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.
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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acclaimed in their day than they were ever popular – but it’s good, a classic shoegaze song that doesn’t sound outdated.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.