1. Arctic Monkeys – “Do I Wanna Know?” (Domino)
With new record AM, Arctic Monkeys demonstrate an evolution of their cocksure sound. Instead of the swagger and bluster of the early days, this Sheffield foursome now display more introspection and vulnerability than appeared possible for them just a few years ago. With the anthemic “Do I Wanna Know?” this progression takes the form of a driving beat, razor sharp guitar riff and lyrics where frontman Alex Turner actually pines after a girl rather than calling her a “sexy little swine.”
2. Widowspeak – “Calico” (Captured Tracks)
Widowspeak’s upcoming EP—their second release in the last year—goes by the name of The Swamps, and the second single, “Calico,” certainly lives up to that title. With Molly Hamilton as a perfect Hope Sandoval stand-in and Robert Earl Thomas’ creeping guitar, it burns slow and heavy, reeking of evening menace. Drowning in murk never felt so nice.
3. Magic Man – “Nova Scotia” (Neon Gold)
Magic Man’s You Are Here EP is the Boston-based band’s first proper release since 2010’s Real Life Color, a jaunty, intimate and endlessly enjoyable LP that’s seemingly been scrubbed from existence. Luckily, the material on this new EP surpasses its lost predecessor, with glossy production and soaring choruses that complement the emphatic vocals and searing emotion that made Real Life Color so arresting. “Nova Scotia” corrals all of the band’s best elements into four minutes of electro-pop bliss, the song’s wistful lyrics of geographical displacement engendering nearly as much catharsis as the triumphant atmospherics and burbling synth lines.
4. Weaves – “Take a Dip” (Buzz)
Close your eyes while singer Jasmyn Burke masquerades as Siouxsie Sioux and her voice folds into the hypnotic swirl of bass throb and tribal drums. Splashes of noisy tension disrupt the trance, raising a disturbing question. Are the voices telling me to “Kiss Them for Me” or something worse?
5. King Tuff – “Swamp of Love” (Sub Pop)
King Tuff is not supposed to be as moving as he is on this song. But goddamn, “Swamp of Love” is a cut that slices deep and one that you feel in each cell of your body, starting with a mere tingling that eventually creeps up on you and combusts your every fiber. Constructed as a ‘50s soda jerk ballad and laced with garage rock grime, it’s the peak of Tuff’s career thus far.
6. Yuck – “Rebirth” (Fat Possum)
The bass riff to Glow and Behold‘s opener, “Sunrise in Maple Shade,” reminds me instantly of my favorite Teenage Fanclub song, “December.” That is what Yuck does best, manipulating memories of ’90s alt-rock, and goddammit, they do a bang-up job for saps like me. “Rebirth” is shoegaze smeariness on happy pills, and I’m confused by feeling nostalgia for this new thing.
7. Chelsea Wolfe – “Sick” (Sargent House)
“I’m not the kind of sick that you can fix.” That ominous drone in the beginning is a portent of doom. But it’s a beautiful darkness, one filled with the sweet echo of Wolfe’s voice, billowing out from the bottom of some pit where you will want to be lost forever.
8. Disappears – “Ultra” (Kranky)
The clockwork bass and guitar line plod slowly along, mounting steadily in urgency as Brian Case croaks through lazy-lipped lines that really don’t matter much. This is mood music and it broods, guitar effects squealing in the atmosphere for an audacious nine minutes and 33 seconds. Like the Stone Roses’ “Fools Gold” or Tool’s rendition of “No Quarter,” sometimes you just need to make time for excellence.
9. Red Fang – “Blood Like Cream” (Relapse)
Red Fang is at their best combining the grime, grizzle and sludge of stoner-rock with relentless metal pacing, and “Blood Like Cream” does exactly that. In fact, so much of the song’s breakneck run is spent stretching out a barrage of guitar-gain tension that it feels like an impossibly-long lit fuse. The whole thing explodes as the tempo rampages into the bridge.
10. Preservation Hall Jazz Band – “That’s It!” (Sony Legacy)
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been serving up its version of New Orleans-style jazz since the 1960s. Nevertheless, their stunning new LP, That’s It!, produced by My Morning Jacket front man Jim James, injects their traditionalist approach with a dose of rock ‘n’ roll grit. If you can listen to the title track—with its swing-era tom-toms, dynamo lead trumpet and tambourine/cowbell/handclap combo—without tapping your toes, you might want to check yourself for a pulse.
11. John Murry – “Southern Sky” (Evangeline)
“Southern Sky” appears on Murry’s first solo outing, The Graceless Age, which features production from the late Tim Mooney. Much of the album sees Murry coming to grips with addiction and recovery, and his voice sounds like it was made for such weighty matters. Still, light gets in at the chorus here, and hope feels like the real takeaway in the end.
12. Danny Brown – “Side A (Old)” (Fool’s Gold)
Known for his high-pitched rhymes about blunts and molly, Danny Brown proudly reveals a more introspective dimension on “Side A (Old).” A firsthand account about growing up poor in Detroit, the cut adds context for the remaining tracks on Old and offers insights into a tumultuous childhood that led Brown into a life of drug dealing and subsequent imprisonment. Produced by Paul White, the beats coast triumphantly through the background as Brown searches for the power to keep from reverting to his former self—despite the urges of his circle.