Beck gets back to his roots, crafting innovative songs that shove up against the boundaries of pop music without ever truly leaving it, I’m all in.

Top 15 albums of 2015.

My ranking of the top fifteen 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 14 albums list for a comparison. I heard a lot more than I ranked here, but getting to fifteen 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.

15. Drenge – Undertow. The British duo’s follow-up to one of my favorite albums of 2013 was a bit of a disappointment, because I loved their raw guitar-and-drum sound and wasn’t thrilled with the expansion into bass lines and reverb effects, but the album was a step forward in sound and songcraft – it’s just not more of the same when I actually wanted more of the same.

14. Horrendous – Anareta. (amazoniTunes) I only found a few extreme-metal releases in 2015 that I liked at all, including Tribulation’s The Children of the Night (Swedish black metal with some classical elements), Krisiun’s Forged in Fury (very dark Brazilian death metal with strong technical riffing), and even Children of Bodom’s I Worship Chaos (highly melodic death metal but the lyrics leave a lot to be desired). Nothing could touch Horrendous’ sophomore album, the followup to 2014’s Ecdysis, itself one of the best metal albums of that year. Horrendous is marketed as death metal, but it’s really highly technical progressive metal with death growls. You get relatively few blast beats, and the heavier turns are more akin to classic thrash than the more extreme corners of death metal. If you remember peak Death (the Chuck Schuldiner band that helped establish the subgenre), Horrendous has picked up where that group left off.

13. Twerps – Range Anxiety. Weird, jangly, lo-fi indie pop from Australia that veers from hooky to annoying and back again.

12. Of Monsters and Men – Beneath the Skin. Much-maligned, as it lacked the big hooks and choruses of their debut, My Head is an Animal, but I found the record more mature in lyrics and music, and appreciated the greater production emphasis on Nanna’s vocals.

11. Jamie xx – In Colour. (amazoniTunes) Who knew that the real talent in the Mercury Prize-winning trio The xx was producer/keyboard player Jamie xx, whose brilliance came out in this ebullient collection of electronic and dance songs, highlighted by the two singles that feature his sometime bandmate Romy, “See Saw” and “Loud Places.” In a sea of monotony in electronic music, Jamie xx managed to stand out.

10. Belle & Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. The Scottish group’s best record in years may have been uneven, but featured three standout tracks to start the album and Stuart Murdoch’s now-expected lyrical brilliance throughout.

9. Iron Maiden – Book of Souls. Go figure: the lads had one more masterpiece in ’em. I could have done without the eighteen-minute closer or the mortifying “tribute” to Robin Williams, but on an album of this length there are plenty of highlights, enhanced by the stylistic shifts by the multitude of songwriters who contributed.

8. Freddie Gibbs – Shadow of a Doubt. (amazoniTunes) This is the first true hip-hop record I’ve included on my year-end lists, with Gibbs’ delivery and old-school writing separating him from the hordes of rappers who can’t hold a candle to the kings of the Golden Age. Two highlights: “Extradite,” featuring Black Thought of the Roots; and “Fuckin’ Up the Count,” which samples from and is based on a famous scene from The Wire. But as with most contemporary rap albums, Shadow of a Doubt has some cringeworthy lyrics, especially Gibbs’ free use of the female-dog epithet.

7. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love. Nine years away and the ladies of Sleater-Kinney came back better than ever, with tighter songs and stronger hooks than any of their previous album showcased.

6. Wolf Alice – Our Love is Cool. (amazoniTunes) One of the few pleasant surprises in the Granny Award nominations was seeing Wolf Alice get a nod for Best Rock Performance for “Moaning Lisa Smile,” although that might be the fifth-best track on their debut album. Ellie Rowsell has one of the sexiest vocal deliveries of the year, particularly when her fierce side comes out on tracks like “You’re a Germ,” while the band seems to channel everything from mid-90s Britpop to late-70s British steel.

5. Superhumanoids – Do You Feel OK?. I really feel fine, thanks, especially after listening to this indie-pop trio, led by singer Sarah Chernoff’s soaring vocals and backed by one strong melody after another.

4. CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye. CHVRCHES’ second top-five album on my lists – and second top-12 album on the Billboard charts – in the last three years was more of the same but better, like a hybrid of their first record and the Purple Rain-era Prince records the band members so revere.

3. The Wombats – Glitterbug. ($5 on amazoniTunes) I never reviewed this album but included one track from it on each of four straight monthly playlists. Lead singer/guitarist Matthew Murphy is a clever, witty wordsmith who also has a great knack at crafting hooks that sound like ’80s new wave but are still novel. I could easily have put a half-dozen songs from Glitterbug on my top 100, including tracks that I omitted like “Emoticons,” “Give Me a Try,” and the not actually baseball-related “Curveballs.”

2. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. By far the best lyrics of any album I heard this year, as Barnett expanded her range with more rock-heavy tracks and fewer of the folky ballads that dominated her A Sea of Split Peas double EP release. She’s a modern Bob Dylan for her way of telling a story within a four-minute song, setting scenes and working in dialogue without even abandoning her meter or rhyme scheme, and there are so many wry couplets on this album that she might have missed her calling as an existentialist comic.

1. Grimes – Art Angels. Grimes’ fourth record was a quantum leap forward from 2012’s Visions in every way, and was 2015’s best album for its combination of genre-bending sounds, strong melodies, and improved lyrics. Claire Boucher, who records under the nom de mic Grimes, is a chameleon, shedding her skin from one track to the next, changing textures and styles yet still producing a cohesive collection of songs that never lets up and delivers one strong hook after another.

November 2015 music update.

November was a relatively light month for (good) new tracks, although we did get a few singles of note ahead of January/February album releases, including the return of Wild Nothing and a second single from Savages. Not on this list but worth a mention – Mercury Rev released The Light in You, their first new album in seven years, in October. Like much of their work, it’s better enjoyed as a full album, without any huge standout singles, with the first two-thirds filled with spacey soundscapes before they conclude with a run of ebullient pop tracks. I don’t like it as much as I did Deserter’s Songs (which they just remastered a few years ago) or All is Dream, though.

Grimes – California. The first full track off Grimes’ incredible Art Angels album and probably my favorite, although it’s hard to choose given how many outstanding, clever songs this album features. It’s the first year I can remember where the two best albums I’ve heard were both from solo female artists (the other is Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit).

Wild Nothing – To Know You. A welcome return from Jack Tatum, who writes and records Wild Nothing’s albums himself (a la Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker). This first single from Wild Nothing’s third album, due out in February, returns to the psychedelic rock/dream-pop fusion of Nocturne, with over allusions in the music and lyrics to Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life.”

Hinds – Garden. Hinds, formerly known as Deers, will finally put out a proper album in January after a year-plus of hype, one that I hope will dispense with their earliest singles’ production values (where it sounded like they recorded everything inside a phone booth located in a bathroom stall). The Spanish foursome has kept their slightly offkey vocal harmonies and punk-tinged folk style, music that verges on the slightly annoying but keeps you coming back because of the underlying melodies … and maybe because there’s something a bit charming in their entire approach.

Cloves – Everybody’s Son. The Australian teenager who records as Cloves released her debut EP XIII last month, featuring the two impressive singles she dropped over the summer (“Frail Love” and “Don’t You Wait”) as well as two new tracks, including this song, which drops the piano for an acoustic guitar but still has the stripped-down feel of her previous songs.

City Calm Down – Rabbit Run. Another Australian act, this Melbourne quartet appears to have listened to a lot of Echo and the Bunnymen with some New Order thrown in for good measure.

The Gills – Rubberband. Blues-punk from Pensacola by way of Nashville, the Gills have their self-titled debut due out in a few months, but you can grab this song and the single lemonade for free via NoiseTrade.

Daughter – Numbers. Daughter’s second album drops in January, and this single features some wordplay on top of a gothic dream-pop (or perhaps nightmare-pop) track that isn’t so much catchy as it is insinuating.

Savages – T.I.W.Y.G. “This is what you get when you mess with love.” I wouldn’t mess with Jehnny Beth, though. She sounds pissed off.

Ten Fé – In the Air. A London duo whose name means “have faith,” Ten Fé merge some very British sounds (Madchester, the Verve) with a sizable dose of American roots-rock on this five-minute track that grooves along at a much faster pace than you’d expect.

Chairlift – Romeo. I can’t wait for their album to drop next month. “Ch-Ching,” the first single, is one of the best songs of the year. “Romeo” has a similar feel, kind of somewhere west of Sleigh Bells’ overt cacophony, stronger melodically and of course featuring Caroline Polachek’s lovely voice.

Floating Points – Peroration Six. A name drawn from math, with a great vocabulary word in the song’s title? I’m in. (A peroration is the conclusion of a speech, usually the kind used to whip up the crowd.) This is highly experimental music, dispensing with conventional song structures, totally instrumental, but grabbing the listener’s attention repeatedly with sharp changes in direction and the judicious use of silence. It reminds me a bit of These New Puritans, just without the vocals of the latter’s work.

Rare Monk – Warning Pulse. Yes, the intro sounds a bit like the Offspring’s “Self-Esteem,” but I promise it’s not the same song or genre. They describe themselves as “experimental,” but I don’t hear the experimentation – it’s conventional indie rock with some subtle layering in the guitar and keyboard lines, built more around textures than giant hooks.

Sunflower Bean – Wall Watcher. This odd Brooklyn trio – I should probably have a macro for that phrase – deliver music as strange as their personal style, with a sort of hepped-up stoner rock here on this short, almost poppy single that comes two months ahead of their debut album Human Ceremony.

Wolfmother – Victorious. The Aussie trio’s best track since “The Joker and the Thief,” although I know that’s not saying a whole lot. The Sabbath-esque riff at the 2:40 mark elevates this from a good album-rock track to a memorable one.

The Fratellis – Baby Don’t You Lie to Me! The Scotsmen behind “Chelsea Dagger” released their fourth album this summer, and while they’ve had a handful of catchy singles over the years since their signature song came out and became a sports-arena anthem, I think this is their best hook since their debut – both tracks have the feel of a rousing hard-drinking song, but approach it from different directions, with “Baby Don’t You Lie to Me!” like something from a bar scene in a lost episode of Firefly.

Freddie Gibbs, Black Thought – Extradite. The best hip-hop song of the year, off the best hip-hop album of the year, although the lyrics are way over the top (for example, I counted over 40 uses of “bitch” in the first half of the album alone). Gibbs’ delivery is very old-school, with a deep voice like Rakim’s, a bit like Tupac with a head cold, and he rhymes fast and can be very clever when he’s not running over the same tired rap memes.

Krayzie Bone – Cloudy. Speaking of old-school, Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony founding member Krayzie Bone – who, per Wikipedia, has eight children, none of them with his wife – is back with his first proper solo album in a decade. I’m including the single primarily out of historical interest; his style and technique are still strong, but the song lacks a good hook to make you come back for a second listen.

Art Angels.

My column on my NL Rookie of the Year ballot is up for Insiders.

Grimes’ Art Angels (buy on amazon or iTunes) is the best album of 2015, and the best album I’ve heard since alt-J’s 2012 debut An Awesome Wave. Canadian singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Claire Boucher, who records under the pseudonym Grimes, has created a masterful indie-pop performance that transcends genres and incorporates wildly diverse sounds into a cohesive, intelligent offering that never lets up from the ninety-second opener to the final song’s declaration of independence.

Grimes’ third album, 2012’s Visions, brought her substantial critical acclaim, notably for the singles “Genesis” and “Oblivion,” which received plenty of airplay on alternative radio and led to multiple recommendations from many of you, but I couldn’t get past the juvenile sound of her high-register vocals and the electropop leanings of the music. Grimes has ditched GarageBand, which she used to record much of that last album, for more sophisticated digital audio workstation software, and it is reflected in the worldliness of the music itself. The maturation process from there to Art Angels was, by all accounts, arduous, including an entire album that Grimes scrapped, the one-off single “Go” (rejected by Rihanna’s people, because I guess her people are idiots), and the song “REALiTi,” which survived the trashing of the lost album and reappears here in a more polished form. This is the Grimes album with vision, delivering rather than promising, with marked increases in the sophistication of her music and her lyrics.

After that brief intro track, Grimes delivers the first of many surprises on the album with “California,” a sunny track that gives off the illusion of an acoustic or folk-rock song, but is largely electronic and hides a dark, cynical take on the record industry through a metonymical use of the state to represent the entertainment industry. (Grimes has spoken publicly before about how the mainstream record industry does not, in her view, treat indie artists well.) From that luminous track we downshift into the album’s darkest song, “Scream,” with all lyrics courtesy of the female Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, who raps entirely in Mandarin with a menacing, breathy delivery that matches the funereal music beneath her. If you’ve survived this hairpin turn, you’ve gotten the hang of Art Angels, which refuses to choose a single direction yet manages to squeeze a panoply of styles into a single tent.

Lead single “Flesh Without Blood” is the most traditional song on the record in both its structure and the melodic nature of the vocals, but would still jar listeners to straight pop stations if it came on after the latest four minutes’ hate from OneRepublic. “Kill v. Maim” and “Venus Fly” both show Grimes asserting her individuality and particular brand of feminism, with the former seeing her voice as high as it gets on the album, which is fine with me as I think she starts to sound very young at the top end of her range, although here it also seems like an allusion to J-pop traditions and is interspersed with the occasional death-metal scream. “Venus Fly” features vocals from Janelle Monáe, who will appear on your album if you just remember to include a self-addressed stamped envelope, in an articulate rant about how women in music are judged on their appearances, with a number of lines that sound like they should end in “boy” if you’ve been reared on vapid, modern pop music.

The title track is a real sleeper, the kind of song Daft Punk tried and failed to craft on their Grammy-winning album Random Access Memories, between the funk-guitar riff and the layered synthesized drum lines, with lyrics that express her love for her adopted home city of Montréal. I might be alone in preferring the raw demo version of “REALiTi” we got back in the spring, where her vocals were more seductive even when she veered on the edge of falsetto; although the current version maintains the basic hook of the original, her vocals are honed to a finer point, excising the demo’s dreamlike quality.

Grimes’ lyrics have improved enormously over the last three years, with greater use of metaphor and new phrasings, with very few lines that clunk enough to detract from the songs as a whole. (“California” does have a line about how certain music “sounds just like my soul;” I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a song lyric using the word “soul” in a secular or metaphorical sense that didn’t sound like something from a teenager’s poetry notebook.) She’s covering a ton of thematic ground here, but they’re all tied together under the banner of the experiences of a woman in a male-dominated industry that is rife with sexism, harassment, and superficial judgments. When the slightly saccharine closer, “Butterfly,” concludes with Grimes’ assertion that she’ll “never be your dream girl,” it’s clear she’s both refusing to bend herself to be what someone else wants and saying that the song’s target isn’t worthy of her time. It’s a compulsive listen without a dud to be found, with so many changes in musical direction that she grabs your attention from the start and holds it, rapt, until she tells you to kiss off in the closing track. It’s an album that demands repeated listening.

Saturday five, 11/14/15.

I have analyses up for Insiders on the Aaron Hicks-John Ryan Murphy trade, the Andrelton Simmons trade, and the Craig Kimbrel trade. I also held my weekly Klawchat here on the dish.

My various offseason buyers’ guides all went up this week:
Corner infielders
Middle infielders
Starting pitchers
Relief pitchers

Plus, you all saw my ranking of my all-time favorite boardgames, right?

And now, the links…

  • One of the bigger surprises on Art Angels, the outstanding new album from Grimes (née Claire Boucher), is the presence of the female Taiwanese rapper who goes by the name Aristophanes. Fader has a little more info on her with some Soundcloud links.
  • The Atlantic has a good review of Art Angels that talks about Grimes’ emerging fame and choice of musical direction. I’ll try to get a review of the album up early next week.
  • Public schools in Louisiana are teaching kids Christianity and creationism, a blatant violation of federal law and of the students’ rights.
  • The New Yorker has an excellent piece up on using “free speech” to distract from discussions of racism, focusing on the protests at Yale and the University of Missouri. The Yale controversy has seemed particularly easy to parse to me: You don’t get to go around in blackface in a closed environment and then claim you’re exercising your free speech rights. You get expelled.
  • Pennsylvania has the second-worst student immunization rate in the nation, but there are bills pending in their legislature to end the “philosophical exemption” (that is, the opt-out for parents too stupid to understand basic science), while the state’s departments of health and education are working to end the “grace period” that allows kids to attend school before they’ve gotten all their shots. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s editorial board supports these moves, as do I, not least because the state of Delaware told me building a border wall was too expensive.
  • Doctors need to do a better job of encouraging parents to give their kids the HPV vaccine, according to Aaron Carroll, Professor of Pediatrics at Kyle Schwarber’s alma mater (well, technically at IU’s Medical School). The problem, in Carroll’s view, is that it touches on ignorance about vaccines as well as the dirty dirty subject of teens having sex.
  • J. Kenji Lopez-Alt talked to NPR’s Here and Now, and the resulting interview includes three recipes from his new cookbook The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science.
  • The BBC has a quirky story up on a brand-new record store in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. And if all you know of Mongolia is “Mongolian barbecue,” well, that’s Taiwanese, sorry.
  • Last week’s links included a story on Elizabeth Holmes, the Stanford dropout whose blood-testing startup Theranos may have lied about its product’s capabilities. The Washington Post has a story on how the NY Times erased Holmes from a story on tech heroes, as well as failing to discuss a potential conflict of interest by that story’s author.
  • This story by a pro-science skeptical blogger about an vaccine-denier nut job is a bit inside-baseball, as the saying goes, but highly amusing.

October 2015 music update.

After a slew of highly-anticipated albums hit stores from mid-August to early October, I figured we’d get a lull in good new music … only to have lead singles show up from forthcoming records from Savages, Grimes, Chairlift, and St. Lucia in the second half of October. By the way, my MLB free agent rankings will be up for Insiders on Friday.

Zhu with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Trombone Shorty – Hold Up, Wait a Minute. I hadn’t heard of Zhu before this track, but of course I know BTNH from their 1990s heyday and have heard Trombone Shorty before. Zhu’s work is all electronic dance music, but this track draws more heavily from 1970s funk than his previous work, and I don’t mean in the way that Mark Ronson just appropriates stuff and claims it’s his own. It’s great to hear Bone Thugs-N-Harmony active again ahead of their upcoming album E. 1999 Legends, especially as their faster, melodic style of rapping has completely disappeared from the scene. This might be the best pop song of the year for me.

Savages – The Answer. The all-female quartet Savages had my third-favorite album of 2013 with their debut Silence Yourself, and are set to release their follow-up disc in January. This lead single is harder and angrier, teetering on the edge of total collapse for most of its length, and I love it.

Chairlift – Ch-Ching. Chairlift’s “I Belong in Your Arms” is one of my favorite songs of the decade so far, more than their more popular track “Bruises,” and I think “Ch-Ching” – the first single from their album Moth, due in January – is more in the former vein, a song that blends strong hooks with elements designed to put you on edge or even slightly irritate you, like the duo are trying to ensure they have your full attention.

St. Lucia – Dancing On Glass. Jean-Philip Grobler’s debut album as St. Lucia also made that list of my top albums of 2013, and he also just released the lead single from his upcoming sophomore disc, which doesn’t seem to have a release date yet. It’s the same kind of bright 1980s electronic new wave music that populated that first album, and while I preferred some of the tracks with a little hint of darkness (“All Eyes on You,” “September”) Grobler has created another very sunny, catchy hook here.

Grimes – Flesh without Blood. It’s been a tumultuous couple of years since Grimes’ last album, Visions, but her sound has evolved for the better, with two non-album singles in “Go” and “REALiTi” that weren’t similar to each other or her earlier work. Her new album, Art Angels, will be released in digital format this week, and she’s promised yet another change in sound, with most songs recorded with “real instruments” according to a tweet of hers from May. This lead single seems like her most commercially viable song yet, but it’s also still distinctively her in the vocals and biting lyrics.

Moon Taxi – Red Hot Lights. The fourth album from this Tennessee rock act came out in early October, featuring this heavy blues number that would draws from the more progressive side of 1970s classic rock.

Laura Stevenson – Claustrophobe. Stevenson grew up a couple of towns over from me, and it seems like the music that surrounded me in college became her primary influences, as this hazy, slow rocker is very college-rock circa 1994 or so – very Belly, Throwing Muses, Helium, Blake Babies kind of stuff, with a sweet voice singing acerbic lyrics over dissonant guitars.

City and Colour – Runaway. City and Colour is actually Canadian singer/songwriter Dallas Green, who is not the former Phillies manager, and puts out inconsistent, pleasant folk-rock tracks that only sometimes have the kind of biting edge that I think songs in this genre require to separate themselves from the masses of Mumford & Sons clones. The melody here really reminds me of Violent Soho’s “Fur Eyes,” released in April.

A Silent Film – Paralysed. This is a pop song, right? A Silent Film were pretty well under the U.S. radar, with a few songs I liked between their first two albums (especially “You Will Leave a Mark”), but the duo seems to have thrown their alternative sensibilities out the window to record something far more commercial. There’s nothing directly drawn from it but “Paralysed” keeps calling to mind Cause and Effect’s minor 1994 hit “It’s Over Now.”

A Tribe Called Quest – Bonita Applebum (Pharrell Williams Remix). I dislike remixes as a general rule, since most of them render the original song worse and/or unrecognizable … but Pharrell did a pretty good job here with a Tribe hit that isn’t one of my favorites by them.

Martin Courtney – Airport Bar. Real Estate singer/songwriter puts out song that sounds like Real Estate.

Ten Commandos – Staring Down the Dust (feat. Mark Lanegan). Ten Commandos features Soundgarden’s bassist, Pearl Jam’s drummer, QotSA’s other guitarist, and Off!’s guitarist, with Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan contributing vocals here but sounding nothing like himself at all. It’s full of grunge heroes but the song is distinctly stoner or desert rock, reminiscent of peak Masters of Reality.

Porches – Hour. I vaguely knew Porches as singer Aaron Maine’s folk-rock project, but it sounds like he’s been possessed by Vince Clarke here on this gothic synth-pop track.

Co-pilgrim – You Come Over, You Go. This kind of indie-rock seems like it’ll never really catch on in the U.S.; it’s a little too lush, a little too ethereal, not enough of any one thing to fit neatly into a specific bucket like hard rock or folk or whatever the latest term is.

Bloc Party – The Love Within. This sounds more like a Kele solo jam than a classic Bloc Party track, and given how mediocre Four was, I’m okay with this.

Pure Bathing Culture – Palest Pearl. PBC’s solo album is solid but couldn’t live up to the huge promise of its lead single and title track “Pray for Rain.” This is a little poppier, less wistful, my second-favorite song from the album so far.

Deerhunter – Duplex Planet. Never was much of a Deerhunter fan before this latest album, but they’ve expanded their musical palette enough to rope me in; “Snakeskin” is a top 20 or so song for me for the year, and “Duplex Planet” has some of that same frenetic energy and psychedelic vibe.

Panama – Jungle. I loved Panama’s minor 2013 hit “Always,” and this is somewhat in that vein, a more soulful take on classic new wave reinterpreted through current electronic music sounds.

The Creases – Point. The Creases made my top 100 in 2014 with “Static Lines,” an annoyingly-catchy song that was very distinctly Australian in its pop sensibility; there’s a certain sound that’s come from Down Under for about three decades now – I trace it back to the Go-Betweens, who were hugely successful and influential in their home country and nearly unknown here in the U.S. This song is a little catchier and a little less annoying, as if the Creases have maybe decided to lighten up a little bit.

Disciples – Flawless. This London production trio (also written as DISCIPLΞS) had a huge hit in Europe earlier this year with “How Deep Is Your Love,” hitting the top ten in at least sixteen countries (per Wikipedia, which is never wrong), but I like this song more – it’s a darker track, emerging from the depths of late-80s acid house, a sound that originated in the U.S. but really caught fire in the UK.

Lemaitre featuring Jennie A. – Closer. I’ve included Lemaitre on the site before for their 2013 song “Iron Pyrite,” which placed 44th on my list of the top songs of that year. Their sound here is different, with prominent horns and better vocals (I have no idea who Jennie A. is, though), more electronic-jazz than straight electronica and I think a welcome evolution in their sound.

Wavves’ V.

My ALDS notes and predictions are up now for Insiders, and I’ll have a post up on Eddy Julio Martinez and several other Cuban and Dominican prospects I saw this week in Santo Domingo. I also held a chat earlier today.

Wavves first came to my attention with their 2013 album Afraid of Heights, which featured the song “Sail to the Sun” and encapsulated their sort of slightly obnoxious southern California pop-punk style of music, but also showed what I interpreted as a reluctance to become too accessible. Songs with big hooks would often turn dissonant as lead singer X strained his voice to scream a final chorus or verse, which I don’t usually mind but which limits the group’s potential audience for no appreciable reason. (I’ve never understood screaming in pop-oriented music; unless you’re doing extreme metal, what’s the point?)

On V, their fifth album, the band has dispensed with the more obnoxious elements of their music and crafted an album that seems more mature and is certainly more likely to find commercial success, thanks also to a half-dozen short, hook-driven pop-rock songs. Opener “Heavy Metal Detox” is already getting some radio play, sounding almost like the Descendants have come back to their heyday. Wavves also mix in some different guitar tones, leading off “Way Too Much” with a Queens of the Stone Age riff that doesn’t resurface till the chorus. After the album’s first track asks “why does my head hurt?” we get a whole song on that topic with “My Head Hurts,” one of many songs where the lyrics reference alcohol abuse, something lead singer/founder Nathan Williams has fought in the past.

V avoids the monotony that plagues a lot of punk-pop records (coughGreenDaycough) in two ways: the songs are short, and there are a lot of small production changes or different guitar tones that layer a veneer of variety over songs that otherwise might seem too similar. Even something as small as a little distortion on an acoustic guitar in “Redlead,” probably the most complex song on the album, becomes a needed change of pace.

There’s still some of their rougher-edged former selves on the album; closer “Cry Baby” starts out with the kind of off-key shriek that was all over their previous record, leading into a song that’s heavier on the punk and lighter on the pop. The overall result of V works fine without that kind of material, however; it sounds like a band that’s grown up and accepted that its core competence is churning out catchy, short, punk-inflected songs.

September 2015 music update.

Great month for alternative music album releases, with several more to come before the year is out.

Superhumanoids – Touch Me. Their second album, Do You Feel OK?, came out earlier this month, and I’m floored that it’s not getting any attention. The album has a solid half-dozen songs that are worthy of these lists, and Sarah Chernoff’s voice alone sets them apart from many other indie/electro outfits, some of whom are pretty good in their own right.

Potty Mouth – Cherry Picking. This Massachusetts all-girl punk-pop act would have fit in perfectly in the pre-riot grrl era in the early 1990s – you can hear Lush and L7 and even some Velocity Girl in the sugary chorus and simple power-chord hooks.

CHVRCHES – Clearest Blue. Their second album, Every Open Eye, came out last Friday and is just as good as their debut.

The Libertines – Glasgow Coma Scale Blues. The likely lads’ comeback album, Anthems for Doomed Youth, is a solid listen but couldn’t possibly live up to the level of their first two records. Shockingly, many of the songs are about getting wasted even though the band members are apparently sober.

Wavves – My Head Hurts. I’m hoping to have a review of their new album V up on Friday, its release date; I’ve loved the singles I’ve heard so far, which take their usual slightly obnoxious surf-punk sound and pair it with better production and cleaner guitar lines, so Nathan Williams’ pop hooks come through more clearly.

PLGRMS – Pieces. PLGRMS – not to be confused with the Vermont-based alternative act – is an Australian duo whose lush electronic sound reminds me a little of alt-J.

Wild Beasts – The Limit. These guys are just weird; this song is the final track on their three-song EP Life is a Burn, which features these critical darlings going full retro, referring heavily to ’50s garage rock.

Coasts – Tonight. More Bastille/Coldplay-style pop from this Bristol quintet, whose full-length debut appears due for a 2016 release.

The Paper Kites – Revelator Eyes. Soft-rock with a folky influence from this Australian five-piece who channel some early Cranberries as well as a little bit of the War on Drugs’ version of Bob Dylan.

Shy Technology – High Strung. I’ve seen them called “alt-folk” but Shy Technology sounds a lot to me like the piano-and-guitar pop/rock hits of the 1970s, a little bombastic, a little melodramatic, but driven by a very catchy chorus.

Spires – Nothing More. Spires are from Brooklyn, which is just so unusual. I’m a bit of a sucker for any band with a psychedelic sound, and with Tame Impala in vogue right now it’s a good time for Spires’ similar sound.

Library Voices – Oh Donna. It’s been a rough couple of years for this Saskatchewan band, whose latest single kind of sounds like two different songs mashed together, both of which come from the 1960s or early ’70s.

Big Grams – Lights On. Big Grams is a collaboration between Phantogram and Big Boi, who worked together on a few tracks on Big Boi’s last solo album, but the current project is a colossal disappointment largely because Big Boi’s lyrics appear to have been written by a 12-year-old boy.

The Dead Weather – Cop and Go. Jack White’s guitar work here is just so much better than on either of his solo albums; he’s at his best when he just lets himself jam.

New Order – Plastic. Longtime New Order fan here … and I wouldn’t say I love this song. It’s good, but a little more techno than their classic sound, which was obviously electronic but not so much like something The Cheat would put together. Also, seven minutes long? Really?

All Them Witches – Open Passageways. Heavy, bluesy folk rock that manages to simultaneously sound like something you’d hear on the Mississippi Delta and near closing time at an Irish bar.

Diiv – Dopamine. The Brooklyn outfit, led by former Beach Fossils member Zachary Cole Smith, will put out their second album by the end of the year. This lead single sounds a lot like every other song Diiv has released.

Telekinesis – Sylvia. Michael Benjamin Lerner’s newest album as Telekinesis, Ad Infinitum, came out last month on Merge Records and features a totally different sound, heavily influenced by early ’80s new wave, with several radio-worthy singles.

Disclosure featuring Lorde – Magnets. The whole here isn’t quite as high as the sum of the parts, but I still foresee a huge hit because of the names involved and the incredibly catchy chorus.

Dagny – Backbeat. Dagny hails from Norway and might be the next big thing in smarter pop, having revised her sound from her earlier folk-tinged rock to more overtly pop music. My daughter’s two new favorite songs are this and Ellie Goulding’s “On My Mind,” the latter of which I find really annoying.

Rationale – The Mire. The producer known as Rationale sounds a hell of a lot like The The circa “Uncertain Smile” on this track, which comes from his first EP, Fuel to the Fire.

WATERS – Up Up Up. WATERS’ second album, What’s Real, came out in April, but somehow this little pop gem, which first appeared at the end of 2014 as a single, escaped my notice until a few weeks ago.

SEXWITCH – Ha Howa Ha Howa. Natasha Khan was compelling as Bat for Lashes but she’s hypnotic singing traditional folk songs in various Asian languages with SEXWITCH, her collaboration with the band Toy.

Broken Bells – It’s That Talk Again. Broken Bells is pretty much an automatic add to these lists. It’s also a legitimately good song, built around a great walking bass line in the chorus.

Saltwater Sun – Making Eyes. This West London act keeps the guitars out front and Jenn Stearnes’ Lorde-like delivery works particularly well here over the loose-strummed rhythm lines.

Arcade Fire – Get Right. One of six bonus songs on the new deluxe edition of their 2013 album Reflektor, a sort of sinister groove track that, unlike many of the songs on the album proper, ends before it wears out its welcome.

Iron Maiden – Speed Of Light. Maiden’s comeback album, The Book of Souls, was far better than I expected and perhaps their best since the 1980s. If this is it, they ended on a high note.

Every Open Eye.

CHVRCHES’ 2013 debut album, The Bones of What You Believe, was my #2 album of 2013, an upbeat electro-pop album that put five songs on my top 100 for that year and turned singer Lauren Mayberry into a minor star. The singles leading up to their second album Every Open Eye (iTunes), released on Friday, showed tremendous promise that this disc would be more of the same but better, and it is undeniably so; the album is a direct descendant of Prince’s Purple Rain with its layered synthesizers and R&B-influenced rhythms, to say nothing of the album’s unending stream of great pop hooks.

Every Open Eye begins with the two lead singles, “Never Ending Circles” and “Leave a Trace,” both among the best tracks of the year, showcasing the group’s signature sounds while adding more complex production and instrumentation behind Mayberry’s vocals. She sings like a 5’10” power hitter – her voice is strong for its size – and while lyrics aren’t quite a strength they’re also clearly improved from the first album. Indeed, the opening quintet of tracks all seem like they could have been authored by Prince in his synth-R&B heyday, which is unsurprising from a band that once included a cover of “I Would Die 4 U” in its setlists and drew inspiration from the 1980s without quaffing too deeply on the new wave music of that era. When CHVRCHES does put a keyboard line at the front of a track, as on “Make Them Gold,” that line still makes way for Mayberry to provide the primary melody, in this case in the song that most directly reminded me of the Purple Rain soundtrack.

The most remarkable part of Every Open Eye is the sheer variety of melodic lines the trio carve out of what would appear to be a single block of marble: the eight strong tracks (of eleven) are all variations on a central musical motif, yet they’ve crafted distinct tracks with small changes in the layering of their synth lines and with Mayberry shifting registers or altering a few notes in each chorus. I might have thought they’d run out of room for growth within this particular sound after one album, but through two albums they’ve shown no signs whatsoever of doing so. You won’t mistake a CHVRCHES song for anyone else, but the way the group can carve uplifting chanters like “Bury It” and driving angst-filled songs like “Empty Threat” from the same stone is their greatest strength.

The slips on EOE mirror those from the band’s debut: when Mayberry isn’t singing, or when the group slows the tempo. Mayberry only takes one song off from singing, here on the soulful “High Enough to Carry You Over,” but without her vocal power or charisma it falls horribly flat. That charisma is also notably absent on the slowest tracks on the album, “Down Side of Me” and the dismal closer “Afterglow,” which deviate from the formula that has made CHVRCHES cross-over successes even with their inherently British sound (including Mayberry’s Scottish brogue). The deluxe edition of Every Open Eye includes three bonus tracks, including “Get Away” (#46 on my top songs of 2014) from the re-scoring of the film Drive; the forgettable “Follow You,” sung by Martin Doherty; and “Bow Down,” which sounds more like a B-side due to the lack of a strong central melody.

I imagine the first couplet on the album, “Throw me no more bones/and I will tell you no lies,” was a nod to their debut’s title and an indication that they wanted to shift direction with this release, but they truly haven’t done so: EOE is the clear successor to their first record, but an evolution rather than a change in direction, and that’s the best possible outcome for listeners. For the second time in their short careers, CHVRCHES have churned out one of the year’s best albums, a little light on experimentation but incredibly deep in compelling hooks.