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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

 

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.