Drake's "Worst Behavior"
The New York Times' Jon Caramanica anointed 2013 the year of Tough Drake, and nowhere is that more evident than on Drake's "Worst Behavior." The track has a little bit of everything. Drizzy channels ODB, late-'90s Ma$e, DeGrassi, and something about Bat Mitzvah money, all of which takes place over a stuttering death rattle. The best part, though, is that "Worst Behavior" — a song ostensibly about rap posturing and getting into fights — appears on Nothing Was the Same immediately before a love song in which Drake sighs, "[Who] wants to be 70 and alone?" Drake will punch you, but he'll still feel really bad about it afterward and give you a hug. —Chris Gayomali, science and technology editor
Earl Sweatshirt's "Chum"
By far the best of the Odd Future crew, Earl Sweatshirt emerged from a mysterious stint in Samoa to drop his debut solo album, Doris, earlier this year. Earl Sweatshirt's first solo single "Chum" (which technically came out last November, but was rolled into the debut LP) blends a Wu-Tang-reminiscent piano-driven beat with amazingly fluid, complex rhymes for someone as young as the 19-year-old Earl. "Chum" offers a more mature, nuanced take on the same existentialist, outsider themes found on Earl's past tracks. But most importantly, it's got the best NBA metaphor in recent memory: "Feeling as hard as Vince Carter's knee cartilage is." —Jon Terbush, staff writer
The Flaming Lips' "The Terror"
The ominous drones and metallic bursts of guitar that envelop The Flaming Lips' "The Terror" — the standout track from their miserable masterpiece of the same name — are decidedly radio-unfriendly. This isn't a song you pump in your car, at a party, or around anyone at all. But after another year marred by terrorist attacks, political squabbles, and violence, "The Terror" offers a frank (and, in true Lips fashion, strange) catharsis. Amid a throbbing dirge of church bells, frontman Wayne Coyne reminds us that "we are all standing alone" and intones in falsetto, "We don't control the controls." "The Terror" is a harrowing lament that somehow doesn't wallow in its own sadness. Like Kliph Scurlock's muted drums, which pulse like a heartbeat, life goes on. —Samantha Rollins, news editor
Janelle Monáe's "Q.U.E.E.N."
Science-fiction diva Janelle Monáe's newest record, The Electric Lady, is a sprawling epic overstuffed with ideas. Even the album's skits take the form of a call-in radio station where listeners debate about "android love" and Monáe's alter ego, Cindi Mayweather. But while The Electric Lady may drag slightly as a whole, its individual songs hit hard. In particular, Janelle Monáe's lead single "Q.U.E.E.N." is straight-up electric. (Sorry.) The track features an always-welcome Erykah Badu and tackles women's non-conformity without getting preachy. More than anything, "Q.U.E.E.N." proves Janelle Monáe can stay distinctively Janelle Monáe as she continues to ascend toward mainstream stardom. If she's not selling out arenas in a couple of years, something is wrong with the world. —Eric Thurm, writer
Josh Radin's "My My Love"
I first heard Josh Radin's haunting, achingly intimate ballad "My My Love" in an episode of NBC's Parenthood, a show that could already turn tugging on heartstrings into an Olympic sport. In that context, it immediately brought tears to my eyes — but the raw emotion evident in Joshua Radin's whisper-soft vocals could accomplish waterworks on its own, and the song never fails to give me chills when I hear it. Even if you've never been separated from your love, it's hard not to get swept up in Radin's raspy caress. —Laura Prudom, writer
Kanye West's "Black Skinhead"
It feels like I've been waiting for ages for rappers to get into '70s glam rock and make a T-Rex-style swung triplet beat. This year, Kanye West finally did it with "Black Skinhead" and he knocked it out of the park: Distorted electro toms, a claustrophobic breathy sample, and one of Kanye's tightest raps in years. Funky as hell. —John Aziz, economics and business correspondent
Lana Del Rey's "Young and Beautiful"
The soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby is jam-packed with beautiful and compelling music. Standout tracks include Florence + the Machine's "Over The Love" and Jack White's "Love is Blindness." But in a strong lineup, the song that stood out most was Lana Del Rey's "Young and Beautiful." The haunting and subdued song is notable for its innocent lyrics and encompassing urgency. From its powerful refrain ("Will you still love me when I'm no longer young and beautiful?"), to potent, descriptive phrases ("your pretty face and electric soul"), Del Rey delivers the song with a naivete that would be hard to replicate. The piercing song fit perfectly into Luhrmann's adaptation — and raised the profile of a relatively new artist with a long career ahead of her. —John Hanlon, writer
Ella Yelich O'Connor, the New Zealand teen better known as Lorde, this year released the kind of song that can't be over-hyped. Like Beyonce's "Irreplaceable" in 2006, or Kanye West's "Gold Digger" in 2009, Lorde's "Royals" sounds good from the first listen, and keeps sounding good after months of indie remixes and top 40 radio play. That alone is a feat. And even though I never can get enough of girl-power pop songs, I like "Royals" better than "Irreplaceable." Lorde covers fresher territory, brushing off the "jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash" fantasies that come up constantly in hip-hop, and instead revealing a smaller high school dream world where the person who has some extra cash is queen bee of her clique. It makes the song both radio friendly and uniquely personal at the same time. —Carmel Lobello, business editor
Lea Michele's cover of Adele's "Make You Feel My Love"
As a former Gleek, I am a little ashamed to say I didn't even watch the entirety of "The Quarterback," the episode in which Lea Michele sings a cover of Adele's version of "Make You Feel My Love" as a tribute to her deceased on- and off-screen boyfriend, Cory Monteith. But while I didn't make it through the episode, I've listened to the song over and over again (and am already convinced it must one day play at my wedding).
"Make You Feel My Love" is one of the most genuinely romantic songs I know. The earnestness of the emotions comes through so clearly and sweetly. You can't beat lines like "I know you haven't made your mind up yet / But I will never do you wrong / I've known it from the moment that we met / No doubt in my mind where you belong." While I prefer Adele's version, Lea Michele completely does justice to the unadorned melody and lyrics, and the pain of her real-life loss comes though. —Emily Shire, chief researcher and writer
My Bloody Valentine's "new you"
It was genuinely surreal when My Bloody Valentine dropped their third full-length album, m b v, with relatively little warning last February. m b v came nearly 25 years after their legendary Loveless, and at a time when even their most devoted fans had written off the chance of a follow-up. And suddenly, there it was, available to download for just $16 on the band's official website (which crashed almost immediately as the news spread arose the internet).
Even more impressively, m b v turned out to be worth the wait: An album that, while not quite equaling the power of Loveless, can certainly stand up next to it. It's difficult to choose a single song from an album that deliberately blurs the lines between its tracks, but if I had to pick one, I'd go with My Bloody Valentine's "new you," the gentlest and most accessible cut from m b v. "new you" comes at the midpoint of the album, and the song grows with characteristic density as Bilinda Butcher's delicate vocals are folded into a hypnotic, gorgeously layered track. How hypnotic are we talking? Last month, I saw My Bloody Valentine play the song live at a show in New York, and could happily have stood there for another few hours just listening to them play it on loop. —Scott Meslow, entertainment editor
Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball"
Miley Cyrus has become known primarily for her MTV-fueled antics, and attention to her actual music has fallen to the side — which is a shame, because Bangerz is a terrific album. In particular, Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" is a gem that's perfectly crafted for singing in the shower, driving in your car, and shout-singing over the dull roar of a bar. Beyond being a catchy pop song, "Wrecking Ball" evokes the ache of a poisoned relationship. Like us, Miley wants what she can't have, and "Wrecking Ball" is about coming to terms with wanting the things that can be the worst for us. —Kerensa Cadenas, writer
Tegan and Sara's "Closer"
In 2013, Tegan and Sara sold out, and it was glorious. Heartthrob, the Canadian twin sisters' seventh studio album, is both familiar and a major departure. In an interview with Rolling Stone shortly after the album's release, Sara Quinn told the magazine that they "[couldn't] make another record that sounds like what people expect from Tegan and Sara," and instead wanted to make an album more commercially viable and radio friendly. Mission accomplished.
The album is ten tracks of insanely catchy, sickly sweet electro-pop tunes, all anchored by Tegan and Sara's single "Closer." "All I want to get is / A little bit closer / All I want to know is / Can you come a little closer?" the duo sings over a symphony of synths and dance-y beats. The song soars through a cascade of electronic hooks and build-ups, but always circles back to its fist-pumping, foot-stomping chorus. "Closer" isn't just one of the best singles of the year; it's a brilliantly crafted synth-pop anthem. —Matt Cohen, writer
Throwing Muses' "Opiates"
Remember Throwing Muses? Once upon a time, this band was a star of college rock, a magnetic group that played in the background before drifting ever-so-tragically into the category of forgotten small wonders. But Throwing Muses returned without missing a beat in late 2013 with a mega album Purgatory/Paradise: 32 brand new tracks, representing their first new work in a decade.
These short songs bleed into one another. They are lackadaisical odes that seem meant for another decade, all guitars and raspiness and sass. Throwing Muses' "Opiates" is one of the longest tracks on the new album, at just under four minutes. It bounces with that dark edge that characterizes so much of the latest offering from singer-songwriter Kristin Hersh. It's not always pretty, but that's part of the appeal. —John Hendel, writer
Vampire Weekend's "Hannah Hunt"
Vampire Weekend's Modern Vampires of the City is a thoughtful, risky album that made the indie darlings feel as daring as classic, oft-compared predecessors like Paul Simon. Of particular note is Vampire Weekend's "Hannah Hunt," which comes as a surprisingly fragile ballad in the middle of an otherwise upbeat collection of songs.
"Hannah Hunt" tells the tale of a young couple on a cross-country road trip from the East to the West Coast. They're trying to bury internal frustrations with a sight-seeing adventure, but in the end they can't manage to do it. "Hannah Hunt" is simple and sparse until it erupts into a heart-wrenching crescendo towards the end, at which point lead singer Ezra Koenig's voice cracks and pleads. It feels like the kind of song born from the painful distance that can spread between two people who are clumsily trying to salvage their relationship. It's bursting with palpable emotion and free of posturing, just like the rest of the standout album. —Jessica Jardine, writer
Listen to our favorite songs of 2013 on Spotify: