And finally, here we have our top tracks of the year. We admit we have a very complicated system: in order to cover as many stellar songs as possible, anything from our Best Albums of 2013 list doesn’t qualify here. So you won’t see the likes of Wrecking Ball, given that Miley’s Bangerz made our Top 40. You also won’t see Get Lucky because it’s been everywhere and we’re sick of it now. But you will see Gaga’s Do What U Want, seeing as though ARTPOP wasn’t in our final tally. Other than that you’ve got a mixture of releases, songs from EPs and mixtapes, one-offs, internet releases… basically, this contains anything that reached our ears in 2013 in some form or other, and we can’t stop going back to. Confused? Good – pop on this handy Soundcloud playlist and read on…
Honourable mentions: Things that almost made the list? Pharrell and his unequivocally likeable Happy. Childish Gambino‘s Telegraph Ave. The roughshod but impressive demos by Ben Khan. The voice of Kwabs. West Yorkshire’s own Laura Groves, the Sweet Love update by Jess Mills, the return of Florrie, and Monsieur Adi being his dependable self. We’d also like to give a nod to Mr Little Jeans, RAINER, and LAMBS. And even though he’s a roaring thundercunt, Justin Bieber‘s Music Monday releases were pretty damn impressive.
Irish sister act Maud in Cahoots really should be bigger than they are. Imagine if Tegan and Sara released this – it’d be everywhere. All these sisters need is a bit of decent representation and they’ll be pop darlings in an instant. Trust us.
Of the big pop-hitters this year, in retrospect Katy Perry’s album was the safest. Maybe not necessarily the weakest, but definitely the safest. Prism strayed further for the good-time-girl image of KP, but one highlight was actually a bonus track: the Frozen-esque Spiritual, rightly reclaiming a bridge from Let Me Entertain You ‘n’ all.
Electronic pop duo IYES are ones to watch for 2014, even more so on the strength of this track. ‘Til Infinity blends louche pop with alternative R&B – we’d rather have a lot more ‘her’ than ‘him’, but it’s still a hot little mixture all the same.
37. Kylie – Skirt
We’re probably the only ones to feature this in any sort of list, but by God, Kylie’s move to Roc Nation is a good sign. Skirt is two parts filthy beat, one part thumping chorus; essentially it’s a Kylie song for people who don’t like Kylie, which is why we love it.
Started from the bottom, now we’re… going back home. It was impossible to escape the hoopla around Drizzy’s album, and there was some serious airplay for the most likeable cut of all. Granted that Hold On, We’re Going Home is mainly Majid Jordan’s show, but it’s still top-notch.
Wooft, this one knocks you for six. Wolf Alice’s Blush opens like a cross between the xx and London Grammar, and gives way to a devastating little slow-rock jam. There’s the usual conflict of getting over someone, but with the simple, devastating refrain: “I’m happy now…/ Are you happy now?”
Another upcomer, this time France-based Dream Koala. An aching falsetto carries the tale he wrote after waking from a dream in which he died in a plane crash. Obviously the song’s not going to be a cheery one, but it’s a fragile meditation on mortality. And it sounds ace.
We seem to be on a run of downers, but BLBL’s Rod Thomas can somehow find the uplifting in heartbreak. This Is Me Without You is the genuine ‘I wish you well’ sort of song, so genuine that it actually makes us sniffle that someone can be so magnanimous in resignation. A fantastic song.
And another break-up song, but this time raw and fierce. While Jhene Aiko’s EP didn’t really thrill us, the standout for her year has been this blistering freestyle track about a destructive relationship. Uncomfortable but engaging, file it up there with Kelly Rowland’s Dirty Laundry.
She’s been trailing new music for an age, but this will have to do till the new album. Kelis’s strange career trajectory continues with this summery cut, the sort that invokes neighbourhood parties, chasing your pals with hose pipes, and having a sweaty snog while the barbeque starts. We like where she’s going.
It’s a shame Lily Allen’s back, because Chloe Howl was keeping that vibe nice and warm. Not that it matters, though, since young Ms Howl will certainly carve her own place with gems like Rumour. That delivery betrays nothing but teenage fatigue, the lament a simple one: “I’m just trying to work out/ how to be like myself.” If this is yourself, Chloe Howl, you’re on to a winner.
JD Samson’s new project, MEN, has a lot to live up to given the Le Tigre past. Sadly, the album didn’t quite hit the mark but one track did stand out by far: Neon Poles. Fizzing with electro-pop goodness, this is the best song Icona Pop never wrote. Yep, that good.
People take the piss out of the Saturdays, and our love for them. However, Living for the Weekend continued their run of genuinely good pop albums, and if anyone at a label has some sense, Not Giving Up will be the next single. This is All Fired Up part II, a absolute banger of a pop song that deserves to find every ear in the country.
Dev Hynes has been responsible for a lot of good things recently (including something in our top five). One of the many wonders he created this year included this gem from Friends; The Way comes across as Kate Bush singing over a Prince production by way of Genesis. So bloody brilliant, then.
JMSN should be ready for crossover – he sits somewhere between How to Dress Well and Justin Timberlake, more accessible than the former and still edgier than the latter. Walk Away is the perfect example of the mix, a slow-burning but decimating number; throw in a couple of military drum beats and you’re sorted.
You might know Foxes from that Debenhams campaign, where her ace song Youth has been played to death. Luckily, she’s got more tricks up her sleeve – Shaking Heads echoes Roxette and the waves of Pure Shores, but still remains patently Foxes. Marks knocked off for that dolphin coda, but still great.
Demi returned to us earlier this year with a new album, which generally remained an uneven affair. Apart from its lead single, of course, which was a blistering, thrashing ode of empowerment. Just hearing how much of herself Demi puts into that gut-wrenching chorus is enough to merit the positioning here.
No list of ours would be complete without Tom Krell on it, right? Even though How to Dress Well didn’t release anything properly this year, this collaboration with Jacques Greene is dance at its finest. And it’s no fluke for Greene – his link-up with Tinashe was so good it made it hard for us to pick which one to list. In an ideal world, we’d have both.
The only person flouting our rule by appearing on both albums and singles lists is Charli XCX. SuperLove is an exception (in every sense of the word) as it’s a track from Charli’s next release, and what a corker it is too. Clearly one release isn’t slowing her or her talent down, and this is pop music as it should be done.
Another lady teasing a 2014 release is Katy B, who has had a succession of good fortune this year. We decided to forego the excellent What Love Is Made Of for 5AM, continuing Katy’s niche of after-hours dance-pop. It’s also the best use of the word ‘valium’ you’re likely to hear in a song, so there.
Oh, we miss the 90s in so many ways. Luckily so do a lot of other people, and Manchester’s MDNGHT are flying the flag for that dance music of old. I Will Lead You On is a strong sign of their falsetto-driven ways, with a twanging guitar hook that you can’t help but fall for. Well done, lads.
This isn’t so much a placement for one song as an ad for GEMS as a whole. There isn’t a single new act this year that has consistently delivered to such a high quality – like a more macabre Beach House, the Seattle duo’s dream-pop evokes sensual monochrome imagery. In short, they’re fantastic.
It’s a shame this didn’t chart higher. If synth-pop euphoria had a name in 2013, it would be St Lucia; Elevate was one of those songs that you could make anyone fall in love with. There’s a party vibe to it, there’s a joyfulness to it that wasn’t present in most summer releases. Disappointing that the album couldn’t match that.
If you told us a year ago that Shola Ama would feature in our top 20 tracks of 2013, we’d have laughed at your face. Then probably spat on you for being so ridiculous. But once again, a raw R&B confessional turns out to be quite astoundingly good, as Shola berates herself for adulterous thoughts. At one point, she sings: “Sho, don’t fuck this up.” Sound advice off the back of this gem.
16. Moko – Freeze
We’ve loved Moko since the beginning of the year, Valkyrie pigtails, energetic stage performance and everything. She got her due with a Chase & Status hit this year, and from their label created a fab EP. The highlight is still Freeze – recalling Massive Attack atmospherics, it’s the perfect vehicle for her powerhouse soul vocal.
One of the better R&B songs this year came from a relative unknown – Assata Jones has tried her had at many things, but the slow-jam seems to fit. I Can Love You Better sees her as the coquettish temptress, and it’s a soothing, lilting affair. If we were that bloke, we’d run off with this one in an instant. Listen here.
If DEVolution sound a bit old-school UK garage then it’ll come as no surprise that one half used to be part of Artful Dodger. Throw in Midas man MNEK with a swoon-worthy vocal (those ‘oh’s are to die for), and there’s an underrated club classic right here. Proper fresh.
Another surprise for our list – who’d have thought a Noel Gallagher-endorsed band would figure so highly? Well, Temples managed to captivate us with their chance capitalisation on the Tame Impala vibe – that cover is pretty much how the song sounds, kaleidoscopic 60s vibe and everything. Totally groovy.
OK, it’s not a proper release, but it managed to get out there all the same (along with the excellent Standing On The Sun). Even though she denied us a proper album, we couldn’t stay mad at her for long when this power-packed pop hit emerged. And we even got to see her perform it live. We’ll just have to be happy with that for now…
Strangely, for an album that appeared in our Worst of 2013 list (still pains us to write that), it did produce one of the best songs of the year. Sacrilege was the YYYs at their finest, Karen O yelping around the joint with typical abandon. And if there’s a song this year that better utilises a gospel choir, we haven’t heard it.
Let’s stop for a minute and take this in. Petula Clark is 81. EIGHTY-ONE. And here she is at #10 on our list, because Cut Copy Me is a song to be savoured. Like the nocturnal electronic-pop of Saint Etienne, Clark gently coos over this like a lullaby to the sound of twinkling. It’s effortless, it’s deeply in love, and if this is the sort of ‘current’ song Petula Clark can produce in her twilight, there’s simply no excuse for anyone else. Follow her lead, ‘cos girlfriend still be schoolin’.
Oh, Gaga. For the most part, ARTPOP turned out to be a bit, well, shart-pop. Don’t get us wrong: it wasn’t a total dud, it just caved heavily under its own sense of self-importance. What did stand out, besides Gaga’s unevenness, was this song. Do What U Want is Gaga’s ARTPOP-brand R&B, and from that opening grotty beat it’s a winner. Forget the message in it (confused, attention-seeking) and forget R Kelly’s superfluous addition; this song still sounds phenomenal, and sometimes that’s all that matters.
Another one of our Worst of 2013 yields a tremendous track. Of course, a lot of that has to do with Queen Bey – figures that her Mrs Carter tour was named as such, given that the best track she’s given us for ages is one from her husband’s album. Part II continues where Bonnie & Clyde left off, all lovers on the run and whatnot. While Jay goes all Lana Del Rey on us (“What a beautiful death/ Let’s both wear white”), Beyoncé’s husky tones drive this track to the apex of sexy. We’re SO ready for a new album.
Don’t ever count out Mimi. Bat-shit she may be these days, but going back to camp Dupri is certainly signalling good things. When we first heard this, we were a bit nonplussed – the song gets well over halfway before Mariah deigns to make an appearance. But the ‘starring’ credit on the cover is telling, as she lifts this song from mere boy-girl cooing to an epic duet. The vocal histrionics don’t need to go all the way to make this a hit; clearly Mariah still knows what works.
She’s our hot tip for 2014, and this is what made it happen. While Waiting Game was the one that made us sit up, it was the Jamie Woon / Lil Silva-produced This is What It Feels Like that really cemented Banks’ success in our eyes. There’s swirling darkness here, in typical Woon fashion, while Banks works out her lower octaves to match it perfectly. A star is born in these five minutes.
Meanwhile, a latecomer totally upset the fray in the form of Say Lou Lou’s Beloved. We’re loathe to call it a B-side because it well and truly trounces not only it’s A-side counterpart, but a whole host of other songs. Beloved simply has to be heard for it to cast its spell – 90s-type pop, and the most heartbreaking resignation: “If I’m your beloved/ Then why don’t I fit?” We’re off to go cry in a corner.
We posed an interesting question when we went to see Mutya Keisha Siobhan live this summer – apart from the die-hard fans ( = homosexual contingent on Twitter), would their renewed appeal work across the country? Given the chart placement of Flatline, we’re worried the answer might be no. Which is a bloody shame, because this Dev Hynes-produced toe-tapper was the sound of our summer; MKS still possess the tightest harmonies in the business, that middle-eight is an absolute banger, and the video had a dog on a skateboard. Flatline is better than it’ll ever get credit for.
If it were up to us, we’d explain our placement of this song by simply quoting the dozens of sharp, spiky lines. Angel Haze is taking no prisoners, and Echelon does a great job of calling out all the crap in the industry and beyond (especially the fashion set – “fuck dudes in Rag and Bone” indeed). Her machine-gun delivery is on-point, the beat is catchy, the chorus is a fireball; given how female rappers are making our eyes roll on the whole, it’s heartening to see some genuine talent that can rival any of the blokes.
Another one that floored us on first listen was the Night VI’s mysterious debut, Thinking of You. We’ve managed to put our negative feelings towards their EP aside for this, because it is a debut that commands you to stop whatever you’re doing and applaud – part-Fleetwood, part-dreamy, Sophie-Rose Harper’s vocals feel every word of this song. From the opening verse to the despondent middle-eight, from that scintillating guitar riff to the male backing vocals, there isn’t a single joint out of place here. An absolute bravura effort by any standards.
Angelica Allen. Watch out for the name, because this girl threw us a curveball in October and stole the whole damn show. Nightlight is a jaw-dropping piece of music, perfect in every way. There’s the opening choral vibe. There’s the husky late-night tones. There’s THAT chorus. And then there’s that devastating howl at the end. As we discussed with Allen herself, this is music for the inner parts of your soul, the parts so vulnerable they don’t ever emerge except in the mirror. Nighlight is a powerful demonstration of what My Midnight Heart is about – put it this way, if this were Mariah’s next single, how would you feel? Exactly. (On that note let’s get this to Mimi immediately, if only to give My Midnight Heart’s music the platform it deserves.)