1. Doldrums – “HOTFOOT” (Sub Pop)

“There’s a lot of paranoid sentiment and dystopian imagery in there,” remarks Doldrums’ chief provocateur Airick Woodhead about The Air Conditioned Nightmare, from which the brash electronics of “HOTFOOT” are pulled. Initially the remnants of a digital nightmare, a series of rudimentary drums eventually calm the track’s agitated nerves. As much based in prehistoric tribal rhythms as 21st century cyber chaos, “HOTFOOT” entices the soul into an unexpected balance.

2. John Carpenter – “Night” (Sacred Bones)

John Carpenter composed the tension-infused synth scores to the majority of his horror, sci-fi and action films. He has also, apparently, dreamed up and composed a hearty dose of brooding scores to films he never made. “Night” serves as one of the most ominous of these previously unreleased gems from a director whose music has been as much about setting mood as his mise-en-scène.

3. D’Angelo and the Vanguard – “1000 Deaths” (RCA)

On an album full of sonically dense, wickedly funky tracks, “1000 Deaths” manages to stand out from the pack. From its call-to-action opening vocal sample to the strutting, militaristic bass and drum figure, the arrangement carries with it a slippery quality that virtually demands metronomic head-nodding. A dizzyingly tangled web of sounds and obscured lyrics, “1000 Deaths,” like Black Messiah itself, requires multiple listens to fully sink in, but once it does it’s damn near impossible to shake.

kylie-minogue-right-here-right-now4. Giorgio Moroder (feat. Kylie Minogue) – “Right Here, Right Now” (RCA)

Daft Punk paid homage to pioneering disco producer Giorgio Moroder by offering him a guest spot on Random Access Memories. But Moroder, who turns 75 this year, is not resting on his laurels—he will be releasing his first solo album in over three decades. This preview, with featured guest Kylie Minogue, proves that Moroder can keep up with the times, but whether he has anything new to say or new beats to forge is yet to be determined.

5. The Decemberists – “The Singer Addresses His Audience” (Capitol)

Johnny Ramone would have hated this song. He loathed it when bands changed—least of all his own—but Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy wouldn’t have it any other way. Over a dramatic slow build, complete with squealing guitar and sawing Beatlesque strings, Meloy offers a big, warm aural hug to all those who have stuck with the band as they’ve deviated from the off-kilter indie prog sound they made their name on—and to those who ditched them, too: “We know you threw your arms around us / In the hopes we wouldn’t change / But we had to change some.”

6. Viet Cong – “Death” (Jagjaguwar)

Viet Cong are a serious band, but they have the talent to get away with being so po-faced. A jangly-yet-ominous tune, “Death” slowly careens in different directions before surrendering to the inevitable chaos, but it never once feels like a self-indulgent experiment, nor does it come across as a self-consciously “epic” song. It’s just a great band taking multiple ideas and melodic concepts and tying them together into one 11-minute masterwork. Ambition isn’t always a bad thing.

7. Iron & Wine – “Everyone’s Summer of ‘95” (Black Cricket Recording Co.)

When Sam Beam wrote “Everyone’s Summer of ’95,” Iron & Wine didn’t yet exist and there was no intention of the song being heard beyond those closest to him. Still, the first taste of his upcoming archival release is a raw, sleepy, lo-fi lullaby that provides everything you’d expect from early Iron & Wine. If the fingerpicked bedroom folk and Beam’s hushed voice crackling through a creaky four-track are any indication, Archive Series Volume No. 1 will come across as the second disc of 2002’s The Creek Drank the Cradle.

shattered8. Shattered Skies – “The End and the Rebirth” (self-released)

Djent can be a thorny genre to explore, thanks to the wacky time signatures and chugging guitars detuned to truly odd tunings. Shattered Skies have somehow made a catchy djent single with “The End and the Rebirth,” thanks to a gorgeous keyboard line and Sean Murphy’s soaring vocals. It thrashes excellently even while maintaining its elegance; call it pop-metal.

9. Document One – “Faced with the Unknown” (Technique Recordings)

Document One slathers on an almost indigestible sci-fi cheese for the opening sample of “Faced with the Unknown.” But the listener who can check their skepticism is soon rewarded with a deep groove that drops like it’s caught in the gravitational pull of the dance floor before being slingshotted around and then accelerated to a modern take on ‘90s era dark drum ‘n’ bass.

10. The Districts – “4th and Roebling” (Fat Possum)

On “4th and Roebling,” the Districts take a well-worn subject—that of two people growing up and growing apart—and infuse it with a caffeinated jolt of energy that makes the scab being picked feel both fresh and painful. “I ain’t the same anymore,” frontman Rob Grote howls, as the noisy turbulence around him subsides. It’s in this naked moment, this realization that it’s time to move on, that I want to spend more time getting to know the Districts.

11. Saint Saviour – “Nobody Died” (Surface Area)

Saint Saviour’s In the Seams ended up buried under 2014’s end-of-year coverage, but its stunning baroque pop and glittering vocal performances are not to be missed. “Nobody Died” combines Rebecca Jones’ knack for lovely, wistful stillness and big sweeping emotion, blooming from a pristine quiet that defines her second solo album. It’s an easy entry point to an album that is uniformly gorgeous.

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