Music update, March 2017.

I ended up missing about ten days of music listening while with the family in Arizona and getting ready for various trips, but I think the playlist turned out okay thanks to the volume of new stuff this month, mostly from bands I already knew from previous releases. It’s been a big year for comebacks from 1990s artists too, with three acts on here who have recently released their first new material in over a decade.

If you can’t see the widget below, you can access the Spotify playlist directly.

alt-J – In Cold Blood. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of alt-J’s work, especially their debut album An Awesome Wave, which is on the very short list of my favorite albums of all time, up there with OK Computer, The Last Broadcast, and Whitesnake. (Just kidding about that last one. Mostly.) I wasn’t totally on board with alt-J’s musical shift for their second album, where they eschewed the minimalist approach of their first record with what I considered very mixed results. This song, the second of two singles released so far in advance of their third album, has their trademark lyrical weirdness and interplay across vocals and instruments, but the same ‘big’ sound as we got on This Could All Be Yours.

Portugal. The Man – Feel It Still. This is the song Fitz and the Tantrums recorded in 2017 in an alternate universe where they didn’t become a shitty pop band. Portugal. The Man can be as weird and unconventional as alt-J, but bombast is their raison d’etre, and if anything I find them restrained here on this very old-school funk/R&B track.

Wavves – Daisy. I’m a fan of Nathan Williams’ brand of punk-pop, more so than of some of his predecessors in this California surf-rock sort of vein, which often was more obnoxious than actually good (Nerf Herder or New York’s Wheatus come to mind). Wavves’ sixth album will be out on May 19th and good luck getting that little high-pitched guitar line out of your head.

Basement – Submission. This track comes from Basement’s 2016 album Promise Everything, which was just re-released in a deluxe edition by their new record label. I’ve only heard this song so far, a hard rock track with grunge style but cleaner production.

Dreamcar – Kill for Candy. So, go figure: this is AFI lead singer Davey Havok and the three musicians from No Doubt, and “Kill for Candy” sounds nothing like either band to me. It’s new wave revival, like White Lies or Editors, and catchy without the cloying sound of No Doubt’s faux-ska-whatever they call it.

Grandaddy – Brush with the Wild. Grandaddy broke up in 2006, which I mention only because I wasn’t aware they’d broken up until I heard this song and read that it was their first new track in eleven years. I wasn’t a big fan in their heyday, but this song has a good hook and a strong “Shorter War on Drugs” feel.

Black Honey – Somebody Better. I think this is the third song I’ve included from Black Honey over the last year, and I’m still waiting (and excited) for the British quartet’s first album given the power-pop singles they’ve released to date.

The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions. TNP’s new album, also called Whiteout Conditions, comes out on Friday; you can stream it on NPR’s First Listen before that. In the meantime, the title track is another kick-the-door-open sort of pop gem; A.C. Newman can craft some potent hooks, and I love the way he plays with his vocal delivery here.

MisterWives – Oh Love. This second single from their upcoming album Connect the Dots is a step down from “Machine” in terms of hook and tempo, although Mandy Lee gets to showcase her voice a little more here.

Oh Wonder – Ultralife. I don’t think I caught this London duo’s self-titled debut album, which came out in the fall of 2015, but this title track of their second album, release date unknown, grabbed my attention with the lush instrumentation and apparent mix of influences from several different styles and even decades, back to ’80s pop.

alt-J – 3WW. Obligatory.

Earl St. Clair featuring PJ – Ain’t Got It Like That. St. Clair’s debut EP, My Name is Earl, dropped in early March, and it’s a serious throwback to ’70s soul and funk.

Tei Shi – Justify. Nothing against Tei Shi, who continues to churn out weird-but-intriguing music, but I can’t listen to this without picturing that overhyped Madonna video. (“There’s Prince!”)

Spoon – Tear It Down. I’ve heard three tracks off Spoon’s latest album, Hot Thoughts, so far, and I think … it’s a Spoon album. It’s good, but if there’s something novel here, I haven’t caught it yet.

The Kooks – Be Who You Are. I’d put this in the same category as Spoon’s latest – this is a pretty standard Kooks song, with a decent hook, but nothing we haven’t heard before. It’s like someone took peak Britpop and decided to add more ’60s to it.

Slowdive – Sugar for the Pill. This is more in the vein of Slowdive’s muttering, shoegazing past.

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Song For A Secret. I thought J&MC’s comeback album, Damage and Joy, was a bit tame, but it still had some solid moments like this track, which seems like a sequel to “Sometimes Always.”

White Reaper – The Stack. There’s a little sameness to White Reaper’s output now, but I like their punk-tinged power-pop sound and the main five-note guitar riff here is solid.

The Black Angels – I’d Kill for Her. Another band that’s been around for a while but that escaped my attention, the Black Angels engage in some heavy psychedelic rock, here punctuated by a whining guitar lick that gives the whole thing a Neil Young sort of vibe.

Mastodon – Precious Stones. I originally had “Andromeda” on this playlist, also from Emperor of Sand, but I prefer Mastodon tracks with clean vocals – their music is heavy, but progressive rather than extreme, and their best songs play the vocals off the music.

Dark Tranquillity – The Absolute. This song was a bonus track on DT’s latest album, 2016’s Atoma, and it’s a big departure from their recorded output to date. I’d put it more along the lines of Opeth or Candlemass than the typical melodic death metal that typifies Dark Tranquility’s discography to date.

Pallbearer – I Saw the End. I think it’s fair to say Pallbearer is the best doom band in the world now, although I understand there’s not a ton of competition and some of you are probably wondering what “doom” is in this context. I think they’re the spiritual heirs to Black Sabbath.

Ra’s Dawn – Inside Out. Is histrionic metal a genre? Ra’s Dawn seem to embody the term, combining progressive thrash with the bombastic vocals of early power metal stalwarts like Helloween or Hammerfall. I like the music here but could do without the disappearance of the guitars behind the verses.

Music update, February 2017.

Big month for new tracks, enough that I started out with 30 songs here and couldn’t cut any lower than 24 without taking out something I liked. I’ve got five metal tracks and two rap songs at the end, but before that we have returns from a bunch of my favorite artists, several appearing in new projects.

If you can’t see the Spotify widget below you can go directly to the playlist here.

WATERS – Hiccups. Friend of the dish Van Pierzalowski returns with the first new single from WATERS in almost a year and a half, and true to form it’s an upbeat indie-pop track with a big hook, definitely something to be sung by ten thousand people in an arena with the volume turned up to 11. (Because it’s one louder than 10.) WATERS’ third album, Something More!, is due out May 19th.

MisterWives – Machine. This NYC indie-pop outfit appears to be channeling Shakira with this funky, swirling, brass-heavy, stomp-along track that feels lush and intricate below the vocals. I think there’s real crossover potential here. The lyrics are a bit of a weak spot here, though, like rhymes from a teenager’s Poetry notebook: “Maybe I’m a dying breed/But I believe in individuality.” Yeah, no one else believes in that any more, it’s just you.

Johnossi – Hands. I heard this track, with lyrics about police profiling of African-Americans, and assumed Johnossi was an American singer of color … only to find out it’s a Norwegian duo singing rather well about an issue that I associated mostly with the United States. It should be a hit if for no other reason than the closing couplet “fuck them haters, we don’t care/put your hands up in the air.”

White Reaper – Judy French. White Reaper rocks your lame ass. Their second album, The World’s Best American Band, is due out April 7th.

Love Thy Brother featuring Ariel Beesley – Love Me Better. This actually came out last year, and I just whiffed on it because on first listen I couldn’t get past the singer’s weird pronunciations. The Montreal duo, actually brothers, teamed up with model/singer Beesley for a very catchy electronic track with an undeniable groove behind the verses, although I think when the music drops behind the choruses the song loses some momentum.

Ten Fé – In the Air. I think I’ve exhausted songs worth sharing from Ten Fé’s debut album, called Hit the Light, which has been my favorite new record of 2017 to date. (It’ll be surpassed shortly, with some big releases coming up this month and next.) Most of the songs I’ve liked from Ten Fé have had heavy new wave influences, but this one is just a straight pop song, something you might have heard on the radio as easily in 1980 as today.

Beach Slang – Bored Teenagers. These Philly punks supposedly broke up during a concert last year, then got back together and fired some members … I don’t know, I’m just here for the music. I do think it’s important that bands with “Beach” in their name deliver on that promise by playing punk or garage or even surf rock, as opposed to Beach House, who are basically just false advertising.

Bleached – Can You Deal?. They’ve doubled their membership over the last two years, adding a bassist and a drummer, and are about to release a new EP, with this punk-pop tune as the title track. It’s a bit of a slow starter, but when they hit the gas in around the midpoint it finally sounds more like a Bleached song.

Future Islands – Ran. I suppose they’ll never top their performance of “Seasons” on Letterman, but this is a good fascimile of that track, with the same pronounced bass line and ’70s soft-rock feel over a contemporary drum beat.

Depeche Mode – Where’s the Revolution. I’m a longtime DM fan, especially of their more goth-rock late ’80s heyday (think “Never Let Me Down Again,” not “Just Can’t Get Enough”), so any new single from them would make my list, but this felt a little soft for a lead single, like we got an album track instead of the song to make you want to run out and get the album.

Coast Modern – Comb My Hair. This LA duo reminds me a lot of WATERS and a little of Best Coast, with a dash of post-Pinkerton Weezer thrown in, which, uh, waters down the sound a bit. They could do with a little more complexity here, but from the handful of singles Coast Modern has put out to date I think it’s clear they have the ability to craft some solid hooks in the California indie vein.

Space Above – Let It Still. Space Above are a side project for The Naked & Famous keyboardist Aaron Short to do more experimental keyboard-driven songs, but there’s still a clear melody at work on this mesmerizing, textured single. The group’s debut album, Still, dropped on February 17th.

Strand of Oaks – Radio Kids. Timothy Showalter, who records as Strand of Oaks, seems to be at his best when writing nostalgic tunes about being a kid and listening to music. This psychedelic rock track, from his newest record Hard Love. reminds me of “Goshen ’97,” the best song off his previous album.

Mew – 85 Videos. This Danish group, whose singer calls their music “indie stadium,” is about to release its seventh album in late April, with “85 Videos” the lead single. The band has dropped the progressive trappings of its early career in favor of a more dream-pop approach with immaculate production and great technical skills, but without forsaking a good melody that wouldn’t be out of place in ’85.

Sarah Chernoff – Warm Nights. This solo debut from the lead singer of Superhumanoids shows off Chernoff’s incredible voice in a different milieu, over a bass-heavy, almost jazzy groove that’s evocative of a dark club or some sort of intimate venue for a concert. I’ll list just about anything she does on these updates.

Ride – Home Is A Feeling. Shoegaze has come back around again. Slowdive is back, Ride is back, Lush is back … I’m waiting for the Swervedriver/Catherine Wheel double bill. Ride hasn’t released a proper album since 1996, but have put out two singles in the last month – this and “Charm Assault” – presaging an album due out this summer.

Aristophanes – Humans Become Machines. Aristophanes (born Pan Wei-Ju) was introduced to the west on Grimes’ Art Angels album, where the Taiwanese rapper took the lead on the track “Scream.” It’s definitely disorienting to hear a high-pitched female voice rapping in Chinese, but Grimes produced this track, which is good enough for me.

Joey Bada$$ – Victory. The lead single from Bada$$’s upcoming second album is an ode to the NBA, which doesn’t do much for me itself, but his flow really stands out to me, even above other more popular “alternative” rappers like Kendrick Lamar or J. Cole.

CyHi The Prynce – Nu Africa. I’m not trying to change the world, I’m not looking for a nu Africa … wait, that’s the wrong song. CyHi, a frequent collaborator with Kanye West, is playing wordgames here as he tries to squeeze a slew of African country names into the lyrics (I counted 22), but there’s also a very old-school Native Tongues sort of Afrocentrism here, with an argument that black Americans should do more to help develop the “motherland.”

King Woman – Shame. You don’t see many women singing on doom metal tracks, but this is Kristina Esfandiari’s band and she is the dominant presence on this song, although I wish her vocals were produced more towards the front of the mix. It’s like Diamanda Galas doing guest vocals for Pallbearer.

Sleep – The Clarity. I didn’t realize this seminal stoner-rock act, best known for the single-track 2003 album Dopesmoker, had recorded any new material since that record, but this song first appeared on a compilation in 2014 and showed up on Spotify this week. It’s a nearly ten-minute dirge of vintage stoner metal, veering towards doom.

Ignea – Petrichor. A female-fronted symphonic/folk metal band from Ukraine, formerly known as Parallax, Ignea just released their debut album under this name, although several of these songs (including this one) have appeared previously. Their sound is fascinating, and also taught me a new word: the OED defines “petrichor” as “a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.”

Havok – Intention to Deceive. Havok are an old-school thrash outfit that draws heavily on 1980s influences like Overkill and Vio-lence, the latter of whom could easily have recorded this song – which has very timely lyrics about authorities distracting the public with trivial controversies while greater ones go unreported.

Mastodon – Show Yourself. This might be the poppiest song I’ve ever heard from Mastodon, and I don’t mean that as an insult. It’s the shortest track from the band’s upcoming album, Emperor of Sand, which comes out at the end of the month, and still has progressive/technical elements but rides on a strong vocal hook that introduces the song.

Music update, January 2017.

My rankings of the top ten prospects by position are now up for Insiders, along with just about all of my offseason prospect rankings. I also have a new boardgame review, of the complex strategy game Forged in Steel, up over at Paste.

I couldn’t find enough new music to fill out a playlist at the end of December, but the last two months combined gave me more than enough material – twenty songs and nearly an hour and a half of new stuff. The beginning of this list feels really strong with singles I’ll have on the year-end list in ten and a half months, and there’s even some good new metal stuff at the end.

If the widget below doesn’t work, you can access the Spotify playlist here.

BNQT – Restart. This supergroup has members of Midlake, Grandaddy, Band of Horses, Travis, and Franz Ferdinand, and just announced their debut album this past week. This song is great, but I don’t think it’s necessarily unique – the main line reminds me of Tame Impala’s “Elephant,” which is a compliment but makes me wonder if having so many cooks in the kitchen will lead to a sound that lacks distinctive elements.

Bad Sounds – Wages. The Guardian named Bad Sounds their best new band of the week back in November, comparing them to early Beck and hip-hop, but I hear more Madchester and baggy sounds here, especially the groups that spun those into something poppier like the Soupdragons and Space Monkeys.

The New Pornographers – High Ticket Attractions. TNP are kind of an auto-include for me, but this is very similar to the better songs from Brill Bruisers, which I loved for its open embrace of pop melodies.

Slowdive – Star Roving. This is the first new single in 22 years from these shoegaze stalwarts, who were, I think, more critically acclaimed in their day than they were ever popular – but it’s good, a classic shoegaze song that doesn’t sound outdated.

Japandroids – True Love And A Free Life Of Free Will. I was not a fan of their 2012 album Celebration Rock, which made a slew of best-of lists for that year, but their latest record, the eight-song Near to the Wild Heart of Life, is cleaner, more polished, and more overtly melodic. The title track is good, this track is good, and the seven-minute “Arc of Bar” manages to fill its length with so much interesting material that I would have guessed it was two minutes shorter than its actual running time.

Spoon – Hot Thoughts. Another auto-include artist, and this song has a good Spoon hook, although the lyrics seem a little beneath them.

Lucius – The Punisher. Lucius put two songs on my 2016 year-end list, with one track at #10, and then rolled out this new single in December, which has a couple of really good melodic lines working in concert in the song’s second half.

Daughter – The End. This song didn’t appear on the Irish trio’s album Not to Disappear, released in January of 2016, but was a bonus track on certain later editions and then showed up as a single in October. It’s similarly melancholy, bordering on depressing, but with musical twists as the song crescendoes that almost hint at hope.

Heavy English – Shake. I loved this band’s first single, 2015’s “Twenty-One Flights,” but their full album didn’t quite fulfill that song’s promise; the whole record dropped in November and other than that song this was my favorite track, bringing in some of the bluesy riffing that made the first song grab my attention.

Slime Girls – Meteor Showers. Slime Girls’ Pedro Silva calls his music “laptop pop,” but this song rocks a little more with heavier guitar lines than that term implies. Apparently he’s been putting out records for years, with four longer releases, but this is the first song of theirs to cross my desk.

Ten Fé – Twist Your Arm. At some point, this electronic pop/rock duo has to release an album, right? I think this is now four great singles, and two I didn’t love, without a full-length record. I do love their sound, clearly – they’re in the same vein as White Lies, doing a more modern twist on synth-driven new wave.

Sundara Karma – Deep Relief. Their single “The Night” was #34 on my 2016 year-end list, and like that song, “Deep Relief” reminds me a lot more of Arcade Fire than the music of their stated influence, Bruce Springsteen. If they sounded more like Springsteen, I wouldn’t have any of their songs on these lists.

Arcade Fire with Mavis Staples – I Give You Power. All proceeds from the band’s first new song since Reflektor, a collaboration with Ms. Staples, will go to help the ACLU.

Goldfrapp – Anymore. This duo’s been around for 18 years, and I could swear I’ve heard some of their music before, but can’t figure out what song(s) that might have been. Anyway, their seventh album, Silver Eye, will be out early this year.

Tei Shi – Keep Running. This Argentine-born singer/songwriter is sort of Grimes Lite, mining similar territory but without Grimes’ vast musical reach, and I think aiming for a more atmospheric sound overall.

Gone Is Gone – Dublin. Mastodon singer/bassist Troy Sanders appears twice on this list, once here and once with his main band. Gone is Gone just released, Echolocation its second album in less than a year, and while I’ve yet to go through that whole album this lead single is strong and similar to the music (like “Violescent”) from their self-titled debut.

Black Map – Ruin. This heavy-rock trio will release its debut album, In Droves, in March; the first single, “Run Rabbit Run,” was #65 on my 2016 year-end list.

Overkill – Mean, Green, Killing Machine. Overkill were one of the better true thrash acts of the 1980s that never rose to the level of the big 3 or 4 (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and maybe Anthrax) but have stayed very true to their original sounds while more popular acts have tried to evolve to chase more sales. Testament and Overkill put out the best records of any of those 1980s/1990s US metal stalwarts that released new albums in the last 24 months.

Mastodon – Sultan’s Curse. Good Mastodon songs are progressive without sounding prog-rockish. This is one of them.

Pallbearer – Thorns. These critically acclaimed doom metallers can get a little long – which is inherent in the genre – but “Thorns” is shorter, tighter, and thus really holds your attention without losing the heavy gloom that makes their music compelling.

Music update, October 2016.

October was just a fair month for new releases, albums or singles, so I stretched in a few places here, like including a couple of singles from earlier in 2016. You can go directly to the Spotify playlist or play it in the widget here:

Black Honey – Hello Today. I first featured this pop-meets-shoegaze act on a playlist back in March, but they’re certainly starting to break out in the UK and I think some airplay here is imminent. This is my favorite kind of pop track – highly textured music that offsets the sunny vocals. The Guardian compared them to Lush, one of the best pop/shoegaze fusion acts ever, which is high praise.

White Lies – Come On. White Lies mine the same territory as Joy Division, Interpol, Editors, and I’m sure a thousand teenaged English bands writing depressing lyrics, although White Lies at least contrasts the downer vocals with bombastic keyboard lines and driving guitar lines. Their latest album, Friends, dropped in October and was hit or miss; “Come On,” “Take It Out on Me,” and “Don’t Want to Feel It All” were my favorite tracks.

Regina Spektor – Grand Hotel. Either you’re going to love these lyrics like I do or find them too precious. I think Spektor’s at her best when she’s telling stories set to music, like this peculiar story of a hotel sitting atop a gate to the underworld.

Sneaks – Tough Luck. Sneaks is DC native Eva Moolchan, who makes very sparse, very weird music with terse lyrics over a bass line and a drum machine, reminding me of ’70s new wave artists like Television who had come and gone about twenty years before Moolchan was out of diapers.

Underworld – Ova Nova (Radio Edit). All the praise heaped on Daft Punk for their derivative, commercial Random Access Memories would have been better served to Underworld for their nearly thirty years of producing smarter if less radio-friendly electronic music. This edited version of a five and a half minute track from their critically-acclaimed March album Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future is just perfect – if I have a complaint about Underworld’s music it’s that their songs tend to wear their welcome out because they’re all so long.

Jagwar Ma – Slipping. This Australian band’s latest album, Every Now and Then, came out three weeks ago and remains on my to-do list, although I think this is the third track from the album I’ve included on a playlist this year (“O B 1,” “Give Me a Reason”).

Aquilo – You Won’t Know Where You Stand. A duo from Lancashire making electronic pop with vocals that sound heavily influenced by blue-eyed soul.

Temples – Certainty. The English band behind the 2013 hit “Shelter Song” will release its second album, Volcano, in March of 2017. This psychedelic-pop track is the first single and wouldn’t have been out of place in 1969.

Trashcan Sinatras – Let Me Inside (Or Let Me Out). One of my favorite bands of the 1990s put out a new album earlier this year, and it had a couple of uptempo highlights along with their usual slower, folkier stuff that never did as much for me. When the Trashcans hit on a melody, though, it seemed to elevate the band’s usual wordplay to another level entirely. I opened a recent chat with a line from their first hit, “Obscurity Knocks:” “I feel like a veteran of/oh I like your poetry/but I hate your poems.”

Little Monarch – No Matter What. Electro-soul? There’s a definitely ’70s Motown vibe beneath this electronic pop trio’s sound, despite their girl-group name, with a truly memorable keyboard riff following each chorus.

Sad13 – <2. That’s Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz, making similar music here as a solo act. Her debut album under the Sad13 album is due out on Veterans’ Day, and apparently she’s now based in Philly, so maybe I’ll run into her at Re-Animator or Elixr.

Hippo Campus – Boyish. This rousing alt-pop band from St. Paul will release its debut album, Landmark, in February of 2017. This is my favorite of their singles to date, a little rougher around the edges and less overtly poppy.

Sløtface – Empire Records. Formerly known as “Slutface,” an ironic name given the feminist bent of their songs, this Norwegian band does ’90s-style post-riot grrrl punk-pop as well as most of the American bands that tried to capitalize on the sudden commercial appeal of the Pacific Northwest, something they even parody when the singer says she’ll “play bass for Sonic Death Monkey.”

Pussy Riot – Make America Great Again. There’s been a whole slate of anti-Trump songs from rock artists lately, including an album of thirty of them, but most of the ones I’ve heard have been kind of … well, dumb. They’re condescending, almost pedantic, and unlikely to convince anyone who’s already decided to vote for Der Amerikanfuhrer. Then this Russian trio, who are really better known for getting arrested than for making good music, puts out a quirky, almost endearingly amateurish song that just sticks to the main points and follows it up with Trump’s main slogan.

NOFX – It Ain’t Lonely at the Bottom. This obnoxious punk-pop act has been offending people for over thirty years, since their first single “Thalidomide Child,” making this surprisingly tame song a little out of character. But it’s catchy.

Animals As Leaders – Arithmophobia. Highly technical, virtuosic instrumental metal. I bow before Tosin Abasi.

Testament – The Pale King. Aside from making heavier music than they once did, Testament’s sound hasn’t changed all that much over the last 25 years, and they still have the lack of clear, compelling melodies that kept them from breaking out like the Big Four of eighties thrash did. The riffing is the big appeal for me, in their classic tracks and in several standouts from last month’s release, Brotherhood of the Snake, but I know it’s a narrow appeal.

Metallica – Atlas, Rise!. Do we like this song? I actually think I like this song, even though I think it’s become uncool to like new Metallica songs (and I’m on record as saying I think their best work stopped after 1988’s …And Justice for All). It’s not a great Metallica song, per se, but it’s a good old-style thrash track that manages to justify its six-minute length.

Anciients – Following the Voice. This Canadian metal act bridges several subgenres – there are elements of thrash, progressive metal, and melodic death metal here – in a six-plus minute opus off their sophomore album, Voice of the Void. Recommended for Mastodon fans.

Dark Tranquillity – Atoma. The title track from this Gothenburg act’s latest album, due out this Friday, is straight-up melodic death metal out of that city’s school of rock, but with a strangely upbeat vibe to much of the album that it’s almost ‘bright’ compared to the rest of the genre.

Liquorworks – Then To Hell With You. I figured if I was going to put a seven-minute experimental (and instrumental) metal track on the playlist, it probably belonged at the end, because the audience for this stuff might total about twelve of us. It’s darkly atmospheric, with that low-tuned guitar riffing sometimes called “djent” that just sounds like heavy guitar work to me.

Music update, September 2016.

Just a not-very-subtle reminder that you can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon. Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter, the latest issue of which went out yesterday.

September turned out to be a huge month for new tracks, from some of my favorite alternative acts to some major names in metal, and I struggled to pare this playlist to twenty songs. It’s good to get to be selective, though. Spotify users can link to the playlist directly.

Everything Everything – I Believe It Now. A one-off single from the group, who placed two songs very high on my top 100 of 2013 and whose third album, Get to Heaven, finally appeared in the U.S. earlier this year. Their music doesn’t really sound like anybody else’s, although in this case they’ve toned down some of the lyrical insanity of their prior singles.

Wild Beasts – Big Cat. Another English band that, like Everything Everything and alt-J, makes artful, unexpected music that’s definitely rock(ish) but defies many conventions of structure and sound within the genre. Wild Beasts’ album Boy King is one of the best albums of 2016, more melodic than their previous album, 2014’s acclaimed Present Tense. This track is one of among my favorites, not least for the line “big cat top of the food chain” in the chorus.

Van William – Revolution (feat. First Aid Kit). Friend of the dish Van Pierszalowski – no relation to A.J. Pierzynski – has released his second single under the Van William moniker, separate from his main work with WATERS, and it’s a very strong, hooky folk-rock track very much in the vein of the previous single “Fourth of July.”

Grimes – Medieval Warfare. This track from the Suicide Squad soundtrack, written from the perspective of character Harley Quinn, isn’t quite up to the caliber of Art Angels, especially since she sings so much of it in that little-girl voice that killed “Oblivion” for me.

Mt. Si – Oh. That’s Sarah Chernoff of Superhumanoids on vocals for her new project, named after a mountain in Washington state. It’s more ethereal – even spacey – than her work with Superhumanoids, but her voice carries the day whatever the music. Mt. Si’s debut EP, Limits, dropped back in February.

D.A.R.K. – The Moon. Featuring the Cranberries’ lead singer and the Smiths’ bassist, D.A.R.K. released their first album, Science Agrees, last month, an understated, bass-heavy record of gothic-electronic tracks like this one, which I thought had the best hook on the record.

Dagny – Ultraviolet. This Norwegian pop singer’s “Backbeat” made my top 100 last year and has been a steady favorite of my daughter’s since the song came out; I haven’t loved Dagny’s singles this year to that extent but she definitely has a ‘sound’ that I think deserves a wider audience here than it’s gotten so far.

The Radio Dept. – Swedish Guns. Sometimes I’m putting together these lists and come across a song by an act I’ve never heard of, so I assume they’re relatively new, only to find out that, as in the case of the Swedish duo The Radio Dept., they’ve been recording for over a decade. Their fourth album, Running Out of Love, comes out later this month, and this lead single is sort of a stoner/electronic track, like dream-pop without much pop.

Little Green Cars – The Song They Play Every Night. This Irish quintet had my favorite song of 2013, “Harper Lee,” but the rest of their debut album lacked the soaring hooks of that Mamas-and-Papas-inflected track. This song, from their March album Ephemera, is subtler but no less beautiful for its understatement, while still harkening back to the earliest days of folk music from the ’60s.

Preoccupations – Stimulation. The band formerly known as Viet Cong is back under a new, less-controversial name, although they still sound a lot like early Interpol and the early ’80s post-punks who influenced that band. Preoccupations is an intense, unsettling record where there’s almost too much going on to grasp it all at once – but I think, given the band’s and album’s name, that may have been their intent.

Nick Murphy – Fear Less. Another name-changer, as Murphy previously recorded under the (stupid) name Chet Faker. The slow build here from ambient electronica to drum-and-bass chaos is made more potent by the lack of a real resolution, a la Mercury Rev’s “Hercules” from All is Dream.

Lucius – Pulling Teeth. Lucius’s sophomore album Good Grief came out in March, with a pair of strong singles in “Born Again Teen” and “Almost Makes Me Wish For Rain,” but the Brooklyn band is releasing a two-song, 10″ single with two songs that didn’t make the cut, including this track about the writer’s block they encountered while writing the album.

La Sera – Queens. The main project from Katy Goodman, the former bassist of the Vivian Girls, La Sera put out an album in March that didn’t feature any standout songs for me, but this title track from their new five-song EP is one of their best … as is the EP’s closer, a bass-heavy cover of Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.”

Mona – In the Middle. This Ohio band hasn’t released anything since 2013’s “Goons (Baby I Need It All),” but this title track from a forthcoming EP sounds like they’re aiming for more mainstream airplay without losing that slightly grating edge that’s always populated their music.

Opeth – Sorceress. These guys used to be a metal band, I swear. I know their post-metal dive into prog-rock is incredibly divisive, but they’ve produced some brilliant moments across their last two albums with nary a trace of their extreme-metal roots. This song, though, goes even further back than their ’70s progressive roots, to late ’60s/early ’70s psychelic rock, married with Sabbath-esque doom metal riffing and drum work.

Ghost B.C – Square Hammer. The best track among the five new songs on the deluxe edition of their 2015 album Meliora, featuring the Grammy-winning “Cirice,” which I mention mostly because a black-metal band won a Grammy and its singer accepted the award in corpse paint.

Alcest – Je suis d’ailleurs. I wasn’t familiar with Alcest before this record, probably because their 2013 album Shelter saw them abandon metal for straight shoegaze, where prior to that they’d been dubbed a ‘blackgaze’ band that merged black metal with shoegaze, much as the critically acclaimed (and unlistenable) Deafheaven have since done. This song finds Alcest returning to their previous blend of post-rock walls of sound and heavy but not too extreme metal, sort of like My Bloody Valentine as a post-metal act.

Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake. In a fourteen-month span from September 2015 to November 2016, the five biggest thrash bands ever (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Testament) will release new albums, making me wonder if I’ve slipped into a wormhole back to high school. Unlike those other bands, though, Testament never broke through the way the Big Four did; they had the chops, but not the hooks. Today, though, they might be the best of the five, because their sound has evolved, incorporating heavier sounds like black metal and the regrettably-named “groove metal” into their traditional thrash, which gives Chuck Billy & company more shot at creating memorable hooks. I’m cautiously optimistic.

Insomnium – Winter’s Gate, Pt. 4. I really liked this Finnish melodic death metal band’s 2014 album Shadows of a Dying Sun, but their newest album, Winter’s Gate, is a single 40-minute track that I found a little hard to get my head around. On Spotify the track is broken into more digestible chunks, and this particular one stands out as something akin to a single. Insomnium mixes clean and growled vocals well, and aren’t afraid to use some less metal instrumentation, all of which is in evidence here.

Dark Tranquillity – The Pitiless. One of the forefathers of the melodic death metal movement and its Gothenburg scene, DT will release their eleventh album, Atoma, on November 4th, their first without founding bass player Martin Henriksson. Where fellow Gothenburg acts have disappeared for two decades (At the Gates), devolved into hackneyed thrash/death territory (Arch Enemy), or just plain suck (In Flames), Dark Tranquility have expanded their sound as much as the limits of melodic death metal might allow, evident here on this very heavy track, which is highlighted by some pedal-point guitar riffing between the growled verses.

February 2016 music update.

I wrote up my thoughts on the Ian Desmond contract for Insiders. I also have a recap of this year’s new boardgame offerings at Toyfair over at Paste.

Not a great month for new music, although we did get the School of Seven Bells album, a comeback from Lush, an amazing new single from FKA Twigs, and two extreme metal tracks worth including.

The Jezabels – Come Alive. An Australian act that’s been around since 2007, the Jezabels create serious drama with the steady crescendo and bombastic finish to “Come Alive,” the lead single from their just-released third album Synthia. Unfortunately, the group just had to cancel their 2016 tour as their keyboardist undergoes urgent treatment for ovarian cancer, which does not sound good at all.

Lush – Out of Control. I loved Lush’s music back in the mid-1990s, especially when they transitioned from shoegaze to more straight-up Britpop with “Ladykillers” and “Single Girl” before disbanding. They reformed last year and have gone back to the sound that first put them on the map in the early 1990s, with the sort of shimmering, fuzzy guitar lines that got them lumped in with Ride, Swervedriver, and MBV. Lush was always a little more pop-informed than those other acts – perhaps a function of having a lead singer with a pretty voice that didn’t pair well with the waves of distortion that characterize true shoegaze.

FKA twigs – Good to Love. I was not a fan of FKA Twigs’ first full-length album, with praise that seemed more about who she was than about the quality of her music, but this is a remarkable song, showing off her voice and her vocal restraint, in a sparsely arranged ballad that’s radiates emotion.

Grace Mitchell – White Iverson. I’d never heard of Mitchell or this song before last week, and I’m only half pleased about this, because I went back and heard the original song, by yet another white pseudo-rapper appropriating black culture for profit, and it is truly atrocious. Mitchell’s cover turns it into a sinuous trip-hop track that suffers only for the ridiculousness of its lyrics.

Animal Collective – Golden Gal. Animal Collective got a little less weird on their new album, Painting With, which is why 1) I’ve listed two of its songs on monthly playlists and 2) you’re hearing their songs on the radio a little more than ever. Weird and experimental is great, but I’m not going to want to listen to it repeatedly if there isn’t some kind of hook.

Clairity – Don’t Panic. Another cover, this of one of the better yet less-known songs from Coldplay’s debut album, Parachutes. (For those of you rolling your eyes because you think of Coldplay as the atrocious pop band they are now, I promise, they weren’t always like this.) I love the new arrangement, but can’t fathom Claire Wilkinson’s bizarre pronunciation of the long ‘o’ sound throughout the track.

Bleached – Wednesday Night Melody. I always get a little Joan Jett vibe out of this trio, with big, simple riffs, although Jett’s stuff didn’t have the surfer vibe that informs a lot of Bleached’s music.

Bear Hands – 2 AM. You know, they’re right: Nothing good happens past 2 a.m.

Astronautalis – Papillion. And right on cue, here’s a white rapper, although the appeal of this song is the spacey music rather than the rhyming, where Astronautalis boasts good rhythm but generic lyrics.

Wild Nothing – Life of Pause. I’m a little disappointed in Wild Nothing’s latest album after the huge success of Nocturne, as he seems to be taking fewer risks and chasing more ’70s soft-rock sounds (when he isn’t ripping off Talk Talk as he did on the first single). This was probably my second-favorite track on the record.

Minor Victories – A Hundred Ropes. Is it a supergroup if the members come from groups that aren’t very popular in their own right? With members from Editors, Mogwai, and Slowdive, the band’s lead single sounds … well, a lot like what you’d get if you mixed Editors, Mogwai, and Slowdive. It’s good, though.

Spirit Animal – World War IV (To the Floor). If you’ve heard “Regular World,” which is way too douchebro for me to tolerate for more than a few seconds, put it out of your minds and listen to the rest of their EP, which is far less sneering and childish and brings some better riffs that bring in a few elements of funk to a hard-rock foundation.

Run River North – Pretender. The Korean-American sextet seems to have ditched the soft folk-rock style of their debut album for electric guitars and angry lyrics, perhaps not to the better, as the strongest appeal of their debut album was the harmonies that brought one or both of the two female members into the vocals.

Kero Kero Bonito – Lipslap. Their 2015 song “Picture This” should have been a huge crossover pop hit, but never caught on, so it appears the group has now gone back to their previous style, a little harder-edged J-pop with lead singer Sarah Midori Perry rapping in Japanese and English.

White Lung – Hungry. The lead single from this punk band’s upcoming album Paradise marks a big step forward in songwriting from their previous efforts, which resembled early punk rock in their semi-controlled anarchy. This is still hard-edged, but it’s also a pop song with a clearly identifiable hook, and puts Paradise on the list of albums to look forward to this spring.

School Of Seven Bells – This Is Our Time. The emotional closer to SVIIB, which I reviewed here last week.

Omnium Gatherum – Skyline. It’s been a while since I included any metal tracks on a monthly playlist, but this time we have two. This Finnish melodic death metal band employs growled vocals, but the tempo isn’t as extreme as straight-up death metal and you can pick out individual guitar lines (sometimes rather intricate) and even understand the occasional word or two. Their newest album, Grey Heavens, is a good example of the Finnish flavor of MDM, with fretwork that wouldn’t be out of place in more commercial songs.

Entombed A.D. – The Winner Has Lost. The progenitors of the death-n-roll subgenre are back, sort of, with their second album under their slightly revised name. (Hey, anything’s better than Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe.) The newish band’s sound is definitely a little heavier and less bluesy than Wolverine Blues, but the tradeoff is substantially better production values and cleaner guitar riffs, similar to what they brought on 2014’s Back to the Front.


School of Seven Bells were working on their third album when member Ben Curtis, who was half of the group along with Alehandra Deheza, was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma; ten months after announcing the diagnosis, he died of the disease in December of 2013, leaving behind much of the music that has now appeared on the group’s final album, SVIIB (amazoniTunes). Deheza, who was both Curtis’ musical partner and his former romantic partner, has done a number of interviews about the difficulty of revisiting this material and completing the album, which she did with the help of Curtis’ brother Brandon (of The Secret Machines) and producer Justin Meldal-Johnson, after taking a break from music to grieve. The resulting record is a gorgeous elegy to her late partner and their life and work together, bringing the same ethereal post-new wave style of music but with a new lyrical direction and, of course, the subtext of Curtis’ death underpinning the entire album.

The opener, “Ablaze,” is probably the most recognizably SVIIB song, teetering on the edge of upbeat dream-pop and their more traditional soundscape musical style, but when Deheza appears with the opening line, “How could I have known/the god of my youth/would come crashing down on my heart?” it’s clear that we are no longer in typical lyrical territory for the duo. It is impossible to hear Deheza singing (or sing-talking, as she does on several tracks) without thinking everything is directed at Curtis or is merely about him, whether it’s the references on “Ablaze” to Curtis relighting the spark in her life when she “had sunk into the black,” or the dual meanings on “Open Your Eyes,” one of which is directed at the partner whose eyes will never open again.

School of Seven Bells’ best tracks from their first three albums combined strong pop hooks built on layers of synthesizers and drum machines, a huge shift from Curtis’ work with his brother in The Secret Machines or as drummer for Tripping Daisy, but better built to take advantage of Deheza’s lower registers and the smoky quality to her voice. They seemed like the spiritual descendants of early Lush, but with cleaner sounds than shoegaze acts from twenty years ago, so that you could easily distinguish between the layers of music and could understand the lyrics. The first seven tracks on SVIIB all follow a similar template, most of them very successful as alternative/pop songs; “A Thousand Times More” could be a HAERTS track, while “Signals” meanders more into Chairlift/Grimes territory, but with richer textures, with a deluge of sound in the intense chorus.

And then we get to the final two tracks, “Confusion” and “This is Our Time,” where the tempo slows to match the mood of the lyrics, from elegy to eulogy, songs drenched in loss and grief. What we lose in melody we gain in emotional power as Deheza sings to Curtis’ memory over the album’s sparsest musical arrangements. She opens the latter track’s chorus with “Our time is indestructible,” but with Curtis’ passing she can only be referring to her memories of their time together, and how those can carry her forward despite her grief. I felt that the transition from seven mostly uptempo tracks to what is essentially a two-part closer with a slower pace and more funereal feel was sudden, but there’s no smarter way to organize the nine songs on the album, and pairing these two at the end makes clear the album’s dual purpose and the finality of its subject.

There are still missteps, like the lyrics to “On My Heart,” a shimmering pop song where Deheza trips herself up by eschewing the more poetic, image-laden words on the rest of the album, and her sing-talking technique starts to slip off-key. I’d much rather hear Deheza sing, even though her style is more finesse than power, given her voice’s airy, sensual quality, but it also seems like she had so much to say on some of SVIIB‘s tracks that singing the lyrics might not have left her enough time to get it all on the record. The album was probably going to receive praise anyway, because who’s going to trash an album recorded by a deceased musician and his grieving partner, but it turns out that School of Seven Bells’ swansong is their finest work to date, deserving of all the accolades it’s receiving and likely to end 2016 as one of the year’s best albums.

January 2016 music update.

My analysis of Arizona’s trade for Jean Segura is up for Insiders.

It was a huge month for new music, but it wasn’t all good – we got very disappointing albums from St. Lucia, Wet, Bloc Party, and Megadeth, among others, but some excellent albums from With Lions, Savages, Daughter, Hinds, Chairlift, and more, plus a few surprise singles from Bob Mould, the Last Shadow Puppets, Cullen Omori (ex-Smith Westerns), and HAERTS. And I haven’t even gotten to the latest from Suede, Dream Theater, or Tricky. I’ve got some work to do, but in the meantime, here are 22 songs to keep your ears busy.

With Lions – Down We Go. This Tennessee-based blues-rock trio first released this song via Soundcloud last year, but it just appeared on Spotify with the release of their newest album, the grooving, hypnotic Fast Luck (amazoniTunes).

Yeasayer – I Am Chemistry. Yep, same band that gave us the 2010 hit “O.N.E.” but nothing quite so catchy since then, at least not until this track, which sort of sounds like Yeasayer trying to impersonate Imagine Dragons or A Silent Film … but with positive results, although I’m a sucker for a song full of scientific references to poisons, from sarin to acrylonitrile to oleander.

School Of Seven Bells – Ablaze. SVIIB’s fourth and final album, just titled SVIIB, is due out February 26th, and the advance singles are incredibly promising. It’s their final album because Benjamin Curtis, who made up half the group, passed away in December 2013 at age 35 of T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. He had previously been in the Secret Machines with his brother Brandon. I’ve always found vocalist Alejandra Deheza’s voice to be haunting and melancholy, and the context of this record will only make it more so.

Bob Mould – Voices in My Head. Does Bob Mould just wake up in the morning and spit out six great melodies while brushing his teeth? “Voices in My Head” would fit in just fine on Black Sheets of Rain, and that’s high praise indeed. There are some artists whose sounds should never change, and Mould is high on that list.

The Last Shadow Puppets – Bad Habits. TLSP appeared to be a one-time side project for Arctic Monkeys’ lead singer/songwriter Alex Turner, with one great album, 2008’s The Age of the Understatement, serving as a deliberately anachronistic homage to a lost era of pop music. This lead single from their second album, due out April 1st, seems to herald a big shift in direction towards a more abrasive, harder sound. It’s very insistent, but it’s not as catchy as the better songs from their debut. In Alex we trust, though.

Courtney Barnett – Three Packs a Day. Anything by Barnett, the best lyricist in contemporary music, is an automatic add to my playlists. This is kind of midrange for her, not as dirgey as “Depreston,” not as rousing as “Pedestrian at Best.” Of course, I adore her ode to umami, “That MSG tastes good to me/I disagree with all your warnings.”

Chairlift – Moth to the Flame. I haven’t spent enough time with Moth (amazoniTunes), the duo’s first LP since 2012, but have loved several of the lead singles, including “Ch-Ching,” which made my top 10 songs of 2015, and “Romeo.” This is another very strong synth-pop single, so much smarter than what passes for pop music these days, boosted by Caroline Polachek’s lovely, acrobatic vocals.

Cullen Omori – Cinnamon. I actually did not know that the Smith Westerns had broken up (they did in 2014) until I got a press release about lead singer Omori’s first solo album, New Misery, which comes out on March 18th. This lead single isn’t SW material – it’s brighter, almost jangle-pop, heavy on reverb, and more memorable than anything SW produced.

Porches – Be Apart. Porches (the nom de tune of Aaron Maine) usually delivers dark, synth-heavy music, like someone who just listened to a little too much Bauhaus as a kid, so this song seems almost bright and sunny compared to some of their other stuff, but it still has that hint of shadow to keep things from getting too chummy.

White Denim – Holda You (I’m Pyscho). A surprisingly taut, concise track from these jazz-rock experimentalists, whose next album, Stiff, is due out in late March.

Savages – Adore. Savages’ first album, the amazing Silence Yourself, was full of short, potent, angry post-punk tracks, and flopped whenever the quartet tried to change the tempo; their second album, Adore Life (amazoniTunes), which came out on January 22nd, features longer tracks and more successful ventures into slower material. Of course, they’re still at their best when they sound pissed off, but I’m not sure that formula would have lasted more than two albums before wearing out. I owe this LP a review, but my early opinion is very positive.

Wild Nothing – Reichpop. References to Hitler’s era are in now, don’t you know? (Phil Anselmo can really go fuck himself, by the way.) I’m not sure what to make of Wild Nothing’s new material; lead single “To Know You” wasn’t shy about, er, borrowing from Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life,” and now we get this lush single that sounds for all the world like a lost Oingo Boingo track. These are great influences to have, but has Jack Tatum lost the originality that made Nocturne such a great album?

Sunflower Bean – Easier Said. I liked “Wall Watcher” a bit more, primarily because it had such a weird chorus, but this is probably the more radio-friendly track.

Hinds – Castigadas En El Granero. This quartet of Barcelona teen girls has been getting hype for what seems like two full years now, so it’s almost anticlimactic to hear an actual full-length album from the band, but Leave Me Alone (amazoniTunes) did indeed drop early in January. It’s just what you’d expect if you heard any of their EPs and singles, but perhaps a little toned-down. Their first few singles were joyously cacophanous, like they’d just picked up guitars and started strumming at random and were shouting out vocals on top of each other in this endearing, messy style. That’s lost a bit now that the ladies have better production at their disposal, but you can still get glimpses of that style in earlier singles like “Bamboo” and “Garden,” included on the album, as well as this track.

Lucius – Madness. This five-member band from Brooklyn really is the ne plus ultra of hipster bands, and I’ll admit it’s turned me off a lot of their music. (Just look at this picture of the group and tell me you think it’s a band and not some new company pretending to sell you bean-to-bar chocolate out of a disused warehouse.) The chorus on this song is very, very strong, though.

Lemaitre featuring Mark Johns – Stepping Stone. I’ve been singing Lemaitre’s praises around these parts for about two years now, and this collaboration with Mark Johns – who is a female singer from Singapore named Naomie who normally records for Skrillex’s imprint OWSLA – might be their most commercially-ready single yet.

Mass Gothic – Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me. Noel Heroux – why not just record under that name, which is great, instead of the pseudonym Mass Gothic? – used to be in Hooray for Earth, which definitely appeared on one of my 2014 playlists, but broke that band up to start a new solo project as Mass Gothic. This track is certainly unexpected – it feels like it fell out of the late 1950s, but with some more modern instrumentation, driven by a huge, hooky chorus.

The Joy Formidable – The Last Thing On My Mind. This Welsh outfit’s third full-length album, Hitch, dedicated entirely to the Will Smith/Kevin James movie (I just made that up), will be out on March 26th. I’ve liked their sound more than their songs in the past, as they’ve struggled to come up with good enough melodies to bring me back to any of their songs, so this track, with its sultry chorus, is easily my favorite to date.

Nevermen – Dark Ear. Supergroups are always groups but seldom super; Nevermen, which comprises Mike Patton (Faith No More), Tunde Adebimpe (TV on the Radio), and rapper/producer Doseone, is indeed less than the sum of its parts. “Dark Ear” shows what could have been, with the layered and almost competing lyrics, huge guitars, sonic shifts, and just a general sense of seismic unease throughout, but much of the album feels like unfinished experimentation.

Diiv – Is the Is Are. Every DIIV song sounds the same to me. But they’re mostly okay, so here’s the title track from their upcoming second LP, due out on Friday.

Boss Selection – Flip and Rewind (feat. Rashida Jones). Included primarily because that’s Ann Perkins on vocals.

HAERTS – Eva. Well, this was definitely the surprise release of the month: a three-song EP that still isn’t even mentioned on HAERTS’ official site, led by this nearly eight-minute epic that serves as a wonderful showcase for Nini Fabi’s voice and an introduction to HAERTS’ entire sound. I generally dislike songs of this length outside of the metal genre, where you get actual movements or time signature changes to keep things moving, but I didn’t even realize how long I’d been listening to “Eva” until it was well past the six-minute mark.

Not to Disappear.

Daughter, one of an increasing number of alternative artists determined to come up with the least Google-friendly name possible, first hit my radar late last year with the release of “Numbers,” the second single from their sophomore album, Not To Disappear (also on iTunes), which was just released on this past Friday. (Their debut album, If You Leave, came out in 2013 and missed my notice completely at the time, even though it peaked at #97 on the Billboard albums chart.) The English trio’s new album features ten tracks filled with spacey melodies that bring in elements of a diverse group of influences, from the Sugarcubes to alt-J to some vocal similarities to Sarah McLachlan, with musical twists that elevate some rather overwrought lyrics.

Daughter’s songs are all sparse; the band’s three members include a vocalist, a guitarist, and a drummer, with a lot of production effects to give the album that ethereal (I guess some listeners might say “stoned”) sound. The band compensates for the minimalist arrangements with major in-song shifts in texture and volume, such as the sudden tempo upshift that powers “Numbers” or the My Bloody Valentine-tinged wall of guitar in “How.” There’s a Madchester-inspired passage in “Not to Belong” that lasts less than thirty seconds, but elevates the whole song because it breaks up the spaceyness – Daughter never give us space rock (thank goodness) or ambient music, but omitting these tempo shifts would have left an album with a sedative effect, rather than the impact that Not to Disappear ends up having. The one passage that might give you some prog-rock pause, the extended outro on the seven-minute track “Fossa,” ends before it wears out any welcome – and we don’t get any excessive guitar-noodline – but it sets up the last track, the tenebrous “Made of Stone,” to be a bit of a letdown because it’s so much slower and softer than what precedes it.

The one real dud on the album, “Alone/With You,” returns to some of the flaws that plagued their first album, including lyrics best left on the cutting-room floor (“I hate living alone/Talking to myself is boring conversation … I hate walking alone/I should get a dog or something”) and a sense that the music behind the track was never properly finished. It’s a weird mid-album break, going from the worst track to the fastest and shortest song on the album, the Wire-like “No Care,” certainly one of Daughter’s best songs – the one that reminded me most of peak Sugarcubes – but an outlier in tempo and feel on an album that otherwise veers toward the mellow and contemplative.

“Numbers,” which features a little wordplay between the title and the repeated lines that begin “I feel numb,” is still the standout track here, one of two songs here that seem strongly influenced by alt-J’s debut album. (There’s a passage in “New Ways” that sounds extremely similar to the last movement of alt-J’s “Bloodflood.”) But it’s a different sound from most of the acts getting alternative airplay right now, even the surfeit of female-singer/male-band acts who seem like they’re coming right off the hipster assembly line, with this unique blend of influences producing such an interesting – I mean that in a good way – result. Not to Disappear remains an imperfect album, but with enough improvement over their earlier work that it seems to be building toward a substantial breakout in the near future.

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.