5. Perfume Genius
This year, touring behind Too Bright, Perfume Genius’ live show boasted an expanded soundscape. As Sasha Geffen notes, “While Mike Hadreas’ lyrics made the most powerful moments of Perfume Genius’s 2010 debut Learning and 2012’s Put Your Back N 2 It, Too Bright folds its words into startling, varied instrumental textures. The album’s first single ‘Queen’ thundered in earlier this year full of squeals and barks that sounded entirely alien to the Seattle songwriter’s damaged cabaret. It’s Hadreas’ first banger, barbed with lines like ‘no family is safe when I sashay’ as though he were finally accepting a role as menacer rather than menaced. But in the space where a hook should go, Hadreas’ voice dissolves. His words give way to shrill whistles, disembodied echoes and a ‘woof!’ taken straight from Kanye’s reserve. His energy turns wordless, yet loses none of its power.”
4. Lee Bains III & The Gloryfires
You don’t really know Lee Bains III & The Gloryfires until you’ve seen them live. Sure, the energy is there on their record, but until you witness Bains sweating onstage, leaping into the crowd for a gleeful solo, or riding into it atop a bandmate’s shoulders like he did at this year’s Bragg Jam in Macon, Ga., you won’t truly understand the unbridled nature of one of our favorite discoveries this year.
3. Future Islands
Future Islands made its national TV debut on The Late Show With David Letterman, with a vivid performance that spread like viral wildfire across the music-blog click-scape. The Baltimore trio played its latest single, “Seasons (Waiting On You),” a silky new-wave groove decorated by Herring’s reliably malleable vocals (which sweep from a guttural, borderline death-metal growl to a theatrical croon) and his weirdly endearing dance moves—which resemble both Peter Gabriel performing Hamlet and a grandfather’s drunken twist at a family reunion barbecue. Punching imaginary holes in the air, beating his chest like Tarzan, gazing deeply into the rafters as if searching for his lost lover, Herring delivered every note with a level of desperation and intimacy rare for a late-night TV promotional pimp-out. It was uncomfortable and odd and confusing and completely riveting—and it was just another Future Islands show.—Philip Cosores
2. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
When I saw Sharon Jones perform at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse in January, she was just a few weeks removed from her last chemotherapy treatment. Weeks. Less than a month before absolutely tearing it up onstage, dancing at a frequency that would make even the healthiest of us winded and belting out each song with inexplicable strength, she was receiving radiation treatments to kill her cancer. Watching Jones perform has always been amazing, but to watch her bounce back from life-threatening illness in such an incredible manner is truly something to be seen. She’s back, and somehow, she’s even better than ever.
1. Diarrhea Planet
Next time Diarrhea Planet is playing in your area, tell your uninitiated friends to stop making shitty jokes (yeah, okay, pun intended—I’m a hypocrite) about their name and go see what will undoubtedly become one of their new favorite bands. Most important at a Diarrhea Planet show is the Diarrhea Planet material, during which the band’s four—yes, four—guitarists absolutely shred. They shred while playing behind their backs or with their teeth. They shred while climbing monitors. They shred while crowdsurfing inside an inner tube designed to look like a Simpsons donut. And, best of all, they all look like they’re having the greatest time in the world doing it. That energy’s infectious, making it impossible to not enjoy yourself at a Diarrhea Planet show.