We seem to pick up new readers every year, even as some older readers finally give up and bid us an adios, with or without middle fingers raised. So I guess it’s still worth telling people what they’re getting themselves into with this series.
This is traditionally the last part of our annual LISTMANIA extravaganza, though I do know of one more year-end album list that we still want to post whenever it arrives. This particular series isn’t about best albums or best shorter releases, and it isn’t even about best songs. As the title says, it’s about “most infectious” songs. Some of those might be among the year’s best songs, but in every year there are stand-out songs that aren’t immediately infectious, and actually might never be. Conversely, there are some highly infectious songs every year that most people wouldn’t critically acclaim as great works of art.
The process of compiling this list is a bit bizarre, or at least very poorly planned. Let me explain:
I try to keep a running list of songs I find infectious as the year unfolds, though sometimes I let a week or two go by without adding to it, so there are gaps. On top of my own list, I add a list of all the songs recommended by readers in response to this invitation. DGR also sends me his own recommendations, and this year Andy Synn added some under-the-radar favorites of his own. Putting all of that together, I wound up this year with a master list of 630 candidates.
What I then do is to put that master list in alphabetical order by band name, which allows me to see how many bands and songs got repeat mentions. As usual, there was a ton of scatter this year. 68 bands had either 2 or 3 song picks on the master list. Only 11 had 4 or more.
I do pay attention to the bands that got repeat mentions, but the ultimate choices are my own. In other words, this list isn’t the result of a vote or any other kind of popularity contest. I do try to spread the picks around among different genres and sub-genres, because in a way it’s also intended to be a reflection on what the last year brought us, but it’s inevitable that it will reflect my own particular tastes more than anyone else’s.
Getting back to the “poorly planned” observation: If I had nothing else to do for NCS and nothing else going on with my life, I’d spend the last month of the year methodically going through that master list and compiling my final list so that it’s all nailed down and buttoned up before I start rolling it out here in the first week of January. But that never happens. Instead, I just make a start and then continue to figure things out as January rolls on. That’s why I have no idea at this point how long the list will be by the time I end it.
As for when I will end it, I will try to do that by the end of this month, and in the meantime I’ll try to post an installment every weekday, and maybe sometimes on the weekends. The list will end when I force myself to stop, and thus it won’t really be complete even then. By the way, though I will number each of the near-daily installments, the list will be unranked — because ranking presupposes that I would first have a complete and final list and then be able, somehow, to compare all the apples and oranges. The first thing isn’t a reality, and the second thing ie beyond my capabilities.
Okay, enough with the laborious introduction. Time to get started.
In some years I’ve started the rollout of this list with bigger-name, crowd-pleasing bands. But not this year. You will eventually see some of those bigger names, but I chose this opening trio of songs in a more visceral and impulsive way.
Glimt‘s song “Nøkkerose” was one I added to my ongoing personal list of “most infectious song” candidates back in the late spring of 2021 when I first heard it. I got a measure of validation when I saw the band’s self-titled album on Austin Lunn‘s year-end list, which we published here earlier this week. He wrote of “Nøkkerose“: “The first song on this record is astounding. The rest is good too… but good gods this first song is awesome”.
And man, it really is awesome. I’ll just repeat what I wrote about it after listening to it for the first time:
“Feelings of tension and inner turmoil powerfully radiate from this song, as well as eye-popping ravages of incendiary intensity. The piercing gleam of the riffing envelops the senses, but the drum performance is also riveting, and the bass plays a prominent role as well. The reverberations of the vocalist’s wrenching screams and harrowing roars make an intense impact as well. The extended, heart-swelling, guitar refrain that eventually emerges carries the song to new emotional heights, and it’s very hard to forget. It sounds beseeching, yearning, and maybe even hopeful”.
SPECTRAL WOUND (Canada)
The next song is another one that made a striking impact on me when I first heard it much earlier in 2021. I thought it would make a fine pairing with Glimt‘s song because it produces a similarly thrilling effect. Unlike Glimt, Spectral Wound (and this song in particular) also appeared on a bunch of reader recommendations. In fact, Spectral Wound was one of those 11 bands I mentioned in the introduction who got four or more nominations (six of them, in Spectral Wound‘s case).
Like Glimt‘s album, Spectral Wound‘s 2021 full-length, A Diabolic Thirst, was a home run. As Andy Synn wrote in his review, “[U]nbreakable focus and unshakeable conviction runs through each and every one of the album’s six absolutely scorching compositions, with every scything riff and snarling vocal, every blasting, blitzkrieg percussive pattern and reckless, galloping rhythm, positively overflowing with an intoxicating blend of blinding intensity and stubborn, unwavering integrity”.
And I’ll quote myself again with respect to the track I’ve chosen for the first installment of this list:
“It’s such a glorious bonfire of sound, a racing whirl of exultant harmonized riffing, scorching vocals, and jet-speed drumming (which occasionally shifts gears). There’s a brief (and unnecessary) interlude in the middle, and then we’re right back in the midst of this brilliant spinning pillar of fire. Ironically, the name of the song is ‘Frigid and Spellbound.’“
I hadn’t paid much attention to Teitan‘s 2021 EP Vákuum until I read Andy Synn‘s review of it last September. But after reading these words from the review I buried myself in the music:
“One of the most unique, unusual, and intriguing releases of the past several months, the new EP from Teitan takes the standard template of Black Metal and twists it around on itself into a paradoxical mobius strip of strangled dissonance and strange melody whose unsettling and off-kilter sound sits somewhere between Dødheimsgard and Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord and Black Hole Generator. That being said, as weird and as warped as things get (and they get very weird and very warped at times) there’s still something disturbingly hooky and hypnotic about this material, and once it gets under your skin it’s unlikely that anything else is going to be able to scratch the itch”.
Andy was spot on in highlighting the quality of the music that makes it “disturbingly hooky and hypnotic”. It might not be conventionally infectious, but it’s still infectious. I had given myself a reminder to try to figure out which track to include on this list, but Andy saved me the trouble by putting his thumb on the scales for “The Grinding Teeth of the Wheel of Time“. Fine by me.