The 50 Best Songs of 2013

Music Lists Best Songs

Selecting our favorite songs of the year wasn’t a hard task just because of the number of votes we sorted through. Yes, the tallies for 453 different songs between 19 Paste writers and editors made it hard to trim this list down. But notably, 2013 has been a great year for music—especially the single. Just look at how we foamed at the mouth for clips of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and then debated their legitimacy when the actual single leaked. Or take note of how a few newcomers like Haim and Lorde covered the worldwide quota for sugary hooks alone.

Below, we’ve listed our 50 favorite songs of the year. Without a doubt, we didn’t get everyone’s favorite, so please share your own in the comment section below.

50. The Dismemberment Plan – “Daddy Was a Real Good Dancer”
When The Dismemberment Plan returned with its first album in over a decade, the band stepped back with all the wry charm it was known for. Lyrically Uncanney Valley’s “Daddy Was a Real Good Dancer” saw the band right at home, spinning up a touching reflection on the early loss of a father. But what sets Uncanney Valley aside from earlier Plan releases was its musical directness, which sees the band trading off-kilter time signatures and hot-wired synths for straightforward rhythms and slide guitar. Sure, it’s not immediately The Plan we knew from the ‘90s, but hopefully you’ve changed a bit since then, too.—Tyler Kane

49. Savages – “She Will”
Opening with a ferocious clatter of drums and eerie guitar hooks, Savages’ “She Will” is one of the more electrifying cuts from their commanding debut, Silence Yourself. The foursome delivers a primal tribute to female empowerment that drives on with a no-holds-barred intensity. Punctuated by singer Jehnny Beth’s snarls about a woman who will “choose to ignite” and “forget her pain,” it’s a powerful anthemic track which challenges expectations of women and pushes them to reclaim their sexuality. —Lori Keong

48. Polica – “Tift” (Feat. Justin Vernon)
The first single off the Minnesota synth-pop’s second LP features, but is not defined by, Justin Vernon of Gayngs (and Bon Iver). Vernon’s falsetto contests against and co-mingles with front lady Channy Leaneagh’s warm soprano and as the tension in the song rises, they wail together, “Go ahead and play for keeps.” It’s a funk-like dirge—at once violently antagonistic and then suddenly soothing—detailing how woman’s worst enemy can be herself.—Hilary Saunders

47. Deerhunter – “Monomania”
In the land of countless bland late-night performances, Bradford Cox and co.’s perfect Fallon performance last April stuck out like a sore—er, bandaged thumb. Not only did the members of Deerhunter make an exceptional appearance, they were letting the world in on the title track of their new album, Monomania, just a month’s before its release. And from that performance you could correctly assume a few things: Deerhunter’s return would be grittier and more fierce than we saw them last, and the full-length would obviously satisfy.—Tyler Kane

46. Laura Marling – “Master Hunter”
This single from Laura Marling’s fourth album Once I Was an Eagle is driven by powerful guitar and a repetitive proclamation: “I am a master hunter”. And while it’s a powerfully crafted tune, the song also shows Marling taking heavy steps away from a genre in which critics have pigeonholed her for much of her career.—Stephanie Fang

45. Ashley Monroe – “Two Weeks Late”
One of the best country songs of the year portrays Monroe’s honky tonk blues as some kind of Nashville Liz Lemon. She’s forced to admit everyone was right about the man who didn’t give her a ring, and by the way, her landlord needs that late rent and oh, her mom asks, have you put on weight? “What a damn cliché,” she sighs. Yet in her clever hands and tensile voice, it’s anything but.-Dan Weiss

44. Yamantaka // Sonic Titan – “One”
There’s a lot to like about arty Canadian two-piece Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, even without hearing a single note. The group’s core members—vocalist Ruby Kato Attwood and drummer Alaska B—are striking, and their vision for this project is refreshingly laser-focused: The kabuki face paint, costumes, elaborate stage shows and an ancestral narrative. UZU’s first single, “One,” is the record’s heaviest track, with its tribal vocals and a heavy bass riff that throbs throughout. It’s the song that best represents the band’s sound and concept.—Mark Lore

43. Waxahatchee – “Swan Dive”
This was a banner year for breakout artist Waxahatchee (aka Katie Crutchfield). After playing in several other projects (P.S. Elliot, The Ackleys) with her twin sister Allison, the two parted ways to pursue separate endeavors. Both are now signed to U.K.-based Wichita Recordings, Katie with Waxahatchee and Allison with Swearin’. It’s hard to pick one track off Katie’s major debut Cerulean Salt that stands out among the others. A deeper cut, “Swan Dive” serves as a favorite on the album, highlighting the best parts of Katie’s matured songwriting.—Eric Gossett

42. Robin Thicke – “Blurred Lines”
“Blurred Lines” might not have been your favorite song this year, and Robin Thicke might not be your favorite guy, but you know when you hear that weird “woo!” on the speakers, you’re “woo”ing right along with it. With a video just shy of 225 million views and inspiring almost as many parodies, angry think-pieces and listicles, Thicke completely saturated popular culture in 2013. Say what you will about Dr. Seaver Jr (er…Thicke) — “Blurred Lines” is a standout pop track. And when this song comes on the radio, we’re singing.—Casey Daline

41. PJ Harvey – “Shaker Aamer”
Somehow buried in the morass was PJ Harvey’s finest song in 13 years, a sincere and plainspoken protest song the way they should be done. With “Shaker Aamer,” Harvey humanizes the title Guantanamo prisoner (“your friend Shaker”), his horrifying conditions (“cannot sleep or stay awake,” “Four months, hunger strike/ Am I dead or am I alive”) and explaining the predicament (“In camp five, 11 years, never charged, six years clear”). It’s impossible for anyone who hears and registers this song to not be more informed about an ongoing horror. And the brilliant chord changes make it worth passing on.-Dan Weiss

40. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Jubilee Street”
At the center of Push the Sky Away lies “Jubilee Street,” a narrative track reflecting on hypocrisy and moral ambiguity. We go through hardship and emotional drain, but just as the track drags us into somewhere dark and inescapable, Cave, buoyed by the music, finds himself caught in a transformation into something “glowing” and “flying,” as if Nelson Algren morphed into Flannery O’Connor. The music brightens and spiral inverts, pointing up to something more.—Justin Cober-Lake

39. Matt Pond – “Starlet”
If you wanted a song that would make you feel tight around the chest during the holiday season (for a reason other than excessive amounts of tryptophan), look no further than “Starlet” by Matt Pond. The singer-songwriter’s music—which is often dreamy, sometimes romantic—has a tendency to make stomachs clench and hearts thump. “Starlet” recounts the story of a romance that ends as intensely as it began. It’s guaranteed to drag out a few emotions even from the season’s biggest scrooges. —Stephanie Fang

38. King Krule – “Easy Easy”
A few months have probably done King Krule some good. Now that audiences have gotten over the initial shock of finding out that lanky 19-year-old Londoner Archy Marshall was the bellowing baritone known as King Krule, tracks from his debut album 6 Feet Beneath the Moon stand even stronger on their own merits. Particularly on “Easy Easy,” where the singer growls and shoegazes his way through the inner frustration of a down-on-his-luck city kid. The hollow guitar and heavy echo might imply a dark abyss or an indifferent metropolis, but King Krule’s message—sung through that aforementioned gloomy rumble—make a convincing argument to take life easy, if only for just a minute.—Nick Petrillo

37. Bosnian Rainbows – “Turtle Neck”
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s previous projects have seen the El Paso-rooted guitarist thrash cathartic hardcore and lead ambitious jazz-leaning prog, but for Bosnian Rainbows, his newest project, he’s taking on the craft of the pop song. One of the finest cuts is “Turtle Neck,” a mid-tempo crooner that leans on the interplay between Rodriguez-Lopez and vocalist Teri Gender-Bender for a hazy look at a relationship that eventually makes its way to the dance floor.—Tyler Kane

36. Black Joe Lewis – “Come to My Party”
“Come to My Party,” one of the album’s key tracks, is three parts funk, one part soul, and 100 percent party fun, as the name suggests. Like most of Black Joe Lewis’ music, it’s just easy to groove along to.—Stephanie Fang

35. Parquet Courts – “Master of My Craft”
Parquet Courts were there this year to feed our need for reverb-laden stoner tunes. Opener on the band’s debut album Light Up Gold, “Master of My Craft” is a wild, ambitious track that shows off what Parquet Courts do best: throw a bunch of unruly, twang-infused riffs on top of one another and layer them with heavy bass lines and commanding hooks from frontman Andrew Savage. “Death to all false profits around here we praise a dollar you fuckin’ hippie / Wanna walk around in my shoes and then tell me how it feels / Thread count – high / Commissions – high / Hourly rates – high / A minute of your time? / Forget about it.”—Eric Gossett

34. A$AP Rocky – “1Train”
“1Train” set the bar immensely high for posse tracks when LONG.LIVE.A$AP made its debut in January. In fact, the bar was so high that no feature-heavy track has yet to dethrone it 11 months later. With guest spots from Joey Bada$$, Alabama rebel Yelawolf, Detroit screwball Danny Brown, Ghostface-style storyteller Action Bronson, Southern rap’s honor student Big K.R.I.T., or every casual hip-hop fan’s favorite rapper Kendrick Lamar, no hip-hop track this year represented its vast landscape so democratically. It’s wholly possible that “1Train” won’t be topped next year, either.—Nick Petrillo

33. Thao & the Get Down Stay Down – “We The Common (For Valerie Bolden)”
Thao Nguyen, the vocalist behind San Francisco’s Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, is known her upbeat, twangy tracks that toe the line between pop and country. She stays true to form with “We the Common (For Valerie Bolden),” a lighthearted, banjo-infused track that makes you want to grab a pair of leather boots and dance along. —Stephanie Fang

32. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Sacrilege”
Yeah Yeah Yeahs returned this year with one their most polarizing records to date. Although Mosquito received mixed reviews from critics as a whole, the first single off the album “Sacrilege,” received positive reception, being the band’s first piece of new material since 2009’s It’s Blitz. “Sacrilege” is an electrifying, epic ballad from the band, featuring charging vocals from Karen O and ending with a massive choral accompaniment to close out the song.—Eric Gossett

31. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – “Run”
While the clear radio single on Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.’s The Speed of Things was “If You Didn’t See Me (You Weren’t on the Dancefloor,” the album’s best tracks were still waiting to be unwrapped. Case-in-point, “Run,” the album’s second song that draws in with skittish synths and hooks for days—proving that sugary, immediate pop can still pack a punch lyrically.—Tyler Kane

30. Cayucas – “High School Lover”
Cayucas provided us with a perfect California pop album to take us back to our teenage years with their debut, Bigfoot. One of the standouts, “High School Lover,” is an infectious pop track that will make you want to drop everything and head out to Cali. It follows a tale of friend-zoning and heartache between frontman Zach Yudin and some girl named Elizabeth. Think of it as a more enjoyable way to reminisce about that girl (or boy) from high school that you were always too scared to express your true feelings to.—Eric Gossett

29. Jason Isbell – “Cover Me Up”
Evoking the sparest wafts of “Norwegian Woods,” Jason tumbles into a bed of strummed acoustic guitar, swirls of acrid slide and the ragged tenor of a man battered but still standing. “Cover Me Up” is about being broken—but willing, saved, but still dizzy from hitting bottom—and its witness is an artist at wits end finding refuge. “Girl leave your boots by the bed, we ain’t leaving this room/Til someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom…” he sings, exhausted, found and aware. This isn’t sexual healing, but surrender into a greater whole—and for those seeking salvation, faith in living or love worth fighting for, the high plains yearning is a prayer to embrace.—Holly Gleason

28. The Lone Bellow – “You Never Need Nobody”
Few new acts emerged in 2013 that are as uniquely soulful as Brooklyn’s The Lone Bellow. “You Never Need Nobody” begins simply but beautifully, an ode to the unrequited with tight harmonies over piano. But what starts out as controlled pining unfurls suddenly and desperately into an ever-more-insistent plea, expansive gospel-style harmonies hitting you unexpectedly — an insistent “please, please” that never stops being affecting. The Lone Bellow demands our attention and our affection, and they’ve got both.—Casey Daline

27. Kurt Vile – “Wakin on a Pretty Day”
Kurt Vile’s music seems effortless, as the former War On Drugs frontman coos his words over flanged guitar strums. He may be the coolest cat to come out of Philadelphia since Wilt Chamberlain. Wakin On A Pretty Daze opens with a nine-and-a-half minute psychedelic jam that shows there’s a love of classic rock here, but no fear of what comes next.—Josh Jackson

26. Phoenix – “Entertainment”
“Entertainment” was Phoenix’s glorious return to music following the release of its breakout album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, in 2009. Serving as the opening track for Bankrupt, “Entertainment” kicks off the album with a bang. Beginning with a staccato synth riff, the rest of the song is followed by broad, powerful harmonies. It’s an uplifting track that rises from start to finish, making it easily one of the best and most fun tracks on the album.—Eric Gossett

25. Jim James – “A New Life”
With Regions of Light and Sounds of God, the central Jim James fingerprint is his voice. It permeates every track on the record, and it’s just as angelic and powerful as ever on “A New Life.” Sonically speaking, the album draws more from the down-tempo grooves of James’ oeuvre rather than the bombastic stadium rock often associated with his work with My Morning Jacket.—Wyndham Wyeth

24. Jay Z – “Holy Grail” (Feat. Justin Timberlake)
Lyrically, it’s pretty fitting to have Justin Timberlake and and Jay-Z lamenting the drawbacks of fame, but the now that the track has dominated the airwaves with its earwormy chorus and witty rhymes, it’s just as easy to sing along—and no matter how many times you listen to the track or maybe even try to whine out the Timberlake hook yourself, it’s probably not going anywhere.—Dacey Orr

23. Drake – “Hold On, We’re Going Home”
“Hold On, We’re Going Home” is Drake’s best song; while “Take Care” and “Make Me Proud” and “HYFR” are maybe on-par, those past triumphs belong to Rihanna (and Jamie xx), Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne. This one belongs entirely to the little well-connected actor that could, and his jaw-droppingly plainspoken and irresistible plea for “your hot love and emotion.” Or does it? Play the guessing game all day where the immaculate, liquid-sauna production is stolen from: Luther Vandross meets Toto?—Dan Weiss

22. Disclosure – “Latch”
Disclosure released one of the best electronic/house albums of 2013 with their debut LP Settle. The English duo of brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence gave fans a refreshing dance record to make some noise in the over-saturated market of house DJs and electronic producers. With fiercely catchy melodies and euphoric hooks, Settle standout “Latch” is easily one of the strongest tracks on the album. The track features British singer/songwriter Sam Smith crooning to the beat of Disclosure’s calming, serene composition: “Now I got you in my space / I won’t let go of you (never) / Got you shackled in my embrace, I’m latching on to you.”—Eric Gossett

21. Josh Ritter – “New Lover”
In the wake of a heart-wrenching divorce, Josh Ritter has given us one of the best kiss-off songs of all time. The fact that he’s trying to forgive the woman who broke his heart makes the twist at the end all the more potent. “I hope you’ve got a lover now, hope you’ve got somebody who / Can give you what you need like I couldn’t seem to do / But if you’re sad and you are lonesome and you’ve got nobody true / I’d be lying if I said that didn’t make me happy too.”—Josh Jackson

20. Foxygen – “No Destruction”
While the more unhinged moments of Foxygen’s debut tend to overshadow sugary, buttery pop songs like “No Destruction” (even with the delicious jab: “There’s no need to be an asshole / You’re not in Brooklyn anymore”), the softer moments balance out the record’s tidy nine tracks. 21st Century also balances our post-apocalyptic present day with the past Rado and France hold so dear. The true litmus test is whether a modern take on the classics can hold your attention, or makes you immediately reach for your Transformer record. Foxygen wins. This time.—Mark Lore

19. M.I.A. – “Come Walk With Me”
M.I.A. made us wait a good three years for her new album Matangi. After her label considered postponing its release even further, M.I.A. threatened to leak the album herself. Matangi’s second single, “Come Walk With Me,” is one of the album’s strongest. An airy and elegant track, “Come Walk With Me” shows a rare, more subdued side to M.I.A., whose songwriting ability sometimes get lost in the noise and extravagance of her material. —Eric Gossett

18. The National – “Don’t Swallow the Cap”
Fans of The National’s breakthrough albums Alligator and Boxer have seen the band gradually shift away from songs like “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” with frontman Matt Berninger sticking an album’s worth of memorable phrases into one single song. The best? “I have only two emotions, careful fear and dead devotion, I can’t get the balance right.” Or “Everything I love is on the table.” Or maybe even “Don’t know if anyone I know is awake.” These kind of quips are straight from the lives of people whose narratives peak late at night, who place too much significance in relationships or music or their own emotions, outsiders, the misunderstood, the self-destructive. The song sounds comfortable, even effortless, delivered naturally and without the labor that much of the recent output from The National seems to require. The more difficult songs are commendable for the band being unwilling to settle into their comfort zone, but as Berninger shouts out Nirvana and The Beatles in this cut, the impossible task of joining that company seems closer when The National are on the road more travelled.—Philip Cosores

17. Neko Case – “Man”
The conceit’s a no-brainer, though maybe not for Case, who bends genders as naturally as she grafts country, rock, Southern noir and bizarre non-sequiturs normally. Her hardest-rocking song ever, even including the New Pornographers, takes the simple conceit “I’m a man” as a license to taste bullies between her teeth and show men what a “man” is (“I’m not an identity crisis,” she insists, “this was planned”). It gets an appropriately steroidal backing of hyper drum rolls, blocky piano and off-the-rails guitar soloing with a couple harpsichord breaks only to give the aggression a place to charge back in. Give it up for Kelly Hogan’s harmonies, which give Neko’s head and abdomen some well-deserved torso. Oh, and there’s horns.-Dan Weiss?

16. Majical Cloudz – “Bugs Don’t Buzz”
Plenty of the brooding tunes on Majical Cloudz’s Impersonator were considered for this list, but none hit with the immediacy (and lasting waves) of the album’s second-to-last cut, “Bugs Don’t Buzz.” With Devon Welsh’s vocals backed by little more than a looping, bare-bones piano part, he’s left do drive the number into an anxiety-ridden look at the end of life with his words alone—all kicking off with the soaring titular line: “bugs don’t buzz when their time approaches/we’ll be just like the roaches.”—Tyler Kane

15. Lorde – “Royals”
If we’re going to let outside factors affect discussion of this finger-snapping, simple singalong, can it be how the first woman to top the alternative chart in 17 years hasn’t even been alive that long, and it’s already outlasted Alanis’ “You Oughta Know,” which okay, was funnier. But the racism charges ignore the fact that while half her targets are rap signifiers (“Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece”), the other half are not (“trashin’ the hotel room” at least dates back to Van Halen, and there’s no star of any race that owns “islands, tigers on a gold leash”). Being teenage and a woman who speaks her mind, Lorde’s gonna be up to her curls in sexist double standards for years to come. Let’s remember this out-of-nowhere triumph from before she had a target on her back herself, a finger-snapping, simple singalong for people who simply haven’t seen a diamond in the flesh, and plenty who have.-Dan Weiss

14. Speedy Ortiz – “No Below”
Although “No Below” sports a lot of the characteristics that define Speedy Ortiz—gnarly guitars, tongue-in-cheek lyrics—here’s the hooky, anthemic outlier on Major Arcana that’s got the word “single” planted right on it. Sadie Dupuis tells the story of a later-in-life friendship, a signal of hope for those who might be moving away from grade-school pals or those eyeball-deep in depression. And to add weight to the already sentimental track, guitarist Matt Robidoux’s note-for-note mimicry of Dupuis’ wandering lines “True I once said/I was better off just being dead/but I didn’t know you yet” drives this one in as a bonafide tear-jerker.—Tyler Kane

13. Haim – “The Wire”
Fans of the L.A. sibling trio might consider “The Wire” to be Haim’s defining power-pop hit from their stellar 2013. For fans’ parents, however, it probably provides a dose of déjà vu under the pretense of the Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight.” The arena-friendly handclaps notwithstanding, it’s easy to see how the two jams exist as two sides of the same coin. The Eagles are the ones with the sneaking suspicion that their Friday night will be plagued by relationship troubles, but it’s the sisters Haim who are busy planning the ill-fated “We need to talk” drama to come. Sharing mic duties to lament their botched attempt to stay friends, the three are left to commiserate, shrug their shoulders and move along. Because in the end, it felt right.—Nick Petrillo

12. Superchunk – “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo”
Who says a band’s defining song can’t happen two decades into their career? This two-minute power-pop miracle is what rock and roll, and maybe art itself, was put on Earth to do: to defy death. Band friend David Doernberg dies and Mac McCaughan puts his sad, astonishingly honest feelings on the page, about how music can’t “fill up the space between all of the notes.” Then he reminisces about the Record Exchange and “some wild jockey up in the front seat,” and gives the title to the Skatalites’ keyboardist. “Me and You and Jackie Mittoo” is about how music is no substitute for life, yet fills up our lives anyway. As if to demonstrate why this is a good thing, McCaughan gives the song his sweetest, simple distillation of melody ever. It won’t bring anyone back to this earth, but it sure sounds amazing while you’re alive to hear it.-Dan Weiss

11. Vampire Weekend – “Ya Hey”
“Ya Hey” was the second single released off Vampire Weekend’s third album Modern Vampires of the City. Branching out further musically and lyrically, we find a 2013 Vampire Weekend bringing a more confident, perhaps more mature, take to their songs. “Ya Hey” is no exception. It perfectly showcases the poetic lyrical style of frontman Ezra Koenig blending with the catchy, carefree pop melodies that defined the group’s previous work.—Eric Gossett

10. Okkervil River – “Down Down the Deep River”
The Silver Gymnasium is one of the best lyrical albums of the year, and the epic “Down Down the Deep River” is a microcosm for the entire album, dealing with a small town in New Hampshire and the experience of growing up there. Essentially, it takes a personal experience, highly specific, and delivers it with such universal warmth and direct language that it is not difficult to decode, but no less smart or poetic. Will Sheff, Okkervil River’s songwriter, knows that difficult to understand does not make something more meaningful. And better yet, the sentiment is packaged as a Dire Straits or Bruce Springsteen song, giving the period piece a little extra nudge of authenticity. “Tell me about the greatest show, or the greatest movie you know, or the greatest song that you taped from off the radio.” As about one of the youngest people that can recall doing this, it was songs just like “Down Down the Deep River” that we would record from the FM dial, and Sheff makes those experiences relevant not just as nostalgia, but as the building blocks that shape us.—Philip Cosores

9. Lucius – “Hey Doreen”
From the very first resounding beat, “Hey Doreen” has all of the hallmarks of a soulful pop hit. The chorus feels familiar even on the first listen, harkening back to danceable favorites like Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.,” but with an added lyrical depth, balancing the energetic highs of the chorus with tempered, even verses. The song is so bright and catchy, you might even forget that the lyrics sound like they’re probably about murder.

8. Kanye West – “New Slaves”
One of the first cuts we gathered from Kanye West’s controversial Yeezus was also one of its most pithy offerings. Setting the stage for the album with bare-bones synth-driven production, Kanye deconstructs modern ownership and the social constructs that bind many to a life defined by consumption, all dressed up with references to Alexander Payne, Hampton houses and Kanye’s run-in with a camera-toting paparazzi. “Fuck you and your corporation,” indeed.—Tyler Kane

7. Kacey Musgraves – “Follow Your Arrow”
If country radio balked at the notion of “kiss lots of girls—if that’s something you’re into” and “Roll up a joint—just follow your arrow wherever it points,” Musgraves’ bit o’ sunshine declared country fans are willing to embrace the modern world as it really is. In spite of its exuberance, the slight songwriter nails hypocrisy from both sides (“if you can’t lose the weight, you’re just fat/ but if you lose too much, you’re on crack” and “if you don’t go to church, you’ll go to hell/if you’re the first one on the front row, you’re a self-righteous son of…”) and embraces the notion to live life as you wish, be kind and enjoy the ride. Easily country’s true single of the year. —Holly Gleason

6. CHVRCHES – “The Mother We Share”
Endless comparisons can be made to other contemporary synthpop names—M83, Grimes, the Knife, Cut Copy—Lauren Mayberry and CHVRCHES’ sugary track “The Mother We Share” contains within it a certain universality that extends beyond the realm of catchy dance music for club-dwellers. Mayberry’s song speaks of oneness and her voice often sounds like a girl left alone, thinking endlessly about all the challenges of the human condition.—Nick Petrillo

5. Mikal Cronin – “Weight”
If you were looking toward the big stage for the best hook crafter of 2013, you should have been keeping your ear to garages of Southern California. Cronin, who cut his teeth as a bassist in Ty Segall’s live band, released his second album this year, and it’s damn near pop perfection.“Weight,” a clear highlight, touts a Beatles-like sense of melody, one that makes it feel like you’ve heard it a thousand times from its opening bars.—Tyler Kane

4. Arcade Fire – “Reflektor”
Remarkably, “Reflektor” not only lives up to all the carefully orchestrated brouhaha, but actually exceeds it. For a band that defined 2004 and inspired a new chest-thumping emotionalism in indie rock—the tendrils of which can be heard in Coldplay and even Mumford & Sons—Arcade Fire refused to live in that moment and repeat its career-making debut. If Funeral was introverted (it was, after all, inspired by the deaths of family members), then Neon Bible and The Suburbs were markedly the opposite. The band tinkered with that big, booming sound, adding nuance without losing scope. “Reflektor” suggests a culmination of those experiments. Such a mix of high-minded indie and thrusting dance beats could easily have pulled the band out of their comfort zone and sounded silly or awkward, yet “Reflektor” shows just how large Arcade Fire’s comfort zone actually is. It sounds as big and urgent and monumental as “Wake Up” or “Keep the Car Running” or “Ready to Start,” except they’ve found new ways to convey those ideas.—Stephen Deusner

3. Daft Punk – “Get Lucky”
With the fizziness of an Alka-Seltzer hitting water, Daft Punk returned with this slice of straight-up, no apologies dance music circa 1977. Echoes of Studios 54 and faceless disco avatars like Tavares, this silky call of the wild is sheer euphoria with a rubber beat and that insatiable ear worm chorus, “we’re up all night… to get lucky, we’re up all night… to get lucky…” —Holly Gleason

2. Phosphorescent – “Song for Zula”
As the first single from Muchacho, “Song for Zula” wasn’t indicative of the album to come, except in sentiment. Beginning with the opening from Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” Matthew Houck, the only constant element of Phosphorescent, takes on the near-impossible task of saying something new and essential about love. And taking on that task is almost as admirable as accomplishing it, which he also does by turning his pain into a universal experience—but one that never ceases being distinctly personal. “Some say love is a burning thing and it makes a fiery ring,” he says, but clearly he thinks differently, answering that love can fade as “fickle as a feather in a stream” or even hurt, “disfiguring.” The song sees Houck paint love as a cage that he welcomed, and later vowing to never experience again, even calling out the audience that comes to witness his pain. It’s poetry, it’s purposeful, affecting and just pleasant to hear without intellectualizing. But the ability to enjoy on several levels is something special, something Houck’s done for album after album and seems to be just starting to receive his fair due. —Philip Cosores

1. Janelle Monáe – “Q.U.E.E.N.” – Feat. Erykah Badu
Part of Monae’s “musical weapons program from the 21st Century,” “Q.U.E.E.N.” stings like a bee. An empowerment dance nugget bouncing on a funk guitar line, shafts and squiggles of ‘80s synthesizer and staccato beats, it’s a declaration of independence underscored by Erykah Badu’s earthy soul witness that “the booty don’t lie.” A chorus of glamazons chants “Am I freak for getting down?” as Monae’s saucily recounts the objectors’ scowls, outlines the issues and bats them away with a flick of her spider leg-length lashes. Four minutes in, the track pulls back, jazz trumpet drifts across the hush and Monae raps with a ferocity that suggests she’s serious. Strings swell, making it an elegant refusal to be shamed. —Holly Gleason

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