Music update, November 2017.

Solid enough month for new tracks, including a bunch of early releases from albums due out in the first two months of next year (which might presage a poor December for new releases). I’ll do my annual music rankings, songs and albums, after the winter meetings, so we do get a few more weeks in for new songs to appear.

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

The Wombats – Lemon to a Knife Fight. A new Wombats song is an automatic inclusion for me. I loved Glitterbug and am thoroughly excited for the new album.

Hatchie – Sure. Noisey called Hatchie’s music “shoegaze with a dream pop edge;” I think there’s more dream pop here, with a very strong early Cranberries vibe. She has released two singles so far, this song (my favorite of the two) and “Try.”

Shy Technology – Déjà Vu. Shy Technology made my top 100 in 2015 with “High Strung,” and this lead single from their next album provides more of what I liked from that earlier single, which has a singer-songwriter vibe with the fuller arrangement of a large band. They remind me of tons of bands I liked in the early mid-90s, including James, Ben Folds Five, Better than Ezra, and Our Lady Peace.

Django Django – In Your Beat. We have a release date – January 26th – for the Mercury Prize-nominated British act’s third album. Marble Skies.

Van William – The Country. Dodgers fan & WATERS lead singer/songwriter Van Pierszalowski – yep, still have to check that spelling every single time, because of AJ Pierzynski – will release his first solo album, Countries, on January 19th.

Gillbanks – A Walk in the Park. A new London-based quintet with just four one-off singles to their name, Gillbanks reminds me a bit of Gardens & Villa if they’d gotten stoned and listened to Disintegration on repeat.

Ride – Pulsar. Ride went 21 years between albums, released Weather Diaries in June, and now are already back with a new, non-album track, this one in a similar vein, shoegaze but with clear vocals mixed more towards the front. The lads are aging quite nicely.

Thrice – Red Telephone. Not technically a new song, “Red Telephone” is a B-side from their 2009 album Beggars and was just re-released ahead of their mini-tour with Circa Survive.

The Fratellis – The Next Time We Wed. It’s no “Chelsea Dagger,” but it’s certainly catchy in more of a pop/rock way and less of a “we’re all drunk at 1:30 am” fashion.

Black Honey – Dig. Black Honey, an indie quartet from Brighton, England, showed up twice on my top 100 last year with poppy tracks that reminded me of vintage Velocity Girl; this song is slower, almost mournful, although it sneaks up on you with a heavy guitar riff about 2/3 of the way through.

WAVVES with Culture Abuse – Up and Down. WAVVES’ Nathan Williams is one of the most prolific writers in music today; I swear he releases a new song somewhere every couple of weeks. This new track, with Bay Area punksters Culture Abuse (of whom I’d never heard of until this song appeared), sounds quite a bit like WAVVES’ most recent album, You’re Welcome.

HAERTS – No Love for the Wild. HAERTS put out a great EP in 2013, a strong album with those same four songs in 2014, and since then it’s been just random singles. This song came out in May, and there’s another one, “The Way,” due out next Friday (the 8th), so I’m hopeful we’ll get a full record some time early next year. It’s long overdue.

The Big Moon – Love in the 4th Dimension. The Big Moon’s album, of which this is the title track, was nominated for the Mercury Prize this year, but lost out to R&B/electronic singer-songwriter Sampha. I think I like the Big Moon’s sound more than their individual songs, as the album is consistent but could use some stronger hooks.

Stars – Hope Avenue. Stars had the #40 song on the first real year-end song ranking I ever posted on this site, my top 40 songs of 2012, with “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Get It.” Their latest album, There is No Love in Fluorescent Light, doesn’t have anything so catchy, but has several … um, “pleasant” sounds like a backhanded insult, but I don’t mean it that way. This was my favorite song from the record.

Quicksand – Fire this Time. Is this the fifth straight playlist with a Quicksand song on it? Their comeback album Interiors feels like a lock to make my ranking of my favorite albums of 2017, however long I choose to make the list this year.

Corrosion of Conformity – Cast the First Stone. Legit thought these guys had broken up a decade ago … which they did, and then came back with a different lineup for albums in 2012 and 2014 that I missed entirely. I really remember CoC mostly from their earliest work, which had a stronger hardcore influence, while this is more of an aggressive stoner-metal track, like QotSA with a hint of Pantera.

Joe Satriani – Thunder High on the Mountain. I admit to being a guitar geek back in the day; I absolutely wore out Steve Vai’s Passion and Warfare. Satriani had his moments too, including “Summer Song,” but that whole subgenre of music fell out of favor pretty quickly with the expansion of extreme metal on one side and of garbage rap-metal demon spawn on the other. This song, which features two distinct movements of great guitar hooks, is a nice throwback to the heyday of instrumental shredder albums, with a nice nod to the heavier style more in vogue today.

Godflesh – Post Self. I have a strong memory of seeing a capsule review of Godflesh’s seminal 1989 debut album, Streetcleaner, that borrowed a line from Poltergeist: “Godflesh knows what scares you.” Often lumped erroneously in with the contemporaneous grindcore movement, Godflesh is a founder of the subgenre of industrial metal, and if their music brings “teh fear” it’s because of their repetition of droning phrases and harsh percussive sounds. This is the first song and title track from their latest album, released on November 17th.

Tribulation – The Lament. This Swedish melodic death-metal band’s 2015 album Children of the Night took the group out of the generic extreme-metal sounds of their first two albums and brought far more of a classic-rock vibe, with obvious influences from Judas Priest and Black Sabbath, as well as some thrash riffing and a generally stronger sense of musical proficiency. This song rocks in a way that even a lot of truly melodic songs in this area don’t; it’s like a great driving song that happens to have death growls instead of the high-wire vocals of a Halford or a Dickinson. It’s a good sign for their upcoming fourth album, Down Below, due out on January 26th.

Music update, October 2017.

Happy Halloween! Lots of great new tracks and albums this month, including a few totally unexpected returns from artists who’ve appeared on my playlists before, plus one metal act I haven’t really bothered with since I was in high school. If the widget below doesn’t appear you can access the Spotify playlist directly.

Django Django – Tic Tac Toe. Huge comeback single for the Mercury Prize-nominated act after the mild disappointment of their 2015 album Born Under Saturn, which had a few good tracks (notably “Shake and Tremble”) but no breakout hits like “Default” or “Hail Bop.” This song is a promising tease of their third album, especially the swirling, textured chorus where the song’s structure is turned inside out.

Wolf Parade – You’re Dreaming. Cry Cry Cry, their first record since the band reunited, came out on October 6th, but I found it overall a bit weak – but I was never a huge WP fan the first time around. This was the best track to my ears.

DMA’S – Dawning. Compared to Oasis after their first record, this Australian band goes more Britpop on this lead single from their upcoming second album. I admit to a bit of nostalgic affection for the song, given how much it reminds me of that late-90s movement that by and large never caught on in the U.S.

Quicksand – Cosmonauts. Their first album since 1995, Interiors, is due out on November 10th. They’re still touring, but without guitarist Tom Capone, who was arrested and charged with trying to steal over 40 items from a Phoenix-area CVS and then resisting arrest. Song’s good, though.

Bully – Kills to Be Resistant. Bully is fronted by Alicia Bognanno, who seems way too young to be producing music that is so reminiscent of the less-polished side of 1990s grunge. Their first record earned quite a bit of positive press, but I found it lacking in actual musical interest – not enough hooks, not much connection between vocals and music, etc. This track, from the band’s just-released second album Losing, is my favorite from Bully so far.

Beck – Colors. The title track from Beck’s latest album is one of a half-dozen bangers on the record (which includes my #1 song of 2015, “Dreams,” in two versions), which is a complete departure from the sound on his Grammy-winning last album Morning Phase. This is the Beck material I love – inventive, layered, genre-crossing.

Blushes – To the Bone. I’ve seen reviews comparing Blushes to Foals … okay, yeah, this sounds a lot like Foals, or at least like Foals’ best stuff, so we’re good here.

Porches – Find Me. Porches is led by singer/multi-instrumentalist Aaron Maine, and they’re weird – that’s mostly a compliment, although it sometimes doesn’t work very well (like on “Country,” another single off their upcoming third album). “Find Me” is more in line with their haunting 2016 single “Hour,” a nicely creepy track for Halloween.

Gulp – Morning Velvet Sky. Gulp is Scottish vocalist Lindsey Levin and bassist Guto Pryce, who’s better known as the bass player for Welsh rock icons Super Furry Animals. This track is less rock, more synth and bass, with a hypnotic, driving bassline throughout the ethereal song.

Sampha – Blood on Me. Sampha Sisay just won this year’s Mercury Prize for his debut album, Process, which gives us an unsteady marriage of classic R&B sounds, especially in the vocals, and current electronic/drum-and-bass sounds. This song, my favorite from the album, actually first appeared as a single in August of 2016 in the UK; it’s more uptempo and I think more intense than the rest of the album.

MisterWives – Never Give Up On Me. This was a surprise, given that MisterWives just released their second album in May, without this track on it. This might be their poppiest song yet, but it’s also a great showcase of what Mandy Lee can do with her voice when she lets it rip.

Prides – A Wilder Heart. Prides’ “The Seeds You Sow” was my #8 song of 2014, but it didn’t even appear on their disappointing debut album the following year. Their seven-song EP A Mind Like the Tide, Part 1, just dropped on Friday, including the single “Let’s Stay in Bed All Day,” which I included on my September playlist, and this slow builder with a strong finish.

Tune-Yards – Look at Your Hands. Tune-Yards are probably best known for the alternative hit “Water Fountain,” which has a fantastic chorus and some great drumwork, but which loses me in the verse. I still don’t love Merrill Garbus’s singing voice, but this track is more evenly mixed between vocals and music, and her musical inventiveness gets higher billing as a result. It doesn’t quite have the huge hook of “Water Fountain,” though.

Alice Merton – No Roots. I’ve been remiss with this track, which I had earmarked for my September playlist and forgot to include, so I’m putting it here for completeness’ sake even though you’ve probably heard it. It’s already hit the top ten in several countries in Europe and is #14 on the next Billboard Alternative Songs chart, still trending up.

Sleigh Bells – Rainmaker. Yep, that’s the drum loop from “Paid in Full.” That’s all I’ve got here.

Liam Gallagher – I Get By. I’ve seen more praise for the Oasis singer’s solo album As You Were than I could possibly muster; it is long, and it certainly tries to recapture the peak Oasis sound, but it only barely scrapes the bottom of what his former band was able to do over its first three albums. Lead single “Wall of Glass,” which made my June playlist, is solid, as is this song, but the rest feels like filler, like an artist who wants to mimic a specific sound rather than write compelling singles.

Versing – Body Chamber. If you listened to just this song, and I asked you their home city, you’d probably guess it on one try. Their debut album, Nirvana (we’re not even pretending, are we), just came out at the very end of September.

The Dear Hunter – The Right Wrong. This song is the lead single from the prog-rock act’s new six-song EP, All Is As All Should Be (which, by the way, is definitely NOT true), with some clear nods to progressive icons like King Crimson and Marillion but within a manageable running time.

Catholic Action – Propaganda. The Glaswegian quartet just released In Memory Of, its first album of punk-tinged jangle-pop, on Friday; it’s hit-and-miss, with short, quick bursts of guitar-driven melodies that don’t always click, with this song the best track on the record.

Sleater-Kinney – Here We Come. They’re back, and they’re still angry, and why wouldn’t they be?

Helloween – Pumpkins United. I admit to a certain fondness for Helloween’s two late-80s underground classics, parts one and two of the Keeper of the Seven Keys series, which contained a number of surprisingly catchy power-metal tracks that seemed to bridge the gap between Iron Maiden and other NWOBHM acts that still brought big hooks and the less melodic thrash bands that were coming out of California at the time. This new track is the first song to feature original guitarist Kai Hansen since he left the band after the second Keeper album.

Moonspell – Evento. Moonspell is a Portuguese gothic/melodic death metal act who are consistently big sellers in their home country, with four different #1 albums in Portugal, but little recognition outside it. Their 11th album, 1755, drops on Friday; it’s a concept album about the Great Lisbon Earthquake of that year (which also inspired a new boardgame, Lisboa, that just came out this summer), sung entirely in Portuguese, with symphonic elements along with the expected death growls. Stuff just sounds more menacing when it’s not in English.

Music update, September 2017.

A whole raft of anticipated releases hit stores in September, including new records from Wolf Alice, Daughter, Hundred Waters, Cut Copy, Torres, The Killers, Death From Above, LCD Soundsystem, and the National, some of which lived up to expectations, some of which didn’t, and some of which were as bad as I expected. (I really couldn’t have any less interest in or respect for The Killers at this point, since they licensed a song and recorded an extra video to help promote the fight involving serial domestic abuser Floyd Mayweather.) Here’s my highly edited list of the best new songs of the month, with a half-dozen metal tracks at the end, increasing in heaviness as it progresses. You can access the Spotify playlist here if the widget below doesn’t appear.

Hundred Waters – Wave to Anchor. Hundred Waters had my #1 album of 2014 with The Moon Rang Like a Bell, an unconventional, experimental record of atmospheric electronica with breathy, acrobatic vocals by Nicole Miglis. The band’s second album, Communicating, came out on September 14th, and pushes even further into experimental territory, but with bigger sounds and more dramatic flourishes, very much in evidence here and on “Particle,” “Prison Guard,” and “Blanket Me.”

Daughter – Glass. Daughter’s Music from Before the Storm is the soundtrack to the new video game Life is Strange: Before the Storm, but works as a standalone album as well, with indie-folk trio Daughter using the game’s script as inspiration for a record that fits well in their own discography. It’s actually more cohesive than their last album, 2016’s Not to Disappear, even with instrumental tracks like this one, and I think stronger start to finish, buoyed by songs like this one, “Burn It Down,” “Voices,” and closer “A Hole in the Earth.”

Wild Beasts – Punk Drunk & Trembling. Wild Beasts are breaking up, with 2016’s magnum opus Boy King, a mesmerizing record of tremendous hooks built around a theme of toxic masculinity, their swan song. This track is one of the leftovers from the recording of that record and part of a forthcoming EP to close out their career.

Hippo Campus – Baseball. How could I omit a song called “Baseball?” Actually, that didn’t matter except that I pushed it further up the playlist – I wouldn’t include a song that wasn’t good, and this song has a great little guitar hook and catchy chorus to drive it. It’s on their newest EP, warm glow, which comes out just a few months after their debut album Landmark dropped.

Sløtface – Backyard. Try Not to Freak Out, the debut full-length from these Norwegian punk-pop purveyors, is uneven, but with a few standout tracks built around big hooks and fun lyrics, including this one and “Nancy Drew.”

Wolf Alice – Heavenward. I’ve been a little disappointed by Wolf Alice’s second album, Visions of a Life, released on Friday, as it doesn’t show any growth from their debut, My Love is Cool, and in some ways feels even less mature.

Death From Above – Holy Books. Their third album, Outrage is Now!, came out on September 8th, and it’s almost as if they’ve merged with Royal Blood, producing an album of huge, guitar-driven hooks that’s my favorite album of their three so far.

Portugal. The Man – Don’t Look Back In Anger. I don’t include many covers and almost never include live tracks, so you know this one, recorded in-studio for Spotify, must be pretty good.

Mourn – The Fire. These Barcelona punks put out a five-song EP, Over the Wall, on September 8th, with two standout tracks, this one and “Whatever.” They have a sort of anarchic, college-rock vibe to their best songs, as if the entire thing is going to fall apart at any second but the band just manages to keep it together until the song ends.

Van William – Never Had Enough Of You. Van Pierszalowski, lead singer of WATERS, put out a few singles on his own under the nom de chanson Van William (understandably so) earlier this year, and has now collected them with this new track and one demo on a four-song EP called The Revolution. This ballad is a definite shift in tone and feel for VW compared to the first two singles and to his work with WATERS, but you’ll recognize his signature sound in the shuffling guitar riff behind the lyrics.

Prides – Lets Stay In Bed All Day. I had Prides’ first single, “The Seeds You Sow,” as my #8 song of 2014,, but their debut album ended up a big disappointment, lacking any big hooks and really downshifting their overall sound. This song seems to get them back on track, with a big Wombats feel to both music and lyrics.

Tricky with Mina Rose – Running Wild. It only took me twenty years, but I have finally realized that I like Tricky’s music a lot more when he’s not the vocalist.

Von Grey – 6 A.M. I’m not sure about the “sexy goth sisters” marketing around this trio, but the sound on this track is a compelling, more vocal-driven descendant of the ’90s novelty act Rasputina.

Cut Copy – Black Rainbows. Cut Copy have produced so much music – 21 singles, five albums (including their latest, Haiku from Zero), a few EPs – since their 2001 debut, but despite a general sound that’s right in my wheelhouse, I’ve rarely found their songs even a little bit memorable because they haven’t had good pop hooks in what is otherwise very poppy music. This breaks that trend, the best song I’ve heard from them since 2010’s “Where I’m Going.”

The Riff – Weekend Schemes. I mean, if your band is named The Riff, you’d better bring the guitar licks … and they do, at least on this song, which is like a harder post-Oasis Britpop vibe with a dash of The Hold Steady in the vocals.

INHEAVEN – Bitter Town. Big, ballsy hard rock from their eponymous debut album, which also features the muscular “World on Fire” (on my August playlist). This song is more wistful, a little introspective even, with strong lyrical contrast to the heavy percussion and distortion that drives the music.

Mastodon – Toe to Toes. Mastodon have always been inventive musicians, frequently breaking out of traditional song structures, and often succumbing to melodic urges as if they couldn’t help but make a heavy song a little catchier. This song seems to split the baby; there’s a heavy, jazz-metal component, reminiscent of the work of ’90s metal acts Cynic and Atheist, and the song suddenly downshifts into AOR territory – but the juxtaposition works to the song’s benefit, providing a respite from the relentless riffs of the heavier sequences.

Chelsea Wolfe – Offering. Highly atmospheric, ethereal, gothic … something. It’s not really metal, although bits of metal creep into her latest album, Hiss Spun, and she employs a number of major names from the metal and hard-rock worlds on the record. There are doom and stoner elements here, but it’s all in service of building a dark, funereal edifice for Wolfe’s wide-ranging vocals. I thought the album as a whole dragged, but this track is a standout.

Myrkur – De Tre Piker. Myrkur is Amalie Brunn, a Danish vocalist who just released her second metal album under this moniker; her music is generally described as “black metal,” but that wildly undersells what she’s doing here. This music defies traditional categorization, borrowing from diverse genres and shifting tempos, themes, and styles multiple times within tracks, incorporating folk and classical elements along with extreme metal aspects, including screamed vocals that alternate with her own clean singing. It doesn’t always work, and she struggles sometimes with the lack of cohesion within tracks, but I’d put her in a very small group of artists who are trying to change the definitions of contemporary rock music.

Arch Enemy – My Shadow and I. I think I just don’t care for Alissa White-Gluz’s guttural vocal style – but I think the guitar riffs on Will to Power, their new album, are a big step forward from the slightly disappointing War Eternal (2014), still true to their melodic death-metal roots. (Founding guitarist Michael Amott was a member of seminal death-metal act Carcass for their breakthrough album Heartwork, which remains one of the founding records of the melodic death-metal subgenre.)

Satyricon – Deep calleth upon Deep. The vocals are bad – they just are, always have been for Satyricon – but they’re an unapologetic doom band now, a transition that, as many of you argued on Twitter, started somewhere around Rebel Extravaganza or Volcano. It’s not what original Satyricon fans want, but if you can stand the silly death growls there’s a good Pallbearer/Crypt Sermon vibe here.

Akercocke – Unbound by Sin. This is probably the most extreme metal song I’ve ever included on one of these playlists, which is why I left it till the end, but this song – and the entire album, Renaissance in Extremis – is a tour de force of progressive, technically proficient metal that incorporates elements of jazz and classical along with the standard death-metal trappings like blast beats (yawn) and growled vocals (mixed relatively low here, so the fretwork stands out). I used to think Akercocke was something of a joke, a so-called “blackened” death metal band that used controversial lyrics and album covers to grab attention, but this album, their first in ten years, just floored me with its complexity and textures. If you like extreme metal at all, it’s the best album of that niche this year and I think the best since Carcass’ Surgical Steel.

Music update, April 2017.

I wrote a book, Smart Baseball. You should buy it.

This month’s playlist has 24 songs, and started out over 30 before I started cutting back; I have usually tried to keep them under 20 songs or under 90 minutes but I reached a point where I didn’t have anything left I felt good about removing. A few songs are here because of who’s singing, but most are here just because they’re good songs (Brent … I need to stop using that line). If the embedded widget below doesn’t work you can access the Spotify playlist here.

Royal Blood – Lights Out. This British duo had my #1 song of 2014 with “Out of the Black,” and this new single from their upcoming sophomore album does not disappoint – it’s heavy, dark, and menacing, just like their biggest hit.

DJ Shadow, Nas – Systematic. Nas sounds as good as ever here on this track from the soundtrack to the HBO series Silicon Valley. I particularly like the part where Nas gives us a recipe, complete with directions on how long to cook the cranberries.

The Afghan Whigs – Demon in Profile. Afghan Whigs’ comeback album in 2014? didn’t do as much for me as their upcoming record In Spades, which I heard early thanks to the band’s publicist. Gregg Dulli still sounds great for 52 (!) and the album brings a strong mix of hard rockers and more midtempo tracks like this one.

Ride – All I Want. Another big comeback, as Ride’s first new album in 21 years, Weather Diaries, comes out on June 16th. I believe this is the third single from the new album and they all sound like classic Ride, who were among the most important bands in the first shoegaze era.

Anteros – Cherry Drop. This London quartet sound straight out of the 1979 London new wave/post-punk scene; you can hear Debbie Harry’s influence in the vocals.

Tigers Jaw – June. This punk-pop act from Scranton has apparently had some drama in the last few years over whether they’d actually broken up. This single from their album spin, due out May 19th, marries sweet, high-register vocals with distorted guitar work that sounds like math-rock acts (such as Polvo) for a power-pop result.

The Night Game – The Outfield. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, or some trick of the mind, but this song reminds me strongly of the band The Outfield, both in the style of music and lead singer’s voice. Anyway, this is a strong pop track with background vocals from Gotye. And I’m not the only one to notice the similarity to the band behind perennial walkup song “Your Love.”

The Aces – Physical. The Aces, an all-girl quartet from Utah who made my top 100 last year with their single “Stuck,” return with their second release, “Physical,” another solid pop song that just doesn’t quite have the same hook as their first track.

Splashh – Closer. This Australian indie-rock act’s second album, Waiting a Lifetime, came out on April 14th, more evidence of that country’s tremendous music scene right now, producing great rock and electronic music. The production has a real shoegaze quality, with the vocals mixed somewhat towards the back (but not incomprehensible like on My Bloody Valentine’s work).

WATERS – Molly Is A Babe. Van Pierzalowski’s main band will release its new album, Something More, on May 19th, with this track the second single and “Stand By You,” which just appeared in the last few days, the third. Good luck getting this song’s whining guitar lick out of your head any time soon.

Panama – Hope For Something. Here’s another Aussie act, one I first found with their single “Always,” which I put at #51 on my 2013 year-end list. “Hope for Something” is more layered, with ornate instrumentation and a slower build to the hook, but it’s still a big one.

Feist – Century (feat. Jarvis Cocker). I have mixed feelings on this song, but Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker makes an appearance, so here you go.

Joseph of Mercury – Find You Inside. This was the first song I’d heard by Joseph of Mercury, a Toronto-based singer-songwriter who debuted in 2015 with the song “Lips.” This song, his second single this year, combines a less-poppy sort of ’80s new wave with brooding baritone vocals, enunciated like Morrissey does. The result feels soulful without any evident R&B influences.

Sundara Karma – She Said. This may not be new to Sirius XM listeners, as Alt Nation has it in heavy rotation because Sundara Karma is on some XM-sponsored tour.

Black Asteroid – Howl (feat. Zola Jesus). I’m not a big Zola Jesus fan – her incredibly pretentious stage name doesn’t help matters – but her voice’s hollow quality and the stark production here perfectly match the sci-fi horror feel of the electronic music.

Foster The People – S.H.C. Foster the People just put out a three-song teaser EP ahead of their third album, which they’re promising for June or July. “S.H.C.” is the most recognizably FTP of the three songs, with a ’70s guitar riff and vague Latin influences in the percussion.

Portugal. The Man – Number One (feat. Richie Havens & Son Little). Their first single from their upcoming album, “Feel It Still,” might be my favorite song of 2017 so far. This song, though … I don’t even know what I think of it and I’ve listened to it at least a half a dozen times. It’s way out there even for P.TM, with samples from the late folk singer Richie Havens’ song “Freedom” and a collaboration from singer Son Little. The new album, Woodstock, is out June 16th, and they have my full attention.

Pond – Paint Me Silver. Spacey psychedelic rock from Australia. Recommended if you like Tame Impala. Recommended even if you think Tame Impala could stand to keep their songs under four minutes.

Sylvan Esso – The Glow. I am truly not a fan of Sylvan Esso, neither their music nor Amelia Meath’s overly precious vocal style, so it says something about this track that I included it anyway. Saying I think it’s the best thing they’ve done doesn’t tell you much, but there’s a great chorus here if you can get past the track’s opening sound of a digital file skipping.

Miami Horror – Sign of the Times. This Aussie trio has a little bit of a Foster the People vibe, mixing electronic and funk, but more decidedly out of the mainstream, especially with the spoken-word section towards the end of the track. Their latest EP, The Shapes, just came out last week.

Sepultura – Iceberg Dances. I understand people have strong feelings on post-Max Sepultura, but their newest album, Machine Messiah, features some progressive and technically impressive fretwork, most notable for me on this instrumental track.

SikTh – Vivid. I’ve read in a few places how important or influential SikTh have been since their 2003 debut album, but I find it hard to believe given how little I’ve come across their music or how infrequently they’ve recorded anything. Their forthcoming The Future in Whose Eyes? will be just their third album in fifteen years. This frenetic track seems to veer in style from progressive death metal to aggro groove metal and back again.

DragonForce – Judgement Day. DragonForce cracks me up, although I don’t know that this is intended to be funny. They’re just such an unrepetant throwback to the earliest days of thrash, where soaring vocals reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson were common, and fantasy and mythology themes were king. If you remember vintage Helloween with Kai Hansen, that gives you some idea of what DragonForce is about, maybe with a few shakes of Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force.

Memoriam – Memoriam. This is some heavy, sludgy, old-school death metal, with the band and song a tribute to a deceased member of the seminal ’90s British death metal band Bolt Thrower.

Music update, March 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

alt-J – 3WW. Obligatory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music update, January 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music update, October 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music update, September 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 2016 music update.

Well, March turned out to be a tough month for me to blog much, but it was a great month for new music – I originally had over 30 tracks on this playlist and had to fight just to get it down to 23, including the four metal tracks at the end, which is the most I’ve ever included on one of these updates. We even got surprise (to me, at least) tracks from Broods, Royal Blood, and Corinne Bailey Rae. The April list may be a big shorter because I added some songs here that came out last Friday, but I didn’t want to wait another month to put them on a list.

Bob Mould – The End of Things. The former Husker Du lead singer is back with his best solo effort since Black Sheets of Rain, showing some of the same old ferocity that characterized his best power-pop work from two decades ago.

Royal Blood – Where Are You Now. Royal Blood had my #1 song of 2014, “Out of the Black,” and their sound hasn’t changed at all on this single from the critically-panned HBO series Vinyl.

The Kills – Doing It To Death. My list of the top 100 songs of the first decade of the 2000s missed the Kills’ 2008 song “Sour Cherry,” which I didn’t hear for the first time until about a year ago. Anyway, this is the sultry lead single from their album Ash & Ice, due out June 3rd.

The Struts – Kiss This. So my friend Pete, whom I’ve known since the sixth grade, and I have long had a huge overlap in our musical tastes, and we’ve both stayed into music into our dotage, so when we talk we nearly always end up chatting about what we’ve heard lately. I had dinner with Pete and another friend from high school on Friday night, and I mentioned some of the bands on this month’s playlist. When I mentioned the Struts without a ton of enthusiasm, because I like this song but recognize it’s kind of cliched and familiar, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “yeah.” That’s about right.

Bleached – Sour Candy. Bleached, now a trio, seems like they might be on the verge of a breakout with the first two singles from their sophomore album Welcome the Worms, which just came out on Friday. Their sense of melody is more in the front of things on this record, so it’s less hard-edged although still punk-influenced.

The Last Shadow Puppets – Aviation. I’m a little concerned this LSP album isn’t going to live up to expectations, as Alex Turner’s incredible ability to craft sharp hooks hasn’t been evident enough on the first three singles. “Miracle Aligner,” the third, is probably the worst LSP song I’ve heard. This song is somewhere in the middle; the sound is right, but where’s the big catchy melody?

Jake Bugg – Gimme The Love. This seems more like the Jake Bugg of Shangri-La, with clever, fast-sung lyrics and a solid riff, although it doesn’t quite rock like “What Doesn’t Kill You” or hypnotize like “Lighning Bolt.” His third album drops on June 17th.

Broods – Free. This brother/sister duo had one of my favorite albums of 2014, and they’re incorporating more electronic sounds into their sophomore album, expected later this year. This lead single has the electronic drum beat behind Georgia Nott’s voice, but she’s showcased as well as ever here – and that’s key, since her voice is by far their strongest asset.

Corinne Bailey Rae – Stop Where You Are. Bailey Rae is releasing her first album of new music in six years, The Heart Speaks in Whispers, on May 13th, only her third album overall and second since the overdose of her first husband, Jason Rae, in 2008. (She has since remarried.) The Grammy-winning singer’s voice remains in top form on this lead single, so while I’ve never loved the smooth-jazz style of her music, I could listen to her sing all day.

Ten Fé – Elodie. This British duo has released several singles of meditative, dreamy indie-pop that reminds me a bit of The War on Drugs if you dialed down the Dylan a bit.

The Boxer Rebellion – Big Ideas. I like the Boxer Rebellion’s sound, but their music often seems to lack big hooks, outside of their outstanding 2013 single “Diamonds.” This song isn’t quite as catchy but does offer some early U2 nods in the chorus.

HÆLOS – Separate Lives. This London trio’s sound reminds me of the mid/early 1990s trip-hop scene if you crossed it with some of the vocal styles of more classic R&B; the contrast between the sparseness of the verses and the lush textures of the chorus is the song’s greatest appeal even without a single huge hook.

The War On Drugs – Touch of Grey. Speaking of TWOD, the amazing thing about this cover of the Grateful Dead’s only pop hit is that vocalist/guitarist Adam Granduciel manages to make it sound like it was always a War on Drugs song and not something written by a band with its own distinctive sound.

D.A.R.K. – Curvy. This is a bad band name. Comprising Cranberries lead singer Dolores O’Riordan and Smiths bassist Andy Rourke, the group will release its debut album, Science Agrees, in late May, and this lead single sounds less like either of their original acts than it does like a New Order track.

Black Honey – All My Pride. Psychedelic power-pop. I actually know nothing about the group other than this song.

Autolux – Brainwasher. I mean, I knew Autolux was weird, but this song sounds like someone falling down a flight of stairs, and the new album is called Pussy’s Dead, so it’s as if they’re trying to prove they’re even weirder than we thought.

Mourn – Storyteller. Hinds get all the indie love right now, but they’re not the only important band coming out of Barcelona, as Mourn – three girls and one guy, as opposed to Hinds’ all-female roster – have a similar dissonant, jangly, post-punk sound, but with better musicianship. I do like Hinds, but there’s almost a sense that they’re still learning to play and write music, whereas Mourn are much further along as musicians.

White Lung – Kiss Me When I Bleed. This Canadian punk quartet also looks primed for a breakout this year, between the strength of this single and the January release “Hungry.” It’s heavy, fast, and very catchy.

Thrice – Blood On The Sand. That is indeed Riley Breckenridge of the Productive Outs podcast on drums; the post-punk icons’ ninth album is due out later this year.

Anup Sastry – Enigma. A progressive-metal drummer who’s part of Monuments and has also been a member Skyharbor and Intervals, Sastry has released a five-track EP of instrumental “groove metal” or djent or whatever you want to call it. I happen to like this style when it’s not ruined by aggro vocals.

Voivod – Post Society. Voivod hasn’t been the same band for me since the 2005 death of founding guitarist Denis “Piggy” d’Amour, given how critical his songwriting was to their peak albums Nothingface and Dimension Hatross, but this six-minute track from the February EP of the same title offers a strong facsimile of their late ’80s transitional sound as they were moving from straight thrash to the progressive metal sound of Nothingface.

Prong – Cut And Dry. Prong’s 1990 major-label debut, Beg to Differ, remains one of the best metal albums I’ve ever heard, an accessible hybrid of thrash and hardcore styles that brings out the best elements of both genres. They went into a steady decline from there, and their output since their 2003 return has been generally disappointing, but as with the Voivod track above, “Cut and Dry” at least brings back some memories of Prong’s early-1990s peak.

Amon Amarth featuring Doro Pesch – A Dream That Cannot Be. This isn’t actually my favorite track from Amon Amarth’s Viking-themed death metal album Jomsviking, but it’s the only track on the album to feature former Warlock vocalist Doro Pesch.

Top 15 albums of 2015.

My ranking of the top fifteen albums of the year is below, and reflects my own personal preferences, with a balance between albums that have a few standout songs and ones that worked better as cohesive units. You can see last year’s top 14 albums list for a comparison. I heard a lot more than I ranked here, but getting to fifteen albums I truly liked and would recommend wasn’t even easy.

Linked album titles go to full reviews. My ranking of the top 100 songs of the year will follow in a few days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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