The 100 Best Songs of 2015

by delarue

Welcome to the secret history of rock music, 2015 style. This playlist is designed to be bookmarked and revisited as your spirit of adventure requires. There’s enough here to get you through almost a day’s worth of work or playing hooky. And there’s streaming audio for every song here, mostly at Bandcamp or Soundcloud so there’s no stress about having to mute stupid ads. And all the youtube links came up ad-free when this page was created…but you know how youtube can be.

As amazing a year as it was for music, the elephant in the room is the unreleased songs. Even in an age when somebody’s upload to youtube or constitutes a de facto “release,” the number of transcendent moments from a relatively tiny sliver of the thousands and thousands of concerts in this city this past year towered over the actual number of recordings, official or otherwise, that made it onto the shortlist for this page. If noir Americana songwriter Erica Smith‘s harrowing Veterans of Foreign Wars, the doomed retro soul of LJ Murphy’s Comfortable Cage, Karla Rose & the Thorns‘ murderously marauding border-rock bankster parable Battery Park, or Linda Draper clearing the yuppies out of Rockwood Music Hall with the title track from her forthcoming album Modern Day Decay – about negotiating “a world full of assholes” – are any indication, we’re in for an even better 2016 and 2017.

Like the last couple of years, there was one song released in 2015 that rocketed straight to the top of this list…very quietly. Vanity’s Curse, by accordionist/multi-instrumentalist Rachelle Garniez, doesn’t go straight to the root of “luxury fashioned by bludgeon and blade” – she takes her time. The song opens as an Elizabethan-tinged guitar ballad, a view of a dotty old lady’s tchotchke collection, and it mushrooms from there. In a completely un-political way, it captures the dynamic that’s kept a ruling class at the top of the food chain, yet bearing the seeds of its own long overdue destruction. And at this point in history, there’s no alternative. From her album Who’s Counting – which also topped the list of best albums of 2015 here. Watch the video

Like this year’s Best Albums and Best New York Concerts pages, beyond the choice of #1, there’s no ranking. If a song’s good enough to make the cut out of many, many thousands, you should hear it, whether it’s at the beginning or the end here. Trying to weigh which might be better – an irresistibly catchy ragtime-flavored hit by Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear, or the hair-raising psychedelic metal of Greek Judas‘ This Is Why I Smoke Cocaine – is apples and oranges. The rest of this year’s crop is too diversely amazing to put in any kind of order.

Sweet Soubrette – Ghost Ship
A new wave Motown existentialist pop masterpiece from the soul-infused band led by the ubiquitously eclectic Ellia Bisker (also of the carnivalesque, latin-tinged Kotorino, menacing parlor pop duo Charming Disaster and the boisterous Funkrust Brass Band). From the Live at Joe’s Pub album. Listen here

The Sideshow Tragedy – Capital
The title track to the savagely lyrical Austin gutter-blues band’s latest album works a dusky midtempo slide guitar groove, a caustically aphoristic parable of the 21st century going back into the dark ages in a hurry. “You listen to the police scanner as your write your report, better fill your quota while you got time…you can’t see the horizon ’cause it don’t matter right now, so rob the beggars blind,” frontman Nathan Singleton snarls. Listen here

Karla Rose & the Thorns – Mexico
Seedy seaside resort cast as logical destination for a surreal and possibly deadly endgame, set to deceptively lilting Veracruz-tinged acoustic rock. The band slayed quietly with this at the Mercury last month. Their unexpectedly lush, wounded cover of the Motels’ Only the Lonely at Hank’s back in July was pretty awesome too. Listen here

Los Wemblers – Sonido Amazonico
The slinky, creepily chromatic “national anthem of chicha” first hit these shores when Chicha Libre covered it in 2008, inspired by the hit by Peruvian psychedelic cumbia band Los Mirlos. But these guys –  now in their seventies, and absolutely undiminished – wrote it. They played two long, trippy versions at their New York debut in Red Hook back in July. Watch the whole concert here

Jeanne Jolly – California
This spare, Tift Merritt-ish nocturne is about dead dreams, and walking away from defeat, and the consequences of bad timing. Unselfconsciously deep and one of the most shattering songs of the year. From the album A Place to Run. Listen here

Ember Schrag – Iowa
This early song from the Great Plains gothic songstress’s deep catalog builds slowly, like the killer storm it portends, looming in over the barns and windmills. Flyover America never got hit so hard, metaphorically or otherwise. From the live Folkadelphia Sessions album. Listen here

The Bright Smoke – On Ten
Singer/guitarist Mia Wilson’s throaty, wounded wail channels equal parts unease and crushing cynicism as she contemplates the struggle to get by among the rich and would-be famous who’ve invaded our neighborhoods over the past few years. From the album Terrible Towns. Listen here

Desert Flower – Traveler
A menacing 6/8 art-rock epic from charismatic singer Bela Zap Art and her ferocious twin-guitar band. They slayed with this at Paperbox back in September. Watch the video

Big Lazy – Night Must Fall
Part scampering Romany jazz, part furtive crime theme, part horror surf, guitarist/composer Stephen Ulrich finally launches into an axe-murderer flurry of tremolo-picking, then goes into jazz, then back to slasher mode here. From the Don’t Cross Myrtle album. This blog caught more shows by Big Lazy than by any other band in 2015…maybe, ever. They’re that good and creepy. Listen here

Regular Einstein – The Good Times
The most unexpectedly savage and arguably best track on ever-more-diverse songwriter/guitarist Paula Carino’s band’s latest album Chimp Haven, a noirish 6/8 soul anthem that reaches haphazardly toward some better future that doesn’t seem to be coming anytime soon. Listen here

Carol Lipnik – The Things That Make You Grow
A darkly exhilarating anthem for embattled individualists. the iconic singer working every inch of her vast four-octave range over Matt Kanelos’ incisively stately piano. From her album Almost Back to Normal. Listen here

Les Sans Culottes – DSK
The faux-French Brooklyn psychedelic powerpop band at the top of their satirical game, frontman Clermont Ferrand casting a dubious eye on rapacious would-be presidents. Lyrics in French, of course. From the album Les Dieux Ont Soif/The Gods Are Thirsty. Listen here

The Shootout Band – Walking on a Wire
Frontwoman Erica Smith outdid Linda Thompson’s original vocal on a shattering take of the Richard Thompson breakup classic at the Mercury this past March. Watch the video (this version is from the Treehous at 2A in 2014 and has Ward White rather than Dave Foster on harmonies)

Tom Warnick & the World’s Fair – I’m a Stranger Here
This bitter reminiscence of high school alienation first took shape as a pulsing new wave tune. But the crooner keyboardist took it to the next level as noir swing. Alto saxophonist Jason’s Reese’s shadowy lines over eerily tiptoeing piano, with contrasting guitar jangle and wail from guitarists Ross Bonadonna and John Sharples, make this the high point of the album Side Effects. Watch the video

Lorraine Leckie & Pavel Cingl– Climb Ya Like a Mountain
The incredibly prolific, dark New York rock chanteuse and the popular Prague violinist offer an eleganly bluesy art-rock shout-out to the noted mountain climber Aleister Crowley. From their album The Raven Smiled. Listen here

Matt Keating – They’ve Thrown You Away
Nobody writes catchier or more piercingly spot-on Flyover America narratives than this veteran dark Americana guitarslinger. From the album This Perfect Crime. Listen here

Raya Brass Band – Mirage
With its minor-key edge, accordionist Max Fass’ hints of dub, Greg Squared’s aching alto sax solo and a menacingly fluttering twin-horn outro, it’s the high point of the Brooklyn Balkan band’s latest album, simply titled Raya. Listen here

Tipsy Oxcart – The Sheikh
It may sound as Arabic as a Hungarian freylach, but it’s a supremely tasty minor-key romp, accordionist Jeremy Bloom and clarinetist Connell Thompson raising the energy to redline as bassist Ayal Tsubery takes a familiar ba-bump groove and walks it. From the album Upside Down. Listen here

Charming Disaster – Secretary
A luridly pouncing, blackly funny noir narrative that this superstar NYC parlor pop duo – Jeff Morris from Kotorino and Ellia Bisker from Sweet Soubrette – does better than just about anybody else in that demimonde. From the album Love, Crime and Other Trouble. Listen here

Mike Rimbaud – Friend
Another of the funniest tracks here, a ssnarling, reverbtoned new wave update on Highway 61 era Dylan and a viciously accurate slap at social media addicts. “Your BFF is only BS,” Rimbaud snickers. From the album Put That Dream In Your Pipe and Smoke It. Watch the video

The Glass House Ensemble – Dirge
Legendary trumpeter Frank London joined forces with his Hungarian multi-instrumentalist pal Béla Ágoston to lead this sizzling, jam-oriented band, who reinvent old pre-Holocaust Jewish melodies. This video is their whole show recorded last January in Hungary; you’ll have to fast forward about twenty minutes in. Or just blast the whole thing, it’s a spine-tingling ride.

Rachel Mason – The Werewolf of Wisteria
That’s the name that serial killer Hamilton Fish was known as on Staten Island, before he was captured and eventually executed. Mason sings it with a brooding knowingness on her latest album The Lives of Hamilton Fish, tracing the strangely interwoven lives of the scion of a New York political fortune along with the  psycho’s far more fascinating career. Listen here

Marianne Dissard – Oiseau
The haunting French songwriter/chanteuse intones her loaded images of the unlucky creature hitting the window and then collapsing with a wounded understatement that permeates the richly textured web of electric and acoustic guitars underneath, like the early Velvets if they’d been tighter and raised on the Arizona/Mexico border. From her album Cologne Vier Takes. Listen here

Molly Ruth – My Hometown Ain’t Where I’m Really From
A harrowing C&W ballad that pulls the sentimental rug from under every country cliche. What hellish place would make a young Molly Ruth remember that “As a kid I couldn’t make no friends, I wanted to be sent back?” The version she played with her careening band at the Mercury last March was devastating. Watch it herw

Goddess – Begins
Singer Fran Pado leads the song’s soaring, stately, gorgeous vocal harmonies over what could be a horror-film piano theme. “Like a finger in the palm, like the death of remorse,” the women intone. From the theatrical, phantasmagorical New York band’s new album Paradise. Listen here

Twin Guns – Trigger Jack
The explosive, reverb-addicted noir garage rockers deliver a creepy, stalking desert rock tableau, like Big Lazy on crank. From the album The Last Picture Show. Listen here

Sarah Kirkland Snider – The Witch
Bernard Herrmann as My Brightest Diamond might do it, shivery strings over elegantly tumbling beats. From the brilliantly allusive indie classical composer’s latest, most direct and troubling album, Unremembered, a wise and sadly accurate antidote to sentimental childhood reminiscences.. Listen here

Bobtown – Kentucky Graveyard
A grisly, Gorey-esque noir cabaret catalog of the weirdos who end up pushing up daisies there, along with the various ways they found their way under. From the album A History of Ghosts. Listen here

Bliss Blood & Al Street – No One Gets It All
One of the great voices in noir torch song teams with flamenco-inspired guitarist Street in one of the duo’s most lushly Lynchian moments. From their album Unspun. Listen here

The Whiskey Charmers – Parlor Lights
The Michigan noir country band mashes up a moody lowlit depressed Lynchian sway with ominous trainwhistle slide guitar: “Turn off the open road, there’s an end in sight,” frontwoman Carrie Shepard intones. From the band’s debut album. Listen here

Fernando Vicioconte – White Trees
The gloomiest number on the Argentine expat noir rocker’s brilliant, darkly psychedelic new album Leave the Radio On builds a spare, rustic, metaphorically charged tableau. Listen here

Orphan Jane – Mansion Song
A scampering mashup of Brecht/Weill noir cabaret and Hawaiian swing. It’s a cautionary tale: be careful when you shoot for revenge on hedge fund types- they can afford to hire thugs. From the album A Poke in the Eye. Listen here

The TarantinosNYC – Korla’s Theme
An artfully nebulous, ominously crescendoing Dick Dale-style Red Sea stomp with all kinds of cool variations from one of the most cinematic instrumental bands around. From the album Surfin’ the Silver Screen. Listen here

The Monophonics – Too Long
Cinematic noir soul with a long crescendo from Yonatan Gat’s trippy psychedelic band. From the Sound of Sinning album. Listen here

Dalava – Vyšla Devcina
Ancient Moravian folk reinvented as a creepy circus rock waltz, guitarist Aram Bajakian’s icepick guitar paired against nebulous strings and singer Julia Ulehla’s calmly enigmatic voice. From their debut album. Listen here

Patricia Santos – Little Boat
An absolutely knockout, creepy, noisy cover of Kotorino‘s brooding noir rock narrative by the charismatic cellist/singer and Whiskey Girls frontwoman. Kotorino axeman Jeff Morris adds his most murderous guitar solo ever. From her album Never Like You Think. Listen here

Jon DeRosa – High and Lonely
A spare, hypnotically apocalyptic anthem: “I want none of your fleeting wealth, I want none of your earthly fortune,” is the mantra. From the ominous baritone crooner’s album Black Halo. Listen here

Dawn Oberg – Mile Rock Man
The most harrowing track on the typically jaunty and irrepressible pianist/chanteuse’s  new album Bring takes its inspiration from the time she went out on a run along the perimeter of San Francisco Bay and ran across the body of a suicide who’d shot himself in the head. Listen here

Cleopatra Degher – Rebecca Wood
The California acoustic songwriter contributes arguably the funniest song on this list. See, Rebecca sometimes wonders what it would be like to be alone. But as Degher told it, she never is. “She gets to know all her friends on Facebook through all the pictures that they took.” She absolutely slayed with this at the Rockwood last July. From the album Pacific. Listen here

Fireships – Fantasy
Here’s another really funny number, caustically chronicling how people fall for celebrity culture: “Are you meant to hang from a velvet rope?” Americana/chamber pop guitarist/frontman Andrew Vladeck taunts. From the band’s debut album. Listen here

The Honeycutters – Ain’t It the Truth
This could be the Wallflowers with a pedal steel and a woman out front, a study in the psychology of domestic abuse. From the North Carolina Americana rockers’ album Me Oh My. Watch the video

Ben Von Wildenhaus – The Knife Thrower Pt. 1
A fast, shuffling, surfy take on a noir bolero, veering between tremoloing Lynchian twang and surfy staccato phrases, a smudgy loop taking the place of the drums. From the noir guitar instrumentalist’s characteristically cinematic new album, II. Listen here

Naked Roots Conducive – Happy Things
The most surprisingly direct, and cruelly sarcastic, and catchiest number on the edgy chamber-rock duo’s latest album Sacred521.: Finally, seven tracks in, violinist Natalia Steinbach lets down her guard: “I need you to know this pain is for real…I can’t take any more bruises.”Don’t worry – this sounds nothing like emo. Listen here

Raquel Vidal & the Monday Men – Leather Trunk
A methodically creepy bolero-rock groove in the same vein as Karla Rose & the Thorns, set “On a shore where your dreams lay dying,” as Vidal puts it: a more retro, literate spin on Nancy Sinatra Vegas noir. Listen here

Joanne Weaver – Summer Kisses, Winter Tears
An icy deep-space Lynchian lament from the New York noir singer’s absolutely brilliantly-produced album Interstellar Songbook II (the first one’s a little more jazz-tinged and just as good). Listen here

The Grasping Straws – Your Face
The edgy New York power trio kicks this off as a hauntingly spare reflection drenched in natural reverb, then rises to a shatteringly epic peak – singer/guitarist Mallory Feuer’s multitracked screams midway through are bone-chilling! Listen here

Insect Ark – The Collector
Bassist/keyboardist/composer Dana Schechter’s moody dirge builds from a creepy tritone synth loop with a minimalist bassline that brings to mind early Wire, picking up steam as it bends and sways, then goes back into the murk. From the album Portal/Well. Listen here

Summer Fiction – Dirty Blonde
With its kinetic pulse fueled by BC Camplight’s piano and a deliciously watery guitar solo midway through, it’s like Elliott Smith without the drugs. From the album Himalaya. Listen here

Todd Marcus – Tears on the Square
The Baltimore bass clarinetist/big band leader’s elegaic Tahrir Square narrative evokes muted anguish, horror and outrage at the Egyptian government’s deadly assaults on the revolutionaries there,. Centerpiece of the album Blues for Tahrir. Watch the video

Lions – Lions
It’s the name of the song and also the slinky, psychedelic Israeli-American Ethiopiques band that recorded it. This one takes a classic, creepily chromatic bati riff and builds a mighty anthem out of it, all the way up to a mighty, stomping peak. From the group’s debut album. Listen here

Litvakus – Propoisk Suite
A haunting waltz that picks up with a characteristic feral, rustic intensity, from hotshot clarinetist Dmitri Zisl Slepovitch’s album Raysn: The Music of Jewish Belarus, which collects rare and seldom recorded material once assumed to have been lost to the Holocaust. Listen here

Mondo Drag – Pillars of the Sky
The stately slide guitar and organ intro to this instrumental epic is as good as any Richard Wright/David Gilmour collaboration – Atomheart Mother, for example – and then the newschool psychedelic/art-rock band brings to mind the gorgeously bittersweet spacerock of Nektar’s It’s All Over. From their self-titled album, listen here

Fly Golden Eagle – [the last track on the Quartz album]
This wryly untilted epic follows a slow, slinky Country Joe & the Fish acid rock trajectory, plaintive guitar and keys echoing over funereal organ. LSD is scary! Listen here

Ruby the Hatchet – Tomorrow Never Comes
A gloomy flamenco metal epic from the ferocious female fronted Philadelphia psych-metal band. From the album Valley of the Snake. Listen here

The Dolomites – Why
The Japanese-Romany band makes a slinky cumbia out of a carnivalesque Balkan tune and almost imperceptily accelerates to warp speed. From The Japan Years: Volume 1 ep. Listen here

Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear – Silent Movies
In terms of pure catchiness, this tops the list here, a jaunty blend of ragtime, front-porch folk and strummy 60s Laurel Canyon pop from the genre-defying, lyrically brilliant Kansas City mother-son duo. The song is a lot more uneasy than it seems on face value. From the album Skeleton Crew. Listen here

Jennifer Hall – Beverly Road
A tantalizingly fun, allusively lyrical psychedelic pop mashup of Jeff Lynne chamberpop, insistent oldschool soul and Orbison noir from the Chicago singer-bandleader’s debut album. No relation to the Brooklyn thoroughfare, which is spelled with an extra “E.” Listen here

Eleni Mandell – China Garden Buffet
This gorgeously simmering, uneasily balmy, improbable portrait of an unlikely liaison is sort of a musical Edward Hopper tableau. From the LA noir songwriter’s latest album Dark Lights Up. Listen here

Los Crema Paraiso – Tanto Que La Quise
A cinematic bossa-psych/chicha/Gainsbourg mashup that’s a dead ringer for Chicha Libre, right down to the keening, trebly, wah-wah synth. From the Venezuelan-American psychedelic band’s album of new film themes for old Venezuelan movies, De Pelicula. Listen here

The Balkan Clarinet Summit – Pitagorino Oro
An allstar global clarinet orchestra assembled by Wolfgang Pöhlmann of the Goethe Institute in Athens winds up their album with band member Slobodan Trkulja’s sizzling feast of microtonal melismas, chromatics and dizzying counterpoint. Listen here

Figli DI Madre Ignota – A Me Non Piace Niente (I Don’t Like Anything)
Sung in the “spaghetti Balkan” band’s native Italian, this Beatles-tinged tarantella punk number is a riotous broadside directed at reality tv, social media, “dj culture,” trash fiction, plastic surgery, you name it. “The truth about stupid people is that you can measure them in inches,” frontman Stefano Iascone observes. From the album Bellydancer. Listen here

The Frank Flight Band – Unrequited
The British psychedelic rockers take their time making albums, and more time to release them: four in twenty years, all of them absolutely brilliant. This is from The Usual Curse, the latest from their archives, from an earlier version of the band. Then-frontman Maurice Watson croons ominously over an anguished, Middle Eastern-tinged clave groove. Listen here

Greek Judas – This Is Why I Smoke Cocaine
The New York band make wild, Middle Eastern-flavored heavy psychedelia out of Cypriot Greek gangster narratives from the 1920s and 30s. This is a creepy. chromaticversion of a grisly ghetto narrative circa 1930 or so. Listen to the original here

King Raam – Salvador
The pseudonymous, revolutionary expat Iranian art-rock band’s mini-epic rises from a rather upbeat, guitar-fueled neo-Motown drive to a swing groove and then pure Lynchian menace.From the album, A Day & a Year. Listen here

The Mekaal Hasan Band – Sindhi
A shapeshifting, uneasy, rhythmically tricky art-rock anthem from the Punjabi psychedelic band, frontwoman Sharmistha Chatterjee’s wildly melismatic Bollywood-tinged vocals soaring overhead. From the album Andhola. Listen here

George Usher & Lisa Burns – If It Ever Comes to Pass
A snarling, darkly minor-key new wave-tinged gem fueled by Mark Sidgwick’s lead guitar. The guy/girl harmonies of Usher and Burns bring to mind legendary late 90s/early zeros New York band DollHouse. From the album Last Day of Winter. Watch the video

Terakaft – Karambani (Nastiness)
The Malian desert rockers – a side project of iconic Tamashek band Tinariwen – drive this savage minor-key shuffle with a menacing baritone guitar riff that speeds up to a horrified sprint. From the intense, wartime-themed album Alone. Watch the video

The Universal Thump – Cockatoos
Frontwoman/keyboardist Greta Gretler Gold at her most brooding and plaintive, a briskly strolling tone poem of sorts: “I never fell so hard, I never fell so far.” From the otherwise deviously funny psychedelic pop album Walking the Cat, recorded at Abbey Road Studios. Listen here

Jenifer Jackson – All Around
The stunningly eclectic Austin Americana songwriter came up with this metaphorically-loaded, adrenalizingly anthemic, Steve Wynn-esque seaside tableau after coming within inches of a giant predatory bird on a Cape Cod beach one winter. She killed with this at a Manhattan house concert in October. From the album Texas Sunrise. Listen here

Paula Carino – Salad Days
The plush-voiced Regular Einstein guitarist/bandleader’s assertive take of the Young Marble Giants’ cult favorite bedroom pop song was one of the highlights when an allstar band covered the iconic Colossal Youth album in its entirety at Hifi Bar back in August. Watch the concert here (the song is about 28 minutes in).

Algiers – Remains
Politically-fueled postpunk soul, ominous synth buzzing low beneath singer Franklin James Fisher’s impassioned indictment of “careless mistakes” and westernization as it rises to towering, cinematic proportions. From the band’s debut album. Watch the video

The Steep Canyon Rangers– Blue Velvet Rain
Just the title alone makes you want to hear this one, rigtht? Stormy imagery shifts through this morose, morbid country waltz with biting solos from fiddler Nicky Sanders and mandolinist Mike Guggino: “Soaked to the bone and burning alone, a fire without any flame.” From the popular newgrass band’s Radio album. Listen here

Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats – Pusher Man
This dark metal track springboards off of Iron Maiden’a most scorching, wide-angle minor-key mid-80s intensity and strips it down for a searing, unrelenting sway that’s impossible to turn away from. From the album The Night Creeper. Watch a live video here

Lazy Lions – I Don’t Think It’s Going to Stop
Frontman Jim Allen channels vintage early 80s Graham Parker in this characteristically sardonic, smartly lyrical new wave/powerpop gem. From the album When Dreaming Lets You Down. Listen here

Curtis Eller – Albatross
Earlier this year, the charismatic noir bandleader and banjo player teamed up with fellow dark Americana band the New Town Drunks for Baudelaire in a Box, a deluxe volvelle-packaged collection of new translations of classic Baudelaire poems set to new music. This is the creme de la creme, a cruelly jaunty retelling of the tale of the hopeless bird crippled and tortured onboard a ship of fools. Listen here

Karina Denike – Stop the Horses
A menacing, plaintive bolero-soul ballad with reverb-drenched guitar and vibraphone echoing in from the shadows. From the album Under Glass. Listen here

Tracy Island – Land of Opportunity
This telling New Depression narrative is part early 70s pastoral Pink Floyd, part Richard & Linda Thompson, part new wave: “This is not the first time life has let me down,” singer/guitarist Liza Garelik Roure sings plaintively. From the album War No More. Listen here

Davina & the Vagabonds – I Try to Be Good
A noir Vegas cha-cha – sort of a more retro take on what Clairy Browne is doing – fueled by bandleader Davina Sowers’ eerily marionettish piano. From the album Sunshine. Listen here

Elisa Flynn – A House Called Merciful
An uneasy, starkly banjo-driven escape anthem that harks back to the Reconstruction-era milieu of some of the crystalline-voiced art-rock songwriter’s best work. From her album My Henry Lee. Listen here

The Amphibious Man – Halloweed
This creepy psychedelic number by the haphazardy menacing Connecticut band rses out of the swamp, from reverbtoned noir cinematics toward murderous desert rock but never makes it quite there. From the album Witch Hips. Listen here

Jack Ladder & the Dreamlanders – Come On Back This Way
The Australian lounge lizard crooner weaves a good mystery tale over an icy, 80s Leonard Cohen synth-goth backdrop; Sharon Van Etten guests on vocal harmonies. From the album Playmates. Listen here

Katayoun Goudarzi and Shujaat Khan – Whirling Tree
The nuanced, haunting Iranian-American singer teams with her sitarist bandmate to build a sense of unease amid the tranquility until Khan takes the music skyward, matter-of-factly and optimistically.: It’s the most dramatic track on the duo’s album Ruby. Listen here

Cricket Tell the Weather – Remington
New England is underrepresented in the current Americana explosion; this song, a look back to hard times in firearms manufacturing in late 19th century Connecticut, is a breath of Industrial Revolution air, singer Andrea Asprelli’s astringent fiddle sailing over the intricate web of banjo, guitar, bass and mandolin. From the New York newgrass band’s debut album. Listen here

Underhill Rose – The Great Tomorrow
The title track of the latest album by the popular all-female Americana/newgrass trio is a bittersweetly gorgeous banjo-and-steel-guitar-driven narrative about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Watch the video

Fanfarai – Touchia Zidane
The Algerian-hrockers reimagine an ancient Andalusian classical piece as a distant, darkly microtonal dirge, violin and flute taking turns leading the slow procession as it gathers steam up to a majestic peak – and then goes for a sprint. From the album Tani. Listen here

Katie Brennan & the Bourbon Express – Which Wine Goes with My Heartache
More of a drinking song than a sad ballad, it follows a droll, Amy Allison-style storyline: honkytonk singer Brennan might not be the most likely person to answer that question, considering that her poison is whiskey. From the album One Big Losing Streak. Listen here

Caroline Cotter – Champagne
Another drinking song! The eclectic Portland, Maine Americana singer goes for a less over-the-top Peggy Lee Fever approach, with an artful arrangement and wee-hours muted trumpet. As she tells it, she wants some bubbles on her brain because “these are the things that keep me sane!” From the album Dreaming As I Do. Listen here

Kelley Swindall – Heartsick
The Georgia-born Americana songwriter keeps going deeper into the noir and this is a prime example. Romany jazz-flavored rock is seldom this pissed off. She killed with this at a solo show in Queens last September. This full-band video isn’t quite as good but it’s close

Heather Maloney & Darlingside – 1855
If there’s only one remaining photo of someone, or of a couple, do they exist less than others with better visual documentation? The Massachusetts Americana  singer slayed subtly with this pensive Americana rock number at Joe’s Pub back in May. From the album Making Me Break. Watch the video

The Dustbowl Revival – Bright Lights
A strutting oldtimey swing take on narcocorrido music. The old gangsta doesn’t want to go out easy – it’s as funny as it is disquieting. From the album With a Lampshade On. Listen here

Charenee Wade – Home Is Where The Hatred Is
The rising star jazz singer delivers a furtively scampering, salsafied take of Gil Scott-Heron’s 1971 classic, in her hands an even more chilling portrait of ghetto abandonment and alienation. From the album Offering – The Music of Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson. Watch the video

Mamie Minch – Fortified Wine Widow
The Brooklyn blues reinventor is a badass resonator guitarist and a charismatic, frequently straight-up hilarious presence onstage: this blog caught half a dozen shows this year where she was either headlining or on the bill somewhere. This track is uncharacteristically low-key and brooding, a look at what kind of havoc that fun stuff can create if you overdo it over and over again. Listen here

Lizzie & the Makers – Too Late
Intense blues/Americana belter Lizzie Edwards airs out her powerful pipes on this part noir soul, part low-key psychedelic Led Zep track from her band’s album Fire From the Heart of Man. Watch the video

Caitlin Canty – The Brightest Day
A slowly simmering, brooding, doomed Americana rock anthem, pairing growling Jeffrey Foucault guitar against spare banjo and dobro. From the album Reckless Skyline. Listen here

The Dan Band – Three Way
Another really funny one, a faux-sensitive Damien Rice-style ballad written with a guy from one of the kind of top 40 bands that comedic bandleader Dan Finnerty harshes on at his harshest. You want politically incorrect? From The Wedding Album. Watch the G-rated video

Fable Cry – Set Me Loose
The Nashville circus rock band waltz you down the rabbit hole and then back out again with this scampering, shiveringly phantasmagorical escape anthem. From the album We’ll Show You Where the Monsters Are. Listen here

Spanglish Fly – Return of the Po-Po
Written during the peak of the stop-and-frisk era in New York – before the Village Voice expose of racisst quotas employed by the NYPD in ticketing for minor infractions – this darkly bubbly latin soul groove is somsething that an entire generation here can relate to. From the album New York Boogaloo. Listen here

Ike Reilly – 2 Weeks of Work, 1 Night of Love
The four-on-the-floor lyrical Midwestern rocker builds a vividly wry, bleak teens New Depression milieu over honking blues harp. From his album Born on Fire. Watch the video

Adventures in Bluesland – Watching the Traffic Flow
Languid, morose, jazz-infused ambience and mournful foghorn harp bring to mind late 50s Sinatra at his most noir as frontman/guitarist Phil Gammage croons. From the album American Dream. Watch the video

Pete Kennedy – Gotham Serenade
When the Kennedys‘ cult hero guitarist wrote this song back in the zeros, it was a shout-out to his beloved hometown. These days, this triumphant Celtic rock anthem feels more like an epitaph. From his gorgeously evocative, anthemic solo album Heart of Gotham. Watch the video

Fizz – Sea of Heartbreak
This is the funnest track here. In this video from their killer show at Pete’s Candy Store last October, songwriters Fiona McBain and Liz Tormes take a sad old Don Gibson country hit and make a jump-rope rhyme out of it. Goes to show these two haven’t lost any of their reflexes since they were kids on the playground. It’s kind of adorable. Watch it here