40. Little Radar - Spitfire
With “Spitfire,” Little Radar gave more edge to their folky Band of Horses-inspired rock on last year’s Kill A Buffalo. The song kicks off with some actual distortion before settling into a lighter groove. The power, though, remains, as Sean Hale gets his scream on in the hook. The movement of the guitar line and the stellar rhythm section keep the song rocking at a much higher level than we expected, and shows the kind of heights Little Radar are capable of reaching.
39. Ringo Deathstarr - “Rip”
“Rip” begins with jagged distortion from the guitar as Alex Gehring lays down some characteristically ethereal vocals. Yet, this track never retains one identity for long. There’s either the sludgy verse that isn’t quite sludgy thanks to the peppy drum part, or the California pop hook that is marked by extreme distortion to muddy up all that sunshine. The closest thing to a solo here is basically just feedback, but it’s still kind of danceable. The song closes out in under two minutes, leaving a chorus of chiming bells ringing through the haze, filling the time before you hit the “repeat” button.
38. Belaire - “This Could Take All Night”
Belaire released their first record this year since appearing in the fascinating Austin documentary, Echotone, and “This Could Take All Night” is the lead track. There’s a laid-back beachy vibe to this song thanks to its muted major chords and ringing arpeggios. Though it starts off slight, it quickly blossoms into a gorgeous song complete with wood blocks and harps. Once the bass finally kicks in at the 54-second mark, the song has unstoppable momentum that leaves you smiling.
37. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead - “Lost Songs”
Drummer Jason Reece remains the person that elevates this song to its lofty heights. The melody, those guitar parts, that hook – all great. But without the relentless, rolling toms from Reece, this would merely be a fun song. As it stands, though, the drums add an anxiety level that colors the ringing lead guitars and Conrad Keely’s lead vocals with a dark urgency, adding both sonic and emotional layers to the proceedings. That so much is going on in only two minutes is a testament to the talent at work here.
36. A Giant Dog - “Chatterteeth”
There’s Sabrina Ellis’ wordless voice soaring through the chorus, or Andrew Cashen’s vocal delivery matching hers in the verses for an energetic unison singalong. Really, though, the success of this frenetic single rests with the musicians in A Giant Dog. This band is tight (unlike some of their garage punk brethren) and powerful. They turn what could have a bubblegum-ish number into one of the catchiest punk songs of the year.
35. Lean Hounds - “Jaylee”
On their Facebook page, Lean Hounds describe themselves as “makeout music.” It’s almost assuredly tongue-in-cheek, but it’s a descriptor that actually fits “Jaylee” quite perfectly. David Shackelford’s hushed falsetto meshes nicely with lush electronic washes to find the middle ground between chillwave and the Bee Gees. Their love of space is evident in this recording, where each instrument surrounds you in a cloud of sweet melodies and simple rhythms. Before you know it, you’re daydreaming about that special someone.
34. Driver Friendly - “Messidona”
Where “Chatterteeth” comes down on the punk side of pop-punk, “Messidona” falls on the pop side. This emo anthem packs in a horn section and vocal harmonies while presenting a more mature take on a sound that many would associate with whiny kids. Instead, Driver Friendly deal with mortality, failure, and desire…in a song mysteriously named for Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi. Either way, it’s a memorable and emotional piece of pop-punk.
33. Residual Kid - “Lost Cause”
We have to admit that when we first heard about Residual Kid, the idea of a trio of preteens making 80s-influenced punk/hard rock was about as appealing as chaperoning a middle school dance. But the music speaks for itself. On “Lost Cause” the kids sound way older than their years in musical skill, vocal delivery, and lyrical maturity. The song switches tempos between a driving hard rock rhythm and a slower chorus (crazy props to drummer Ben Redman for being able to execute that), and never once lets you down.
32. Megafauna - “Scratch at the Latch”
This track starts off slight – a few notes at a time outlining tense chords – but soon explodes into a violent cacophony. Once Dani Neff rhythm section falls in line behind her, you can’t even believe that it’s merely a three-piece. The power here is remarkably overwhelming, and even more evident when the band retreats from it halfway through and then spends the entire second half gradually building up to it. The dynamic control here is unmatchable and shows that Megafauna is one of the great rock groups in town.
31. Sphynx - “Terathon”
On last year’s Human Beast, Sphynx sometimes came across as a Speak knock-off, what with their synth-inflected pop. With this year’s Pre Wild, and especially “Terathon,” Sphynx carve out their own voice. This is a frantic synth-pop gem, shimmering like Passion Pit from start to finish. They borrow drums and a closing sax(ish) solo from M83, but then stick an acoustic breakdown right in the middle of the track. And their vocal manipulations recall the great local band Fresh Millions. Even though much of this track is synthetic and digital, there’s an irresistible warmth that elevates this beyond its peers.