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100 Best Songs of 2013

Daft Punk went disco, Kendrick Lamar murdered the competition, and a 16-year-old New Zealander dissed bling and made the whole world sing

French robots owning the radio with super-smooth Seventies disco, a 16-year-old wunderkind repping the mean streets of New Zealand, an angry hip-hop genius going off on corporate racism, Canadian rock redeemers making epic art-disco, HAIM, Drake, Miley, Justin – music in 2013 was a hot mess of innovation and blurred genre lines. Anarchy on the hip-hop and pop charts and thrilling new energy in the EDM and indie-rock underground meant picking the best 100 songs amidst all this wasn't easy. But it was fun.

Contributors: Jon Dolan, Will Hermes, Christian Hoard, David Marchese, Rob Sheffield and Simon Vozick-Levinson

 

The Killers

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100

The Killers, “Shot at the Night”

Produced by Anthony Gonzalez of French dreamrockers M83, this grandiose ballad is where the Killers' gigantic Eighty pretensions finally beared poof-haired fruit. When Brandon Flowers sings "Gimme a shot at the night" you almost wonder if you're hearing the title track to a Rocky sequel we all somehow forgot existed.

Lee Ranaldo and the Dust

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99

Lee Ranaldo and the Dust, “Lecce, Leaving”

The consolation prize for Sonic Youth's evaporation has been a flurry of cool solo projects, the most surprising being Ranaldo's. Exhibit A is this comfort-food, Who-flavored jam down, a reminder he was always the classic rock counterbalance to Thurston and Kim's avant-gardening. Footnote: Check out his review of the Dead's archival Sunshine Daydream for another peek into his personal daydream nation.

MGMT

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98

MGMT, “Your Life is a Lie”

A two-minute skull-boring pop nugget that makes the title's argument with such ear-wormy power, you may well find yourself staring in the mirror wondering if they're right. But really, it's less an indictment than a shared joke. Bonus points for the stoner-ific ADHD video.

Darius Rucker

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97

Darius Rucker, “Wagon Wheel”

With a vocal assist from Lady Antebellum, the former Hootie and the Blowfish frontman-turned-country singer covers the Old Crow Medicine Show signature tune – which is in fact a reworked Dylan outtake circa Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Result: a left-field country Number One. Now how about "Lay Lady Lay," dude?

No Age

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96

No Age, “C’mon, Stimmung”

The sweet spot between noise and melody is the only place worth being for these L.A. amp-abusers, fine heirs to Sonic Youth and the Velvets circa "Sister Ray." The arcing feedback bursts that punctuate this punched-up rush will keep ringing in your ears long after you hear their third LP for the first or four-hundredth time.

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95

Paramore, “Still Into You”

After a rough public split with two key members of the band she founded, Hayley Williams re-booted Paramore by giving its emo-tinged pop metal a crisp, radio-shiny new energy. Her recent struggles lend this adorably blazing ode to lasting love a sweet double meaning.

Patty Griffin

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94

Patty Griffin, “Ohio”

"Meet me in the evening when the river is low" sings alt-country heroine Patty Griffin in heady harmony with boyfriend Robert Plant, as acoustic guitars and hand-drums swirl and churn like storm clouds. Ever wonder what might've happened if Plant continued in the Wiccan-folk direction of Led Zep's "The Battle Of Evermore?" Here's one answer.

Atoms For Peace

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93

Atoms for Peace, “Ingenue”

What if, all those years when he seemed so out of sorts, Thom Yorke was really just waiting for someone to ask him to dance? That's the implicit suggestion of his chilled-out, groovy debut LP with Atoms for Peace – and particularly this falsetto futuresex jam, where Yorke moonwalks all over a cascade of zero-G synths.

Deafheaven

Nick DiNatale

92

Deafheaven, “Dream House”

Nine minutes of holy-shit art-metal magnificence that builds and builds on waves of filigreed blast-beat drumming, blackened post-rock guitar jetstreams, and the circular-saw screams of George Clarke. Abstract? Sure, and better for it. It's cartoon-free heavy metal, boiled down to its guts-in-throat essence.

Nine Inch Nails

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91

Nine Inch Nails, “Everything”

"I am home, I am free," sings 48-year old Trent Reznor, and he proves it by tapping his inner alt-rock manbeast for a proudly anthemic grinder about clarity through struggle. Piled high with gothy new wave guitar peels, Krautrock drone and death howls of industrial-grade noise, it's his vision of power-pop heaven.

Courtney Barnett

Amanda Hatfield

90

Courtney Barnett, “Avant-Gardner”

A catchy song about a slacker (remember those?) who has an anaphylactic panic-attack while cleaning up her yard. But with sly references to smoking bongs (she's no good at it) and Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, it's actually all rather fun. Credit the storytelling chops of this twenty-something Melbourne singer-songwriter, who unspools matter-of-fact tales like barstool revelations. Another round, please.

Eric Church

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89

Eric Church, “The Outsiders”

Leave it to the classic rock-loving Nashville badass to cook up the heaviest "country" song in years – a radio hit that plays like some demon spawn of Def Leppard, Black Sabbath, and "Born to Be Wild." Amid arena-scaled "whoa-oh-oh"'s Church manages to not sound ridiculous while rhyming, "Yeah, the player's gonna play, and a haters gonna hate/And a regulator's born to regulate." Regulate this does – especially on the extended old-school metalhead jam that closes the song.

Eleanor Friedberger

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88

Eleanor Friedberger, “Stare at the Sun”

"In the back of the taxi you turned off the TV/And read me a book on your phone," Friedberger sings at the opening of this whipsmart indie-rock tune. The clever lyrics are all about impermanent love in an impermanent world but the music moves and thrusts like vintage Modern Lovers or Richard Hell – proving some power sources have eternal life.

Waxahatchee

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87

Waxahatchee, “Brother Bryan”

Just a flatline of bass and drums, the best song on this Alabama band's excellent second album was an ode to decaying self esteem and sisterly secret sharing. Katie Crutchfield tapped the shaky resolve, red eyes and hot nerves of Cat Power and Liz Phair to make the best kind of sticky, brittle indie-rock.

Fall Out Boy

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86

Fall Out Boy “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark”

This marked the reunion everyone thought would never happen, ever since Fall Out Boy broke up – like, two whole years ago. So it makes sense they return with a fantastic stomper about getting haunted by music and memories that dog you from your past. 2000s nostalgia: here at last.

Phoenix

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85

Phoenix, “Trying to Be Cool”

"I'm just tryin' to be cool/It's all because of you," declares Thomas Mars, which is like Rihanna confiding she's trying to be hot. But somehow Mars is all the cooler for it, doing a vocal electric glide through gleaming synth-pop that explodes in a dance-party orgasm on the outro. If he's talking to us, we're flattered.

Janelle Monae Erykah Badu

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84

Janelle Monáe feat. Erykah Badu, “Q.U.E.E.N.”

"Am I a freak for getting down?" asks Monáe. No girl, not when the music is this tight. An anthem of self-determination with Prince-ly synths and a funkadelicious bassline, it downshifts into soul-jazz midway through, with Erykah offering Badu-ist perspective ("booty don't lie!"). Then Janelle transforms into a superhero MC to take it home. "Categorize me, I defy every label," she declares. And she does.

Black Sabbath

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83

Black Sabbath, “God is Dead?”

Ozzy Osbourne's first studio LP with Sabbath in 35 years brought the ur-metal here, with Ozzman rhyming "gloom," "doom," and "tomb" like a bad-tripping freshman after his first taste of Existentialism 10 – which of course, at its core, is what heavy metal is all about. That and crushing riffage, which guitarist Tony Iommi shovels out like an inspired gravedigger.

Franz Ferdinand

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82

Franz Ferdinand, “Treason! Animals.”

A modern love song from the glamorous Scottish guitar boys. "Treason! Animals." combines organ-drenched Seventies stoner rock with vintage disco, as Alex Kapranos switches off between "I'm in love with a narcissist," "I'm in love with my nemesis" and "I'm in love with my pharmacist" – all very Franz Ferdinand dilemmas.

2 chainz

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81

2 Chainz feat. Pharrell, “Feds Watching”

The reigning king of punchline rap snaps back at intrusive government surveillance (really!) as only he can – by celebrating his amazing wardrobe over a Pharrell beat that feels like a tropical vacation. "I'ma be fresh as hell if the feds watching," goes Chainz' exuberant refrain, sounding like a swagged-out Edward Snowden.

Mystikal

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80

Mystikal, “Hit Me”

"Say it proud/I'm black and I'm loud" chants the New Orleans rap vet at the end of this breakneck don't-call-it-a-comeback funk jam, which registered as the first great hip-hop single of 2013 while arguing Mr. "Shake Ya Ass" may be a better James Brown impersonator than even Charles Bradley. Dude also channels the Jackson 5 and Muhammad Ali. Que pasa? he asks. Answer: This is.

Empire of the Sun

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79

Empire of the Sun, “Alive”

Aussie duo Empire of the Sun gave us the year's giddiest dance pop anthem with this sunnily stomping, group-sing-along bliss blast. These guys sure weren't shy about telling us the source of their disco happiness: "Swimming through the smoke/Wrapped in velvet gold."

Charles Bradley

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78

Charles Bradley, “Victim of Love”

The career James Brown impersonator became a breakout star in his sixties when he sidelined the adopted persona (see the remarkable documentary Soul Of America). This sweet, doo-wop-scented slice of soul-folk – one part Otis, one part James, totally Bradley – shows why.

Jay Z

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77

Jay Z, “Tom Ford”

"Numbers don't lie, check the scoreboard," Jay Z advised over this bottle-poppin' Timbaland beat. It might be his most lavish playa anthem ever, the work of man who has traded street corners for runways but can still pull off a line like "flush out a Riesling/When Hov's out them hoes out/Y'all put y'all weaves in."

Major Lazer

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76

Major Lazer feat. Bruno Mars, Tyga and Mystic, “Bubble Butt”

As joyfully jiggly and deliriously physical as its subject, Major Lazer's twerk-enticer lures its featured guests into some inspired raunch amidst the bottom-heavy (heh) bass and squiggly synths. If Miley had wriggled to this on national TV, no one would've batted an eye – they would've been too busy turning around, sticking it out, showing the world what they got.

Mikal Cronin

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75

Mikal Cronin, “Shout it Out”

Prior to this year Cronin was best known for being a Bay Area garage rock crony to the likes of Ty Segall, who may have been the only person to see the sun-breaking-through-the-clouds brilliance of this year's MCII coming. The beautiful sound of unlocked potential, "Shout It Out" is a gloriously melodic and crunchy piece of searching power-pop.

Chance the Rapper

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74

Chance the Rapper feat. Nate Fox and Lili K, “Pusha Man”

One of several peaks on the young Chicago MC's fantastic mixtape, Acid Rap, "Pusha Man" is Day-Glo drug-hop, with Chance spinning dazzlingly bendy verses about his new-Nitty prowess over hazy Seventies soul. Then comes a song-within-a-song, unofficially called "Paranoid": Five nightmarishly real minutes of trap-rap panic attack – "Everybody dies in the summer / So pray to God for a little more spring," he pleas. It's like falling out of pink clouds into a casket.

Blood Orange

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73

Blood Orange, “Chamakay”

A sumptuously dubby R&B jam with percolating rim shots and svelte sax, the lead track from Dev Hynes' next-gen soul LP pairs him with Chairlift's Caroline Polachek in harmonies so tight the two are practically morphing into one. "I'm nothing if not subtle," Hynes notes with a wink. R&B? Indie rock? Just call it sexy.

Pearl Jam

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72

Pearl Jam, “Sirens”

One of Pearl Jam's most musically and emotionally subtle ballads, and more proof they now have more in common with U2 and Springsteen than the grunge they spawned. Eddie Vedder sings about a fading love with graciousness and nuance that's rare for sky-punching rock, while Mike McCready's solo leans heavenward just the same.

Twin Shadow

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71

Twin Shadow, “Old Love / New Love”

What Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" was to the slick disco Seventies, this track was to the pulsing, sweat-bathed hi-NRG house of the Eighties. But Twin Shadow (a.k.a. singer-producer George Lewis Jr.) didn't abandon his roots in moody, synthy indie-pop; this pumping anthem got over on its forlorn soul.

Neko Case

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70

Neko Case, “Man”

This stomping bit of strap-on gender theory rides M. Ward's uncharacteristically butch electric guitar lines. His mid-song solo is pretty awesome, but Case gets the final word: "I am the man in the fucking moon," she howls, "'Cause you didn't know what a man was/Until I showed you."

Migos

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69

Migos feat. Drake, “Versace (Remix)”

Sometimes a single word is all you need to craft an indelible hook. For this trio of young, brash ATLiens, the magic syllables are "Versace," repeated so many times they blow past conspicuous consumption straight into post-verbal nirvana. Even better: This official remix, where Drake does Migos the high honor of stealing their excitable flow.

Sam Baker

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68

Sam Baker, “Ditch”

"Got a crazy ass wife, got a baby on the way," sings this rough-diamond Austin singer-songwriter, who also notes his job where "the crew's a bunch of stoners" and "the boss is a shit." It's a downward spiral from there, but an impressively uplifting one. Plus: the year's best gratuitous Taylor Swift reference.

Speedy Ortiz

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67

Speedy Ortiz, “Tiger Tank”

These guitar kids from Western Massachusetts scored an excellent indie-rock debut, Major Arcana, with wry vignettes like "Tiger Tank." Sadie Dupuis breaks her twenty-something romantic angst down to its component parts, from "My mouth is a factory for every toxic part of speech I spew" to "My face is a label for how awfully I'm doing." But the guitars help her put it all together.

Albert Hammond Jr

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66

Albert Hammond Jr., “St. Justice”

The best Strokes song of the year wasn't on the new Strokes record. It was this bedroom-rock gem from guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.'s great EP AHJ. "St. Justice" recalled the Strokes at their most effortlessly easy-on-the-ears, with a thunderbolt bass line, a warm blooping synth melody and lyrics steeped in post-rehab emotional clarity.

Kanye West

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65

Kanye West, “I Am a God”

Kanye rocked the funniest, craziest line of the year ("In a French-ass restaurant/Hurry up with my damn croissants/I am a God"), and assured himself a lifetime of hastily prepared baked goods. This is the greatest hate-rap screed by a deity with dangerously low blood sugar in ages.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

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64

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Sacrilege”

Karen O offers up this breathlessly conflicted lover's prayer over Nick Zinner's glam-guitar slashing and Brian Chase's punk-funk drums. But then a gospel choir puts its arms around her like early-morning Jehovah's Witnesses on the doorstep, soothes her soul, and takes the jam home. Sounds like salvation to us.

Disc

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63

Disclosure feat. AlunaGeorge, “White Noise”

Bringing house music yin to dubstep yang, the UK brothers pair up with fellow newbie club rulers AlunaGeorge for a rubbery freestyle invitation to "let's play rough." Anglophile bonus points for the way Aluna Francis obliterates the second "t" in "automatic" before disappearing into a K-hole of echo.

TV on the Radio

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62

TV on the Radio, “Mercy”

The New York art-rockers are at their best when they drop their guard and let it the apocalyptic dance-rock rip. "I see tons of people looking lost and lethal," Tunde Adebimpe sings, and the ferocious, hyper-speed track goes off like a bomb in the hipster disco.

Lorde

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61

Lorde, “White Teeth Teens”

Lorde's songs feel like dispatches from the margins of suburban teen dystopia, hanging just on the verge between desire and disavowal. Here she rides a muted girl group shimmy and tells a boy to "impress the empress, take a shot now" down "at the underpass where we all sit, and do nothing and love it." She makes her nowhere feel like the center of everything.

Sleigh Bells

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60

Sleigh Bells, “Young Legends”

This Brooklyn duo keeps finding new ways to screw with conventional notions of how rock is supposed to sound – their acoustic guitar blasts as loud as the synth feedback. Alexis Krauss chants a hard-ass warning – "Young legends die all the time" – like it's bubblegum pop, while guitarist-producer Derek Miller makes the music go bang.

miley cyrus

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59

Miley Cyrus, “Wrecking Ball”

Miley belts a break-up ballad that calls attention to the aspect of her game nobody ever notices – her country-flavored vocal power – and cruises to Number One, proving that Miley's a baller as well as a banger. And the video sets a whole new standard for the erotic exploitation of construction equipment.

Daft Punk

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58

Daft Punk feat. Julian Casablancas, “Instant Crush”

Soft-focus disco strut with a lilting California MOR undercurrent and the vocoded Strokes frontman singing about a summer memory that just never dies; it's the sound of a cyborg searching for love and the Seventies searching for Eighties, and it's one of Daft Punk's earnest pop peaks.

Paul McCartney

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57

Paul McCartney, “New”

The title track from Macca's latest album sounds old, title notwithstanding, but in the best way. A Beatlesque pop confection with production by retro-modernist Mark Ronson, it's got a bouncy harpsichord-flavored melody line and a touch of brass that recalls "Got to Get You into My Life." It sinks its hooks instantly, going out on some goofy-sweet scat singing that will probably linger on your palate all day.

Laura Marling

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56

Laura Marling, “Master Hunter”

Quoting Dylan ("It ain't me, babe"), England's 23-year-old princess of folk follows her own road on this existential anti-love song, the highlight of the seven linked songs that open Once I Was An Eagle. She connects the 1960s singer-songwriter tradition – and the ancient one it revived – to the ache of the now.

The National

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55

The National, “Sea of Love”

These guys excel at introspective adult mood pieces, so it's bracing to hear them rock out with an unabashed roof-raiser like this one. Matt Berninger plumbs his haunted heart, rhyming "love is a virtue" with "sorry I hurt you." For the last minute or so, the band rises up for a cathartic shout-along finale. Proof that dad-rock can be a verb.

Karl Walter/Getty Images for Coachella)

54

Pusha T, “Numbers On the Boards”

His toughest track since the Clipse days, celebrating "36 years of doing dirt like it's Earth Day," with bass to match from Kanye West and DJ Don Cannon. Pusha clowns MCs who lack his money ("Your plane's missing a chef" – burn!) or his skills, asking, "How could you relate when you ain't never been great?"

Christie Goodwin/Redferns via Getty Images

53

Kacey Musgraves, “Follow Your Arrow”

An anthem of self-determination suggesting you roll up a joint and/or kiss folks of your own gender if you feel like it. No big shock, except it's a mainstream country song, and a great one. They bleeped the weed refs on the CMAs, but they still let her sing it. Revolutionary.

Gus Stewart/WireImage

52

Sky Ferreira, “Heavy Metal Heart”

Ferreira's former misadventures in the pop machine lend real-life resonance to this bursting declaration of personal freedom. When she swears, "The way I was before/I'm not her anymore," as her art-damaged voice soars above winking blasts of double-kick drumming, it's enough to melt even the steeliest A&R (or black metal) heart.

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51

Bruce Springsteen, “High Hopes”

This was the last thing anyone expected from Springsteen, dropped on the world as a surprise late-autumn release. He covers a song by the Havalinas, an utterly unknown L.A. band from the Nineties, and turns it into an E Street anthem. He also brings in Tom Morello, whose guitar helps him rage against the machine. (Besides that machine that got stuck in the mud, somewhere in the swamps of Jersey.)

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