OK, let’s kick things off with my 30 favourite songs of the year. I kept it to one per artist, which resulted in some really tough choices; I could make another list with second choice cuts and it’d be 90% as strong. But for now, this is the one true list: one-liners for 15-6, blurbs for the top 5. Let’s go:
30 - Christina Aguilera, “Let There Be Love”
29 - Chromatics, “Kill for Love”
28 - fun., “Some Nights”
27 - Cat Power, “Manhattan”
26 - DIIV, “Human”
25 - Chairlift, “I Belong in Your Arms”
24 - Kanye West, “Mercy”
23 - TNGHT, “Higher Ground”
22 - Tennis, “Origins”
21 - Nicki Minaj, “Beez in the Trap”
20 - Bruno Mars, “Treasure”
19 - Fiona Apple, “Anything We Want”
18 - Frank Ocean, “Thinkin Bout You”
17 - Grimes, “Be a Body”
16 - M.I.A., “Bad Girls”
15 - Hospitality, “Argonauts”
Heartfelt indie pop balladry at its finest; playing it in my honour at The Garrison back in May didn’t hurt either.
14 - Bat for Lashes, “Marilyn”
A chorus of haunted men, percussion that reaches for the stars, and the spookiest, prettiest bridge of the year.
13 - Ke$ha, “Wherever You Are”
Ke$ha’s sweet, bubbly side, done justice by a chorus that soars higher and higher before exploding like a piñata and raining Tootsie Roll Pops onto everyone’s heads.
12 - Todd Terje, “Inspector Norse”
Glittering, joyous dance music from one of the genre’s brightest stars, slight but lethal with a synth.
11 - Azealia Banks, “Esta Noche”
It was there every time I needed to feel confident or sexy or on my game; it’s maybe the strongest indicator that there’s life for Azealia after “212”.
10 - Disclosure, “Latch”
Short form, hyper-contemporary UK electro-pop, and the first of two I’m filing under “Please hurry up with that debut LP, thanks.”
9 - Japandroids, “The House That Heaven Built”
My shoes are still coated in black filth drummed up from the Lee’s Palace floor while jumping around to this one, and I refuse to wash them because I like looking down and feeling that way again, if only for a second.
8 - Hot Chip, “Don’t Deny Your Heart”
Nearly a decade in the game and they’re still putting out gems like this one, springier than a trampoline and warmer than a space heater.
7 - Jessie Ware, “Sweet Talk”
Purple-tinged pop-soul from a voice that quietly dominated the year, a constant and consistently beautiful presence.
6 - Rhye, “The Fall”
Sensual, silky smooth, and the second member of the “Please hurry up with that debut LP, thanks.”
5 - Miguel, “Adorn”
Taken at face value, “Adorn” is simply the year’s finest R&B single, a classic melody in a bite-sized package that captured everyone from genre-surveying dilettantes to radio programmers to the sort of fans who breathlessly pass around C-sides and lost remixes via Gmail. But this is a Miguel song, which means that in order to deign the song’s true value, we need to dive below the surface. Like many other songs on its brilliant parent album, much of the tension and drama of “Adorn” is derived from its juxtaposition of light and dark, drugs and hugs, love and hurt. It’s the sweet taste that evolves into something much more bitter and complex at the back of the tongue. Those subcutaneous bass blurts aren’t just a contemporary flourish; they serve as a counterpoint to the airy lushness of the rest of the song. They’re an acknowledgement of the lust, jealousy, and angst that are part and parcel with giving your love to someone. Miguel will let his love adorn you, but he knows what lurks a few layers below those sweet words; that knowledge informs “Adorn” and elevates it to a higher level.
4 - Sky Ferreira, “Everything Is Embarrassing”
It could have no other redeeming features, and it’d still have the year’s best title. Fortunately for listeners, “Everything Is Embarrassing” is one of the year’s pop pinnacles, spacious and grand. Dev Hynes gives every percussive splash and piano chord room to breathe and stretch, each note expanding until clipped by another one. But this song belongs to Sky, who absolutely owns the proceedings. It’s not an especially showy performance, but she hits emotional notes that are familiar to anyone who has ever given up a piece of themselves without getting it back. She walks a thin line, openly aching without sacrificing her pride. Maybe that’s the core that makes this song so memorable: even when everything is embarrassing, it’s possible to walk with your head held high and to hurt without losing even more of yourself.
3 - Solange, “Losing You”
I confess that I’ve been making jokes about Solange for years, ever since she took centre stage on the theme song for The Proud Family (“Here Comes Penny Proud”, a foundational text of my youth). She’s been Harry Potter in the cupboard under the stairs, she’s been Blue Ivy’s faithful nanny, she’s been Beyoncé’s vice president of shoe and hat organization. There are hundreds of Solange jokes stuffed into Facebook message histories and dumb text messages, but no longer: this is one of the best songs of the year, and more impressively, it’s a song that only she could have recorded. Even at her sweetest and most delicate, her sister cannot help but dominate the proceedings; she must always be a force of nature. She doesn’t weave herself in and out of arrangements or subvert herself, because the arrangements are just delivery vehicles for her in all her glorious Bey-ness. But if Solange is not as powerful or as bold, she is slipperier and more agile, with underrated versatility. She cracks open songs by finding their crevices and then operating from inside rather than smashing them to pieces with brute force. And so we have “Losing You”, an absolute ray of sunshine and the work of a Knowles sister who’s intimately familiar with playing a complementary role. It’s delicate and tender and funky and honest; it is wholly, absolutely Solange. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
2 - Dirty Projectors, “Impregnable Question”
Go into your living room and rip up the carpeting, take the couch and the loveseat and stuff them into your van and haul them to the dump, strip the paint off every wall, scrub the ceiling. Take your collection of tribal masks off the wall and put them in a box in the storage room, take the blinds off the windows. Sit on the floor as the sun rises and streams into the room and look around you: the bare hardwood of the floor, the white walls, the extent of the space. Get comfortable; embrace simplicity. This is what one of our best young bands does on “Impregnable Question”, the beating heart of Swing Lo Magellan. Tucked into the middle of an album defined by questions - questions about yourself, questions about the world, questions without a single easy answer - this is the one song that suggests we might find part of what we’re looking for in each other, and I cannot hear it without being crushed. Suffice it to say this one’s still at the very top of the wedding shortlist.
1 - Carly Rae Jepsen, “Turn Me Up”
I know, I know, I know. I don’t know what else to say: this song has brought me more joy than any other this year. It’s been there while running, in the shower, walking to class, flying home, flying back, celebrating my birthday; it’s always there. It makes me feel proud to be Canadian. It makes me want to share what I love about music with other people. It makes me so, so happy. And no, it’s not “Call Me Maybe”, but that’s OK. This one’s all mine.
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