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acclaimed in their day than they were ever popular – but it’s good, a classic shoegaze song that doesn’t sound outdated.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

Top 10 albums of 2016.

The last few years I’ve ranked a number of albums equal to the last two digits of the year, so I should have been due for a top 16 albums list for 2016 … but I can’t do it. I just couldn’t find that many albums I could truly recommend as complete listens, records that were mostly good from start to finish, as opposed to albums that had three great songs (Jagwar Ma’s Every Now and Then) but had a lot of filler.

I’ve always slipped one metal album on to the list for fellow fans of the heavy stuff; the best metal record I heard this year was Kodama (amazoniTunes) by French shoegaze-metalers Alcest, six songs, mostly long ones, that create a cohesive sound that carries over shifting tempos and movements and the occasional death growl. It was just a fair year in metal, I think, with a lot of well-known artists releasing albums that were pretty ho-hum (looking at you, Metallica and Megadeth). Other favorites of mine this year: Gojira’s Magma, Entombed AD’s Dead Dawn, Omnium Gatherum’s Grey Heavens, Animals As Leaders’ The Madness of Many, Dark Tranquility’s Atoma, and two I’ll suggest with reservations – Cobalt’s Slow Forever, which is brilliant musically but marred by screeched vocals a la Obituary; and Astronoid’s Air, kind of like shoegaze-death metal with clean, often harmonized vocals, but lacking much in the way of hooks.

You can see my ranking of the top 100 songs of 2016, which I posted last week and informs this list as well.

10. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (amazoniTunes). I mean, it’s a Radiohead album, so it’s brilliant and intricate and slightly experimental, but it’s also on the ambient, ethereal side of things, which, as a fan of their first three albums, I find a bit disappointing. There are two standout tracks here, “Burn the Witch” and “Desert Island Disk,” but there are plenty of other worthwhile moments on the album (like the two-step drumbeat that underlies “Identikit”) and nothing truly unlistenable.

9. Wire – Nocturnal Koreans (amazoniTunes). Barely an album at 26 minutes for eight songs, it’s essentially the discarded tracks from their 2015 self-titled album, but cleaned up with better production, and the result is a distillation of Wire’s best sounds, musically and technically.

8. The Coral – Distance Inbetween (amazoniTunes). In a year when the Stone Roses dropped two singles in an unexpected comeback, their brand of blues-heavy psychedelic rock was done better on two albums that landed in my top ten, including this one. The Coral seemed on the verge of dissolution after losing two key members in the last few years, but this album sees them back to their mid-aughts heyday of driving, throwback rock, including tracks like “Fear Machine,” “Chasing the Tail of a Dream,” and the opening track “Connector.”

7. Lapcat – She’s Bad (amazoniTunes). Experimental-ish electronic music, picking up where the xx’s first album left off (an album the xx themselves seem to have forgotten), led by Cate Coslor’s sultry vocals but powered by the sparse, atmospheric synth lines behind her. They’re apparently big Portishead fans and the influence is clear on “She’s Bad,” “Lavender,” and “Nebraska.”

6. SULK – No Illusions (amazoniTunes). This is the other Stone Roses-influenced album here, this record opens with a three-song punch that will transport you right back to “She Bangs the Drums” and “I Wanna Be Adored,” although they’re missing Ian Brown’s swagger here. Even when the melody doesn’t click, they still evoke a time and feeling with guitar lines like the one behind “Love Can’t Save You Now.”

5. White Lung – Paradise (amazoniTunes). This album was so hyped, and I bought into it completely, that I found myself a little disappointed when it came out and it was merely very good, a 60 rather than a 70. It’s smart punk, well-informed by decades of punk-pop fusions, but “Hungry” was the only single that I thought stood out on its own, although “Kiss Me When I Bleed” and “Below” are solid too.

4. School of Seven Bells – SVIIB (amazoniTunes). I tried not to bow too much to sentiment here, as this is the farewell record from SVIIB, whose founding member, Ben Curtis, died three years ago this month of lymphoma at age 35. His bandmate and former partner Alejandra Deheza returned to the studio a year later and completed the record they’d begun, producing an album of two parts. The first seven songs are typical SVIIB fare, dreamy electronica given texture by Deheza’s smoky, low-register vocals, mixing upbeat tempos with a clear sense of loss in the lyrics to songs like “Open Your Eyes,” “Ablaze,” and “A Thousand Times More.” Then the album closes with two ballads to rip your heart right out of your chest.

3. Thrice – To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere (amazon (for $5!)iTunes). That’s Riley Breckenridge of the Productive Outs podcast and the band Puig Destroyer on drums for these post-hardcore stalwarts, whose latest album was their first in five years and something of a return to heavy rock after 2011’s Major/Minor. This hits a particular sweet spot for me, as I’ve always favored guitar-driven music, even to the point of listening to some extreme metal, but also am drawn to strong melodies and smart lyrics. “Blood on the Sand” and “Black Honey” made my top 100 but I’m also a fan of opener “Hurricane” and the angry “Death from Above.”

2. Wild Beasts – Boy King (amazoniTunes). The best rock record of the year finds Wild Beasts coming down from their art-rock heights to produce their most accessible album to date, a disc devoted to the idea of toxic masculinity (“Now I’m all fucked up/And I can’t stand up/So I better suck it up/Like a tough guy would”). Their willingness to experiment is corraled here within normal song structures, and they’ve created hypnotic, twisted dance songs like “Alpha Female,” “Get My Bang,” and “He the Colossus” that fill out the record along with the slower but still catchy “Big Cat” and “Tough Guy.”

1. A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here … Thank You 4 Your Service (amazoniTunes). Another record informed by loss – founding Tribe member Phife died in March, just as the quartet were finishing the album – this isn’t merely the best record of the year, it’s one of the best records of the century and my favorite rap album of the last twenty years. Where the Tribe were always pioneers of Afrocentric lyrics and infusing jazz and other traditionally black music into their songs, they were fundamentally about peace and personal, spiritual uplift. We Got it from Here, however, finds the Tribe seriously pissed off, and their lyrics and vocabulary reflect it – but Q-Tip, Phife, and the revenant Jarobi White are as energized as ever, dropping rhymes like they never quit, like The Love Movement never happened, like the state of Black America is more important than whatever personal feud kept them apart for almost two decades. Busta Rhymes hasn’t sounded this good since The Coming. Kendrick Lamar is here. Jack White is here. Elton Fucking John sings on this record. And there are hooks everywhere – on “The Space Program,” “We the People,” “Melatonin,” “Dis Generation,” “Ego,” and more. I didn’t see this album coming, and I don’t give any record extra points for coming from an artist I love or one that’s been gone a long time. The only flaw here was that, at sixteen songs, it probably could have been shorter, but with Phife gone, I’m happy to hear everything he recorded before he left. This is almost certainly the end of the Tribe as we knew them, but what a fucking way to go.

Others I considered that didn’t make the cut – and I listened to a LOT of albums this month to make sure I had enough of a sample to put together a list at all – included sad13’s Slugger, Bob Mould’s Patch the Sky, Jagwar Ma’s Every Now and Then, Broods’ Conscious, and Daughter’s Not to Disappear.

Top 100 songs of 2016.

As with all of my music lists, this represents my personal preference. If I don’t like a song, it’s not here. That wipes out some critically-acclaimed artists’ 2016 releases entirely, including Frank Ocean, Angel Olsen, and Bon Iver. Other folks liked that stuff. I didn’t. Everything’s fine.

The top 100 playlist has all tracks ordered from 100 to 1, as usual. I have changed one thing from past years; the last three years I posted a top albums list first, and this a day later, but this year I’m saving the albums list till the following week. I started that post, realized I only had about eight albums I felt strongly about, and decided to go back and listen or re-listen to about a dozen others before writing up whatever number I can reach.

If the Spotify widget won’t display for you, you can access the playlist directly.

100. Dinosaur Jr. – Goin Down. The opening track on Dinosaur Jr.’s first album in four years, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, sounds very much like vintage Dino Jr, but the album ended up feeling repetitive to me … just like vintage Dino Jr. I like this song though.

99. HAELOS – Separate Lives. This British electronic trio produces music that is clearly influenced by 1990s trip-hop but manages to transcend that genre’s tendency towards, uh, music for the heavily stoned with faster beats and more pronounced melody lines on top of the spaced-out rhythm.

98. The Aces – Stuck. A one-off single from a then-unsigned quartet, this is one of the year’s best straight pop songs, effervescent without being cloying. I do wonder if they’ll have to change their name at some point to avoid confusion with the blues band of the same name, who backed up singer Little Walter and recorded a few songs on their own.

97. The Faint – Young & Realistic. A new single to promote their retrospective Capsule album, this is dark electronic indie music from the Omaha stalwarts and perhaps my favorite song of theirs since their 2004 record Wet from Birth.

96. D.A.R.K. – The Moon. A sort-of-supergroup, D.A.R.K. stands for Dolores (O’Riordan, of the Cranberries), Andy Rourke (of the Smiths), and Ole Koretsky (of … I don’t know what). Their first album, Science Agrees, came out in September, and it’s full of dark, moody songs like this one, light on melodies and not particularly sounding like either O’Riordan’s or Rourke’s old bands.

95. Preoccupations – Stimulation. Formerly known as Viet Cong, Preoccupations issued their first album under their new name this September, but their sound hasn’t changed, a meld of garage-rock sounds from the 1960s and early punk/guitar-driven new wave from the late 1970s. I like their overall sound more than I like their songs, and I do not stick around for the 10-minute tracks they have included on each album to date, but “Stimulation” shows their potential when they hit on a memorable melody.

94. Bastille – Good Grief. I assume I’m supposed to dislike this because Bastille is so popular, but guess what – it’s a great song, just like “Pompeii” was, and both pair a cheerful melody against a song about death and despair.

93. Sleigh Bells – I Can’t Stand You Anymore. Sleigh Bells have a critical and cult following of which I am not a member; I loved “Rill Rill” and got off the train before it derailed (derilled?) into noise-rock. This lead single from their album Jessica Rabbit, which just dropped a few weeks ago, does a better job of keeping Alexis Krauss’ voice out in front, and has a minimalist backing track led by a solid guitar riff without the trappings of some of their earlier, more dissonant works.

92. Spirit Animal – World War IV (To the Floor). Spirit Animal’s EP World War IV is as eclectic as this song, with bits from all different genres, in one measure drawing on 1970s funk, then shifting into an ’80s metal riff for the chorus.

91. Christine & the Queens – Tilted. This song first appeared in 2014 in French as “Christine” but was rereleased earlier this year in a mostly-English version, and the chorus is one of the year’s best earworms, not to mention the indelible image of the line “I’m doing my face/With magic marker.”

90. Cloves – Better Now. Kaity Dunstan, aka Cloves, made my top ten last year with her incredible piano-and-vocals track “Frail Love,” and is back now with this lead single from her debut album, due out at some point in 2017. Still just 20 years old, she should be a mainstream star by this point next year, based on her output to date.

89. Bear’s Den – Auld Wives. Bands with “Bear” in their names are almost as trendy as those with “White” in their names right now. This London duo seems to have drunk heavily on darker, gothic music since their first album of Mumford-esque folk-pop, although “Auld Wives” was the only real standout from their sophomore album.

88. Descendents – Victim of Me. I wanted to love Hypercaffium Spazzinate, the Descendents’ first album since 2004, but I just kind of liked it; it’s older, wiser (one song is called “No Fat Burger”), but a little tamer too. I still like their general sound, a poppier take on classic punk that isn’t sanitized like Green Day’s commercialized version.

87. Atomic Tom – Someone to Love. A soaring new-new-wave track that gave me a-ha flashbacks, but in a good way, with the same kind of huge energy as that branch of ’80s synth-pop, but with more guitars and less artificiality.

86. Animal Collective – Golden Gal. The song opens with a sample from the show Golden Girls, which has somehow come back around to cult popularity – if you’ve ever been in a Big Gay Ice Cream shop, you’d think the show never fell out of favor – but it’s a good example of how AC’s Painting With showed them dabbling more in conventional song structures without losing their inherently experimental style that made them distinctive in the first place. “FloriDaDa” is the best song on the album but appeared on my top 100 last year.

85. Wire – Numbered. Think of a number … Wir(e) sound remarkably young on Nocturnal Koreans, their 15th album, coming out more than 38 years after their first record Pink Flag introduced the world to “Three Girl Rhumba,” to which this new track alludes in multiple ways. Wire remain cynical post-punksters who seem to drop melodies almost in spite of themselves, and their latest album, only 26 minutes long, was one of the year’s best.

84. Daughter – No Care. Daughter’s album Not to Disappear tended more towards lugubrious quietcore, but this one track brings a manic, angry energy that breaks up the album. The way the song seems about to careen out of control puts the lie to its title and chorus, as if the lady, singer Elena Tonra, doth protest too much.

83. The Wans – Run Baby Run. A hard-rock trio from Nashville with some blues or even country underpinnings, like the Black Keys did a few lines and got angry. This is meant as a compliment.

82. Kate Nash – Good Summer. I miss the lyricist behind “Foundations,” but I still love Nash’s voice and she has a knack for crafting a pop hook, even though this bit of candy veers towards bubblegum more than I’d like.

81. Black Honey – All My Pride. This female-fronted post-punk act from the UK appears twice on my list, not including the song “Black Honey” by a completely different band. If you were into White Lung, who also appear here, you’d like Black Honey, which has a similar vibe with maybe 10% less rage.

80. Lucius – Pulling Teeth. Lucius are weird, practically a walking stereotype of Brooklyn hipster musicians, but they had a huge year in 2016, with an album in March, Good Grief, that had a couple of outstanding singles on it, and this track from an upcoming 10″ along with “The Punisher.” If you can get past the superficial stuff, Lucius actually produces some really novel pop sounds that draw upon many different eras going back to the 1950s.

79. Broods – Free. I could listen to Georgia Nott sing just about anything – and she’s not too hard on the eyes either – but this duo’s new album marked a significant change in direction from their debut record, which made my top albums of 2014, bringing bigger production values, more electronic elements behind her vocals, and a clear right turn towards commercial pop. I worry they’ve lost a little of what made their debut special to try to appeal to a broader audience, but two core facets are still here – Nott’s voice and strong vocal melodies.

78. The Big Pink – Hightimes. Nothing will ever match “Dominos,” but this was a solid return from The Big Pink after years of meh singles that followed their kick-the-doors-down debut track.

77. Mt. Si – Oh. This new project from Sarah Chernoff of Superhumanoids, an absolutely superb vocalist, dropped a four-track EP in February that showcases her voice with sparser electronic backing than she’d get with her regular gig.

76. Halsey – Castle. Halsey’s everywhere thanks to that awful song she did with the Chainsmokers – who are on my short list for Worst Artists of 2016 along with Twenty-One Pilots and DNCE – but this track, released as a single this spring thanks to its inclusion in the dud film The Huntsman, is both a great showcase for her voice’s smoky qualities and the swirling melody in the chorus.

75. Grimes – Medieval Warfare. A mediocre Grimes song is still better than a good song by a lot of other artists; this track, which sounds like a B-side from a single off Art Angels, appeared on the Suicide Squad soundtrack.

74. Hey Violet – Brand New Moves. Get used to this group, as I think they’re about to break through as a pure-pop act aimed at teenaged listeners, with their abysmal “Guys My Age” already getting some airplay and their label the new one formed by the 5 Seconds of Summer boybanders. “Brand New Moves,” the title track from their latest EP, is by far their most sophisticated song, with elements of R&B and even some darkwave distinguishing it from the pure-pop crowd.

73. of Montreal – it’s different for girls. If you can handle Kevin Barnes’ idiosyncratic vocal delivery – before I knew this band was from Athens, Georgia I assumed they were from another country – of Montreal creates some compelling experimental pop music, sometimes exasperating but sometimes clicking, as it does on this comical semi-feminist track.

72. Lush – Out of Control. A very quiet comeback from these early 1990s shoegazers who had a brief moment in the sun with their modest alternative hit single “Ladykiller” back in 1995, but one that found Lush moving back to its Spooky/Split roots.

71. Chairlift – Romeo. Their best song to date, “Ch-Ching,” made my top 10 of 2015; the album Moth didn’t quite live up to the expectations set by the lead single, but this was the second-best track on the record.

70. Regina Spektor – Grand Hotel. Just vocals and piano, with Spektor managing to craft something of a story, heavy on physical imagery, about a hotel that has a direct connection to the underworld.

69. Dawes – When the Tequila Runs Out. This has a little bit of a novelty-hit feel to it, but I’m not averse to novelty hits if they’re smart and still catchy.

68. Wild Beasts – Tough Guy. Get used to this band, as they’re going to show up again on this list; Boy King was the best rock album of the year. Wild Beasts was always an experimental outfit, a la alt-J or Everything Everything, but on this latest album they toned down a little bit of the madness to create more compact, accessible songs that are still way out of the mainstream.

67. Thrice – Black Honey. Another of my favorite albums of the year, Thrice’s post-hardcore To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere had a bunch of standout tracks, including this one, the complex opener “Hurricane,” and one more song higher up this list. I feel like Thrice has taken up the mantle of bands like Clutch or Corrision of Conformity fell off, making music that clearly descends from hardcore but works with slower tempos and real hooks. Full disclosure: I know their drummer, and perhaps so do you, as it’s Riley Breckinridge of the Productive Outs podcast.

66. The Struts – Kiss This. I like this song. Don’t @ me.

65. Black Map – Run Rabbit Run. This group’s members are all parts of other bands I’ve never heard of, so forgive me if I balk at Wikipedia (which is never wrong) terming them a “supergroup.” This is an extremely catchy hard-rock song with a real bluesy riff underpinning it.

64. Banks & Steelz – Giant. So many of these rap/rock partnerships turn out to be disasters that I was shocked when this one – Paul Banks of Interpol and RZA of Wu-Tang Clan – produced a couple of decent songs, including this one, which is probably the strongest rap performance I heard from RZA on this record. Ghostface Killah also appears on the lead single, “Love + War,” although I found the chorus to that song really week.

63. Leagues – Dance with Me. This Nashville outfit had a couple of minor hits in 2013 with “Spotlight” and “You Belong Here” and returned this fall with Alone Together, which has a similar sound that blends indie and electronic sounds with alt.country tempos and riffing. I like their way of bringing those styles together, as it’s less cloying than other bands that try to mash them up into something pop, but Leagues hasn’t found the commercial success they deserve yet.

62. Car Seat Headrest – Fill in the Blank. So everyone comments on the funny intro to this song, which sounds like a college student on the campus radio station announcing the next song, which is by some artist she’s never heard of so she has to look it up. I think that’s genuinely funny … the first time. And then it’s never funny again. I also was totally underwhelmed by this album, which is making a lot of folks’ top ten lists for the year, between Will Toledo’s whiny voice and the fact that it sounds like it was recorded in a storage locker. That’s a lot of words about not liking Car Seat Headrest, but I think this song has a good hook.

61. Hippo Campus – Boyish. Minnesota indie-rockers who sound nothing like Prince, which I thought was illegal if you were from the Twin Cities or something. The pairing of the keyboard line and the vocal melody gives this song its most persistent hook, more than the call-and-response act in the chorus. Their debut album, Landmark, is due out on February 24th.

60. Suede – Outsiders. Anderson, Oakes, and company have put out a couple of solid albums the last couple of years for an unexpected second act that will never match their “Metal Mickey” heyday but brings some lyrical and musical maturity to their Britpop roots, even hitting the top ten in the UK. There’s a real sense of yearning and loss in a lot of songs from these two records, as on “Outsiders,” which marries some great guitar work from Oakes with melancholy vocals from Anderson.

59. Temples – Certainty. Temples’ second album is due out in March, with this as the teaser first single, driven by an organ riff after the chorus that reminds me of the earliest output of the Charlatans and their own reliance on a Hammond organ on their debut record.

58. Sad13 – <2. That’s Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz, who have a song much further up this list; she issued her solo debut, Slugger, this summer, and it sounds a lot like Speedy Ortiz’s two albums to date, which is a good thing – melody and anti-melody, often using dissonant sounds, vocals that seem to be fighting the music at times but always manage to come together by the end of the song. If anything, “<2” is a bit more melodic than the best Speedy Ortiz songs (like “Tiger Tank”), but if you liked her work before the solo album you’re going to like this.

57. The Kills – Doing It to Death. It’s not quite “Sour Cherry,” but what is? Jamie Hince’s guitar work is really the star of the song, even overshadowing Alison Mosshart’s vocals when the latter are mixed toward the front of the track.

56. Jagwar Ma – Give Me a Reason. Jagwar Ma are an Australian indie-pop trio, and they’re only “indie” in the sense that they haven’t really broken through yet – this is great, smart, complex music that would fit in fine on pop radio except for the fact that it’s better than almost everything else on those stations. “Give Me a Reason” sounds like a lost Madchester track that’s been remastered but would rank among the best songs by the Happy Mondays or the Inspiral Carpets.

55. ELEL – Animal. This eight-member outfit finally released their first full-length album, Geode this fall, including their minor hit “40 Watt” from last year and this song, my favorite from them to date, which encapsulates their mixture of soul and Caribbean rhythms into typical rock song structures.

54. Hundred Waters – Forgive Me for Giving Up. Hundred Waters had my #1 album of 2014, then released this one-off single this year, along with a very weird remix of their song “Show Me Love” that included Chance the Rapper. (I didn’t like it.) This song is more like HW’s other output, using Nicole Miglis’s potent vocals as another layer of melody.

53. White Lies – Come On. This is unapologetic ’80s new wave revival music, one of the two best tracks on their October album Friends, along with “Don’t Want to Feel It All.”

52. Nani – I Am Volcano. They describe themselves as “manic-wave,” but this sounds like very early post-punk to me, like what Siouxie Sioux might have produced had she stayed in a more guitar-driven direction than going towards what would become new wave. I think this is a band to watch.

51. Jeff Beck – Live in the Dark. Yes, that’s the Jeff Beck, the 72-year-old guitar virtuoso and author of the song “Constipated Duck.” His Loud Hailer was his first album in six years, and he hasn’t lost anything as a guitarist or author of memorable licks. Singer Rosie Bones (of the London duo Bones, with guitarist Carmen Vandenburg, who also appears on this album) can get in the way of Beck’s work sometimes, but on “Live in the Dark” her deep, bluesy vocals complement his work and turn what he’s called a “guitar nerd” sort of track into a viable radio single.

50. The Temper Trap – Fall Together. TT’s best song since their 2008 hit “Sweet Disposition” also carries a big chorus and anthemic feel tailor-made for playing to a big stadium crowd in their home country of Australia.

49. The Coral – Fear Machine. I thought the Coral’s album Distance Inbetween was one of the best of the year, and a criminally underheard rock record that particularly satisfies me as someone who grew up on the hard rock of the ’70s and ’80s but bailed on the stylized, overproduced groove and rap-metal acts of the 1990s. The Coral quaffed deeply on what was called metal in the 1970s and this song grooves in a way that so-called “groove metal” doesn’t. Recommended if you like Band of Skulls.

48. Last Shadow Puppets – Bad Habits. LSP’s surprise second album left me pretty cold other than this one single, and even this isn’t close to “Standing Next to Me,” the glorious throwback single from their first album. Alex Turner is capable of better.

47. Trashcan Sinatras – Let Me Inside (Or Let Me Out). I loved the first two albums from these Scottish folk-rockers, which produced alternative hits like “Obscurity Knocks” and “Hayfever” (the latter featured in a Beavis and Butthead episode). Wild Pendulum, their first album in seven years, leans more towards the folkier side of their sound, but the first three songs on the album have a little more energy to them, like their best singles from their 1990s period did.

46. School of Seven Bells – Ablaze. The farewell album from SVIIB was finished after the death of member Benjamin Curtis, who recorded with partner Alejandra Deheza up until a few months before leukemia ended his life; Deheza returned to the studio after taking over a year away from music and completed the album, which is a tremendous, emotional record in its own right, and a fitting tribute to Curtis. SVIIB never broke through as they deserved, but I hope this album will find its audience in time given the presence of several great singles and the crushing suite of ballads that closes the record.

45. FREAK – Nowhere. I wrote in November’s playlist how FREAK has been compared to Nirvana, but I don’t hear that as much as I hear Drenge and Royal Blood and other stripped-down British garage-rock acts, maybe with a little more hard-rock edge to it.

44. KONGOS – Take It From Me. The South African (by way of Arizona) quartet behind the 2012 hit “Come With Me Now” put out a presciently-titled album called Egomaniac this summer, featuring more of their kwaito-infused rock; this received moderate airplay but I thought it was the best song and most radio-friendly single from that full-length.

43. Stone Roses – All for One. It’s not vintage Stone Roses – if it were, it would probably be in my top five – mostly because someone seems to have emasculated Ian Brown between Solarized and his reunion with John Squire, whose guitar work sounds pretty much as it did in his abortive efforts with the Seahorses.

42. Corinne Bailey Rae – Stop Where You Are. Rae’s first album in six years, The Heart Speaks in Whispers, was a welcome return for one of the most beautiful voices in music, absent since the album she recorded after her husband’s death in 2008.

41. Van William – Revolution. Van Pierszalowski of WATERS recorded two songs as Van William this year, with help from First Aid Kit on this folky track, although it’s still very clearly the same voice (literally and figuratively) behind WATERS’ hooks and lyrics. Full disclosure: Van’s a Dodgers fan and a fan of third-wave coffee, like I am, and we’ve chatted about both a number of times over the last year-plus, so I won’t pretend to be objective here.

40. SULK – Black Infinity (Upside Down). It’s a better Stone Roses song than either of the songs the re-formed Roses released this year, although in this case I’m talking first album Roses more than second.

39. Monica Heldal – Coulda Been Sound. Heldal’s vocals remind me of Kat Edmondson’s bubbly, evocative style, and the fingerpicked acoustic guitar here would have fit perfectly on Ben Howard’s 2011 Mercury Prize-nominated album Every Kingdom.

38. Lapcat – She’s Bad. I need to spend more time with the new album by this Swiss-American electronica trio; this title track features a hypnotic guitar line over a classic trip-hop rhythm that could easily have come off Massive Attack’s Mezzanine.

37. Ten Fé – Overflow. Still waiting for a full-length album from this new wave-ish duo, who’ve produced a couple of great singles so far in the same vein as White Lies.

36. Drowners – Pick Up the Pace. Named for a Suede song, this quartet had a couple of songs I liked in 2013 that appeared on their debut album, but this year’s On Desire was a relative letdown, sounding too derivative of their Britpop idols without enough hooks like the ones that drive the chorus and bridge of this track.

35. DMA’s – Too Soon. This Australian band sounds right out of mid-90s Britpop, to the point that Noel Gallagher (ex-Oasis) said he’d “boo them” when he saw them at an event where his new band was playing with the DMA’s. I’m over the antics of the brothers Gallagher, and the hackneyed music they put out now, but this DMA’s track does a pretty good impression of that particular moment in music time without coming off as unoriginal (the way Drowners can).

34. Sundara Karma – The Night. A British band (from Reading) whose members cite Bruce Springsteen as an inspiration, although I don’t hear that directly in this swirling, yearning song, more like a focused version of Arcade Fire’s brand of slow indie-rock.

33. Porches – Be Apart. I can be pretty harsh on songs that have this kind of sound, like a bunch of kids playing around with their first Casiotone keyboard, but man this song, from Porches’ album Pool, is just creepy as hell and that makes it great.

32. Thrice – Blood on the Sand. The best pure single off Thrice’s To Be Everywhere is Nowhere, although I think their album as a whole rewards full listens.

31. Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life. I’ve said before I wasn’t a big fan of Japandroids’ critically acclaimed 2012 Celebration Rock album, which I thought was more noise than melody and lacked the big hooks I’d expect from an album with such plaudits. This lead single and title track from their upcoming album is far more memorable, with the vocals getting more emphasis in the production as well.

30. Swet Shop Boys – Tiger Hologram. The unexpected partnership between actor Riz Ahmed (The Night Of and Rogue One) and Heems (ex-Das Racist.) produced this alternative rap gem that seems to nod to Indian music but is firmly grounded in the shorter musical lines of American hip-hop. Riz outrhymes Heems here, but it’s the repeated synth line that hooked me on this track.

29. Sløtface – Empire Records. Punk-popsters from Norway who had to change their name from Slutface because no one wanted to write about a band called Slutface. I think they’re better off this way. This is the title track from their four-song EP, with a full-length album to come in 2017.

28. Dinosaur Pile-Up – Nothing Personal. Finally released in the U.S. this year, nine months after it first appeared in their native UK, Dinosaur Pile-Up’s Eleven Eleven yielded this very Nirvana-esque rocker with a driving core riff. There’s some good heavy stuff on Eleven Eleven, like “Willow Tree” and “Anxiety Trip,” although I found their slower or lighter material more like bad grunge.

27. Frightened Rabbit – Get Out. These Scots received a lot of favorable reviews for their latest album, Painting of a Panic Attack, but I thought most of the record lacked any clear hooks or strong melodies, with the exception of this song, which perfectly balances their normal folk-rock sound (think early Belle & Sebastian) with a cathartic release in the chorus.

26. White Lung – Hungry. This Vancouver punk act seemed poised for a big breakthrough with their 2016 album Paradise, which featured a couple of strong advance singles, including this one, and very positive reviews, but it sank without a trace here in the U.S. That’s a shame, as it’s made a number of publications’ best albums of the year lists and will be on mine as well.

25. The Head & the Heart – All We Ever Knew. TH&H seem to be good for one really great song per album, which isn’t to say their other stuff is terrible, just that I find a lot of it to be repetitive, and maybe too folky for me. This song has a couple of good hooks and the violin lines in the bridge bring real textural interest to a part of the song that might have been an afterthought.

24. Yeasayer – I Am Chemistry. I stand for science, and songs about science, or songs that just make a lot of allusions to science. Also, this song is really mesmerizing to listen to.

23. Broods – Heartlines. I noted above that Broods seemed to aim for a wider audience with their sophomore album, but there’s still enough of their atmospheric sound on the record to retain me as a fan, along with Georgia Nott’s outstanding vocal work.

22. Bob Mould – Voices in My Head. Hüsker Dü’s lead singer bounced back with a surprising return to his power-pop roots on Patch the Sky, an album that fits in the space between his first band and the short-lived Sugar; it’s as if Mould can’t help but write one memorable guitar riff after another, and this song, “The End of Things,” and “Hold On” rip open the album in fine form for someone who should be thirty years past his peak.

21. Black Honey – Hello Today. God, this song makes me miss Velocity Girl.

20. Wild Beasts – Get My Bang. I could probably have stuffed five Wild Beasts songs on the top 100 but I settled for three. It’s probably sacrilegious to say a band of four British white guys is continuing the tradition of funk-electronic-pop founded by Prince, but the way they’ve amped up the bass here bears his unmistakable influence. I could even see Prince writing about toxic masculinity, the overarching theme of their album Boy King.

19. Bat for Lashes – Sunday Love. Natasha Khan, who records as Bat for Lashes, wrote an entire concept album called The Bride about a woman whose fiance is killed en route to their wedding. It’s depressing as hell. This is a beautiful song, though, even though it’s about grief.

18. HAERTS – Eva. The longest song I’ve ever included on a year-end list, this nearly eight-minute opus is really a great four-minute HAERTS song with a three-minute instrumental outro.

17. With Lions – Down We Go. Never look back, Sister Sociopath. Heavy southern blues-rock that just grooves like there’s a foot on the accelerator the whole time.

16. ATCQ – We The People. The first single from the Tribe’s triumphant final album is an angry rant about black lives not mattering, with a hint of defeat about the political climate that isn’t supporting the change we need.

15. Van William – Fourth of July. A slice of sunny acoustic pop that Van Pierszalowski released this summer, his first song under the Van William moniker, although the upbeat guitar work and the various “whoa-oh-oh-oh’s” mask some dark lyrics about losing one’s faith.

14. Gone is Gone – Violescent. A new side project featuring the lead singer of Mastodon and one of the guitarists from Queens of the Stone Age, Gone is Gone has produced a short album and a couple of singles already in the last year, music that’s a little heavier than straight stoner rock but I think not fast enough to be called metal. This song is my favorite by them to date; they take the depressed-grunge sound of Alice in Chains and tune it down, with heavier, less slick production.

13. The Naked & Famous – Higher. I’ve liked TNAF’s sound but compared them unfavorably to CHVRCHES, who mine similar territory with better results. This, however, is a real standout track from the New Zealand group, their best song to date, an anthemic work with a pulsing synth line and shout-along chorus.

12. Phantogram – You Don’t Get Me High Anymore. The duo really dug deep for the title of their third album, Three, which featured this lead single comparing a lover to a drug in the most unflattering of terms.

11. School of Seven Bells – Open Your Eyes. Released too late for my 2015 top 100, this song from SVIIB hit the perfect melange of poignancy for late bandmember Ben Curtis and the spacey electronica the duo made on their previous three albums. Alejandra Deheza’s whispered lyrics seem so much more melancholy in the context of her former romantic and professional partner’s death.

10. Lucius – Almost Makes Me Wish for Rain. It’s not quite Shirley Manson saying she’s only happy when it rains, but Lucius has managed to craft a clever song about looking for the bad when everything’s good – to the point of an inability to just be happy in the moment – in a song that infuses indie-pop with a healthy dose of Motown.

9. Bear Hands – 2AM. I mean, the core message of the song is an essential truth: Nothing good happens past two a.m. It’s less of a rock song than their previous alternative radio hits “Agora” and “Giants,” and there’s real craft in its crescendo from the ambling verse, like a drunkard who’s stayed too long at the party, to the voice of conscience in the tight chorus.

8. Jagwar Ma – O B 1. It’s a slow build, but a big payoff in Jagwar Ma’s best song to date, a minute and a half to the two-stage chorus that turns the song’s rhythm and tempo on their heads. Unlike their first hit, “Save Me,” which was great for three minutes but then seemed like a song that couldn’t find the exit, this one keeps the beat going strong right past the five-minute mark thanks to the long intro and the layered backing music.

7. FKA Twigs – Good to Love. I hated FKA Twigs’ highly-regarded but, in my opinion, utterly juvenile debut LP1, which showed she had many influences and could use them to curse in lots of different musical styles. Then she blew me away with this stunningly gorgeous ballad. “I’ve got a right to hurt inside.” Yes, you do whatever you need to do, just keep writing music like this, please.

6. Wild Beasts – Big Cat. Boy King was one of the best albums of the year, and if you listen to this and don’t find yourself singing “Big cat top of the food chain” over and over for hours, you might be tone-deaf.

5. Everything Everything – I Believe It Now. I’ve lumped Everything Everything with Wild Beasts and alt-J as British bands doing experimental things within alternative rock’s frameworks, with Wild Beasts veering towards art-pop and Everything Everything writing the musical equivalent of Zadie Smith’s hysterical realism. This one-off single, written for British soccer telecasts, is their most focused track yet, a huge, bombastic anthem that finds the quartet keeping themselves just a shade more under control than usual.

4. Speedy Ortiz – Death Note. Go figure: Speedy Ortiz’s best song so far was a rejected track from 2015’s Foil Deer that they released as a one-off this spring.

3. Glass Animals – Life Itself. Glass Animals always does interesting things with their percussion, but I haven’t thought much of their songwriting to date because they seemed more focused on being weird than writing tight songs. This, though, flattened me on first listen. It’s a perfect pop song, with multiple melodic elements, witty lyrics, and, of course, interesting percussion sounds.

2. ATCQ – Dis Generation. It’s about as close as we’ll ever get to a “Scenario” reunion, with Q-Tip, Phife, Jarobi White, and Busta Rhymes rapping fast, with each other, over each other, around each other, and, in Busta’s case, back and forth to himself. It’s the best he’s sounded in twenty years, and the energy of the studio is palpable in every line. Jarobi “imbibing on impeccable grass.” Tip making “a jubilant noise” and praising the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt as “extensions of instinctual soul.” Busta Rhymes rhyming “In the church of Busta Rhymes, it’s my sermon you’re getting/Horizontal spittin’, I’m the exorcist of your writtens/’Don’t interrupt me n****!’/Sorry, that’s the sin I’m forgivin’.” And Phife, may he rest in peace, reminding us all that “we still the highest of commodity grade.” Yes, you were, and will forever be.

1. Radiohead – Burn the Witch. No song this year stayed with me like this one; their album A Moon Shaped Pool was too tepid for my tastes, but the interplay between the strings and Thom Yorke’s vocals – reminiscent of his work on P.J. Harvey’s “This Mess We’re In” – is like a surge of electricity that won’t stop, and some of the lyrics, including the line that “this is a low-flying panic attack,” stand as reminders of the art that Radiohead is capable of producing.

Music update, November 2016.

November was very strong both for new album releases and for singles that preview albums we will see in January and February of next year, but really, this was about the Tribe, y’all. If you can’t see the embedded player below, you can click here to get directly to the Spotify playlist.

A Tribe Called Quest – We The People… The Tribe’s return this month on We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service was a welcome comeback from one of the towering lights of the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, tinged with sorrow from the March death of founding member Phife Dawg, who died near the end of the recording process. Q-Tip sounds as good as ever, and Jarobi White’s first appearance with the Tribe since the group’s debut album provides a low-register voice to balance Tip and Phife’s higher deliveries. The album is full of rage, true to the quartet’s Afro-centric roots but with an angry, cynical worldview they didn’t have or need on their earlier albums. This is the record of the year, and it is very much a document of our time.

Ten Fé – Overflow. This London duo does a modernized riff on classic, synth-heavy new wave, and this single, which I believe is their fifth so far, is perfect if you like the music of White Lies.

Japandroids – Near To The Wild Heart Of Life. I did not share the industry consensus on Japandroids’ 2012 album Celebration Rock, which I thought was too much noise and not enough rock. This first single ahead of their next album’s release on January 27th shows better production values and a tighter sense of melody than anything I heard off their last record.

Sundara Karma – The Night. Sundara Karma are a quartet from Reading – the one in England, not the one near me – that seem to fit in somewhere between late Britpop and the sort of traditional American arena-rock now exemplified by Kings of Leon. “The Night,” from their debut EP Loveblood, definitely leans more toward the American half of that formula, with a blues-rock underpinning and the sort of yearning sound I associate with KoL’s slower material.

Milky Chance – Cocoon. After 2015’s “Stolen Dance,” I sort of assumed we’d never hear anything decent from Milky Chance again; between that song’s novelty sound and their awful band name, they had one-hit wonder written all over them. “Cocoon” is actually a pretty good song, though – not quite as catchy as their first hit but catchy enough to be a hit on its own.

Sleigh Bells – I Can’t Stand You Anymore. Sleigh Bells, like Japandroids, tend to be too noise-oriented for me, often reminding me of the worst sound excesses of 1990s “industrial” music. Alexis Krauss has a great voice that I’ve always thought ill-fitting for the duo’s musical style, but when they pursue a more pop-oriented direction, as here or on their first hit, “Rill Rill,” her vocal combination of power and sweetness provides the perfect contrast.

Cloves – Better Now. Cloves is an auto-inclusion after her 2015 song “Frail Love,” which made my top ten tracks of the year. “Better Now” is the first release from her forthcoming full-length debut, still raw and very dark but with some textural contrast between the chorus and the nearly a capella verses.

Grace VanderWaal – I Don’t Know My Name. I don’t know how you could have missed her, but VanderWaal just won the most recent season of America’s Got Talent and released her debut EP, Perfectly Imperfect, on December 2nd. She wrote the music and lyrics for all five songs on the record. She’s twelve years old. Simon Cowell said she’s the next Taylor Swift and I don’t think that was usual TV hyperbole.

Hey Violet – Brand New Moves. Formerly known as Cherri Bomb, this LA-based quintet has gone from opening for the defunct alt-rock band Lostprophets to opening for the awful boy-band 5SOS, neither of makes much sense if you listen to their latest EP, their first recording under their new name. This is funk/soul-tinged pop music, definitely smarter musically than you’d expect from a group touring with a boy band, with lyrics inappropriate for the tween crowds I assume they were facing.

FREAK – Nowhere. English singer Connar Ridd records as FREAK and toured with Sundara Karma earlier this year. I saw a review that compared this track to Nirvana’s Nevermind, but FREAK is more Mudhoney than Nirvana, or if you’d like a more contemporary reference, it sounds a lot like the better tracks from Drenge’s self-titled debut.

Lapcat – She’s Bad. A Swiss-American electronica trio, Lapcat just released its third album, and this title track has the same hynoptic vibe of Portishead and early trip-hop stalwarts like Massive Attack or Tricky, but with a more accessible sound than either of those latter two acts brought.

Peter Doherty – Kolly Kibber. The Libertines’ ne’er-do-well singer/guitarist is not dead yet and appears to have a solo album in the works. There’s no mistaking Doherty’s voice or his style, although he tends to pack better punches than this song delivers.

Gone Is Gone – Gift. This ‘supergroup,’ featuring members of Mastodon, QotSA, and At the Drive-In, appeared on my May playlist with their strong, stoner-rock debut track “Violescent,” part of an eight-song EP, and they’re already back with a track from their first full-length album, Echolocation, due out January 6th.

Run The Jewels featuring BOOTS – 2100. I’m also on record as being something less than a fan of Run the Jewels’ profane lyrics, most of which are boasting about what great rappers they are (they’re not) or about their guns. If you haven’t heard RtJ before, you’ve at least heard one half of the duo, Killer Mike, who delivered the middle and by far the worst verse on Outkast’s 2002 hit “The Whole World.” RtJ’s third album is due out soon and I can at least say that this is the best song I’ve heard from the group, boosted by the presence of producer/singer BOOTS, who helped produced the group’s last album and whose track “I Run Roulette” appeared on one of my monthly playlists in 2015.

Black Map – Run Rabbit Run. Wikipedia identifies Black Map as “post-hardcore,” and what in the fuck is post-hardcore music? This isn’t hardcore, or anything like it; it’s hard rock, just this side of metal. It would fit on Octane, and it wouldn’t be out of place on Liquid Metal. There’s a bass-and-drum riff in the chorus here that feels derived from more extreme genres, but there’s an actual harmony in the vocals in the bridge, and a better sense of melody than you’d get from most post-whatever bands right now.

Pissed Jeans – The Bar Is Low. So, this is a bad name for a band, and I don’t love a lot of their songs because the lead singer often sounds like he’s gargling a pack of razor blades. You can actually understand what he’s saying and tolerate his voice on this track, though.

Sumerlands – The Seventh Seal. A reader recommended this group, which brings the big guitar sounds of NWOBHM and early ’80s metal but doesn’t have the same strong melodies of classic Maiden or Priest. This track was my favorite off their self-titled debut album, thanks to the memorable opening guitar riff.

Animals As Leaders – Backpfeifengesicht. More instrumental metal wizardry from Tosin Abasi & friends.

Hammerfall – Bring It!. Hammerfall hail from Gothenburg, home of a specific type of melodic death metal known, but they’re a throwback speed-metal band that just released its tenth album, Built to Last, at the start of November. If you remember the first two albums by German speed-metal titans Helloween, this song could easily be a leftover track from those recording sessions.

Kreator – Gods of Violence. I tweeted about this song a few weeks ago – Kreator’s core members are all nearing or just over 50, and they dropped one of the year’s best metal tracks. Kreator was probably the first extreme-metal band to which I was ever exposed, thanks to MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball, which would play the psychedelic videos for their early songs “Betrayer” and “Toxic Trace;” I also remember hearing “Some Pain Will Last” in college but lost track of the band after their 1990 album Coma of Souls as they evolved away from classic thrash metal. It appears that they’ve gone back to their classic sound, but better production values and some real songcraft make “Gods of Violence,” which incorporates some death-metal elements but is still undeniably thrash, as compelling as any of their 1980s tracks.

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.

Music update, August 2016.

First, some non-music links – my thoughts on the Yoan Moncada promotion for Insiders, and my review of the coop murder-mystery boardgame Mysterium for Paste.

August was pretty fertile for new releases – I ended up cutting a few songs from the list this time around – with a number of singles out previewing albums due to drop in the next six weeks. I feel like overall this is the worst year for strong albums in a while, but it’s at least a solid-average year for great tracks. We still have time for something to grab me as the clear album of the year, though, so I’m trying to keep a positive attitude and take it one playlist at a time. Spotify users can use this direct link to the playlist if the widget doesn’t show up.

Swet Shop Boys – Tiger Hologram. If the voice with the British accent sounds familiar, that’s Riz Ahmed, the actor who played Naz on HBO’s The Night Of, paired here with Heems (ex-Das Racist) over a beat that was the best bit of new music I heard all month. The New Yorker profiled the duo ahead of the release of their debut album, Cashmere, in October.

Dinosaur Jr. – Goin Down. This is my favorite track right now from their new album, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, mostly because it just rocks and that’s when I’ve tended to like their music and not find myself bothered by J Mascis’s vocals.

Dawes – When The Tequila Runs Out. This song is just goofy-fun, more upbeat than stuff I’ve heard before from the brothers Goldsmith, who’ve also been working with Van Pierszalowski on his new project under the name Van William.

Atomic Tom – Someone to Love. Atomic Tom is new to me, even though they’ve been around for a decade and released albums in 2010 and 2015, with the latter, ERA, including this incredibly infectious 1980s-style pop gem.

The Naked And Famous – Laid Low. Never has this New Zealand quintet sounded more like CHVRCHES than they do here – and that’s a compliment. Now I’m going to ruin the song for you by pointing out that the two notes in the chorus where she sings “Taaaaake me” are the same two notes of “Tell me” from the chorus of “Always on My Mind.”

Christine and the Queens – Tilted (Live From Spotify London). I don’t think I’ve ever included a live track on one of these playlists, but I didn’t highlight “Tilted” when it came out last year and the song has grown on me, especially with this strong live performance. I still don’t think the French language is well-suited for rapping, though.

Kate Nash – Good Summer. I’ve got mixed feelings on this pop song from Nash, who peaked commercially and critically with her debut album and UK hit “Foundations;” I still love her voice and her ear for melody, but these lyrics are such a step down, as if she’s dumbing it down for the sake of sales.

Tall Heights – Spirit Cold. This song was first released as a single last summer, with a video out over the winter, but there’s a new push behind it with their August release of a new album, Neptune; I’ve seen them called “prog folk” but I think that’s misleading. This song is more atmospheric, driven by the two singers’ harmonies and Paul Wright’s cello, with some influence from the late ’90s quietcore movement evident as well.

Jagwar Ma – Give Me a Reason (Radio Edit). This Australian outfit, now based in the UK, go full-Madchester with this second single from their album Every Now and Then, due out October 14th. I hear Soup Dragons, Charlatans UK, even a little Happy Mondays here, so needless to say it’s my favorite song by Jagwar Ma yet.

Coast Modern – The Way It Was. I’m not a big Cage the Elephant fan, so saying this sounds just like a CtE – boy, that’s an unfortunate acronym – track doesn’t explain its inclusion, but in this case I found the chorus stuck in my head for a while after my first listen.

Midnight Faces – Heavenly Bodies. Another not-new artist I hadn’t heard before, this trio started out in Grand Rapids where one of its members was in a band (Saxon Shore) with Father John Misty. “Heavenly Bodies” is dream-pop with a better tempo and that moaning guitar riff earworm that was enough to land it on my playlist.

American Football – I’ve Been So Lost for So Long. Apparently this is a big deal; I don’t remember American Football from their late-1990s activity, after which they were on hiatus for sixteen years. Nothing says “emo” like “If you find me/Please remind me/Why I woke up today.”

Softer Still – Bliss. A quartet from Surrey whose sound reminds me a ton of Real Estate and a little bit of the Sundays (without Harriet, though, so it’s not quite the same).

The Head And The Heart – Rhythm & Blues. This Seattle folk-rock act’s third album, Signs of Light, drops next Friday. I think “Shake” is still my favorite song of theirs, but this would be a strong second; they’re better when they rock a little more like Okkervil River.

Bloods – Bring My Walls Down. Modern punk with sweet, layered female vocals. It works.

Dinosaur Pile-Up – Nothing Personal. This British rock act put out their third album, Eleven Eleven, last October outside of the U.S., but it’s just appearing here for the first time. I know they don’t call themselves a metal band, but the dropped tuning and riffing here are strongly reminiscent of classic (pre-thrash) metal.

Prophets Of Rage – The Party’s Over. As with their previous single, Prophets of Rage’s riffs are stronger than their rhymes. I get the political motivation behind the group, especially in light of the upcoming election, but I wish we were getting more vintage work from Chuck D and B Real.

Sabaton – Shiroyama. This song is such an unabashed throwback to 1980s thrash that I love it in spite of all of its anachronisms – or perhaps because of them.

Metallica – Hardwired. Obligatory. The lyrics are dumb, the drum work is amateurish, but I do like the early 1980s speed-metal riffing.

Music update, July 2016.

I don’t know if this was a weak month for new music or if I was just too busy to find as much of it as I normally do; either way this is a shorter-than-normal playlist, but anything I didn’t discover in July will just have to come find me in August. If the embedded panel doesn’t work you can access the Spotify playlist directly instead.

The Naked And Famous – Higher. I’ve liked most of the Naked & Famous’ output to date, including this anthemic new single, but they also seem to me like CHVRCHES without the charisma of Lauren Mayberry. N&F’s lead singer Alisa Xayalith does her job, and the group’s lyrics typically bring a few clever flourishes, but for whatever reason her voice doesn’t compel you to listen. “Higher” is their most radio-friendly track since “Young Blood,” though, and I’m hopeful they’ll get some crossover airplay.

Jagwar Ma – O B 1. Jagwar Ma is among the leading lights of Australian indie pop, with drawn-out takes on spacey psycheledic pop music. Their first hit “Save Me” appeared in 2011, followed by a full-length album in 2013. This track appears to be the first ahead of their second album, and it’s just as weird and spaced-out as their work to date, almost defying you to grab hold of its twisted melody.

ELEL – When She Walks. ELEL – again with the all caps, although I suppose Elel might look odd – is a pop octet (yep) from Nashville led by Ben Elkins, with a sort of roots-rock element to its instrumentation and arrangements. I kind of liked their debut single last year, “40 Watt,” but this is much catchier and the instrumental bridges elevate the song well above your standard alt-pop track.

Biffy Clyro – Howl. Biffy Clyro is a band name you could only get away with if you were from Scotland, but this trio is, so it’s all good. Once an experimental rock act, they’ve gone indie-pop as they’ve gotten older, with this track reminiscent of another Scottish power-pop act, Teenage Fanclub. Their seventh album, Ellipsis, is due in September.

Local Natives – Fountain Of Youth. Good Local Natives have a little more tension, almost a yearning, the way “Heavy Feet” stood out from the overall mellow Hummingbird album. This song, like “Past Lives” earlier this year, has me cautiously optimistic about their upcoming album Sunlit Youth.

HUNGER – Amused. HUNGER (stylized in all capitals because reasons) is an Austrian electronic pop trio about to release its second album, which is a deep throwback to the post-new wave synthpop era – mid-period Depeche Mode, for example. They also really remind me of Cause & Effect, a band I don’t even know that well.

Jeff Beck – Right Now. Jeff Beck’s guitar work, both technical proficiency and his ability to craft compelling riffs, is incredible for someone in his ’70s, and while the vocals of Rosie Bones are a distraction here I’m still buying in to hear Beck’s fretwork.

Wild Beasts – Tough Guy. Wild Beasts are huge critical darlings in the U.K. but are probably too strange and artsy to find much of a following here; if you’re a fan of alt-J or Everything Everything, then you’d probably enjoy their work, which has a heavy electronic component and plays around with song structures. It’s also very distinctly British, which I consider a positive but others may not.

Zhu – Palm of My Hand. Stephen Zhu had one of my favorite songs of last year with “Hold Up Wait a Minute,” an inspired collaboration with Bone Thugs N’ Harmony and Trombone Shorty, but the California-based DJ and producer’s output is so all over the place I haven’t found another song I’ve liked from him until this almost completely instrumental electronic track, which starts with a melodic guitar solo before spacing out with a mournful piano riff, mostly over a throbbing drum-and-bass line. Zhu’s debut album, Generationwhy, came out last Friday.

Of Montreal – it’s different for girls. These guys are delightfully bizarre; their sound doesn’t always come together for me, but when it does they make some of the most unique alternative pop music out there. Lead singer Kevin Barnes’ lyrics don’t always rhyme, and they cover topics not typically found in pop music. His delivery is over-enunciated and effeminate. The song structures vary from track to track and often fall apart mid-song, like Barnes forgot where he started and didn’t bother to go back to it. This song, which is like a psychedelic reimagining of a vintage Blur track, is the lead single ahead of their album Innocence Reaches, due out August 12th.

Prophets Of Rage – Prophets Of Rage. Prophets of Rage are a supergroup that could easily end up a disaster – the three musicians from Rage Against the Machine together with Chuck D (Public Enemy) and B Real (Cypress Hill). On the plus side, either one of those guys would represent an upgrade over Zack de la Rocha. On the minus side, this could end up some cliche-ridden rap-rock. This lead single, bearing the band’s title, is probably a 55: above average, better than I’d feared, not as good as it might have been 20 years ago.

Pixies – Um Chagga Lagga.

pixies

Nani – I Am Volcano. This LA-based quartet, featuring a singer born in Bosnia and raised in Canada, just dropped this lead single in June, a manic punk rush powered by lead singer Nina’s tumbling, vaguely poetic lyrics.

Descendents – Beyond The Music. The Descendents are pretty much an automatic inclusion on these lists; they’re older but they haven’t grown up musically, just in their lyrics (like “No Fat Burger,” an ode to fighting high cholesterol). Their new album Hypercaffium Spazzinate features twenty-one mostly short, mostly similar tracks, but there are a half-dozen with melodies just a bit better than the rest, including this one, “Without Love,” and “On Paper.”

JEFF The Brotherhood – Idiot. I saw JEFF (grr) the Brotherhood in Tempe in 2012 with Nick Piecoro. They were … adequate. Kind of loud, not very hooky, but “Idiot” definitely brings the hook without materially changing their heavy guitar/drum sound (think Drenge, Royal Blood, and all these other rock duos mining the same formula).

Music update, June 2016.

I ended up with over 30 songs on the rough draft of this playlist, but cut most of them after a few additional listens – many were from bands worth mentioning, like Sigur Ros or Two Door Cinema Club, but I couldn’t justify including the songs on their own merits. So here are 21 new tracks for June, 20 of them currently on the Spotify playlist with one I’m hoping will return to the streaming service shortly. You can access the Spotify playlist directly as well.

Van William – Fourth of July. Van Pierszalowski, lead singer of WATERS, hardcore Dodgers fan, and serious coffee snob (I say that as a compliment), has a new side project under the name Van William with a different sound than his main band boasts. This is the first single, and there’s a second one I’ve heard via their publicists, both of which are definitely more personal and sunnier than WATERS’ stuff. This song has disappeared from Spotify for the moment, but I’m leaving it on the playlist for what I assume will be a quick return. It was my favorite new track of June, and I’m not only saying that because I’ve met Van (for coffee, of course) and talked Dodgers prospects with him.

CHVRCHES featuring Hayley Williams – Bury It. This is a reworked version of a great track from CHVRCHES’ 2015 album Every Open Eye, with Paramore singer Hayley Williams singing the second verse and sharing duties on the chorus. I’m not a Paramore fan, but Williams’ staccato style works perfectly with the hesitating lyrics in her verse. I think this might be the song that launches CHVRCHES fully into the pop mainstream.

Broods – Heartlines. Broods’ second album, Conscious came out a week ago, and there’s a big shift in sound from their debut, with more songs like “Heartlines” and “Free” that feature electronic sounds and quicker tempos. These are the two best songs on the album, but there are still darker, more … uh, brooding songs here, including “Freak of Nature” (featuring Tove Lo) and “All of Your Glory” that are more reminiscent of their debut.

Dagny featuring BØRNS – Fool’s Gold. Norwegian singer Dagny appeared on my top 100 songs of 2015 with “Backbeat,” and this track has a similar feel, showcasing her lower vocal registers in particular, here in collaboration with Michigan-born singer/songwriter BØRNS, who seems like he should be the Norwegian part of the pairing.

Bat For Lashes – Sunday Love. Natasha Khan, who records solo material as Bat for Lashes, just released a new concept album last week called The Bride, about a woman whose fiancé is killed on the way to the church for their wedding – a classic summer listen, really. The album is uneven, although I think Khan is such a risk-taker musically that this is inevitable for her. This particular track is my favorite, trending toward the electropop style she showed on “All Your Gold” from her last BfL album.

Ladyhawke – A Love Song. Ladyhawke is a singer-songwriter from New Zealand and generally an interesting person, diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrom in her 20s and speaking openly about performing drunk to cover her anxiety. Anyway, this is a great summer pop song regardless of her biography. Her third album, Wild Things, came out on June 9th.

Drowners – Another Go. Drowners’ second album, On Desire, just came out last month, and it’s more of the same jangly post-Britpop as they brought on their self-titled debut. I preferred “Pick Up the Pace” from this album, but “Another Go” would be my choice for a second single over the one they actually released, “Human Remains.”

The Kents – The Stakes. This fairly new Canadian indie-pop quartet just released its debut five-song EP Waking on June 1st, and while I may be succumbing to a bit of availability bias, I thought I heard some real Tragically Hip influence here.

Alexandra Savior – Shades. Savior, a singer-songwriter from LA, has become Arctic Monkeys lead singer/songwriter Alex Turner’s writing partner of late, even co-writing “Miracle Aligner” on the latest album from Turner’s side project The Last Shadow Puppets. Her own debut album remains in the works, but this is the first true single Savior has released herself, with her only previous appearance on wax in a song called “Risk” that popped up in HBO’s series True Detective.

Phantogram – You Don’t Get Me High Anymore. Phantogram is so hit or miss, with “Blackout Days” one of the best songs of the decade so far, especially with Sarah Barthel’s voice so front and center. That’s the same reason I didn’t like their Big Grams collaboration with Big Boi; if she’s the best thing about Phantogram, then relegating her to the chorus behind some of Big Boi’s worst raps ever isn’t going to produce anything worthy. This new track is the lead single from their upcoming album, Three, due out September 16th, and it’s much closer to “Blackout Days” territory.

Phoria – Everything Beta. This Brighton trio’s ambitious spacey alt-rock sound is not terribly conducive to the short single format, but they’re worth listening to even with all of the Radiohead comparisons piled on top of them (and Radiohead comps don’t do anyone any favors).

Bear’s Den – Auld Wives. This British duo gets a lot of comps to folk-rock acts included the dreaded Mumford & Sons, but I hear more mid-1980s “sophisti-pop,” a terribly-named subgenre that encompassed groups like Roxy Music, ABC, and Level 42, in this track from their upcoming album, their first since the departure of one of the three founding members.

The Stone Roses – Beautiful Thing. The second single from the unlikely reformation of the likely lads has more great guitar work from John Squire, yet once again Ian Brown seems to have lost his teeth as a vocalist and lyricist. Brown’s best work on his own and with the Roses was always sneering, sometimes angry and sometimes just derisive, but the two new songs this year are both a little too shiny-happy-people to recapture the magic of old Stone Roses matieral.

SULK – Black Infinity (Upside Down). Now these guys sound a hell of a lot like the early Stone Roses, pre-Second Coming, all the way through SULK’s second album, the self-released No Illusions. I highly recommend this song and “The Only Faith is Love” if you’re an old-time Madchester fan like me.

Jeff Beck – Live In The Dark. Speaking of great guitar work, legendary guitarist Jeff Beck turned 72 last week and has a new solo album, Loud Hailer, due out this month. Vocal duties fall to singer Rosie Bones, but this is entirely about Beck’s fretwork, and he sounds as good as ever.

Wye Oak – If You Should See. This indie duo’s fifth album, Tween, is due out in August, and features a more guitar-driven sound than the minimalist electronica of 2014’s Shriek. The songs are all tracks that didn’t make the cut for that album or its predecessor, Civilian, so the eight songs might be a mixed bag musically.

Troup – Mercury and Gold. Big-time throwback sounds from Alex Troup, formerly frontman for British pop-punk act Crashland, and producer Evan Beigel, with thisi raw-edged guitar track that reminds me of lots of unapologetic rock acts of the ’70s, not least because Troup has a Mick Jagger sneer to his singing.

The Wans – Run Baby Run. Hard rock, borderline metal, with a strong melody, from a Nashville power trio off their upcoming EP of the same title, the follow-up to their 2014 debut album He Said She Said.

Descendents – Victim Of Me. I assumed these guys were defunct, but the pioneering punks, nearing their 40th anniversary as a band, will put out, Hypercaffium Spazzinate their first album in twelve years, at the end of July. The song is 96 seconds long, so I see age hasn’t changed Milo and the boys at all.

Gone Is Gone – Starlight. The debut, self-titled EP from this supergroup, featuring members of Mastodon, QotSA, and At the Drive-In, drops next Friday. It’s heavy, but not metal; funereal, but not stoner.

Monument – Hair of the Dog. I haven’t heard any act so happily anachronistic as Monument in ages; the music is very late-80s speed metal, and the singer is doing his best Bruce Dickinson impression. I don’t even know if I like the song or if I just enjoy the surfeit of nostalgia within it.

Banks & Steelz – Giant. This new project from RZA (of Wu-Tang Clan, although I feel like that’s superfluous) and Paul Banks (of Interpol) is the umpteenth attempt to merge alt-rock and hip-hop, most of which have, to my ears, been somewhere between unfortunate failures and painful trainwrecks. The duo’s first single, “Love & War,” wasn’t any better, but this second release is a lot more on the mark, primarily because RZA just takes over – this song is about him, delivering a vintage performance worthy of classic Wu-Tang material, dropping some comic rhymes early before turning political with a full spectrum of progressive talking points in the final verse.

Music update, May 2016.

Twenty-four songs this month because I couldn’t bear to cut any of these – some are just that good, others are important because of who recorded them, all are worth your time.

Radiohead – Burn the Witch. Yep, the boys are back, looking more like the killers in a Rob Zombie splatter film than like a post-rock band, but the lead track from A Moon-Shaped Pool is one of their best songs in years, maybe my favorite since Amnesiac. I didn’t find much of interest on the rest of the album, though, as Radiohead seems to favor atmospheric sounds that I find a bit soporific.

Wire – Numbered. It was a big month for new tunes from the old guard, with post-rock icons Wire releasing their fifteenth album, Nocturnal Koreans just as April ended. I found several tracks here worth including, but chose “Numbered” for its lyrical and stylistic callbacks to the band’s best-known song, “3 Girl Rhumba.”

CHVRCHES – Warning Call. Not necessarily their best work, but this song, from the soundtrack to a video game called Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, is a new CHVRCHES song and it would take a lot for me to exclude a new CHVRCHES song from a new music playlist.

Local Natives – Past Lives. To borrow a favorite malaprop of my daughter’s, I was “so-and-so” on Local Natives even through Hummingbird, although “Heavy Feet” did make my year-end list in 2014. “Past Lives” is just so much bigger and more ambitious than what I’ve heard from them before, and the music actually accentuates Kelcey Ayer’s vocals, as opposed to their sparser previous work that placed too much weight on his vocals and left them sounding whiny. I heard this song at least a half-dozen times before I realized it was under four minutes; it has the feel of a long, broad epic six-minute track.

The Stone Roses – All for One. The music is there, with a strong riff from John Squire, but Ian Brown’s lyrics are awfully tame for someone who never held his tongue before.

Glass Animals – Life Itself. Glass Animals do some seriously weird stuff with their percussion lines, often in a very good way (like “Pools”), but their songwriting takes a big step forward with this lead single from their upcoming second album, How to Be a Human Being.

Lucius – Almost Makes Me Wish for Rain. Another pop gem from the quintet’s second full-length album, this song has a summery, anthemic feel, and lyrics that seem like a rebuttal to a certain Garbage song.

Wolf Parade – Automatic. Never a big Wolf Parade fan but I’m including this song from their comeback EP because Nick Piecoro will cut me if I don’t.

The Faint – Young & Realistic. The Faint have always had some new-wave stylings, but this song could have opened for Blondie and Duran Duran in 1982.

The Big Pink – Hightimes. I doubt they’ll ever recapture the peak of “Dominos,” their first hit and a key sample in a Nicki Minaj song (the first time her name has ever appeared on this blog and I hope the last as well), but this has a similar feel and tempo, just without some of the bombast that made “Dominos” a sort of guilty fun.

Speedy Ortiz – Death Note. This track didn’t make SO’s 2015 album Foil Deer – it’ll appear instead on an upcoming EP called Foiled Again – but I think it’s my favorite song by the Massachusetts band yet. Those riffs are seriously heavy.

Leagues – Dance With Me. Leagues had a minor hit a couple of years ago, around when I started writing up music posts more regularly, with “Spotlight,” a very bright indie-pop that featured a solid contrast between the tension in the music behind the verses and the big peaks in the chorus. This is a little more straightforward, slower tempo but more in line with the rest of Leagues’ first album.

The Aces – Stuck. This is so much poppier than stuff I usually include on the list, but my daughter, who told me this morning that she liked the song on the radio (it was Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”), absoutely loves it, and it’s very catchy. But I don’t understand how this all-girl quartet can keep the name when it already belongs to a popular blues band that existed for about two decades last century.

The Pass – Silent Treatment. This Louisville quartet is about to release its first album, Canyons, next Friday on indie label SonaBlast Records. This lead single is another straight-up synthpop song, perhaps a bit poppier than what I usually include here, but, hey, it’s finally summer, so forgive me for throwing some more sunshine on this month’s playlist.

Monica Heldal – Coulda Been Sound. This Norwegian singer-songwriter sounds sort of like an elf, or perhaps Kat Edmonson, over a track here that would have fit in perfectly on Ben Howard’s Every Kingdom album.

Drowners – Pick Up The Pace. Drowners had a couple of minor hits in 2013-14 with “Long Hair” and “Luv, hold me down,” and this song is in just the same vein, a bit of jangly indie-pop from a band named for a Suede song but clearly inspired by ’80s alternative sounds.

Wild Beasts – Get My Bang. Wild Beasts earned huge critical acclaim for their Mercury-Prize nominated 2014 album Present Tense, featuring the memorable line “Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck.” This song, from their upcoming album Boy King, has a much stronger funk influence than anything on that last album, which I thought was a better academic record than a listening one.

Leapling – Alabaster Snow. If Death Cab for Cutie adopted some noise-rock effects on their guitars, you might get this song.

Elwell – Let the Rain Come In. Just hang with the dirge-like opening here – the song’s centerpiece is the part-folk, part-electronic chorus, a change of direction for Minneapolis guitarist Andy Elwell on his upcoming seventh album.

Everything Everything – To The Blade. This song isn’t new – the album, Get to Heaven, actually came out in 2015 in the UK, and was finally released in the US this February, but because of the gap in release dates and its unavailability last year on Spotify I never included anything after the lead single “Regret” on my playlists. The sprawling 18-song record doesn’t have the highs of the previous disc, Arc, and certainly could have used a little editing, but has several strong singles, including this one, which has this utterly frenetic chorus that recalls their most original work from their last two albums.

Thrice – Death From Above. Featuring friend of the dish Riley Breckenridge, Thrice just released their ninth full-length album, To Be Everywhere is to Be Nowhere, last week, and this is the third track from the record I’ve included on a playlist here because it’s all pretty fucking great. The vibe is remniscent of classic hardcore, but dialed down to a stoner tempo that gives the heavy riffs on the chorus more time to fill your ears.

Gone Is Gone – Violescent. This supergroup features members of Mastodon, Queens of the Stone Age, and At the Drive-In, with a sound that you might get if you threw all those groups in a blender. It’s more accessible and less heavy than Mastodon’s progressive metal sounds, a little quicker and richer than the stoner vibe of QotSA. The chorus is a hell of an earworm, too.

Death Angel – The Moth. I’ve got two tracks this month from 1980s thrash icons who’ve put out new records, the first from Death Angel, whose first album, The Ultra-Violence, was recorded while the band members were still teenagers. Their eighth album, The Evil Divide, came out last week, and the band’s core sound remains very true to their original Bay Area thrash roots.

Destruction – Under Attack. One of the pioneers of European thrash in the 1980s, Destruction has been recording pretty frequently (if without much notice) since 1998, and like Death Angel haven’t varied their sound much either: If you like classic thrash sounds, you’ll like most of their latest album, Under Attack, although I found it a mixed bag. The first half of the album is stronger than the back half, sticking to the formula that made Destruction one of the most important thrash acts of the 1980s, while the second half has some changes in direction that just don’t work (“Stand Up for What You Deliver” is cringeworthy) before they return to the formula in the closer “Thrash Attack.”