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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

 

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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.