Top 100 boardgames, 2017 edition.

I first posted a list of favorite boardgames in November of 2008, just ten titles, only a couple of which were Eurogames, because I’d really barely started on the hobby at that point. I had seen a list somewhere else that I thought was bad, so I made my own list, which in hindsight wasn’t very good either, but it turned out to be an inflection point for me because so many of you responded with suggestions. I started to play some of those, and got a few as gifts, and the more I played, the more I realized how much I enjoyed the games themselves and just the hobby as a whole. I’d liked games as a kid, but games back then were mostly terrible, and the ones on the shelf in the coat closet – Monopoly, Scrabble, Sorry! – were all kind of terrible. (Don’t get me started on Scrabble; any game that requires preparation, such as memorizing word lists, is no longer a game. It is work. I have enough work in my life, thanks.)

The best boardgames combine some kind of puzzle that gets me thinking (or scheming), some social interaction, and that hard-to-define element of fun. I like learning, I like math, I like coming up with ideas and seeing how they work out – especially in the no-consequences world of boardgames. And while I enjoy playing games on mobile devices against AI players, just for the mental workout, I’d much rather play games live, which puts more emphasis on the last two criteria. Now that my daughter is eleven, and old enough to play any game I might bring home, it’s become an even more central part of my life. She even came with me to day three of PAX Unplugged this weekend, and told me as we walked out near closing time that she wished we had a few more hours to keep playing.

This year’s list is my tenth one, the second year I’ve ranked 100 games, which is probably fewer than half of the games I’ve ever tried if we count demos, apps, and online play. The definition of a boardgame is nebulous, but I define it for this list by exclusions: no RPGs, no miniatures, no party games, no word games, no four-hour games, nothing that requires advance prep to play well. Board games don’t need boards – Dominion is all cards, played on a tabletop, so it qualifies – but they do need some skill element to hit my table.

I’ve put a complexity grade to the end of each review, low/medium/high, to make it easier for you to jump around and see what games might appeal to you. I don’t think there’s better or worse complexity, just different levels for different kinds of players. I’m somewhere between medium and high complexity; super “crunchy” games, as other gamers will say, don’t appeal to me as much as they might to the Boardgamegeek crowd. I have omitted some titles I’ve tried that are not available at all in the U.S. yet, and have several games here to review or test that I haven’t played at all or enough to rank, including Raiders of the North Sea, Photosynthesis, London, Wasteland Delivery Express, Clank!, and more.

100. Seikatsu. A new abstract game with gorgeous, well-made components, where two or three players compete to fill out a board with tiles that score once when they’re placed but score a different way at game-end – and where each player’s perspective on the board changes the scoring. My only complaint here is that it’s a bit pricey at $40 for this kind of game; you’re paying for components, but not for the gaming experience. Complexity: Low.

99. Hey That’s My Fish. The rare kids’ boardgame that is still a fun play for adults, where players compete to score points by placing and moving their penguins across a board of hexagonal ice tiles … but the hitch is that the tile you leave then drops into the ocean, so the board changes as you go and you can even trap an opponent’s penguin if you plan it right. The app version, the only way I’ve played this game, includes some great animations, and you can unlock a number of alternate boards via achievements, most of which are low-hanging fruit. This and Blokus are the two best games specifically aimed at younger players that we’ve tried. Complexity: Low.

98. Russian Railroads. Heavy, no-luck strategy game that combines some engine-building with an extremely well-balanced scoring system that allows multiple paths to the 300-point range where you’ll typically finish. Your board has three tracks that you will try to build with multiple train colors, each worth more points than the previous one, while you can also hit various bonuses on those tracks or on the separate factory track, and you can hire engineers that give you additional action types that tend to be even more beneficial. And then there are locomotives, which you need to get to earn any points for your track advancement, but which are scarce (in fact, my one complaint is that they’re too scarce) and become hotly contested. If you like luck-free, complex strategy games, this is up your alley. Complexity: High.

97. Maori: A light two- to four-player game, relatively high in the luck department for this list, with more opportunities to screw your opponent in a two player game, whereas with four players you’re focusing more on your own strategy and less on others’. In the game, players compete to fill out their own boards of 16 spaces by drawing island tiles from a central 4×4 grid, where the available selections depend on the movement of a boat token that travels around that grid’s perimeter. Players must form completed islands to receive points, and lose points for open spaces. Currently out of print, but amazon frequently has copies through marketplace sellers as does boardgamegeek. Complexity: Low.

96. Spyrium. Full review. The steampunk theme didn’t do much for me, but there’s a decent game underneath it of very long-term planning – what you build in phase one really determines how much you’ll be able to accomplish in phase three. From the designer of Caylus, Spyrium requires players to collect the fictional energy-dense crystal of that name (dilithium much?) to build factories that produce more of it or convert it into cash. The real key to the game are the technologies available early in the game that can lead to lower costs later on; skip those, or buy the wrong ones, and you’re sunk. Complexity: Medium-high.

95. Port Royal. I believe this was just released in the U.S. for the first time this year, and it’s great value at about $14. Port Royal is a push-your-luck card game where you’re trying to collect points by buying point cards and completing expedition cards, gaining money by drawing ship cards with gold on them … but if you keep drawing and two ships of the same color appear, you bust. There’s also an engine-building element here that does give it a strategic element beyond shouting “No whammy!” Complexity: Medium-low.

94. Santorini. Full review. Abstract two-player game invented by a math professor, with a pasted-on Greek mythology theme that opens up a number of variants that tweak the base game’s rules. Very chess-lite, which I mean as a compliment. Complexity: Medium.

93. One Night Ultimate Werewolf. Needs at least five people to play well, but otherwise it’s a great social deduction game that can really play in under ten minutes, especially with the companion app to help you along. Each player gets a role, and then everyone closes their eyes; one role is called at a time, and those players “wake up” and do some action. At the end, everyone opens their eyes and tries to guess which players are werewolves – while the werewolves try to deke everyone else out. Complexity: Low.

92. Flash Point: Fire Rescue. Full review. A new cooperative boardgame that borrows very heavily from Pandemic but shifts to a new setting – a burning building with victims to be rescued – and includes different constraints and tools for fighting the common foe. I think Pandemic does this better, not just because Matt Leacock invented this subgenre but because the play itself, especially the way the foe (viruses) spreads across the board, so Flash Point is better if you love Pandemic and want more of the same but on a different board. A good deal right now at $24. Complexity: Medium.

91. Tak. Full review. Not yet in print, although it’s supposed to be delivered to Kickstarter backers this month. This very simple, chess-like (or chess-lite) two-player game is based on a description in Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles novels, but unlike those massive tomes, this game is quick to get into and to play. There’s some strategic density here below the surface despite the limited number of pieces. Each player tries to be the first to construct a path across the board (usually 5×5), but players can stack certain tiles and knock some over, and you quickly end up in a back-and-forth pattern that forms the meat of the game. Complexity: Medium-low.

90. Bottom of the 9th. Yep, it’s a baseball game, but a very simple, streamlined one that just focuses on one half-inning of “play” and works primarily as a game-theory, deduction exercise – one player is the team at bat, the other in the field, and each is really trying to guess what the other player will choose to do. Each player has cards representing the ballplayers, with certain abilities and bonuses depending on the outcome of the two players’ choices – a pitch low or high, inside or away. Very quick to play, with many expansions that add some quirks to the action. Complexity: Low.

89. The Battle for Hill 218. A simple-not-that-simple two-player card game with a high degree of blowing-stuff-up-ness. Two players compete to take control of the hill of the game’s title by placing cards representing different military units that have specific attack and defense skills – some merely attacking an adjacent card, some able to attack deep behind enemy lines. The Kickstarter was a success, and they reprinted this game and the rethemed Battle for Sector 219, but it appears that copies aren’t easy to find. I’ve played and liked the iOS app version. Complexity: Medium-low.

88. Bora Bora. Bora Bora is one of the best-looking games we own and plays like a more complex version of the Castles of Burgundy. Two to four players compete to occupy territories on a central board of five islands, then using resources they acquire there to build on their individual player cards … but that’s just one of many ways to gain points in this game, where you can also hire natives to perform tasks or earn shells or status points, and you can trade in shells for jewelry worth points at game-end, and you can get bonuses for collecting certain combinations of cards, natives, or resources. It’s almost too much – you have so many options the game can slow down if players start overthinking it – but if you like Castles of Burgundy this is a good follow-up purchase. Complexity: Medium.

87. Saloon Tycoon. Full review. A great-looking game that plays well too. Players are indeed saloon owners and must build their taverns across and up – buying cubes that allow them to add second and third floors to their establishments, adding rooms that confer different values and often work in concert with other rooms or certain cards to rack up more points. It’s fun, it’s just lightly competitive – most of what you’re doing is building your own site, but there are a couple of small chances to steal something from an opponent or hand him/her a damaging card. And if you’re comfortable with the presence of a Brothel card (it’s not explained), it’s fine for kids too. Complexity: Medium-low.

86. Mole Rats in Space. Full review. A cooperative game from the designer of Pandemic and Forbidden Desert, this title is specifically aimed at kids, stripping out most of the complexity of those games and reducing the cooperative mechanism to its most basic parts, with players representing astronaut mole-rats on a ship that has been invaded by snakes. The snakes keep coming while the players must try to bring four objects to the center of the board so they can escape.

85. Eight Minute Empire. App review. Haven’t played the physical game yet, but the app is great. I love the idea of a quick game that can satisfy the 4X itch – that’s eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate – in a few minutes with just a handful of rules. Players move out on the map from a central starting region, adding units, collecting goods for points, and trying to control regions or continents before the game ends. The money you start with is all you get, so managing that is a huge part of the game. Complexity: Medium.

84. Valeria: Card Kingdoms. Full review. This game knocked Machi Koro off my list completely, because it fixes that game’s major flaw – players can get totally left behind by a few bad dice rolls. In Valeria, you acquire cards that pay out on certain rolls, with each individual die counting as well as the sum of the two. You gain strength and magic tokens, and then use them to defeat monsters or capture domains for victory points and new benefits. It also has a bit of the Dominion feel in its expansions and ability to mix and match the available cards for enough combinations to last several lifetimes. Complexity: Medium-low.

83. Forbidden Desert. Full review. A medium-weight cooperative game from the designer of Pandemic (a top ten game for me, and the best coop game I’ve played), Forbidden Desert has players trying to escape a sandstorm on a board that changes every game, on which a sandstorm threatens to kill them all if dehydration doesn’t get them first. It’s more luck-driven than Pandemic, which doesn’t suit my particular tastes, but overall is a little quicker to learn. The iOS app is great, but it’s a bastard. Complexity: Medium.

82. Bruges. Full review. An indirect descendant of Agricola, Bruges also has players adding abilities from a giant deck, encouraging long-range planning that racks up points if you get the right cards played in the right combinations. You don’t have to feed your family here; instead you’re a noble in the beautiful Belgian town of (fookin’) Bruges, building stuff for points, because that’s how these games all work. It’s a pretty game as well, although I take a few points off for the disjointed scoring mechanisms. Possibly out of print. Complexity: Medium to medium-high.

81. La Flamme Rouge. Full review. A bike-racing game for two to four players, where each player runs a team of two racers on the board, and must move both of them each turn by working through a small deck of movement cards that, over the course of the game, becomes bogged down with Exhaustion cards. You can also ride in another player’s wake and gain free movement points each turn if you play it correctly, so making a big move for an early lead may not be such a hot idea. The game comes with several alternate board configurations, which gives it more replayability. Complexity: Medium-low.

80. Asara. Full review. Light strategy game that feels to us like a simpler, cleaner implementation of Alhambra’s theme and even some of its mechanics, without the elegance of the best family-strategy games like Stone Age or Small World. Players compete to build towers in five different colors, earning points for building the tallest ones or building the most, while dealing with a moderate element of randomness in acquiring tower parts. It’s also among the best-looking games we own, if that’s your thing. Just $25 as of this writing. Complexity: Low.

79. The Blood of an Englishman. Full review. An asymmetrical two-player game where one player is Jack and the other the Giant, playing on a tableau of five columns of cards. Each player has specific goals to win and distinct actions to take by moving or removing cards that either complete his/her own sets or make the opponent’s task more difficult. Tremendous artwork too. It’s $9 right now. Complexity: Low.

78. Alhambra: Full review. One of my least favorite Spiel winners, with a good tile-placement and scoring system, but the method used to acquire money is an awful mechanic that really screws the game up (for me) with more than two players. One of the cooler-looking games in our collection. There are many, many expansions, but I haven’t tried any. Complexity: Medium.

77. A Game of Thrones: The Card Game. Full review. A very rich deckbuilder and “Living Card Game” (meaning there will be frequent expansion packs) that is extremely true to its theme, with fairly simple mechanics that lead to very intricate gameplay and maneuvering … kind of like the source material. I hated the book, but love this game. The only negative is time, as it takes well over an hour to play a full game, as much as two hours with four players if no one gets an early lead. Complexity: Medium.

76. Scotland Yard: App review. One of the few old-school games on the board, and one I’ve only played in app form. One player plays the criminal mastermind (I don’t know if he’s really a mastermind, but doesn’t he have to be for the narrative to work?) trying to escape the other players, playing detectives, by using London’s transportation network of cabs, buses, the Tube, and occasionally a boat along the Thames. It’s recommended for ages 10 and up but there’s nothing on here a clever six- or seven-year-old couldn’t handle if playing alongside an adult, and like Tobago has a strong deductive-reasoning component that makes it a little bit educational as well as fun. Complexity: Low.

75. Baseball Highlights: 2045: Full review. I was floored at how much I enjoyed this game; it is baseball-themed, but it’s really a fast-moving deckbuilder where your deck only has 15 cards in it and you get to upgrade it constantly between “games.” The names on the player cards are all combinations of names of famous players from history – the first name from one, the last from another, like “Cy Clemens” – except for the robots. It’s not a baseball simulation game, but that might be why I liked it, because it was easier to just let the theme go and play the game for what it is. It’s down this year as we’ve found the replay value is limited, even with the expansions. Complexity: Medium-low.

74. Bärenpark. Full review. A bit of Patchwork or Tetris but for more than two players. Each player tries to build out his/her zoo – for bears, of course – by placing tiles of various shapes and dimensions. Most tiles earn points, and there are bonuses for filling in entire boards. Covering certain squares allows a player to take better tiles from the central supply. End game is a little wonky, as it’s too easy for players to end up without a legal move in the last turn or two. Currently out of stock everywhere. Complexity: Medium-low.

73. Camel Up: Full review. Winner of the Spiel des Jahres award in 2014, Camel Up revolves around the “Camel Cup,” a race around the board involving … well, camels, yes, but camel meeples that stack, so when one lands on a space occupied by one or more camels already, they form a pile that moves as one. Players get to place little bets on each round of the race and on the ultimate winner and loser. Strategy is light, and it works for up to 8 players – the more the merrier in our experience, because it just gets sillier (in a good way). My daughter loves this; I would say I just like it, but I ranked it here because any game that she asks to play is a good one in my book. Complexity: Low.

72. Lords of Waterdeep. I have only reviewed the app version of this game, and it apparently hews very closely to the physical version. Despite the grafted-on Dungeons and Dragons theme, it’s just a worker-placement game where players compete across eight rounds to acquire scarce resources, build buildings worth victory points, and occasionally sabotage other players. Agricola has similar mechanics and constraints, but its greater complexity makes for a more interesting game; Lords is better if you don’t want to spend an hour and a half playing one session. Complexity: Medium.

71. Ra. Full review. One of Reiner Knizia’s classics and one of the great auction games in the genre, Ra got a well-deserved reissue earlier this year from Asmodee. Players collect Egyptian artifacts in groups of tiles. On a turn, a player may bid on the group on display or choose to add another tile; most tiles are worth acquiring but the bag has a few ‘disaster’ tiles that force you to discard something of value. It’s a little long, but it’s a deep economic game with many paths to victory. Complexity: Medium-high.

70. Five Tribes. Full review. A very strong medium-strategy game from Days of Wonder, but one that hit some early backlash because of the heavy use of slaves within the game’s theme – as currency, no less. That’s been fixed in subsequent printings. The game uses an unusual mechanic where all of the meeples start the game on the board and players have to use a funky kind of move to remove as many as they can to gain additional points, goods, or powers. There’s a lot going on, but once you’ve learned everything you can do it’s not that difficult to play. Complexity: Medium.

69. Galaxy Trucker. Full app review. I have only played the iOS app version of the game, which is just amazing, and reviews of the physical game are all pretty strong. Players compete to build starships to handle voyages between stations, and there’s an actual race to grab components during the building phase, after which you have to face various external threats and try to grab treasures while completing missions. It’s a boardgame that has a hint of RPG territory; the app has a long narrative-centric campaign that is best of breed. Complexity: Medium-low.

68. Mysterium. Full review. A truly unique co-op game where one player plays the ghost of a murder victim and must communicate clues to the other players, who play mediums, using vision cards which are, by design, ambiguous. It’s a game that tests your creativity and rewards imagination, rather than piling on complexity to increase its difficulty. It’s already been expanded as well with more cards, some of which are just more suspects or weapons but most of which are new vision cards which make for an even more oneiromantic evening. Complexity: Low.

67. Morels. Full review for Paste. A 2012 release, Morels is an easy-to-learn two-player card game with plenty of decision-making and a small amount of interaction with your opponent as you try to complete and “cook” sets of various mushroom types to earn points. The artwork is impressive and the game is very balanced, reminiscent of Lost Cities but with an extra tick of difficulty because of the use of an open, rolling display of cards from which players can choose. Complexity: Low.

66. Forged in Steel. Full review. A late 2016 release that has been consistently hard to find – it’s out of stock everywhere right now, without so much as a listing on amazon – Forged in Steel is a very complex economic and engine-building game that works because it’s so imaginative and integrates its citybuilding theme so well into game play. Players are building out a Colorado mining town, putting up different building types, controlling mines, and competing for votes to be the town’s Mayor. There’s also a newspaper stand on the board, with three headlines visible at a time, most of which alter game play in significant ways for that round. Complexity: High.

65. Yamatai. Full review. One of the most maligned releases of the year because … reasons? A Days of Wonder release from a well-regarded designer, Yamatai is a stunning game to look at, and manages to make some quirky mechanics work well over a game of manageable length, which I’d consider a big achievement considering how many games fail to do all that in a game under 90 minutes. Players place boats along tracks among the archipelago of islands on the board, but they can build on any island, even if they didn’t place those boats there – it’s the colors of the boats that matters, not who set them afloat. The ninja cards players can acquire are the real key, as many offer players greater benefits for certain core actions that can reap huge rewards if bought early in the game. Complexity: Medium.

64. Discoveries. A nice little gem recommended to me by someone on a boardgame forum I no longer frequent – how’s that for an explanation – with a Lewis & Clark theme of exploration where the players build up skills that allow them to undertake longer or more complicated exploration routes. I will say that I liked this game a lot more than my daughter did, even though I thought up front this would be a fast favorite for her; I think the theme didn’t grab her enough at first sight. Complexity: Medium.

63. Saint Petersburg. A classic Eurogame, recently reissued in German with better artwork, at which I am particularly bad for some reason. It’s all money and cards – you buy cards from the central supply, and each round has three separate scoring events, some of which provide money and some of which provide points. The unique aspect to Saint Petersburg is that you can gain discounts on future purchases by virtue of what you buy now: further copies of the same card cost one coin less for each copy you have, and some cards can be upgraded to more valuable versions, saving you the cost you paid for the card in the first place. I’ve played online a few times, and I found it becoming a bit repetitive over regular plays. Out of print in English, unfortunately. Complexity: Medium-low.

62. Lost Cities: Full review. This was once our favorite two-person game, a simple title from the prolific designer Reiner Knizia, and it’s quite portable since it can be played with nothing but the game cards. We’ve since moved on to some more complex two-player games, but for simplicity (without becoming dumb) this one is still an easy recommendation for me to give folks new to the genre. The deck comprises 12 cards in each of five colors, including cards numbered 2 through 10 and three “investment” cards to double, triple, or quadruple the profit or loss the player earns in that color. Players take turns drawing from the deck but may only place cards in increasing order, so if you draw a green 5 after you played the 6, tough luck. You can knock out a game in 15 minutes or less, so it’s one to play multiple times in a sitting. The iOS app is very slick and plays really quickly – a great one for killing a minute while you’re waiting in line. There is a Lost Cities board game, but I have never played it. Complexity: Low.

61. Jambo. Full review. A two-player card game where the deck is virtually everything, meaning that there’s a high element of chance based on what cards you draw; if you don’t draw enough of the cards that allow you to sell and purchase wares, it’ll be hard for you to win. Each player is an African merchant dealing in six goods and must try to buy and sell them enough times to go from 20 gold at the game’s start to 60 or more at the end. We played this wrong a few times, then played it the right way and found it a little slow, as the deck includes a lot of cards of dubious value. I’ve moved this up a few spots this year after some replays, as it’s one of the best pure two-player games out there. It’s also among my favorite themes, maybe because it makes me think of the Animal Kingdom Lodge at Disneyworld. Out of print for over two years now. Complexity: Low.

60. Xenon Profiteer. Full review. Okay, perhaps not the best name, but it’s a really good game even if you weren’t obsessed with the periodic table like I was as a kid. Players are indeed profiting off xenon – the point is that you’re “refining” your hand of cards each turn to get rid of other gases and isolate the valuable xenon, then building up your tableau of cards to let you rack up more points from it. It’s a smarter deckbuilder with room for expansions, with at least one currently available. Out of print at the moment. Complexity: Medium.

59. Tobago. Full review. Solid family-strategy game with a kid-friendly theme of island exploration, hidden treasures, and puzzle-solving, without a lot of depth but high replay value through a variable board. Players place clue cards in columns that seek to narrow the possible locations of four treasures on the island, with each player placing a card earning a shot at the coins in that treasure – but a small chance the treasure, like the frogurt, will be cursed. The deductive element might be the game’s best attribute. The theme is similar to that of Relic Runners (a Days of Wonder game from 2014 that I didn’t like) but the game plays more smoothly. A bit overpriced right now at $50, though. Complexity: Low.

58. San Juan: Full review. The card game version of Puerto Rico, but simpler, and very portable. I like this as a light game that lets you play a half-dozen times in an evening, but all it really shares with Puerto Rico is a theme and the concept of players taking different roles in each turn. It plays well with two players but also works with three or four. I get that saying this is a better game than Race for the Galaxy (they were developed in tandem before RftG split off) is anathema to most serious boardgamers, but the fact that you can pick this game up so much more easily is a major advantage in my mind, more than enough to balance out the significant loss of complexity; after two or three plays, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how to at least compete. The app version is very strong, with competent AI players and superb graphics. Complexity: Low.

57. Agamemnon: (Link is not to amazon.) Full review. An absolute gem of an abstract two-player game, with very little luck and a lot of balancing between the good move now and holding a tile for a great move later. Players compete to control “threads of fate” – connected lines on a small hub-and-spoke board – by placing their tokens at the hubs, but there are three different types of lines and control of each is determined in its own way. The board has alternate layouts on the other side for infinite replayability, but the main board is elegant enough for many replays, because so much of the game involves outthinking your opponent. Complexity: Low.

56. Acquire. Monopoly for grown-ups, and one of the oldest games on the list. Build hotel chains up from scratch, gain a majority of the shares, merge them, and try to outearn all your opponents. The game hinges heavily on its one random element – the draw of tiles from the pool each turn – but the decisions on buying stock in existing chains and how to sell them after a merger give the player far more control over his fate than he’d have in Monopoly. There’s a two-player variant that works OK, but it’s best with at least three people. The game looks a lot nicer now; I have a copy from the mid-1980s that still has the 1960s artwork and color scheme. Complexity: Low.

55. Quadropolis. Full review. The latest title from Days of Wonder has the company’s usual set of outstanding graphics and well-written rules, but as their games go this is on the more complex end of the spectrum. You’re trying to fill out your city board with tiles representing six or seven different building types; you’ll never be able to do or get everything you want, so the game requires some early decisions and some compromises. It’s a well-designed, well-balanced game, but I have it ranked here because it’s a little workish. Building a city is supposed to be fun, isn’t it, Mr. Sim? Complexity: Medum.

54. Diplomacy. Risk for grown-ups, with absolutely zero random chance – it’s all about negotiating. I wrote about the history of Diplomacy (and seven other games) for mental_floss in 2010, concluding with: “One of a handful of games (with Risk) in both the GAMES Magazine and Origin Awards Halls of Fame, Diplomacy is an excellent choice if you enjoy knife fights with your friends and holding grudges that last well beyond the final move.” I think that sums it up perfectly. I haven’t played this in a few years, unfortunately, although that’s no one’s fault but my own. Complexity: Medium.

53. Seasons: Full review. A hybrid game of deckbuilding and point accumulation, where the decks are very small, so understanding the available cards and the interactions between them (some of which create exponentially better effects) is key to playing the game well. Players play wizards who start the game with nine spell cards to play, divided into three groups of three, and use them to gain energy tokens and crystals that can eventually be converted into points. The seasons change according to a time wheel on the board, and each of the four energy types has a season in which it’s scarce and two in which it’s plentiful. Seasons has a very dedicated fan base and two popular expansions, and I agree with that in that once you get up the steep learning curve it’s a great game due to the number of possibilities for each move and differences from game to game. Complexity: Medium-high.

52. Elder Sign: Full review. Another cooperative game, this one set in the Cthulhu realm of H.P. Lovecraft’s works, Elder Sign takes a different tack on teamwork by emphasizing individual actions within the larger rubric of coordinating actions to reach a common goal. Players represent detectives seeking to rid a haunted mansion of its evil spirits, room by room, earning certain rewards while incurring risks to their health and sanity, all to take out the big foozle before he returns to life and threatens to devour them all. Player actions take place via dice rolls, but players can use their unique skills as well as various cards to alter rolled dice or reroll them entirely to try to achieve the results necessary to clear a room. There’s still a heavy luck component and you’ll probably swear at some point that Cthulhu himself has possessed the dice, but that just makes killing your supernatural enemy all the more satisfying. Complexity: Medium-low.

51. Concordia: Full review . It’s a map game, set in Ancient Rome, built around trade and economics rather than conflict or claiming territories. Much better with four players than with two, where there isn’t enough interaction on the map to force players to make harder decisions. Runner-up for the Kennerspiel des Jahres (Connoisseur’s game of the year) in 2015 to Istanbul. Complexity: Medium.

50. Ex Libris. I used spot #50 as a placeholder last year for a game I loved on first play; I’m doing that again with Ex Libris, of which I saw a demo at GenCon, then played in full (and won!) in the new games section at PAX Unplugged. I have a review copy and have it in my queue for a full review soon. Players collect cards showing (fake) books to go into that player’s library, which must be organized in alphabetical order to score at game-end. There are six categories of books, and in any game, one will be “banned” and cost you a point per book, while another will be a priority category that scores extra points for everyone. Each player will have his/her own special category to also collect for bonus points. There’s also a stability bonus for arranging your bookshelves well. You use action tiles to do everything in the game, sometimes just drawing and shelving cards, but often doing things like swapping cards, stealing them, sifting through the discards, or moving a shelf left or right. Just make sure you know your ABCs. Complexity: Medium.

49. Citadels. Full review. First recommended to me by a reader back in that 2008 post, Citadels didn’t hit my shelves until last winter, when Asmodee reissued the game in one box with all of the existing expansions. It’s a fantastic game for five or more players, still workable at four, not so great below that. It’s a role selection game where players pick a role and then work through those actions by the role’s number, with some roles, of course, that do damage to specific roles that might come later in the turn. It’s the best mix of a party game and a traditional boardgame I’ve seen. Complexity: Medium-low.

48. Coup. Full review. A great, great bluffing game if you have at least four people in your gaming group. Each player gets two cards and can use various techniques to try to take out other players. Last (wo)man standing is the winner. Guaranteed to get the f-bombs flowing. Only about $8 for the whole kit and caboodle. Complexity: Low.

47. Power Grid: Full review. This might be the Acquire for the German-style set, as the best business- or economics-oriented game I’ve found. Each player tries to build a power grid on the board, bidding on plants at auction, placing stations in cities, and buying resources to fire them. Those resources become scarce and the game’s structure puts limits on expansion in the first two “phases.” It’s not a simple game to learn and a few rules are less than intuitive, but I’m not sure I’ve seen a game that does a better job of turning resource constraints into something fun. I’d love to see this turned into an app, although the real-time auction process would make async multi-player a tough sell. Complexity: High (or medium-high).

46. Kingdomino. Full review. This year’s Spiel des Jahres winner, Kingdomino is a great family-strategy game, perfect for playing with a mix of adults and kids, perhaps a little light for the adult gamer crowd, which I think the publishers are hoping to target with the standalone sequel game Queendomino. Players take turns selecting two-square tiles from the display of four, and then place them next to the tiles they’ve already played, trying to fill out a 5×5 grid without going over any boundaries. You score points for creating contiguous areas of the five terrain types in the game, scoring multiples if you have more than one crown in an area. It’s under $20 on amazon now, which is a bargain. Complexity: Medium-low.

45. Glen More: Full review. Build your Scottish settlement, grow wheat, make whiskey. Sure, you can do other stuff, like acquire special tiles (including Loch Ness!) or acquire the most chieftains or earn victory points by trading other resources, but really, whiskey, people. The tile selection mechanic is the biggest selling point, as players move on a track around the edge of the central board and may choose to skip one or more future turns by jumping further back to acquire a better tile. Out of print again. I’ve never played the designer’s next game, Lancaster, even though I have a used copy, but I just noticed it’s $13 on amazon. Complexity: Medium.

44. Lanterns. Full game and app review. A tile-placement and matching game where players are also racing to collect tokens to trade in for bonuses that decline in value as the game goes on. Each tile has lanterns in any of seven colors along the four edges; placing a tile gives you one token of the color facing you … and each opponent one token of the color facing him/her. If you match a tile side to the side it’s touching, you get a token of that color too. There are also bonus tokens from some tiles, allowing you to trade tokens of one color for another. Bonuses come from trading in one token of each color; three pairs; or four of a kind. The art is great and the app adds some wonderful animations. Complexity: Medium-low.

43. Skyward. Full review. One of the most visually striking new games of the year, Skyward also has a novel card-drafting mechanic where one player, the Warden, draws a fixed number of cards and then separates them into piles, one per player, in any way s/he wishes – so if the Warden wants to try to get a certain card, s/he would try to put it in a pile with less attractive cards. Players then take a pile apiece and can discard cards and/or point tokens to build, trying to maximize their points by playing cards that share colors or bonuses. It plays very quickly and the artwork is stellar. Complexity: Medium-low.

42. Tokaido. Full review. Another winner from the designer of 7 Wonders, Takenoko, and one of my least favorite Spiel des Jahres winners, Hanabi, Tokaido has players walking along a linear board, stopping where they choose on any unoccupied space, collecting something at each stop, with a half-dozen different ways to score – collecting all cards of a panorama, finishing sets of trinkets, meeting strangers for points or coins, or donating to the temple to try to get the game-end bonus for the most generous traveler. It’s a great family-level game that requires more thought and more mental math than most games of its ilk. The app is excellent as well. Complexity: Medium.

41. Targi. Full review. Moderately complex two-player game with a clever mechanic for placing meeples on a grid – you don’t place meeples on the grid itself, but on the row/column headers, so you end up blocking out a whole row or column for your opponent. Players gather salt, pepper, dates, and the relatively scarce gold to enable them to buy “tribe cards” that are worth points by themselves and in combinations with other cards. Some tribe cards also confer benefits later in the game. Two-player games often tend to be too simple, or feel like weak variants of games designed for more players. Targi isn’t either of those things – it’s a smart game that feels like it was built for exactly two people. Back in print for 2017. Complexity: Medium.

40. T’zolkin. T’zolkin is a fairly complex worker-placement game where the board itself has six interlocked gears that move with the days of the Mayan calendar; you place a worker on one gear and he cycles through various options for moves until you choose to recall him. As with most worker-placement games, you’re collecting food, gold, wood, and stone; building stuff; and moving up some scoring tracks. The gears, though, are kind of badass. Complexity: High.

39. Love Letter: Full review. The entire game is just sixteen cards and a few heart tokens. Each player has one card and has to play it; the last player still alive wins the round. It requires at least three players to be any good and was much better with four, with lots of laughing and silly stare-downs. It’s the less serious version of Coup, and it’s only $9. Complexity: Low.

38. Cacao. Full review. A simpler Carcassonne? I guess every tile-laying game gets compared to the granddaddy of them all, but Cacao certainly looks similar, and you don’t get to see very far ahead in the tile supply in Cacao, although at least here you get a hand of three tiles from which to choose. But the Cacao board ends up very different, a checkerboard pattern of alternating tiles between players’ worker tiles and the game’s neutral tiles, which can give you cacao beans, let you sell beans for 2-4 gold pieces, give you access to water, give you partial control of a temple, or just hand you points. One key mechanic: if you collect any sun tiles, you can play a new tile on top of a tile you played earlier in the game, which is a great way to make a big ten-point play to steal the win. Complexity: Low.

37. Thebes: Full review. A fun family-oriented game with an archaelogy theme and what I think of as the right amount of luck: it gives the game some balance and makes replays more interesting, but doesn’t determine the whole game. Players collect cards to run expeditions to five dig sites, then root around in the site’s bag of tokens to try to extract treasure. Back in print at the moment. Complexity: Medium-low.

36. Patchwork: Full review. A really sharp two-player game that has an element of Tetris – players try to place oddly shaped bits of fabric on his/her main board, minimizing unused space and earning some small bonuses along the way. It’s from Uwe Rosenberg, better known for designing the ultra-complex games Agricola, Le Havre, and Caverna. Go figure. And go get it. Complexity: Low.

35. Through the Desert: Full app review. Another Knizia game, this one on a large board of hexes where players place camels in chains, attempting to cordon off entire areas they can claim or to connect to specific hexes worth extra points, all while potentially blocking their opponents from building longer or more valuable chains in the same colors. Very simple to learn and to set up, and like most Knizia games, it’s balanced and the mechanics work beautifully. Out of print at the moment, but I heard at GenCon this year that it’s getting a reissue in 2018. Horse with no name sold separately. Complexity: Low.

34. Puerto Rico: Full review. One of the highest-rated and most-acclaimed Eurogames of all time, although I think its combination of worker-placement and building has been done better by later designers. You’re attempting to populate and build your own island, bringing in colonists, raising plantations, developing your town, and shipping goods back to the mother country. Very low luck factor, and just the right amount of screw-your-neighbor (while helping yourself, the ultimate defense). Unfortunately, the corn-and-ship strategy is really tough to beat, reducing the game’s replay value for me. There’s a solid iOS app as well, improved after some major upgrades. Complexity: High.

33. Vikings: Full review. A very clever tile placement game in which players place island and ship tiles in their areas and then place vikings of six different colors on those tiles to maximize their points. Some vikings score points directly, but can’t score unless a black “warrior” viking is placed above them. Grey “boatsman” vikings are necessary to move vikings you’ve stored on to unused tiles. And if you don’t have enough blue “fisherman” vikings, you lose points at the end of the game for failing to feed everyone. Tile selection comes from a rondel that moves as tiles come off the board, with each space on the rondel assigning a monetary value to the tiles; tiles become cheaper as the number remaining decreases. You’re going to end up short somewhere, so deciding early where you’ll punt is key. Great game that still gets too little attention. Complexity: Medium.

32. Thurn und Taxis: Full review. I admit to a particularly soft spot for this game, as I love games with very simple rules that require quick thinking with a moderate amount of foresight. (I don’t care for chess, which I know is considered the intellectual’s game, because I look three or four moves ahead and see nothing but chaos.) Thurn und Taxis players try to construct routes across a map of Germany, using them to place mail stations and to try to occupy entire regions, earning points for doing so, and for constructing longer and longer routes. I’ve played this a ton online, and there’s a clear optimal strategy, but to pull it off you do need a little help from the card draws. Complexity: Low.

31½. Terraforming Mars. Full review. The best complex strategy game of 2016, Terraforming Mars is big and long but so imaginative that it provides an engrossing enough experience to last the two hours or so it takes to play. The theme is just what the title says, based on the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson (which I loathed), as the players compete to rack up points while jointly transforming the planet’s surface. The environment is tracked with three main variables – oxygen levels, surface temperature, and water supply – that alter the effects of various moves and buildings as the game progresses. The cards are the heart of the play itself, as they can provide powerful points bonuses and/or game benefits. It’s already been expanded at least twice, with Hellas & Elysium last year and Venus Next appearing at PAX Unplugged. Complexity: High.

31. Whistle Stop. Full review coming soon. One of the best new games of 2017, Whistle Stop is a train game that takes a little bit from lots of other train games, including Ticket to Ride, Steam, and Russian Railroads, without becoming bogged down by too many rules or scoring mechanisms. It also has gloriously fun, pastel-colored pieces and artwork, and the variable board gives it a ton of replay value. It was an immediate hit in my house. Complexity: Medium.

30. Istanbul. Full review. Not Constantinople. Istanbul won the 2014 Kennerspiel des Jahres, but it’s not that complex a game overall; my then eight-year-old daughter figured out a basic strategy right away (I call it the “big money” strategy) that was surprisingly robust, and the rules are not that involved or difficult. Players are merchants in a Turkish marketplace, trying to acquire the rubies needed to win the game through various independent channels. There’s a competitive element in that you don’t want to pursue the same methods everyone else is, because that just raises the costs. It’s also a very visually appealing game. There’s a new dice game coming at the end of December, with a similar theme but with new mechanics, ditching the pathfinding/backtracing element of the original game and concentrating on goods trading and dice manipulation. Complexity: Medium.

29. Broom Service. Full review. The Kennerspiel des Jahres winner for 2015, Broom Service is lighter than most games in that category, but still complex enough to be more than just a family-strategy game, although the theme appealed to my daughter and she didn’t have any trouble understanding the base game’s rules. Players take on various roles to move their witch tokens around the board, gathering potions or delivering them to various towers for points, or collecting wands and clouds to gain other bonuses. There are multiple paths to win, but they’re all fairly straightforward; the role selection process is unique and takes some getting used to for younger players. It was a well-deserving winner. More than half off today at amazon at $19.59. Complexity: Medium.

28. 7 Ronin: Full review. An asymmetrical two-player game with a Seven Samurai theme – and when I say “theme,” I mean that’s the whole story of the game. One player is the seven ronin of the title, hired to defend a village against the invading ninjas, controlled by the other player. If the ninjas don’t take the village or wipe out the ronin before eight rounds are up, the ronin player wins. But the ninja can gain a decisive advantage in the first four rounds with the right moves. It’s very clever, the art is fantastic, and the theme is completely integrated into the game itself. It also plays in about 30 minutes. Complexity: Medium-low.

27. Ingenious. Full app review. Ingenious another Reiner Knizia title, a two-person abstract strategy game that involves tile placement but where the final scoring compares each player’s lowest score across the six tile colors, rather than his/her highest. That alters gameplay substantially, often making the ideal play seem counterintuitive, and also requires each player to keep a more careful eye on what the other guy is doing. The catch: The app, which I owned and reviewed, is now gone from all app stores, because of a trademark dispute (and maybe more). It may return under a new name, Axio Hexagonal, but it’s not anywhere yet. Boo. Complexity: Low.

26. Orient Express: An outstanding game that’s long out of print; I’m lucky enough to still have the copy my father bought for me in the 1980s, but fans have crafted their own remakes, like this one from a Boardgamegeek user. It takes those logic puzzles where you try to figure out which of five people held which job and lived on which street and had what for breakfast and turns them into a murder mystery board game with a fixed time limit. When the Orient Express reaches its destination, the game ends, so you need to move fast and follow the clues. The publishers still sell the expansions, adding up to 30 more cases for you to solve, through this site, but when I asked them about plans for a reprint they gave me the sense it’s not likely. There’s a 2017 game of the same name, but it’s unrelated. Complexity: Low.

25. Kodama: The Tree Spirits. Full review. Definitely among the cutest games we’ve played, with artwork that looks like it came from the pen of Hayao Miyazaki, but also a quick-playing game that has something I hadn’t seen before in how you place your cards. Players start with a tree trunk card with one ‘feature’ on it, and must add branch cards to the trunk and beyond, scoring whenever a feature appears on the card just placed and the card (or trunk) to which it connects. You can score up to 10 points on a turn, and will add 12 cards to your tree. You get four secret bonus cards at the start of the game and play one at the end of each season (4 turns), and each season itself has a special rule that varies each game. It’s light, portable, and replays extremely well. The base game also includes Sprout cards for simpler play with younger children. Complexity: Low.

24. Battle Line: Full review. Reissued this year as Schotten Totten – same game, different theme, better art, $5 cheaper. Among the best two-player games we’ve found, designed by Reiner Knizia, who is also behind half the other games on this list. Each player tries to build formations on his/her side of the nine flags that stand in a line between him and his opponent; formations include three cards, and the various formation types resemble poker hands, with a straight flush of 10-9-8 in one color as the best formation available. Control three adjacent flags, or any five of the nine, and you win. But ten tactics cards allow you to bend the rules, by stealing a card your opponent has played, raising the bar for a specific flag from three cards to four, or playing one of two wild cards that can stand in for any card you can’t draw. There’s a fair amount of randomness involved, but playing nine formations at once with a seven-card hand allows you to diversify your risk. The iOS app is among the best as well. Complexity: Low.

23. King of Tokyo. Full review. From the guy who created Magic: the Gathering comes a game that has no elfs or halflings or deckbuilding whatsoever. Players are monsters attempting to take control of Tokyo, attacking each other along the way while trying to rack up victory points and maintain control of the city space on the board. Very kid-friendly between the theme and major use of the dice (with up to two rerolls per turn), but good for the adults too; it plays two to six but I think it needs at least three to be any good. Complexity: Medium-low.

22. Imhotep. Full review. Nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2016, Imhotep lost out to Codenames – a solid party game, not quite good enough for this top 100 between the language dependence and the lack of a strategic element – but in my opinion should have won. Imhotep is a quick-playing game with lots of depth as players gather stones, place them on ships, and sail ships to any of five possible destinations, each with a different benefit or point value. You can place a stone on any ship, and you can use your turn to sail a ship without any of your stones on it – say, to keep someone else from blocking your path or from scoring a big bonus. Each destination tile has two sides so you can vary the game, mixing and matching for up to 32 different configurations. Complexity: Medium-low.

21. Caylus: Full app review. Another game I’ve only played in its app version, Caylus is among the best of the breed of highly-complex games that also includes Agricola and Le Havre, with slightly simpler rules and fewer pieces, yet the same lack of randomness and relatively deep strategy. I’ve also found the game is more resilient to early miscues than other complex strategy games, as long as you don’t screw up too badly. In Caylus, players compete for resources used to construct new buildings along one public road and used to construct parts of the main castle where players can earn points and special privileges like extra points or resources. If another player uses a building you constructed, you get a point or a resource, and in most cases only one player can build a specific building type, while each castle level has a finite number of blocks to be built. There are also high point value statues and monuments that I think are essential to winning the game, but you have to balance the need to build those against adding to the castle and earning valuable privileges. Even playing the app a dozen or more times I’ve never felt it becoming monotonous, and the app’s graphics are probably the best I’ve seen alongside those of Agricola’s. Complexity: High.

20. Egizia: I’m not even sure how I first heard about Egizia, a complex worker-placement game that has a great theme (ancient Egypt) and, despite some complexity in the number of options, hums along better than most games of this style. In each round, players place meeples on various spots on and along the Nile river on the board. Some give cards with resources, some give cards with bonuses, some allow you to boost the power of your construction crews, and some tracks allow you to build in the big points areas, the monuments found in one corner of the board. You also can gain a few bonus cards, specific to you and hidden from others, that give you more points for certain game-end conditions, like having the most tiles in any single row of the pyramid. Best with four players, but workable with three; with two you’re playing a fun game of solitaire. Currently out of print; I was lucky to score a copy in trade. Complexity: High.

19. New Bedford. Full review. I adore this game, which is about whaling, but somehow manages to sneak worker-placement and town-building into the game too, and figures out how to reward people who do certain things early without making the game a rout. Each player gets to add buildings to the central town of New Bedford (much nicer than the actual town is today), or can use one of the central buildings; you pay to use someone else’s building, and they can be worth victory points to their owners at game-end. The real meat of the game is the whaling though – you get two ships, and the more food you stock them with, the more turns they spend out at sea, which means more turns where you might grab the mighty sperm whale token from the bag. But you have to pay the dockworkers to keep each whale and score points for it. For a game that has this much depth, it plays remarkably fast – never more than 40 minutes for us with three players. Complexity: Medium.

18. (The Settlers of) Catan: It’s now just called Catan, although I use the old title because I think more people know it by that name. We don’t pull this game out as much as we did a few years ago, and I’ve still got it ranked this high largely because of its value as an introduction to Eurogames, one of the best “gateway games” on the market. Without this game, we don’t have the explosion in boardgames we’ve had in the last fifteen years. We don’t have Ticket to Ride and 7 Wonders showing up in Target (where you can also buy Catan), a whole wall of German-style games in Barnes & Noble, or the Cones of Dunshire on network television. Only four games on this list predate Settlers, from an era where Monopoly was considered the ne plus ultra of boardgames and you couldn’t complain about how long and awful it was because you had no basis for comparison. The history of boardgames comprises two eras: Before Catan, and After Catan. We are fortunate to be in 22 A.C. Complexity: Medium-low.

17. Azul. Full review. The best new family-strategy game of 2017 (so far, I guess), Azul comes from the designer of Vikings and Asara, and folds some press-your-luck mechanics into a pattern-matching game where you collect mosaic tiles and try to transfer them from a storage area to your main 5×5 board. You can only put each tile type in each row once, and in each column once, and you lose points for tiles you can’t place at the end of each round. It’s quite addictive and moves fairly quickly, even when everyone starts playing chicken with the pile left in the middle of the table for whoever chooses last in the round. The game is out in Europe is in stock on Plan B’s site, but I believe it’ll be available through U.S. retail this week. Complexity: Medium.

16. Tigris & Euphrates: Full review. The magnum opus from Herr Knizia, a two- to four-player board game where players fight for territory on a grid that includes the two rivers of the game’s title, but where the winning player is the one whose worst score (of four) is the best. Players gain points for placing tiles in each of four colors, for having their “leaders” adjacent to monuments in those colors, and for winning conflicts with other players. Each player gets points in those four colors, but the idea is to play a balanced strategy because of that highest low score rule. The rules are a little long, but the game play is very straightforward, and the number of decisions is large but manageable. Fantasy Flight also reissued this title in 2015, with a much-needed graphics update and smaller box. Complexity: Medium.

15. Small World: Full review. I think the D&D-style theme does this game a disservice – that’s all just artwork and titles, but the game itself requires some tough real-time decisions. Each player uses his chosen race to take over as many game spaces as possible, but the board is small and your supply of units runs short quickly, forcing you to consider putting your race into “decline” and choosing a new one. But when you choose a new one is affected by what you stand to lose by doing so, how well-defended your current civilization’s position is, and when your opponents are likely to go into decline. The iPad app is outstanding too. Complexity: Medium.

14. Agricola: I gained a new appreciation for this game thanks to the incredible iOS app version developed by Playdek, which made the game’s complexity less daunting and its internal sophistication more evident. You’re a farmer trying to raise enough food to feed your family, but also trying to grow your family so you have more help on the farm. The core game play isn’t that complex, but huge decks of cards offering bonuses, shortcuts, or special skills make the game much more involved, and require some knowledge of the game to play it effectively. My wife felt this game felt way too much like work; I enjoyed it more than that, but it is undeniably complex and you can easily spend the whole game freaking out about finding enough food, which about a billion or so people on the planet refer to as “life.” Mayfair reissued the game in 2016 with some improved graphics and a lower price point, although the base game now only plays 1-4. Complexity: High.

13. Takenoko.Full review. If I tell you this is the cutest game we own, would you consider that a negative? The theme and components are fantastic – there’s a panda and a gardener and these little bamboo pieces, and the panda eats the bamboo and you have to lay new tiles and make sure they have irrigation and try not to go “squeeeeee!” at how adorable it all is. There’s a very good game here too: Players draw and score “objective” cards from collecting certain combinations of bamboo, laying specific patterns of hex tiles, or building stacks of bamboo on adjacent tiles. The rules are easy enough for my daughter to learn, but gameplay is more intricate because you’re planning a few moves out and have to deal with your opponents’ moves – although there’s no incentive to screw your opponents. Just be careful – that panda is hungry. Complexity: Medium-low.

12. Great Western Trail. Full review. It’s a monster, but it’s an immaculately constructed game, especially for its length and complexity. It’s a real gamer’s game, but I found an extra level of satisfaction from admiring how balanced and meticulous the design is; if there’s a flaw in it, beyond its weight (which is more than many people would like in a game), I didn’t find it. You’re rasslin’ cows, collecting cow cards and delivering them along the board’s map to Kansas City, but you’re doing so much more than that as you go, hiring workers, building your own buildings, and moving your train along the outer track so that you can gain more from those deliveries. The real genius of the design is that you only have a few options on each turn even though the game itself has a massive scope. That prevents it from becoming overwhelming or bogging down in analysis paralysis on each player’s turn. It’s the best new game I’ve seen this year. Complexity: High.

11. Stone Age: Full review. Really a tremendous game, with lots of real-time decision-making but simple mechanics and goals that first-time players always seem to pick up quickly. It’s also very hard to hide your strategy, so newbies can learn through mimicry – thus forcing veteran players to change it up on the fly. Each player is trying to build a small stone-age civilization by expanding his population and gathering resources to construct buildings worth varying amounts of points, but must always ensure that he feeds all his people on each turn. We introduced my daughter to the game this year and she took to it right away, beating us on her second play. The base game has been out of print for over a year now, and a reader tells me the iOS app died with the 64-bit app-ocalypse. Complexity: Medium.

10. Samurai: Full review. I bought the physical game after a few months of playing the app, and it’s a great game – simple to learn, complex to play, works very well with two players, plays very differently with three or four as the board expands. Players compete to place their tiles on a map of Japan, divided into hexes, with the goal of controlling the hexes that contain buddha, farmer, or soldier tokens. Each player has hex tiles in his color, in various strengths, that exert control over the tokens they show; samurai tokens that affect all three token types; boats that sit off the shore and affect all token types; and special tokens that allow the reuse of an already-placed tile or allow the player to switch two tokens on the board. Trying to figure out where your opponent might screw you depending on what move you make is half the fun. Very high replayability too. Fantasy Flight updated the graphics, shrank the box, and reissued it in 2015. Complexity: Medium/low.

9. 7 Wonders Duel. Full review. Borrowing its theme from one of the greatest boardgames of all time, 7W Duel strips the rules down so that each player is presented with fewer options. Hand cards become cards on the table, revealed a few at a time in a set pattern that limits player choices to one to four cards (roughly) per turn. Familiarity with the original game is helpful but by no means required. Complexity: Medium-low.

8. Jaipur: Full review. Jaipur is now our go-to two-player game, just as easy to learn but with two shades of additional complexity and a bit less randomness. In Jaipur, the two players compete to acquire collections of goods by building sets of matching cards in their hands, balancing the greater point bonuses from acquiring three to five goods at once against the benefit of taking one or two tokens to prevent the other player from getting the big bonuses. The game moves quickly due to a small number of decisions, like Lost Cities, so you can play two or three full games in an hour. It’s also incredibly portable. The new app is also fantastic, with a campaign mode full of variants. Complexity: Low.

7. Ticket To Ride: Full review. Actually a series of games, all working on the same theme: You receive certain routes across the map on the game board – U.S. or Europe, mostly – and have to collect enough train cards in the correct colors to complete those routes. But other players may have overlapping routes and the tracks can only accommodate so many trains. Like Dominion, it’s very simple to pick up, so while it’s not my favorite game to play, it’s my favorite game to bring or bring out when we’re with people who want to try a new game but either haven’t tried anything in the genre or aren’t up for a late night. I do recommend the 1910 Expansion< to anyone who gets the base Ticket to Ride game, as it has larger, easier-to-shuffle cards and offers more routes for greater replayability. We also own the Swiss and Nordic boards, which only play two to three players and involve more blocking than the U.S. and Europe games do, so I don't recommend them. The iPad app, developed in-house, is among the best available. The newest expansion, France/The Old West, comes out in February.

There’s also a kids’ version, available exclusively at Target, with a separate app for that as well. Complexity: Low.

6. Splendor: Full review. A Spiel des Jahres nominee in 2014, Splendor has fast become a favorite in our house for its simple rules and balanced gameplay. My daughter, now eight, loves the game and is able to play at a level pretty close to the adults. It’s a simple game where players collect tokens to purchase cards from a 4×3 grid, and where purchased cards decrease the price of other cards. Players have to think long-term without ignoring short-term opportunities, and must compare the value of going for certain in-game bonuses against just plowing ahead with purchases to get the most valuable cards. The Splendor app, made by the team at Days of Wonder, is amazing, and is available for iOS, Android, and Steam. I also like the four-in-one expansion for the base game, Cities of Splendor. Complexity: Low.

5. Pandemic: Full review. The king of cooperative games. Two to four players work together to stop global outbreaks of four diseases that spread in ways that are only partly predictable, and the balance between searching for the cures to those diseases and the need to stop individual outbreaks before they spill over and end the game creates tremendous tension that usually lasts until the very end of the event deck at the heart of the game. The On The Brink expansion adds new roles and cards while upping the complexity further. The Pandemic iOS app is among the best out there and includes the expansion as an in-app purchase.

I’m bundling Pandemic Legacy, one of the most critically acclaimed boardgames of all time, into this entry as well, as the Legacy game carries the same mechanics but with a single, narrative storyline that alters the game, including the board itself, as you play. My daughter and I are in April of season one, but season two is out already, so we are slackers. Complexity: Medium for the base game, medium-high for the Legacy game.

4. Dominion: Full review. I’ve condensed two Dominion entries into one this year, since they all have the same basic mechanics, just new cards. The definitive deck-building game, with no actual board. Dominion’s base set – there are ten expansions now available, so you could spend a few hundred dollars on this – includes money cards, action cards, and victory points cards. Each player begins with seven money cards and three victory cards and, shuffling and drawing five cards from his own deck each turn, must add cards to his deck to allow him to have the most victory points when the last six-point victory card is purchased. I don’t think we have a multi-player game with a smaller learning curve, and the fact that the original set alone comes with 25 action cards but each game you play only includes 10 means it offers unparalleled replayability even before you add an expansion set. I’ll vouch for the Dominion: Intrigue expansion, which includes the base cards so it’s a standalone product, and the Seaside expansion, which is excellent and really changes the way the game plays, plus a standalone expansion further up this list. The base game is appropriate for players as young as six. Complexity: Low.

3. The Castles Of Burgundy: Full review. Castles of Burgundy is the rare game that works well across its range of player numbers, as it scales well from two to four players by altering the resources available on the board to suit the number of people pursuing them. Players compete to fill out their own boards of hexes with different terrain/building types (it’s like zoning) by competiting for tiles on a central board, some of which are hexes while others are goods to be stored and later shipped for bonuses. Dice determine which resources you can acquire, but you can also alter dice rolls by paying coins or using special buildings to change or ignore them. Setup is a little long, mostly because sorting cardboard tiles is annoying, but gameplay is only moderately complex – a little more than Stone Age, not close to Caylus or Agricola – and players get so many turns that it stays loose even though there’s a lot to do over the course of one game. I’ve played this online about 50 times, using all the different boards, even random setups that dramatically increase the challenge, and I’m not tired of it yet. Complexity: Medium.

2. 7 Wonders: Full review. 7 Wonders swept the major boardgame awards (yes, there are such things) in 2011 for good reason – it’s the best new game to come on the scene in a few years, combining complex decisions, fast gameplay, and an unusual mechanic around card selections where each player chooses a card from his hand and then passes the remainder to the next player. Players compete to build out their cities, each of which houses a unique wonder of the ancient world, and must balance their moves among resource production, buildings that add points, military forces, and trading. We saw no dominant strategy, several that worked well, and nothing that was so complex that we couldn’t quickly pick it up after screwing up our first game. The only negative here is the poorly written rules, but after one play it becomes far more intuitive. Plays best with three or more players, but the two-player variant works well. The brand-new iPad app version is amazing too, with an Android port coming soon. Complexity: Medium.

1. Carcassonne: Full review. The best-of-breed iOS app has only increased my appreciation for Carcassonne, a game I still play regularly by myself, with my wife and daughter, and with friends here or online. It brings ease of learning, tremendous replayability (I know I use that word a lot here, but it does matter), portability (you can put all the tiles and meeples in a small bag and stuff it in a suitcase), and plenty of different strategies and room for differing styles of play. You build the board as you go: Each player draws a tile at random and must place it adjacent to at least one tile already laid in a way that lines up any roads or cities on the new tile with the edges of the existing ones. You get points for starting cities, completing cities, extending roads, or by claiming farmlands adjacent to completing cities. It’s great with two players, and it’s great with four players. You can play independently, or you can play a little offense and try to stymie an opponent. The theme makes sense. The tiles are well-done in a vaguely amateurish way – appealing for their lack of polish. And there’s a host of expansions if you want to add a twist or two. We own the Traders and Builders expansion, which I like mostly for the Builder, an extra token that allows you to take an extra turn when you add on to whatever the Builder is working on, meaning you never have to waste a turn when you draw a plain road tile if you sit your Builder on a road. We also have Inns and Cathedrals, which we’ve only used a few times; it adds some double-or-nothing tiles to roads and cities, a giant meeple that counts as two when fighting for control of a city/road/farm, as well as the added meeples needed to play with a sixth opponent. Complexity: Low/medium-low for the base game, medium with expansions.

And, as with last year, my rankings of these games by how they play with just two players:

1. Jaipur
2. 7 Wonders Duel
3. Carcassonne
4. 7 Ronin
5. Baseball Highlights: 2045
5. Stone Age
6. Ticket to Ride
7. Splendor
8. Patchwork
9. Agamemnon
10. Dominion/Intrigue
11. Small World
12. Battle Line/Schotten Totten
13. Samurai
15. Castles of Burgundy
16. Morels
17. Ingenious
18. Azul
19. New Bedford
20. Cacao
21. Targi
22. Lost Cities
23. Pandemic
24. Blood of an Englishman
25. Jambo
26. Through the Desert
27. San Juan
28. Tak: A Beautiful Game
29. Santorini
30. Tak

Also, I get frequent requests for games that play well with five or more; I can confidently recommend 7 Wonders and Citadels, both of which handle 5+ right out of the box. Ticket to Ride is tight with five players, but that’s its maximum. Catan can handle 5 or 6 with an expansion, although it can result in a lengthy playing time. For more social games, One Night Ultimate Werewolf is best with five or more also, and I believe Crossfire, which I have yet to play but am planning to review, requires five players.

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.

Top 100 boardgames.

This is now the ninth iteration of my own personal boardgame rankings, a list that’s now up to 100 titles, up twenty this time from last year’s list. It’s not intended to be a critic’s list or an analytical take on the games; it’s about 80% based on how much we enjoy the games, with everything else – packaging and design, simplicity of rules, and in one case, the game’s importance within its niche – making up the rest. I think I’ll probably hold the list at an even 100 going forward as it’s a monster to update each year.

I don’t mind a complex game, but I prefer games that offer more with less – there is an elegance in simple rules or mechanics that lead to a fun, competitive game. Don’t expect this to line up with the rankings at BoardGameGeek, where there’s something of a bias toward more complex games, which is fine but doesn’t line up perfectly with my own tastes.

I’ve expanded the list to include several games I have only played via iOS app implementations, rather than physical copies. As always, clicking on the game title takes you to amazon.com; if I have a full review posted here or on Paste magazine’s site, the link to that will follow immediately. I’ve linked to app reviews where appropriate too. I’ve got many of these games in my aStore on amazon as well, unless they’re totally out of print.

I’ve added a few titles at the end that I own but haven’t played, or have not played enough to offer a review of them or rank them. Many of those will appear on a future list once I get to play them more.

I’ve put a complexity grade to the end of each review, low/medium/high, to make it easier for you to jump around and see what games might appeal to you. I don’t think there’s better or worse complexity, just different levels for different kinds of players. My wife prefers medium; I’m somewhere between medium and high. This isn’t like ordering a filet and asking for it well done, which I believe violates one of the Ten Commandments.

[Read more…]

TV (The Book).

I’ve never met Alan Sepinwall but I certainly feel like I know him, having read his TV recaps and reviews for years now and watched many of his “Ask Alan” videos, so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what would be in his TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time, which he wrote with fellow critic Matt Zoller Seitz. I was right in that I had a sense of what shows would come in for particular praise in their ranking of the medium’s 100 greatest shows, but I think I underestimated the depth this book provides on so many titles, with tremendous essays on shows’ merits, flaws, influence, and cultural legacy. It’s so good that I could even get caught up in summaries of shows I’d never heard of before – a Novel 100 for scripted, fictional TV programs.

SepinSeitz set some ground rules down before delving into their list, and I’ll repeat them here because, as you know, no one ever reads the intro (or, in this case, The Explanation). The list is limited to U.S. shows only – so no Fawlty Towers or Upstairs, Downstairs – and to narrative fiction, eliminating anything like sketch comedy. They eliminated most shows that are still airing, with a few exceptions for shows with large bodies of work already in the can, and included shows that only aired for one season but penalized them in their scoring system. That system weighs a lot of critical considerations like influence, innovation, and consistency along with what you might consider the show’s contemporary entertainment value. It works in the end, however, as the list they’ve produced is going to start a lot of arguments but at least puts all of these shows in the right buckets to get those debates going.

Since I watch very little TV now, I’m totally unqualified to question anything these guys wrote about shows from the last 15 years or so; I’ve got a few disagreements with shows from earlier in TV history, but by and large I read this book as someone just generally interested in what I missed that was worth seeing. My favorite U.S. show of all time, The Wire, makes their top 5, and several other favorites of mine, including Arrested Development, Parks and Recreation, and Homicide: Life on the Street, all appear in their top 50. They break the list down into chunks – the top ten are “The Inner Circle,” the next forty are “No-Doubt-About-It Classics,” followed by twenty-five “Groundbreakers and Workhorses” and twenty-five “Outlier Classics” – that provide some structure to the list, although I didn’t think the labels were necessary given the depth of the essays on each program. Sure, Police Squad! was a groundbreaker, and Law & Order was a workhorse, but the review for each makes that clear. (SepinSeitz’ ranking of all seventeen L&O cast combinations is a highlight of the book, although I think I disagree with them on “Invaders,” the episode where Borgia is killed, one of the most harrowing of the series.)

Some other scattered observations on the essays and rankings:

• The essay on The Cosby Show is one of the book’s absolute highlights; the authors co-wrote it (many are credited to AS or MZS specifically), and cover everything, including the sheer impossibility of watching the show today given what we know now about the star. It was, however, a cultural milestone in its era, a highly-rated, critically-acclaimed show that anchored NBC’s Thursday night programming for years, and put an African-American family into TV territory that previously had been reserved for white characters. We’d seen upper-middle-class white families on TV that encountered modern problems, but if there were characters of color, they were the neighbors, or one of the kids’ best friends, never at the center of the show. For adults of a certain age today, The Cosby Show contributed to our understanding that there shouldn’t be any differences between families just because of skin color. Unfortunately, Bill Cosby the rapist has destroyed his legacy as a comedian and a silently progressive TV star, and the authors don’t shy away from that problem.

• My one disagreement with the authors here – and with Michael Schur, who knows a thing or two about sitcoms – is the placement of Cheers in their top five. I did watch Cheers pretty regularly for the first half of its run, and somewhere post-Diane, the show turned into a shell of itself, replete with repetitive one-liners, overreliant on lowbrow humor, populated with characters who became parodies of their former selves. (Friends did the same thing after the ‘big’ Ross and Rachel breakup, turning Ross from slightly nerdy but socially functional to awkwardly, annoyingly nerdy and “how is he even friends with these other people?”) I found the show’s last few years cringeworthy enough that I gradually stopped watching, and only returned for the finale and the cast’s drunken appearance on The Tonight Show. They never recaptured what made them a hit – few comedies can sustain anything that long anyway, but I couldn’t put Cheers in the Inner Circle given what it became.

• I was thrilled to see the one Miami Vice episode I remember clearly from when it first aired, “Out Where the Buses Don’t Run,” earn a mention in that show’s writeup. It was stylish, ’80s noir, and I have often felt like I’ve seen its influence pop up in other, lesser cop shows since. (Including, weirdly enough, a Diagnosis Murder episode with Perry King.)

• Shows I was thrilled to see ranked and to earn writeups: Police Squad!, WKRP in Cincinnati, NewsRadio, Moonlighting, Firefly.

• Shows I either didn’t know, or knew but hadn’t considered watching, but will add to my list of shows I would like to watch but might never get to: In Treatment, Terriers, K Street. I’d add Frank’s Place, but it seems unlikely to ever appear due to music licensing issues.

SepinSeitz don’t stop after ranking 100 shows, however, with multiple sections after that to keep you reading and well-informed on the state of TV. There’s a long section of shows currently airing that they recommend and cite as possible entrants to a future re-ranking of the top 100 (or they could do what Daniel Burt did when he updated The Novel 100, extending the ranking to 125 titles). There’s “A Certain Regard,” citing shows that had one great season (Homeland) or did something particularly notable (Little House on the Prairie). They also rank mini-series, which ends up an amusing mixture of big-budget network event programming from the late 1970s (Roots, of course, is #1) and 1980s with HBO mini-series from the current era, and TV movies and even TV airings of plays, the latter two lists by Zoller Seitz.

I could absolutely see someone using TV (The Book) as a viewing guide – maybe not starting at 1 and working your way down, but certainly picking and choosing shows to binge-watch from their rankings and breakdowns. I doubt I’ll ever have that kind of time, but as someone who likes great television and loathes the rest, I just loved the ebullient writing, the joyful praise of shows that entertained and sometimes astounded these two guys who can’t seem to get enough TV.

Next up: I’m slogging through The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1970.

Top 100 songs of 2015.

As with all of my music lists, this represents my personal preference. If I don’t like a song, it’s not here. That wipes out some critically-acclaimed artists’ 2014 releases entirely, including Sufjan Stevens, Kendrick Lamar, Drake (are you kidding me with this?), Deafheaven, Father John Misty, and The Weeknd. Other folks liked that stuff. I didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 80 boardgames.

This is now the eighth iteration of my own personal boardgame rankings, a list that’s now up to 80 titles, up twenty this time from last year’s list. It’s not intended to be a critic’s list or an analytical take on the games; it’s about 80% based on how much we enjoy the games, with everything else – packaging and design, simplicity of rules, and in one case, the game’s importance within its niche – making up the rest.

I don’t mind a complex game, but I prefer games that offer more with less – there is an elegance in simple rules or mechanics that lead to a fun, competitive game. Don’t expect this to line up with the rankings at BoardGameGeek, where there’s something of a bias toward more complex games, which is fine but doesn’t line up perfectly with my own tastes.

I’ve expanded the list to include several games I have only played via iOS app implementations, rather than physical copies. As always, clicking on the game title takes you to amazon.com; if I have a full review posted here or on Paste magazine’s site, the link to that will follow immediately. I’ve linked to app reviews where appropriate too. I’ve got most of these games in my aStore on amazon as well, unless they’re totally out of print.

I’ve added a list of titles at the end that I have played at least once but not enough to offer a review of them or rank them. Many of those will appear on a future list once I get to play them more – I might update this list in a few weeks as we keep playing, as I’ve got a pretty long list of games to try out.

Finally, as with last year’s list, you’ll find a complexity grade to the end of each review, low/medium/high, to make it easier for you to jump around and see what games might appeal to you. I don’t think there’s better or worse complexity, just different levels for different kinds of players. My wife prefers medium; I’m somewhere between medium and high. This isn’t like ordering a filet and asking for it well done.

80. XCOM: The Board Game. Full review. A moderately successful adaptation of a wildly successful cooperative videogame, where players work to protect the planet against a massive alien invasion, facing multiple types of mounting threats as the game advances. Comes with a free app that helps run the game session. I just found the game a bit too complicated no matter how many players we had. Complexity: Medium-high.
[Read more…]

Top 40 pizzerias, ranked.

This won’t start any arguments.

I adore all kinds of pizza – New York-style, Neapolitan-style (thin crust, wet center), Roman-style (also thin-crust but with a cracker-like crust), Sicilian, coal-fired, wood-fired, whatever. Except “deep dish,” which is just a bread casserole and should be avoided at all costs. I try to find good artisan pizzerias everywhere I travel, and I’ve hit just about all of the most highly-regarded places in Manhattan and Brooklyn too. I grew up on Long Island, eating by the slice and folding as I did so, but a couple of trips to Italy convinced me of the merits of those very thin crusts and superior toppings. We’re the beneficiaries of a huge boom in high-end pizza joints in this country, and while I haven’t tried all of the good ones, I’ve been to enough to put together a ranking of the 40 best that I’ve tried. There is, I admit, a bias to this list – I’ve tried more places in greater Phoenix than any other metro area other than New York – and I’m sure I’ll get some yelling over where I put di Fara or Co. or Paulie Gee’s, but with all of that out of the way, here’s how I rank ’em. Links go to my reviews here on the dish.

1. Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix
2. Kesté, New York
3. Motorino, New York
4. Roberta’s, Brooklyn
5. Pizzeria Vetri/Osteria, Philadelphia
6. Frank Pepe’s, New Haven
7. Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles
8. Pizzeria Lola, Minneapolis
9. cibo, Phoenix
10. Lucali, Brooklyn
11. Forcella, New York
12. Pizzeria Stella, Philadelphia
13. Paulie Gee’s, Brooklyn
14. Don Antonio by Starita, New York
15. ‘Pomo, Phoenix
16. Marta, New York
17. Ribalta, New York
18. Totonno’s, Brooklyn
19. Via Tribunali, New York/Seatte
20. Federal Pizza, Phoenix
21. Il Cane Rosso, Dallas
22. Antico, Atlanta
23. City House, Nashville
24. Tarry Lodge, Port Chester, NY
25. Desano, Nashville
26. Franny’s, Brooklyn
27. Grimaldi’s, Phoenix
28. Il Bosco, Phoenix
29. Di Fara, Brooklyn
30. 800 Degrees, Los Angeles
31. Co., New York
32. Rubirosa, New York
33. Bar Toma, Chicago
34. Punch Pizza, St. Paul
35. Toro, Durham
36. Dolce Vita, Houston
37. Stella Rosa, Santa Monica
38. Grimaldi’s, Brooklyn
39. Basic, San Diego
40. Nicoletta, New York

There’s a long list of pizzerias I still need (okay, want, but where I’m concerned pizza is a need) to try, so they’re not on the list: Flour + Water & del Popolo in San Francisco, Apizza Scholls in Portland, A4 in Somerville (near Boston), 2 Amy’s in DC, Sottocasa in Brooklyn, al Forno in Providence, Pizzaiolo in Oakland, Mani Osteria in Ann Arbor, Vero in Cleveland, Iggie’s in Baltimore, Garage Bar in Louisville, Vinny & Jon’s in Los Angeles, and more. It’s a good time to be a pizza lover, and unless you have to be gluten-free, how could you not love pizza?

Top 100 songs of 2014.

As with all of my music lists, like my top 14 albums of 2014 and my top 100 songs of 2013, this represents my personal preference. I thought 2013 was a little stronger, but the second half of 2014 brought a slew of very strong albums from veteran acts that boosted the year and made stopping at 100 songs harder than I expected it to be.

If I don’t like a song, it’s not here. That wipes out some critically-acclaimed artists’ 2014 releases entirely, including St. Vincent, FKA Twigs, Run the Jewels, Beck, Mac Demarco, Ariel Pink, Bombay Bicycle Club, and Sharon van Etten. Other folks liked that stuff. I didn’t.

Some songs that were among the last ones I cut from my list, in no particular order, looking just at artists that didn’t make it: Dotan – “Home;” Viet Cong – “Continental Shelf;” Dreamers – “Wolves;” Walk the Moon – “Shut Up and Dance;” Echosmith – “Cool Kids;” Gardens & Villa – “Colony Glen;” Bleachers – “I Wanna Get Better;” Ex Cops – “Black Soap;” The Wytches – “Gravedweller;” Soundgarden – “Storm;” Max Jury – “Black Metal;” Cold War Kids – “All Of This Could Be Yours;” Sir Sly – “Gold;” Knox Hamilton – “Work It Out;” and Arkells – “What Are You Holding On To?” I’ll put together another playlist with those songs and more that “just missed” in a day or two.

The Spotify list includes 98 of the 100 songs. I didn’t take the time to craft amazon and iTunes links because it takes forever; that’s the only real income I derive from this site, so if you already wanted to purchase something, feel free to use the Amazon Link in the header.

100. Kele – Closer. The lead singer of Bloc Party goes trip-hop, which might be a permanent switch given how half-hearted BP’s last album was. The album, Trick, is wildly uneven, but the back-and-forth with the unnamed female vocalist on “Closer” and the musical nods back to ’90s two-step make this the record’s best track.

99. White Lung – Down It Goes. This would be riot grrrl material if it were still 1997, but instead it’s just bright yet angry punk with a female vocalist.

98. Twin Peaks – I Found A New Way. Twin Peaks are a bunch of snotty kids and they sound like it, but I mean that in a good way. Named after a TV show that went off the air before any of its members were born, their music has a raw, old-school feel with more current tweaks like the occasional screamed vocal.

97. Ryan Adams – Gimme Something Good. I know many of you are enormous fans of Adams and his latest album; I don’t quite share that level of enthusiasm, but this song’s sparse roots-rock hooks stood out for me. In the battle of solo albums from guys who led beloved bands, Adams beat Jack White handily in 2014.

96. Midnight Masses – Am I A Nomad? A side project from two members of …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, a band you’ll see twice further up on this list, Midnight Masses have a spacier, more ethereal sound, with pulsating drums and heavy keyboards, with reverb and delay giving the song a chaotic feel despite its simple arrangement.

95. Death From Above 1979 – Always On. Ten years after their debut album, DFA1979 came back with their second record and the same hybrid of rock, dance, and even punk; “Always On” has the best balance, which for me means more rock, including a killer guitar riff.

94. Band Of Skulls – Himalayan. Himalayan was one of my favorite albums of the year, incredibly underrated because (I think) it’s not groundbreaking and quaffs deeply on the 1970s … but Band of Skulls does it so well and the production is so strong that it feels like a fresh record. The band crafts great riffs that really groove without losing the essence of classic rock that informs much of their music. The title track was one of three to make this list, with another (“Toreador”) just missing.

93. Sleeper Agent – Waves. One of a few alt-novelty hits on my list this year, affected in part by which of them my daughter liked the most; I think this was in the middle of her list, but I found it didn’t hold up that well under a hundred or so listens.

92. Opeth – Eternal Rains Will Come. Death-metal icons turned prog-rock revivalists Opeth put out an album, Pale Communion, that has barely a metal element on it (I suppose that makes it a non-metal album) and has half of its ten songs clocking in past the six-minute mark. If you like guitar and keyboard noodling, it has some fantastic passages, although I found the middle of the disc lagged. This song opens the disc and the shorter “Cusp of Eternity” follows, serving as a more accessible intro before they get too proggy with the eleven-minute third track. I also find it fascinating that a band so closely associated with the technical/melodic death metal subgenre could morph so completely into a different genre over the course of just a few albums.

91. The Kooks – Bad Habit. The Kooks are just a goofy, fun British rock band who produce great hooks and often slip over the line into self-parody; their September 2014 album Listen had a handful of great singles, balanced out by a few songs I’ll never listen to again. “Bad Habit” was one of the great ones, the song that I heard most on Sirius XM, not quite as distinctly British as “Down,” with a little more American blues influence instead.

90. Hundred Waters – Innocent. The best album of 2014 for me wasn’t full of great singles – it’s a cohesive, imaginative soundscape that uses Nicole Miglis’s vocals as another instrument on top of the layers of keyboards and drum machines. My two favorite tracks from The Moon Rang Like a Bell are on this list, but Hundred Waters’ genius is much better appreciated on the level of the full album.

89. Colony House – Silhouettes. Another alt-novelty hit, “Silhouettes” has the good sense to get in and out inside of three minutes, which is about how long the chorus’ hook works. There’s actually more nuance in the music behind the verses with off-beat guitar strumming before the traditional chorus (complete with the cute bit of workplay) kicks in.

88. Bestfriends – Lakeshore. Indie-electro-pop with the Passion Pit-type vocals, but with a more electronic and upbeat sound than PP or Foster the People.

87. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – Cecilia And The Satellite. Another alt-novelty hit, right down to the name of the song and the band. A friend of mine, upon hearing the name of the then-new band Coldplay, asked, “what the hell kind of name is that? Why don’t you just name a band ‘I Wanna Poke You in the Eye.’” Coincidentally, that’s the name of my new djent-folk side project.

86. Run River North – Beetle. I felt like these guys showed a lot of promise on their debut but didn’t go far enough to creating their own sound independent of their influences, bands like Mumford and Sons and the band they mimic quite well here, Of Monsters & Men.

85. Kaiser Chiefs – Coming Home. The lead single from their Education, Education, Education, and War was their biggest hit in about a decade, and it brings the kind of wit and irony they showcased on their first two albums, but here presented over what’s practically a ballad.

84. Ásgeir – Summer Guest. This Icelandic folk singer/songwriter features lyrics written by his 72-year-old father when singing in his native tongue, but he’s found international success thanks to a reissue of his debut album with new vocals recorded in English. It’s not normally my cup of tea, but his wistful delivery and the combination of melancholy textures and lilting folk melodies is addictive. It deserves a much wider audience than it received here.

83. Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting On You). The feel-good hit of the summer, or the spring, in large part because of that dance the lead singer did on Letterman. I haven’t liked anything else they’ve done, but this is about as great as a pop/rock song can be without a guitar.

82. alt-J – Hunger Of The Pine. Lead singer Joe Newman takes top billing here, but ended up overshadowed a bit by the Miley Cyrus sample in the chorus that just didn’t add enough to the song to make it worthwhile. Of everything on their bizarre sophomore album, This is All Yours, “Hunger” did the best job of recapturing the band’s attempts to play with textures from their debut, although it wasn’t the best song on the disc.

81. Dan Sultan – Under Your Skin. Sultan won Australia’s equivalent to the Album of the Year Grammy for Blackbird, which marries blue-eyed soul with some heavier guitar riffs. If you’re old enough to remember what Little Caesar tried, Sultan does something similar but much more effectively.

80. Animals As Leaders – Tooth and Claw. Highly technical metal – I’d say this is the metal equivalent of set-theoretic topology – with masterful guitarwork from bandleader Tosin Abasi, a fretwork virtuoso who incorporates elements of jazz with speed-metal shredding for an amazing instrumental experience on their 2014 album The Joy of Motion.

79. Broods – Mother & Father. This New Zealand brother-and-sister duo produced an understated album of atmospheric electronica that hid some enormous hooks below Georgia Nutt’s soothing ambrosiac vocals. This second single from the album was its most overtly poppy song, impossible to get out of my head once I heard it. They did not receive any bonus points for the fact that I think the lead singer is really cute.

78. Speedy Ortiz – Doomsday. A one-off track recorded for the Famous Class/LAMC 7” series, which has also featured Parquet Courts and Ty Segall, “Doomsday” reminds me a lot of Helium, the former band of Mary Timony (see #72), with a deliberately dissonant, lugubrious rhythm line beneath Sadie Dupuis’ sweet, melodic vocals. One of only two tracks on this list that’s not on Spotify.

77. Young Rising Sons – High. Yet another alt-novelty hit, one of my true favorites of the year though, even with the trite lyrics, because of the vocal turns and tumbles in the chorus and its unexpected truncation a half-measure too soon. YRS will release their debut album early in 2015 after recently scoring a major-label deal.

76. Interpol – All The Rage Back Home. El Pintor marked a comeback of sorts, although I still think these guys spend every album trying to recreate Joy Division’s solitary LP. My longtime friend Pete, who has similar tastes in music, wants you to know he thinks “My Blue Supreme” was a better Interpol choice for this list.

75. Darlia – Queen Of Hearts. The Nirvana comparisons held for the length of this song, but their remaining releases didn’t have the same hook or urgency as this lead single.

74. Spoon – Knock Knock Knock. Spoon might be the most important American rock band going right now, and They Want My Soul did nothing to hurt that status … but it was a little light on experimentation. “Knock Knock Knock” and the follow-up track “Outlier” saw Britt Daniel et al stretch their legs a little and incorporate different sounds and borrow from other genres, with more electronic influences adding a new dimension to their core roots-rock sound.

73. The Kooks – Forgive & Forget. Don’t let the intro fool you; this song rocks as soon as the drums kick in, and it bursts back into life with every return to the chorus.

72. Ex Hex – Beast. The big comeback album for Mary Timony (ex-Helium and Wild Flag) was a lot of fun, with tight songs full of big hooks, more accessible than her earlier noise-rock endeavors, as if Timony matured and decided to make music that might get played on the radio. Rips has its share of airplay-worthy tracks, with “Beast” the best showcase of Ex Hex’s high-energy approach.

71. Waylayers – Magnets. The best Coldplay song of the year wasn’t actually by Coldplay; this synth-heavy Waylayers track sounds a lot more like material from Parachutes with a drum machine behind it.

70. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – Sound Of The Silk. It wasn’t the best song from IX but it was the most interesting; the Trail took their share of risks and pushed some boundaries and other cliches on the album, never more so in this mini-suite of segments that pulls a few hairpin turns before arriving at the giant climax that brings every element together.

69. Young Fathers – Get Up. Surprise winners of the 2014 Mercury Prize, this British alt-hip hop trio comprises one Liberian-born MC and one born in Scotland to Nigerian parents, so it’s not surprising that you hear African influences in their rhymes and portions of the music … but they lack the technical prowess of the old-school rappers I favor. “Get Up” is here because the track itself is strong enough to make up for some deficiencies in the vocals, and both MCs also handle some singing duties. It’s not a hip-hop track; it’s a neo-soul song that happens to have rapped verses.

68. The Creases – Static Lines. A Brisbanite quartet that bears some of the distinctive sounds of the Australian punk-pop icons the Saints, bearing better production qualities and a vocal delivery that’s laconic rather than angry. Based on their EP Gradient, which leads with “Static Lines,” I’m cautiously optimistic about them breaking out in 2015 when they finally drop a full-length album.

67. Stars – This is the Last Time. I was back and forth between this and “Trap Door” for my favorite song from Stars’ latest, but the latter track imitates New Order too closely whereas “Last Time” has Stars showing off a more independent identity within the same shameless poppy sound that their singles always seem to bear.

66. The New Pornographers – Fantasy Fools. Brill Bruisers is such an effusively upbeat experience, with so many talented musicians seemingly subverting their disparate identities to produce this cohesive album that seems like it shouldn’t have been possible. “Fantasy Fools” is a high point, without quite slipping over the edge of pretentiousness the way they do on “Dancehall Domine,” never sacrificing the energy that powers the album to its various peaks.

65. Glass Animals – Pools. I know “Gooey” was the big hit, but I found it cloying and have no interest in discussions of anyone’s peanut butter vibes. “Pools” employs drums filled with water to give it that jungle-percussion effect, and the tempo and mood are much easier on the ears and the part of the brain that handles imagery.

64. alt-J – The Gospel of John Hurt. If your favorite tracks from An Awesome Wave were “Matilda” and “Fitzpleasure,” this is the song from This is All Yours for you, with the gradual, organic buildup of diverse elements (and the harmonies spelling out a key word in the lyrics) to a giant crescendo at the finish, as well as the same allusion to a classic film.

63. Faded Paper Figures – Real Lies. A synth-pop trio from Los Angeles that produces upbeat, electronic tracks heavy on keyboards and drum machines (clap your hands everybody) with mixed results when it comes to memorable hooks. This lead single from their fourth album, Dynamo, has that solid melody in the chorus and the allure of the south Asian-style guitar line in the second half of the track.

62. Superhumanoids – Come Say Hello. A dream-pop acted fronted by Sarah Chernoff, whose powerful voice – I think she gets high enough to be safely called a soprano – stands out even over the curtains of shimmering, reverbed guitars and synths behind her. “Big Bang” is another favorite of mine from them from 2014.

61. Banks – Beggin for Thread. Do her friends call her Banksy? (Probably just once, if they’re smart.) Jillian Banks strikes me a little as the American Lorde, a singer-songwriter with clever lyrics and a distinctive, low-alto delivery.

60. Little Daylight – Overdose. A favorite of my daughter, who latches on to songs based largely on how strong their melodies are and, before I even know she likes it, seems to have the words memorized (not always accurately, but that’s one of the many true joys of parenthood – hearing how your kid fills in the blanks to song lyrics she doesn’t know). Anyway, “Overdose” is a silly alt-pop confection and we’ll probably never hear from Little Daylights again.

59. King Tuff – Black Moon Spell. Love the guitar work here, with giant riffs and stoner distortion that call Marc Bolan to mind, as well as the modulation to a minor chord right in the middle of the main lick. It almost doesn’t matter that there’s anything after the first 45 seconds of the song, although that’s all solid work that refers back to those same ’70s hard rock icons.

58. Band Of Skulls – Asleep at the Wheel. More highly referential hard rock with deep roots in ’70s rock, “Asleep” opened Himalayan in style, with a heavy, deep twist on a traditional blues shuffle before the car hits the skids and the guitars open up for an enormous offbeat riff behind the chorus. Band of Skulls’ music is time out of joint and I love it.

57. The Rentals – Thought Of Sound. The return of the Friends of P fifteen years after their last full-length was a pleasant if totally unexpected development of 2014, and they sound like they never left, with that same similarity to early Weezer (where lead singer Matt Sharp formerly played bass) in a highly pop-inflected form of guitar-and-keyboard indie rock. “Thought of Sound” will probably bring you back to the late ’90s with its music but it’s very tightly produced and less deliberately messy than their first two albums were.

56. The Kooks – Down. The goofiest, most British song on the album probably never stood a chance of airplay over here, and I didn’t even like it that much on first listen, but the more I played it the more I found it sticking with me, as long as you can get past the drunken yodeling that starts the song. Listen didn’t have enough creative moments overall, but this song was their most successful attempt to do something out of the norm, especially in the way the guitar and vocal almost do a call-and-response in the verses, and the way they layer sounds in the final chorus.

55. Gap Dream – Fantastic Sam. Light up a joint and plug in your Moog. The minimal lyrics inspire a few grins, but Gap Dream’s strength is his ability to redraw the boundaries of psycheledic music to create something that doesn’t sound 40 years out of date.

54. Doss – Softpretty. This solo electronic artist breathes her vocals on “Softpretty” rather than singing them, but her voice is just a veneer over the high-voltage drum machine and the (synthesizer) steel drum melody that powers the song.

53. HAERTS – Giving Up. HAERTS was one of my favorite albums of the year, but four of the best songs were released on an EP last fall that I didn’t hear enough until after crafting my top 100 of last year. That means some of their best songs (especially “Wings”) fell through the cracks in my rankings; “Giving Up” is the best of the album’s new songs, putting the power of Nini Fabi’s voice to good use over yet another St. Lucia-produced pop gem.

52. TV On The Radio – Lazerray. When TV on the Radio really rock, they’re great; “Wolf Like Me” and the one-off 2013 single “Mercy” are among my favorite songs of the century so far. Their new album was more mellow than I’d hoped, and more commercial than anything they’ve put out so far, which felt like a bit of a letdown. “Lazerray” is one of the two best tracks because it fucking rocks.

51. Cloud Nothings – I’m Not Part of Me. Another album that fell a bit short of expectations for me; Dylan Baldi’s indie-rock stylings haven’t grown or even changed all that much through three full-lengths, perhaps the inevitable result of how quickly he writes and records all of Cloud Nothings’ material. “I’m Not Part of Me” and “Now Here In” were my favorite tracks from the album, simple, catchy, mostly three-chord rockers … just a lot like what we’ve heard from Baldi before.

50. Radkey – Feed My Brain. This trio of brothers appeared on my list last year with “Cat and Mouse,” and now have two EPs and a few singles to their credit, with a full-length LP expected in 2015 before any of the members turn 20. They’ll get Bad Brains comps because they’re an African-American punk band, but they’re much more accessible (if no less angry), and the lead singer sounds more like the singing brother in British rock duo Drenge than H.R. I’ll be very disappointed if their album next year is anything less than great and commercially successful.

49. Hospitality – I Miss Your Bones. One of the most original singles of the year, “I Miss Your Bones” almost dares you to dislike it with the hard strumming behind the opening verse and a drum pattern of which J.P. (not Stephen) Sousa might approve. It also contains the best expression summing up the deep longing for another person I’ve heard since Everything But the Girl’s “Missing.”

48. Hooray For Earth – Keys. I hadn’t heard of HFE before Racy, their fourth album, appeared in July; their indie-rock formula often includes heavy, distorted guitar lines contrasting with New Wave-style synthesizers and a lot of very upbeat melodies – if they were on a major label, I’m sure I would have heard of them by now by virtue of the airplay they would have received. I found their slower stuff (like the title track) a little overwrought, but “Keys” and “Say Enough” are both great examples of how fresh they can sound when they go uptempo.

47. The Raveonettes – Killer in the Streets. The Raveonettes dropped an album in June with no advance notice whatsoever, which seems like it would be impossible to do in the age of leaked records and social media, but there it was. The Danish indie-rock duo sound like they could be from California with their sunny, fuzzed-out guitars and shimmering reverb throughout Pe’ahi; the sliding guitar riff made “Killer” my favorite track from the disc.

46. CHVRCHES – Get Away. I didn’t expect any new music from CHVRCHES this year with the release of their debut album last September, itself about a year in the making, but the BBC project to re-score the movie Drive brought us this track, which would have fit perfectly on The Bones of What You Believe.

45. Dum Dum Girls – Rimbaud Eyes. The lyrics to this song are all drawn from the poems of French romantic poet Arthur Rimbaud, who was known for his libertine lifestyle and eyes that a childhood friend described as “pale blue irradiated with dark blue—the loveliest eyes I’ve seen. Lead singer/guitarist Dee Dee Penny has an appealing, smoky yet not too-low voice, and the swirling guitar lines here seemed to call back to some of the acts from the early-90s Madchester scene like Inspiral Carpets.

44. Jenny Lewis – Just One Of The Guys. Lewis, formerly part of the indie-rock heros Rilo Kiley, writes and sings seriously precious folk-rock tracks, and some of that threatens to take this song into the abyss … but it never quite goes there, in part because the subject, the pressure a woman in many male-dominated settings feels to conform, is a damn good one.

43. Night Terrors of 1927 – When You Were Mine (feat. Tegan & Sara). NT27 made my list last year with their morbid “Dust and Bones,” but headed in a much poppier direction in this collaboration with Canadian duo Tegan & Sara, sounding more like the Killers than their previous songs. The fact that Blake Sennett, half of NT27, was once in Rilo Kiley with Jenny Lewis, who’s in the previous slot on the list, is a coincidence.

42. Twerps – Heavy Hands. This Melbourne quartet sound a bit like they recorded this entire EP in the back of a bus, but seldom has a band name better described an artist’s music. The song is delightfully annoying, with earworm single-note guitar lines and whisper-song vocals.

41. Cymbals – Erosion. Another band that appears to have worn out their old Joy Division records, Cymbals would have been called “darkwave” when I was younger, with gothic, gloomy, new wave-inflected songs that reflect the sensibilities that existed in the wake of the initial punk movement. They also put out a two-song EP earlier this month called What Eternity that seemed to find them in a happier mood than they showed on the late-2013 album that contained “Erosions.”

40. Wild Beasts – Wanderlust. Wild Beasts’ Present Tense was wildly acclaimed on its release, especially in the U.K., but it’s too eccentric for me and not grounded enough in the kind of pop/rock foundation that I typically enjoy, kind of like Everything Everything without the hooks. “Wanderlust” is the most accessible and ear-friendly song on the album and features the unforgettable line “don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck.” I won’t, I promise.

39. Bear In Heaven – Autumn. I liked their single “Sinful Nature” a few years ago, but “Autumn” ratchets up the tension with a driving drum-and-bass line before the walls of noise arrive with the tribal chorus accentuated by reverb on the vocals.

38. Ty Segall – Tall Man, Skinny Lady. So simple, yet so great. The song is built almost entirely around one drum loop and a six-chord guitar pattern, barely even varying when it reaches the bridge and we get another electric guitar noodling around without apparent direction or destination. Not on Spotify.

37. Hundred Waters – Xtalk. The best track on the year’s best album, although it isn’t a collection of singles so much as a single work of art that functions best as a complete record. The little piano line that opens the song is one of the few true pop hooks on the album, but it’s the syncopated drum line and singer Nicole Miglis’s use of her voice as a melodic instrument that makes this song the standout on a standout disc.

36. Courtney Barnett – History Eraser. I love Barnett’s storytelling both on this song and “Avant Gardner” – which has a better story but weaker music – and just wish she wrote better, less languorous music. “History Eraser” is about a night of drinking gone somewhat awry, whereas “Avant Gardner” is the best song ever written about an asthma attack (at least since “The Pop Singer’s Fear of the Pollen Count”).

35. alt-J –Left Hand Free. The story behind this song is already becoming apocryphal, but it seems like the A&R men didn’t hear a single so the band members wrote this song as something of a joke, only to discover afterwards that they actually liked it. So do I, even though it’s kind of dopey in its own way, but it is the most immediately catchy song they’ve written so far.

34. Ben Howard – In Dreams. I loved Howard’s Mercury Prize-nominated 2012 album Every Kingdom, a somewhat traditional yet intelligent and technically sound indie-folk record, but his latest album, I Forget Where We Were, takes a much darker turn; it’s a more ambitious record, with seven songs that stretch past five minutes, and featuers more musical experimentation, but it’s also less melodic and accessible as a result. “In Dreams” has the disc’s best compromise between those darker tones and the beauty of his first album.

33. To Kill A King – Love is Coal. “Love is not like diamonds/love is coal to keep you warm.” A lovely if unexpected metaphor, one which describes both this song as a whole and their Exit, Pursued by a Bear EP as well, marks the chorus of this multifacted song which adds texture with each movement, moving from a stark piano-and-vocal opener to a rock-paced third passage that leads into a traditional guitar solo that shouldn’t even be in the same song – but it all works together because TKaK understand how to build tension and then tear it apart without ever interrupting the flow of a song.

32. Snakehips featuring Sinead Harnett – Days With You. Snakehips are a pair of producers/DJs who were better known for remixes before putting out their own music this year, but the reason this song is on here is the vocal performance by Harnett, who elevates a solid trance/trip-hop backdrop with her sultry delivery.

31. Movie – Mr. Fist. Movie, the second least-googleable band name of 2014 (the first one was Perfect Pussy … seriously, don’t google that), put out a two-sided single earlier this year, “Ads” b/w “Mr. Fist,” both unabashed throwbacks to the early years of Britpop, particularly the first Blur album and its immediate followers, with a distinctly British sense of humour that permeates all of their lyrics. “Ads” and their latest song “Tusk Vegas” are also worth a listen, available on their soundcloud page.

30. Twin Peaks – Flavor. There are a ton of great hooks among the sixteen songs on Twin Peaks’ Wild Onion, an uneven effort but an impressive one for a band whose members are still unable to drink legally. The album shows more influences than you’ll hear on the two Twin Peaks songs I have on this list, but at heart they seem to be a power-pop band with garage-rock tendencies.

29. KONGOS – Come With Me Now. One of the bigger crossover alternative hits of 2014, “Come With Me Now” is actually three years old. First released in KONGOS’ native South Africa in 2011, the song popped up on U.S. alternative stations in the first half of this past year, eventually hitting the pop charts and ending up on Dancing with the Stars (in my daughter’s favorite dance of the season). KONGOS blend rock with kwaito, which Wikipedia describes as a South African variant of house music. None of that explains the accordion, though.

28. Strand of Oaks – Goshen ’97. Easily the best song on Strand of Oaks’ autobiographical Heal, “Goshen ’97” features J. Mascis (of Dinosaur Jr.) on lead guitar, and you can absolutely hear those hints of “Start Choppin” whenever his guitar enters; Mascis’ style of playing is distinctive and provides “Goshen ’97” with an energy that’s lacking on much of the rest of the album, and provides a needed contrast to the wistful lyrics of the song.

27. Band Of Skulls – Nightmares. The Skulls get psychedelic here, a brief respite from the harder sounds throughout Himalayan, producing my favorite song on the album – it grooves rather than rocks, to use the technical terms for the things.

26. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – Jaded Apostles. Not that Trail of Dead care about hit singles, but if there was one to be found on their 2014 album IX, I thought this would be it. Coming in with a twelve-note guitar riff that repeats in the background of the entire song, just to end up one of a host of layers of guitars and drums that create the complex, nuanced backdrop to the vocals. In a related story, Keith Law and the Jaded Apostles are currently shopping for a record deal.

25. Ages and Ages – Divisionary (Do The Right Thing). Perhaps the best music video of 2014, although I don’t watch enough to award such an honor to anyone. It’s fantastic, though, and reflects the song’s lyrics and the way the vocals build up over the course of the song, with all eight band members singing at least four different parts.

24. Kaiser Chiefs – Cannons. It seems very Kaiser Chiefs to write an anti-war song that’s rather upbeat, featuring a refrain that mocks one of Tony Blair’s slogans while talking about “smashing regimes between courses.” It’s ambitious by their own standards, but doesn’t lack the pop sensibilities that populated all of Education, Education, Education, and War. The song concludes with a spoken-word performance by actor Bill Nighy, reading a poem written by the Chiefs that fits with the song’s theme.

23. The War On Drugs – Red Eyes. I know for many of you, Lost in the Dream was the best album of the year, but the Bob Dylan references turned derivative for me after just one full listen; there are solid ideas here, but it never carved out its own sound to my ears. The length of the songs – six of the ten tracks clock in at 5:48 and up – didn’t help either. (The only sub-four minute song is a filler instrumental.) “Red Eyes” was the obvious single, one of the album’s shortest tracks so that the central riff doesn’t play itself out, and the Dylan influences sit more in the backdrop rather than front and center as they did on the nine-minute opener “Under the Pressure.”

22. Wye Oak – Glory. I liked Wye Oak’s previous stuff, which was guitar-driven, more than their sparse, synth-and-drum album Shriek released this year, both due to the shift in instrumentation and the presence of a lot of slower, minimalist songs. “Glory” is more uptempo and Jenn Wasner’s voice works better with more music tracks behind it.

21. Yellow Ostrich – Shades. Yellow Ostrich started out as a solo project of lead singer and songwriter Alex Schaaf, who later expanded the band to its current four-piece alignment. (One former member, Jon Natchez, is now part of The War on Drugs … and is also a reader here, so, hi, Jon.) Schaaf’s songwriting took a huge leap forward on their fifth album, Cosmos, which boasts a fuller sound (thanks in part to the addition of a second guitarist) and the highest production quality of any of their discs.

20. Thumpers – Unkinder (A Tougher Love). This British duo create much bigger sounds than any two-person outfit has any right to produce, although obviously they have some help in the studio. “Unkinder” was one of the most enthusiastic songs of the year, with rapid-fire, stuttered lyrics and music that practically begs you to get up and “shake the building into piles.”

19. TV On The Radio – Happy Idiot. Not quite as good as “Mercy,” TVOTR’s one-off 2013 single that was inexplicably omitted from their November album Seeds, “Happy Idiot” still satisfies my personal desire to hear these guys let ‘er rip, even though it’s more of a slow boil this time around, with singer Tunde Adebimpe drily describing the emptiness after a bad breakup over a high-bpm drum loop.

18. Grimes featuring Blood Diamonds – Go. Grimes and her partner-in-crime Blood Diamonds offered this song to Rihanna, who turned it down, which just proves once and for all that Rihanna is a box of rocks, because this would have been by far the best song she’d ever recorded. I didn’t like Grimes’ 2012 album Visions because of her babydoll delivery, but on “Go” she dials her voice down a half-step to the perfect level, and Blood Diamonds submits maybe his best work yet, with an experimental mix of trance, dubstep, and dark electronica.

17. Manchester Orchestra – Top Notch. This song’s opening riff is the Sam Cassell’s “Big Balls” dance of guitar riffs, daring you to come up with something bigger, louder, more testicular than that one sound. It puts the lie to the extreme-metal myth that guitar riffs must be faster to be better. Some other things happen in the middle, and there’s a story here about two brothers making some kind of difficult choice, but this song is about that gigantic riff.

16. La Sera – Losing to the Dark. Ex-Vivian Girl Katy Goodman now records under La Sera, and this anthemic post-punk track marries a classic hard-rock guitar track of which Iron Maiden would approve with a depressing story of dealing with a partner who can’t stop abusing alcohol and drugs.

15. Amplifier – Black Rainbow. When the Astros sign me to be their closer, this will be my entrance music. This Mancunian band draws heavily on ’70s British rock and metal acts, especially Pink Floyd Black Sabbath, but without the slow pacing. Their 2014 album Mystoria was their most successful yet, but the most interesting aspect of the album is the wild effects pedals used on the lead guitar lines.

14. Tove Lo – Habits (Stay High). This unsparing account of Tove Lo (pronounced like the Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu) trying to get over a bad breakup via drug use and casual sex set over a bouncy, R&B-tinged electronic track became a surprise crossover hit, reaching #3 on the Billboard top 100, the highest performance (per Wikipedia) by a Swedish artist in 20 years. I was just surprised the lyrics didn’t prevent pop stations from playing it, but that probably shows my age.

13. Spoon – Rent I Pay. They Want My Soul made my top albums of 2014 with a mix of what I’d call American rock and some more experimental tracks; “Rent I Pay” led the former category, still distinguishing itself with the staccato guitar line and Britt Daniel’s almost equally punctuated delivery.

12. Sleater-Kinney – Bury Our Friends. Nothing says “we’re back” by releasing one of your best songs ever as your first new track in nine years. Their album, No Cities To Love, comes out on January 20th.

11. Jungle – Busy Earnin’. I thought this London R&B collective had a shot to win the Mercury Prize, perhaps co-favorites with critical darling FKA Twigs (whose music and lyrics I find insultingly juvenile), but Young Fathers surprised everyone with their victory. Like most of Jungle, “Busy Earnin’” delivers a faithful rendition of the best soul/disco sounds of the ’70s, for whatever reason reminding me in particular of “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.”

10. Foster The People – Are You What You Want to Be? Supermodel was a top 20 album for me this year, but I only went to 14 because it’s 2014 and I need something to keep me from making these lists infinitely long. “Coming of Age” and “Best Friend” are solid, but “Are You What You Want to Be?” brings the African beats behind the verses before the big four-chord riff that opens the song comes back for the chorus. I want Mark Foster to do a whole album of experimental pop like this, without the expected moments like “Coming of Age” provided.

9. Broods – Bridges. The song that put Broods on the map, varying from the sweet, balladesque introduction to the trip-hoppy chorus where singer Georgia Nutt dials up to falsetto notes she just barely reaches.

8. Prides – The Seeds You Sow. It’s all about opportunity; this song reminds me quite a bit of Bastille’s massive hit “Pompeii,” certainly enough that “The Seeds You Sow” should have merited some airplay on alternative stations, but this Glaswegian pop trio, who have yet to release a full-length album, garnered just a brief appearance on the British top 100 and no notice whatsoever here in the U.S. This isn’t the ideal test of a song’s merits, but everyone I’ve introduced to this synthpop anthem has raved about it.

7. Milky Chance – Stolen Dance. The vocal style here annoyed me at first, as did the German duo’s ridiculous name, although I guess it’s possible that ridiculous just makes it more memorable. The chorus of “Stolen Dance” gets my earworm of the year award, though, and I love the lo-fi approach to an electronic genre that usually abides by a more-is-more philosophy. Their debut album, Sadnecessary, is just $5 right now on amazon.

6. The Holidays – Tongue Talk. Another obscure one, at least in the U.S., since The Holidays are successful in their home country of Australia, winning the Australia Music Prize award for the best debut album in 2010. Their second album, Real Feel, came out in February, with a few solid singles including “All Time High” and “Simple Pleasures,” as well as the standout “Tongue Talk,” which elevates their normally mellow pop sound with the addition of one fast guitar riff to turn it into a pulsating driving song.

5. Phantogram – Black Out Days. A good electro-pop song that becomes sublime thanks to the soaring vocals of Sarah Barthel, who reminds me of the vocalist from School of Seven Bells but with more power to hang with the gyroscopic synth line in what amounts to the song’s chorus, the strongest track from their second album, February’s Voices.

4. alt-J – Every Other Freckle. This is the alt-J we know and love, a song about obsession that features wild and sometimes inappropriate analogies (“I wanna bed into you like a cat beds into a beanbag/Turn you inside out, and lick you like a crisp packet”), unexpected musical shifts, tempo changes, and layered vocals. It’s looser than anything from their incredible debut album, An Awesome Wave, but the closest link between that album and their 2014 follow-up This Is All Yours.

3. Belle & Sebastian – The Party Line. Raise your hand if you saw this coming: an unapologetic dance track from sardonic Scottish folk-rockers Belle & Sebastian. Well, it’s here and it’s awesome, as if this was the kind of music the group was born to make. (You can’t have “The Boy with the Arab Strap” back, though.) The title of their forthcoming album, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, due January 20th, promises more of the same.

2. The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers. The title track of their 2014 album is the ne plus ultra of the New Pornographers’ sound, that of six musicians fusing all of their individual talents into one ebullient, stomping whole. Brill Bruisers was my #2 album of this year because of how well A.C. Newman, Dan Bejar, Neko Case, et al all melded their sounds, never more fully than on this indie-pop gem.

1. Royal Blood – Out of the Black. My pick for the best song of 2014 is this dark, menacing, bass (with octave pedal) and drum track that would sound equally at home in a doom-metal mix as it does here on a list that’s mostly alternative rock. Their self-titled debut album didn’t quite live up to the expectations of this massive single, especially the four-note lick at 2:37 that brings it back to the chorus one last time, the best guitar riff of the year.

Top 14 albums of 2014.

My Insider content from the last few days:
* The Jimmy Rollins trade
* The Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon trades
* The Matt Kemp trade
* The Rick Porcello/Yoenis Cespedes trade
* The Wade Miley trade
* The Howie Kendrick/Andrew Heaney trade and Brandon McCarthy signing
* The Dee Gordon trade
* The Jon Lester signing
* The Francisco Liriano re-signing
* The Miguel Montero trade
* The Jeff Samardzija trade (and David Robertson signing) and Oakland’s return
* The Jason Hammel signing
* The Brandon Moss trade

My review of the boardgame Concordia is up at Paste, and I did an interview about baseball and metal with Decibel.

My ranking of the top 14 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 13 albums list for a comparison and to see if something you expected to see here actually made last year’s list (e.g., CHVRCHES, Arctic Monkeys). I heard a lot more than I ranked here, but getting to fourteen 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.

14. The Kooks – Listen. Goofy British pop-rock songs that didn’t work so well as a collection, especially with a few tracks worth skipping, but featured a number of very strong singles, including “Bad Habit,” “Down,” and “Forgive and Forget.”

13. Animals as Leaders – The Joy of Motion. (amazoniTunes) An all-instrumental technical/progressive metal-fusion record … or something like that. If you love guitarwork, including jazz-inspired soloing, with unconventional song structures, featuring numerous musicians operating at the far right end of what is possible with their instruments, you’ll love this album. Otherwise, maybe just move on to #12.

12. To Kill a King – Exit, Pursued by a Bear. (amazoniTunes) It’s an EP, which is kind of cheating since I hadn’t included EP releases on previous lists, but 1) this is my list so I get to make up the rules 2) I love the title and 3) it’s a really fucking good EP. They remind me in particular of Animals that Swim, a British band from the 1990s and early 2000s that made folk-rock songs that often sounded like great drinking songs and made great use of horns as well as guitars. To Kill a King aren’t afraid to work the horns, the acoustic and electric guitar, the piano, unconventional percussion sounds, and backup harmonies that range from the typical to the borderline-annoying. Wikipedia’s entry compares them to The National, but To Kill a King’s lead singer actually sings rather than mumbling his lyrics. Opener “Oh My Love” plays like a dirge with a nod to Andrew Marvell; “Love is Coal” seems like a straight middle finger to Mumford & Sons and all of their clones, saying “this is how you do the slow-fast-slow thing, posers.”

11. Insomnium – Shadows of a Dying Sun. The best metal album of the year for me comes from this Finnish melodic death-metal act previously known for primarily downbeat and often soporific music that wasn’t saved by the technical prowess of its guitarists. Shadows brings them much more firmly into the melodic camp, with the occasional clean vocal, far more ornate song structures (with actual movements in some tracks), and somewhat less dreary lyrics. There aren’t many bands operating in this demilitarized zone between classic thrash, classical metal, and straight-up death metal, but it’s a sweet spot for my particular tastes.

As an aside, my top metal albums of the year: Insomnium, Animals as Leaders, Pallbearer’s Foundations of Burden, Horrendous’ Ecdysis, and At the Gates’ At War With Reality.

10. Band of Skulls – Himalayan. I like to rock, or more specifically, I like to listen to bands that rock, preferably without apology or relent. (I do like to rock a little, though.) Band of Skulls draws deeply on genres from 1970s classic rock to the more commercial part of 1990s grunge, and most of this album is driven by huge guitar riffs, blues shuffles, and bass-heavy grooves. This is music for people who just love hard rock that isn’t metal and still boasts great melodies, from the title track, “Asleep at the Wheel,” “Toreador,” and the psycheledic “Nightmares.”

9. Ex Hex – Rips. It’s good to have Mary Timony, formerly of noise-rock icons Helium and the all-female Wild Flag (with Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney, whose 2015 album should appear on my list next year), back with a new band. Ex Hex is punk-pop more than anything else, hook-filled with a slew of short, punchy, fast-paced songs that are a little light lyrically but incredibly fun to listen to, including “Beast,” “Don’t Wanna Lose,” and “New Kid.”

8. Kaiser Chiefs – Education, Education, Education, and War. The big comeback album for the band best known for their 2004 hit “I Predict a Riot” was by far their most mature, measured, balanced effort ever, easing up on the overly clever lyrics just a bit and filling the album with compelling hooks and more nuanced songwriting. Lead single “Coming Home” found them almost serious and pensive, while “Cannons,” “Ruffians on Parade” and opener “The Factory Gates” brought the electricity you’d expect from the Chiefs along with newly thoughtful, sardonic lyrics. This album, with a title mocking a speech once given by Tony Blair, didn’t chart in the U.S., but hit #1 in the UK and went gold, their best showing since their second album came out in 2007.

7. Broods – Evergreen. (amazoniTunes) This New Zealand brother-and-sister duo first hit with their single “Bridges,” a top 10 song for me this year due to its stunning contrast from the sweet, piano-driven verse to the thumping chorus where singer Georgia Nutt shifts up to a falsetto that almost strains her range. Their full album has great contrasts throughout within that dream-pop/electronic framework, most with strong melodies, showing a lot of range for a very young pair of songwriters on their first album.

6. …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – IX. With their ninth album (duh), the ol’ Trail of Dead are at their most melodic and textured, with tremendous percussion work by their tandem of drummers and hypnotic, swirling guitar lines, without losing the structural complexity that has marked nearly all of their work. It might not have received the insane acclaim of Source Tags and Codes, but it’s a more accessible and thoughtful album, led by “The Doomsday Book,” “Jaded Apostles,” “Lie Without a Liar,” and the closer “Sound of the Silk” that just left me on the floor gasping for air.

5. Spoon – They Want My Soul. Spoon has become, for me, the definitive American rock band, or perhaps rock-and-roll band, drawing as they do on influences from throughout rock history while incorporating folk, country, and more current electronic elements in their songs. They Want My Soul was a bounceback of sorts after a pair of less exciting albums, bringing more experimentation and a wider range of styles with barely any hiccups along the way (other than the single “Inside Out”). You’ve heard and probably liked the straightforward singles “Rent I Pay” and “Do You,” but when Spoon get nostalgic on the cover “You Just Don’t Understand” or start playing around with structure and synths on “Outlier” or “Knock Knock Knock” they manage to expand boundaries without losing their ability to craft compelling hooks.

4. HAERTS – Haerts. Three of the five best songs on here appeared on an EP late last year, but that’s not to say the remaining songs on the band’s full-length debut, produced by St. Lucia (who appeared on last year’s list with his own debut album), which all showcase singer Nini Fabi’s powerful, slightly smoky voice over masterfully crafted strata of keyboards and drum machines. “Giving Up” is the best new song and the only one on my top 100 this year, but “Wings,” “Hemiplegia,” and “All the Days” are standouts from their first EP.

3. alt-J – This is All Yours. It wasn’t as groundbreaking or mindblowing as their debut album, An Awesome Wave, my favorite album not just of 2012 but of the decade so far, so I could call This is All Yours a mild letdown … and yet it’s still a work of great imagination and continues the trio’s refusal to work within the conventions of modern music, even within what’s generally called “alternative” but isn’t quite as radical as the name might indicate. This is All Yours is uneven, with a few songs they could just as easily have omitted (“Choice Kingdom” and “Pusher” in particular), but they soar with the manic complexity of “Every Other Freckle,” the slow expansion of “The Gospel of John Hurt,” the four-vocalist gimmick that actually plays on “Warm Foothills,” and the so-bad-it’s good “Left Hand Free.” It’s not as cleanly produced as their debut, unfortunately, which cuts into the atmosphere it creates and stunts the beauty of tracks like “Warm Foothills” or “Hunger of the Pine.”

2. New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers. I don’t know how a collection of singers and songwriters this broad and diverse could push out an album this cohesive, but Brill Bruisers is an ebullient power-pop masterpiece; what it might lack in invention (compared to, say, Twin Cinema) it more than makes up for via its sheer pop brilliance. The title track is one of the best songs of the year, landing in my top 10, but “Dancehall Domine,” “Fantasy Fools,” and “War on the East Coast” all shimmer with gorgeous pop hooks and note-perfect performances across the board.

1. Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like a Bell. (amazoniTunes) I never reviewed this album because I didn’t quite get it when I first received it a review copy back in May; it was just too weird, too unconventional, almost the way I never quite got the Cocteau Twins. But I kept coming back to certain songs that stuck with me – “Xtalk,” “Innocent,” “Out Alee” – and realized the issue was that I had to get used to the production, which put singer Nicole Miglis’s voice so front and center that you can almost hear her thinking. This is cerebral music, but that doesn’t mean it requires more of the listener than an open mind; think of Hundred Waters’s songs as the pattern on a lake when hit by a raindrop or a skipped stone, with each track within a song rippling outward on its own to create a gorgeous, cohesive whole. I haven’t heard anything quite like it before, which is something I want to say about any album I’m calling the best of its year.