“Whip My Hair”
Roc Nation

You may be groaning at seeing this listed, but there’s no denying the instant power of this song. Even Bruce Springsteen has done a version of the track. From the first play, the hook of “Whip My Hair” is stuck in your head, as if someone nail-gunned it there. And the cut bangs hard. Sure, it’s slightly annoying that the unnaturally precocious Smith has ventured into music, but if she can keep releasing jams like this, who cares? DSH

Twin Shadow

When George Lewis Jr, a.k.a. Twin Shadow, sings “Sometimes, time’s so slow,” it’s easy to believe, since the song is rooted in sounds from three decades ago. Whereas some bands who recreate the ’80s end up with extreme kitsch (such as Chromeo and Hurts), “Slow” is one of the best songs the decade never produced—from the new-wave synth and Lewis’ vocal delivery to his Morrissey-inspired hair in the song’s video (which is inspired by a ’90s Calvin Klein ad campaign). JR

Surfer Blood

Every year needs a fist-pumper. To be frank, we’ve been lacking in tunes like “Swim” ever since Guided By Voices threw in the proverbial towel. Not unlike the classic GBV anthem “Motor Away,” this one uses sustaining power-chord riffage and simple vocal echoic to mark it as the undeniable and irresistible rocker on an album chock full of gems. PG

Def Jam

One could possibly fill a top singles list with songs that involved the hands of Terius Nash, a.k.a. The-Dream. He’s arguably the hottest producer in the game, but fortunately saves his best beats for himself. That allows for the Love King to release his inner-Prince genius. “Yamaha” is the deepest shade of purple you’ll find on Nash’s second solo effort. Double entendres, sparkling keyboards and hyper-sexual beats all coalesce into a future-funk opus that gets increasingly infectious as it glides along the Dream’s bump ’n’ grind super-highway. KJE

Fever Ray
“Mercy Street”

While Peter Gabriel was busy this year covering modern acts like Bon Iver and Arcade Fire on his Scratch My Back album, Karin Dreijer Andersson (a.k.a. Fever Ray) took the opportunity to re-imagine Gabriel’s “Mercy Street” from his triple-platinum So. The Swedish artist’s icy, electronic aesthetic works perfectly with the songs ghostly cadence. I’d like to hear what she could do “Games Without Frontiers,” but this is a near-perfect melding of Gabriel’s wordly pop and Fever Ray’s insular imagination. SS

Best Coast
Mexican Summer

Best Coast would have you believe that the West Coast is all sunshine, beaches and kittens—just look at the cover of its self-titled album. But the ’60s-infused, Californian surf-drenched sounds make a pretty strong case for the band’s name. Even in this torchsong, in which vocalist Bethany Cosentino sings about a friend she wishes was her boyfriend, sunny optimism prevails, as she asserts, “One day I'll make him mine, and we'll be together all the time.” JR

“The Moon and the Sky”

From the first peppery strum of this first song on her first record in 10 years, Sade reclaims her archetypical sultriness. Her vocals are bolder and her lyrics, more defiant. At 51 years old, she’s wise, fierce—and proud. Somewhere, a man hangs his head in retractable regret because a hate letter never sounded so good. AK

Beach Fossils
Captured Tracks

On the lead single from their self-titled debut, Brooklyn’s Beach Fossils combine adolescent longing and gilded, ringing guitar tones into three minutes of indie-pop epiphany. The shimmery melodic interplay at work here is the embodiment of the song’s title, creating a euphoric moment adrift in the void between something remembered and something dreamt. SS

Jazmine Sullivan
“Holding You Down (Going in Circles)”

The past 12 months were a banner year for R&B, and more particularly, the re-emergence of the soul diva. Too bad the Monicas and Jazmine Sullivans of the world were overshadowed by the Rihannas and the Ke$has. Sullivan’s affirming blast is courtesy of a Missy Elliott funhouse production, but the power of “Holding You Down” lies directly in Sullivan’s performance. With classic pipes and an impeccable cadence, Sullivan commands attention in every word she sings. “Holding You Down” is a timeless, chills-inducing sing-a-long that makes it essential to return to urban radio. KJE

Janelle Monáe
Wondaland Arts Society/Bad Boy

Janelle Monáe seemed to be a promising freshman who would forever be stuck in “alternative” R&B purgatory. That was until the James Brown–channeling “Tightrope” melted transistor radios and late-night talk show stages. At home on both Top 40 and urban radio, the giddy dance number is simultaneously futuristic and retro—much like Monáe herself. Props to Diddy for not only recognizing her talent, but sticking with her. DSH

Freddie Gibbs
“National Anthem (F*ck the World)”

On “National Anthem,” Freddie Gibbs kicks it off with some smooth, syrupy flow about his personal struggles, but then, in case the real targets of his middle finger are unsure that he's looking right in their beady little eyes, he starts the second verse by patently making a list: "Play-haters, record labels, radio—fuck ’em." The result is an anthem for anybody who needs to knock some serious dirt off their shoulders, and Gibbs comes off flinty, but smooth, pissed-off but detached, and so stone cold adept, he can roll those double-time lines about his testicles without exerting himself much at all. MS


The fun never ends with Dan Snaith at the helm. As the man behind Caribou, he has been a source of constant bliss in the first decade of this 21st century. Though there were several tracks worthy of mention on this year’s Swim, “Odessa” stands out as proof-positive of Caribou carrying a license to boogie and twirl. PG

Big Boi
Def Jam

Who knew Scott Storch had this in him? After piggybacking on the successes of Dr. Dre and Timbaland, Storch spent the last decade producing lackluster singles for blazin’ hip-hop and R&B’s upper crust and spending money as fast as he was making it. But give the guy a talkbox and he’ll make you the hottest beat of the year, which is what he’s done for Big Boi. “Shutterbugg” is a monstrous track that deserved better than its underwhelming chart performance. DH

“Everything Is Working”
Hippos in Tanks

Games make opiate dance music to soothe the soul and sate our nostalgic yearning for the echoes of ’90s R&B and beyond. “Everything Is Working” is emblematic of the boom in artists in the business of recontextualizing samples either created in psychedelic limbo or scrubbed from forgotten Troop and Alexander O’Neal records. Wherever they cull their fodder, Games’ mix resonates in huge, lush, trails of hypnotic beats and bells, creating grooves that could last forever, while underneath “Everything Is Working,” a neo-romantic pop song begins to take on a spectral glow. KJE


Of the many dream-induced moments on Halcyon Digest, “Helicopter,” is the album’s most focused song; it sounds as if we were on the outside looking in at the musiquarium of Bradford Cox’s tangled mind. Cox has been revered for his sonic touch and the swirling effect it has had on his band’s compositions, but not exactly for his songwriting, which usually meanders in his boundless soundscapes. Here, though, “Helicopter” becomes a meditation on melody built with the same clockwork patience and woozy atmospherics that remain Deerhunter’s greatest strengths. KJE

Cee Lo Green
“Fuck You!”

“Fuck You!” was the leftfield hit of the summer, a song that was spread via YouTube before an official video or radio-friendly edit could be released. The terrifyingly versatile Cee-Lo delivers this Motown-baptized tune with a wink, a smile and middle finger held high. It even got the middle-America mark of approval with a Gwyneth Paltrow version on Glee. Rarely has romantic dysfunction been so groovy. DSH

LCD Soundsystem
“Drunk Girls”

Nobody’s off the hook in “Drunk Girls.” Sure, the girls are “boringly wild,” but at least they don’t “keep pace with the pedophiles” like the boys Over a beat that lovingly rips off the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat,” James Murphy recalls the treacherous lies and the even-worse truths bandied about during a night out on the town. If there’s a message underneath it all, it’s that we’d all be better off just staying home. DH

Kanye West
Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam

Kanye who? Face it, Nicki owns this shit. She wants to eat your brains and brag about what she’s paid to do it—how ill is that? On "Monster," the Black Barbie, a.k.a. the Ninja, a.k.a. Nicki Lewiinsky, a.k.a. Roman Zolanski, spits the sickest, most aggressive, demented, animalistic rhymes since Busta's dungeon dragon made "Scenario" a legendary cut. Oh yeah, and there's some other dudes on there. Rick Ross? Jay-something? They do alright, too. MS

Crystal Castles (featuring Robert Smith)
“Not In Love”

On Crystal Castles, the Toronto duo of Ethan Kath and Alice Glass included a noisy electro-pop version of “Not In Love,” a 1984 song by Canadian new wave/glam rock band Platinum Blonde. But for the single, the Cure’s Robert Smith lends his vocals over stronger, soaring synth and hints of Glass’ effects-contorted vocals. Smith adds more emotion to the song; after all, he’s mournfully voiced complicated tales of love and loss for more than three decades. The result is digi-goth bliss. JR

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
“Round and Round”

Sometimes, in this diverse and often challenging musical landscape, the most bizarre cuts have the biggest impact on the modern listener. This track fits perfectly into Ariel Pink’s repertoire of bouncy weirdness, and by puttin’ on the ritz, “Round and Round” really took the cake this year. PG