The album may remain music's première product -- and we found 68 albums well worth raving about this year -- but aside from Beyonce's album-only sales ploy for her surprise eponymous LP, the single has been the actual top of the pyramid since the Internet forcibly re-orged the industry at the turn of the millennium.
It's a statement that's never been more true than in 2013, when a host of pop, hip-hop, indie and electronic songs defied the conventional wisdom that we now live in a narrowcast world.
Rather then sticking to their niches, acts ranging from Drake and Daft Punk to Miley and Lorde reclaimed music's shared experiences, playing out equally in bars, clubs, earbuds, laptops, retail stores, radios and streaming services. Sure, some of these selections didn't manage to completely crossover, but they should have and given the slow-burn build of Icona Pop's "I Love It," they still might.
This list is our top 20 songs of 2013, but that couldn't capture the full breadth of the year's musical heights, so we've included another 50 tunes on this Rdio playlist that also helped define the past 12 months.
Thanks, and happy New Year!
20. Arcade Fire - "Afterlife"
Easily the most Arcade Fiery song on the Montreal superstars' new record "Reflektor", this Win Butler and Regine Chassagne duet is also the song that best earns its dancefloor fuel. Reminiscent of "No Cars Go" in its eventual intensity, the metaphysically-minded "Afterlife" is a back-of-the-arena epic that’s also purpose-built to turn countless house parties into arms-up living room ragers.
19. Janelle Monáe ft. Miguel - "PrimeTime"
There's been a lot of attention paid to R&B's blue-eyed soul singers this year, which makes this rising-star duet between Janelle and Miguel all the more powerful. But that's not what makes it so damn good. That slow, spacey and endlessly sultry soundscape surrounds their virtuosic, intertwining vocals like a love den, making it crystal clear these two players are more than ready for prime time.
18. Mikal Cronin - "Weight"
It's not easy to nail a throwback tune that doesn't sound dated, but San Francisco garage-popper (and Ty Segall associate) Mikal Cronin does just that with this fuzzy, jangly earworm fittingly focused on the theme of fearing change. "Weight" also incongruously sounds light as a distortion peddle-propelled feather.
17. Mike Will Made It - "23"
Though destined to be remembered as that song where Miley moved from twerking to rapping, there's a reason Atlanta producer Mike Will gets top billing on this posse cut, also featuring Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J. His sizzurp-slow beats and psychedelic synths give this woozy ode to Air Jordans its three-point swish. Still, Cyrus easily surpasses low expectations, ably ball handling the hook and a few bars of badass boasting and shout-outs to Naughty By Nature and MC Hammer, old-schoolers whose hits landed before she was born.
16. Basement Jaxx - "Mermaid Of Salinas"
It was ages after the release that I discovered the joys of this under-promoted Basement Jaxx B-side that is among the best tracks the long-running eclectic house act has ever produced. Heavy on the Spanish influence, as its Ibizan-derived title portends, Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe's sunshiney single practically transports you to their beachside hotbox.
15. Charli XCX - "You (Ha Ha Ha)"
Charli XCX, Britain's 21-year-old electropop wunderkind, boasts "you were old-school and I was on the new shit" and then pulls off both on this edgy yet accessible break-up banger. Mixing lush synths and thumping beats, casual cursing and sarcastic insouciance, that bracketed laughter is actually the sound of a pop star being born.
14. Daft Punk (Feat. Julian Casablancas) - "Instant Crush"
Only recently getting released as a single, this mid-tempo, rock-influenced dance track is bound to be lost amidst the still-looming shadow of "Get Lucky." But this second-best song on "Random Access Memories" is a fantastic track in its own right. The production's grand, but "Instant Crush" goes from like to love thanks to its robot-in-love falsetto from Julian Casablancas, delivering a charmer of a vocal that outshines anything on recent Strokes' records.
13. Tegan And Sara - "Closer"
Unimaginably far from the Canadian sister act's indie folk origins and yet unmistakably familiar, too, Tegan & Sara complete their evolution into the thinking-person's pop act (not named Robyn) with this synth smash. "Closer" is also a casually sexy same-sex love song that never panders or overplays its hand. It's pop, sure, but don't treat it like it's typical.
12. Icona Pop ft. Charli XCX - "I Love It"
Co-written with electro "it" girl Charlie XCX, Swedish synth duo Icona Pop's chant of a litany of terrible things they care so little about that they actually love them, hits every bull’s-eyes at once. That this propulsive buzzsaw of a pop song soundtracked “Girls,” “Glee,” “Vampire Diaries” and “Snooki and JWoww," is a testament to the relatability of its aggressively upbeat F-U.
11. J. Cole ft. Miguel - "Power Trip"
J. Cole's "Born Sinner" is among the year's most underrated but that's what happens when you drop an album on the same day as Kanye's "Yeezus". It may have been a bold, if ultimately foolhardy decision but the album's standout track is Cole's collaboration with rising avant-R&B star Miguel, an epic hip-hop slow jam with Kris-Kross references calling out its own clichés -- something we need more of in this world.
10. Pharrell Williams - "Happy"
Pharell Williams has had a year -- when people weren't talking about Miley, for whom he produced, they were arguing about whether "Blurred Lines" or "Get Lucky" were the song of the summer. He even did production work on Beyonce's surprise album. No wonder he nabbed 7 Grammy nominations. These were all reason to be happy, an emotion Pharell channelled on this solo joint, connected to kiddie cartoon "Despicable Me 2", that turned out to be one of the most blissfully cheerful song in years. His 24-hour video only made it that much better.
9. Drake ft. Majid Jordan - "Hold On, We're Going Home"
Drake first made his mark as a singer-rapper, even though he wasn't that great at the former. R&B favours virtuosos, and Drizzy never compared to friends like The Weeknd or idols like Aaliyah. But with "Hold On," he finally laid down vocals as strong as his rapping. It helps that the 80s-inspired production is also the smoothest track he's ever had the opportunity to croon over. Drake may be going home, but this song isn't going anywhere.
8. Lorde - "Royals"
This song got so big, it's easy to forget how strange it is. In an era of EDM maximalism infusing pop and hip-hop, a number one single that rides finger snaps, echo and a very faint dubstep womp is pretty startling. As are Lorde's anti-materialism lyrics, which slams "aspirational" wealth-flaunting during a time of ugly income inequality. The fact that she was only 16 when this came out just makes it that much more impressive. Bow down.
7. Pusha T - "Numbers On The Boards"
Clipse is dead, but the skeletal, wintry aesthetic of the cult coke-rap duo lives on in member Pusha T's solo single. Over an experimental, Bunny Sigler-sampling Kanye production that could have come off "Yeezus," Pusha continues to turn drug-dealing into poetry thanks to his ice-cold delivery, hyper-specific imagery and bruised knuckle boasts like the one about his birthday marking "36 years of doing dirt like it's Earth Day."
6. Disclosure ft. AlunaGeorge - "White Noise"
EDM may have taken over the summer festival circuit, but there was more to dance music in 2013 than cookie-cutter glowstick anthems. British garage-house duo Disclosure blew up with their debut album, netting a Grammy nom, riding the momentum of this bubbling, back-to-the-future single with London peers AlunaGeorge that ignores big bass drops in favour of wide-screen hip-shaking and perfect high-pitched, play-rough vocals.
5. Justin Timberlake - "Mirrors"
Justin Timberlake dipped into plenty of genres for his two-part "20/20 Experience" album, but "Mirrors" was JT returning to his power ballad wheelhouse. Like "Cry Me A River" and "What Goes Around / Comes Around," this is an anthemic home run. Justin's rhythmic sing-along vocals and Timbaland's restrained, yet dramatic strings-flecked soundscape -- especially when the beats drops out in favour of audience-participation handclaps -- makes "Mirrors" feel both intimate and big enough to fill iPhone-lit stadiums.
4. Miley Cyrus - "We Can't Stop"
Pop songs are ephemeral, meant to supply instant-gratification and then fade away to make room for the next hit. But Miley's spring smash somehow sounds better now than when it came out. Much credit is due to Mike Will's signature narcotic production which maintains a powerfully slow, if awfully addled, pace for a so-called party anthem. That, and the admitted rush of hearing Hanna Montana's country-flecked power vocals making winking drug references while declaring independence with the eminently quotable: "we run things, things don't run we."
3. Kanye West - "Black Skinhead"
A literally panting beat, flecked with First Nations chanting and industrial distortion, is the menacing musical-slash-martial embodiment of Yeezus getting his "scream on." But Kanye's lacerating lyrics about America's infuriatingly inherent racism are where West really rages against the machine.
2. Drake - "Started From The Bottom"
That chime and shuffling, off-kilter beat provide the indelible foundation of Drake's "don't call it a comeback" moment, in which the respect-seeking rapper resets the clock with this tough statement of purpose. Filled with countless quotables, undramatic upbringing rhymes and an aspirational chorus that everyone can still relate to, Drake made the ensuing argument over where said "bottom" began is utterly irrelevant now that we here.
1. Daft Punk ft. Pharrell Williams - "Get Lucky"
The short answer as to why "Get Lucky" is number one is that the song is perfect. The slightly longer one is that its retro-futurism frees it from being tied to any particular time period, meaning it will remain with us forever, while its rare amalgamation of musical geniuses -- Pharell's light, charming falsetto, Nile Rodgers' definition-of-disco guitar, Daft Punk's Franco-robotic musicality -- made it sound like a classic the very first time you heard it and the song's lost none of its lustre since.
50 More Best Songs Of 2013
Rudimental ft. John Newman - "Feel The Love"
Vampire Weekend - "Diane Young"
Jessy Lanza - "Pull My Hair Back"
Avicii - "Wake Me Up"
James Blake - "Retrograde"
Big Sean ft. Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica - "Control"
Blue Hawaii - "Daisy"
Sky Ferreira - "You're Not The One"
Nine Inch Nails - "Came Back Haunted"
HAIM - "The Wire"
Washed Out - "It All Feels Right"
Calvin Harris (feat. Ellie Goulding) - "I Need Your Love (Nicky Romero Remix)"
Janelle Monáe - "Dance Apocalyptic"
Savages - "Shut Up"
Selena Gomez - "Come & Get It"
JAY Z ft. Justin Timberlake - "Holy Grail"
Charles Bradley - "Victim of Love"
Chvrches - "We Sink"
Danny Brown ft. Purity Ring - "25 Bucks"
Pusha T ft. Kendrick Lamar - "Nosetalgia"
The Knife - "Full Of Fire"
Jessie Ware - "Imagine It Was Us"
Young Galaxy - "New Summer"
A$AP Ferg ft. A$AP ROCKY - "Shabba" (Explicit)
Lana Del Rey vs Cedric Gervais - "Summertime Sadness"
Kanye West ft. Frank Ocean - "New Slaves"
Mikky Ekko - "Pull Me Down"
Justin Timberlake - "Take Back The Night"
Autre Ne Veut ft. Mykki Blanco - "Counting"
*An early version of this list included Solage's "Losing You" which came out in late 2012. It's been replaced, but remains a great song.
Related on HuffPost:
1. Drake - "Nothing Was The Same"
When Drake released the first "NWTS" single "Started From the Bottom," it prompted countless arguments about where said bottom began, as if "Degrassi" privilege somehow existed in hip-hop. But that all became moot once Drake showed us where his "now we here" was with this third album. Refusing to remake "Take Care," while still sounding like a Drake and 40 production, he pulls off his hardest album yet while also including his softest song ("Hold On, We're Going Home") and showing off both his best flows and strongest vocals. No less than Kanye called Drake "a rap god" earlier this week, and who are we to argue with Yeezus?
2. Basia Bulat - "Tall Tall Shadow"
Canada's legacy of female folk legends is secured in Basia Bulat, who has crafted one of the albums of the year in "Tall Tall Shadow." The 29-year-old singer/songwriter wields an autoharp, piano, organ, and a honeyed, raw voice that fans of Joni Mitchell and Feist would be foolish not buy into without prejudice post haste. Recorded in a naturally reverberating old dance hall and co-produced by Mark Lawson and Tim Kinsbury (a member of Arcade Fire), Tall Tall Shadow has a grandiose, ethereal sound that oozes comfort and joy, but the songs themselves are devastatingly tragic. Basia's plaintive vocal trilling on "It Can’t Be You" will break your heart; the cheerful doo-wop handclaps of "Promise Not To Think About Love" will stitch it back up again. With pure, powerful melodies, brutally honest lyrics, but always full of much hope, "Tall Tall Shadow" is a masterwork from a woman ready for prime-time.
3. Kanye West - "Yeezus"
For an album intentionally positioned as a challenging listen and acquired taste, "Yeezus" is undeniable. That's what the critics will tell you, but cars are the real test and this summer a day didn't go without "Blood on the Leaves," or "Bound 2" blaring from open-windowed vehicles. So, maybe you have to struggle past the striated synths of "On Sight" before the good stuff – though the dusty soul break at its centre is such a jarringly confrontational touch – but "Yeezus" is a testament to the genius thing that 'Ye takes such pains to claim. He continues to expand the palette of both rap and popular music, in a way that Lady Gaga's paint-by-numbers pop art just can't.
4. Cut Copy - "Free Your Mind"
It looked a little bleak for Cut Copy recently. With the massively underwhelming release of 2011's "Zonoscope," the fact that band members were living in different hemispheres, and the somewhat boring first single off Free "Your Mind," they looked like they might sink in the same way peers MGMT and Bloc Party have. However, their latest album is rich with texture in the variety of songs, and indie-meets-deep-house production. Cut Copy is back, and this might be their best album yet.
5. Janelle Monáe - "Electric Lady"
The album Janelle Monáe sonically unleashed to the world this year was simply electric. Second studio album "Electric Lady" was mind-blowing in the way it effortlessly melds throwback elements of jazz, funk, rock and soul into a futuristic body of work. The album remained a fixture on the R&B charts throughout 2013. Maybe it's her trademark tuxedo, the pompadour updo, or the effortless charisma she exudes, but the wunderkind from Kansas had a breakout year and "Electric Lady" stands as an instant classic.
7. Justin Timberlake – "The 20/20 Experience Part 1"
The music world welcomed back Justin Timberlake this year after a seven-year absence and "The 20/20 Experience Part 1" is just as lavish and extravagant as we had hoped for. Teaming up with longtime collaborator/producer Timbaland, "The 20/20 Experience" is Timberlake at his most polished and sophisticated as he flawlessly executes pop songs with his signature falsetto like the seasoned pro that he is. And even though the poorly thought-out mess that was "The 20/20 Experience Part 2" almost threatened to erase the progress of its more triumphant half, "Part 1" is a great, constant reminder that Timberlake does indeed belong on the charts even more than he does on the big screen. Standout track: "Mirrors"
6. Tegan and Sara – "Heartthrob"
Many would say that the sleek and polished pop of Tegan and Sara's seventh studio album "Heartthrob" was a huge departure from their past work, which dabbled in folk, punk and alternative rock. But what was always present in the band’s 15-plus years of writing and recording was their innate knack for a good melody. Instead of churning out another riff-heavy rock album, Tegan and Sara bravely jumped ship into the synth-pop game, resulting in a product that still held their integrity in its direct, lovelorn lyrics, but packaged in a radio-friendlier exterior that truthfully suits the band better.
8. Daft Punk – "Random Access Memories"
The French electronic music veterans came up with a novel way of updating their sound: instead of combing through old disco records looking for bits to sample, try to reproduce the techniques and approaches that created those classics. A much-needed analog counterpoint to EDM's digital dominance. Featured Track: "Lose Yourself to Dance"
9. Jason Isbell – "Southeastern"
There is, simply, no better singer-songwriter working today, in any genre. Following an apprenticeship in the Drive-By Truckers and a pair of iffy (but occasionally brilliant) solo records, Jason Isbell spent the early 2010s honing his craft, tightening his focus, sobering up, and settling into his undeniable talent for storytelling. On 2011's masterful "Here We Rest," Isbell finally arrived, a fully formed and commanding presence. But, with this year’s instant classic "Southeastern," Isbell has, rather remarkably, upped his game. Isbell has an uncanny knack for limning the contours of the southern American experience without descending into easy cliché. By no means a "traditional country" record – many of you may quibble with its inclusion here, considering its free borrowing from a range of musical traditions – Isbell has surely made an American record, an album built on the same hard luck stories, same proud rambling characters, same everyday struggles that move the music of his contemporaries in Nashville. Whatever your pleasure, this is it.
10. Machinedrum – "Vapor City"
Travis Stewart revisited the original concept of his Machinedrum project on Vapor City, exploring the relationship between double-time drum'n'bass rhythms and half-time hip-hop beats, infused with a large dose of R&B melody. Bewildering to people who knew him only through his work with Azealia Banks, but inspiring to the rest of us. Featured Track: "Gunshotta"
11. Pusha T - "My Name Is My Name"
Over the past few years Pusha T's G.O.O.D. Music cameos, mixtapes, and Kanye West-indebted minimalist makeover built a small frenzy for a solo record amongst die-hard fans of the Clipse, his duo act with brother No Malice. And he followed through with a sleek, smart, and sinewy collection of rap songs. Push has always benefited from the guiding hand of a genius producer (with the Clipse it was Pharrell and the Neptunes), and on "MNIMN," we get the rap album Kanye could never do himself. "King Push" is the headiest, most confident rap intro of the year; the drums on "Suicide" are supreme; and, the Pusha/Kendrick Lamar tag-team on "Nosetalgia” prove lyricism and charisma can still co-exist.
12. Lorde – "Pure Heroine"
Pop took a new form in Ella Yelich-O’Connor, a.k.a. Lorde, this year. The now-17-year-old New Zealander burst onto the charts, spanning the board of genres from pop to R&B, with her breakout track “Royals,” which decries the unrelatable opulence espoused in the songs of her contemporaries. Her debut full-length "Pure Heroine" follows suit, showcasing Lorde's innate skill for crafting direct and honest lyrics about how it feels to be a normal teenager while navigating around sparse electronic arrangements inspired by bands such as The xx. The confident Lorde has proven that she has a lot to say — sometimes even outside of her music, as her ever-growing list of beefs might indicate — and we’re definitely excited to hear more from the young star in the years to come. Standout track: “Team”
13. DJ Koze - "Amygdala"
German techno DJ/producer Stefan Kozalla took a gleefully psychedelic approach to his first solo album in nine years, and also revealed a surprising knack for twisted pop hooks. Despite featuring a large cast of collaborators, it holds together perfectly as a cohesive album statement. Featured track: "Nices Wölkchen feat. Apparat"
14. Charles Bradley - "Victim Of Love"
If the soul-stirring sound and voice of Brooklyn-based Charles Bradley doesn't make you feel something inside, you should probably double check to see if you have a pulse. "Victim of Love" is surprisingly just the second studio album by the 65-year old vocalist and former James Brown impersonator. Classic soul in the vein of Brown, Otis Redding and Stax Records is having a bit of a revival time in the mainstream eye, giving artists like Bradley some long overdue time in the spotlight.
15. HAIM - "Days Are Gone"
The Haim sisters get a lot of backlash, mostly from stylish, talented, young women, in the same way that hip men in the early part of the century quickly turned on the White Stripes after they went all MTV on us. It should be noted that HAIM are definitely not a "put together" band unless you count their parents training them up from a young age to be a juggernaut live act, complete with top shelf charm and Este's now famous “bass face." Standout track: "Forever" Also see: <a href="http://youtu.be/OlN9AJkgeYk" target="_blank">David Letterman fall deeply in love with them</a>.
16. Rhye - "Woman"
Los Angeles duo Rhye's "Woman" was both a mystery and a revelation. The album arrived on the scene shrouded in a carefully crafted package that left many wondering who they were — and who was behind that androgynous contralto. Turns out it was Toronto-based singer Mike Milosh as the person behind the soulful curtain (backed by Danish producer Robin Hannibal) and "Woman" was R&B / soul backed by ethereal melodies and stirring production. A hidden gem for 2013, and an album worth listening to again and again.
17. Daniel Romano - "Come Cry with Me"
This new platter of classic country should come packaged with handkerchiefs, for Daniel Romano's olde tyme hurting songs — many of which sound like they could have premiered at the Grand Ole Opry 50 years ago — will have you weeping in your beer and/or pillow. Romano's traditional drawl, sequinned suits and his irony-free performance style has been slowly but surely grabbing the attention of George Jones and Waylon Jennings fans as well as young listeners discovering traditional country for the first time.
18. Boards of Canada – "Tomorrow's Harvest"
2013 may have been a great year for 90s-inspired sounds, but wasn't so great for comeback albums by IDM and downtempo artists of that era. Boards Of Canada, however, managed to find a way of updating their sound without sacrificing what we love about them. Featured track: "Reach for the Dead"
19. Zaki Ibrahim "Every Opposite"
If there ever was a feel-good Canadian soul music story for 2013, Zaki Ibrahim is it. Born in Nanaimo, B.C. and based in Toronto, Ibrahim's eclectic "Every Opposite" earns its worldly soul sound from being recorded in places such as South Africa. A surprise addition to this year's Polaris Music Prize shortlist, Ibrahim's success has been a long time coming.
20. Caitlin Rose – "The Stand-In"
The most out-and-out pleasurable record of the year, relative newcomer Caitlin Rose's "The Stand-In" offers a genre-bending mix of country, pop, and melodic rock that would be at home on a mix with Neko Case, Patsy Cline and Sheryl Crow. An impressively confident vocalist, 25-year-old Rose's punkish poise is irresistible – just try not to be carried away by her energy on barnburner pop anthem "Menagerie" or the tight twanging-rock of "Only A Clown." "There's a little darkness hiding at the corner of your eye," she teases on "Silver Sings" (a song featuring delicious throwback production straight out of Jeff Lynne's late 1980s playbook), but she could well be singing about herself. It's the subtle tinge of melancholy that imbues this record with its timelessness. Even when she's making a joyful noise, there's something there, a creeping shadow. This is, as I say, a vastly pleasurable record – but it ain't mere confection. It's deeply rewarding, thrilling stuff.
21. Disclosure – "Settle"
It was impossible to avoid the sounds of the young Lawrence brothers in 2013, and their debut full-length album easily lived up to the hype generated by their early singles. House music that actually makes as much sense at home as it does in the club. Featured Track: "When A Fire Starts To Burn"
22. Laura Mvula - "Sing to The Moon"
UK singer-songwriter Laura Mvula's album "Sing to The Moon" was perhaps one of the most intriguing R&B/soul projects of the year. With enthralling tracks like "She" and Green Garden," the 26-year old classically trained vocalist and composer masterfully brings together elements of orchestral soul, jazz and gospel — inviting comparisons to artists like Nina Simone — for an exceedingly strong debut album.
23. The History of Apple Pie – "Out of View"
We're living in a time of '90s revisionism with the popularity of acts like the Weeknd and Sleigh Bells being both critical stars and touring machines, and London's The History of Apple Pie are one part <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Records" target="_blank">Sarah Records</a> act and two parts <a href="http://youtu.be/VW15vdcNSSk" target="_blank">The Rentals</a>. If your soul is empty because there hasn't been a new Pains of Being Pure at Heart record in two years, fill it with "Out of View." Standout track: “Mallory”
24. James Blake – "Overgrown"
You could argue that James Blake has moved so far beyond his post-dubstep roots that it would be more appropriate to call him a pop singer than an electronic act, but how many traditional ballads feature this much bowel-vibrating bass?
25. Kacey Musgraves – "Same Trailer, Different Park"
Breakout star Kacey Musgraves has somehow managed to square the circle that has bedeviled so many aspiring country artists these past decades. How do you write intelligent songs built around cutting social critiques and still sell more than like eleven records? Well, this is how: Find the perspective between outsider condescension and insider awareness, find the tone between satire and celebration, find the sound between urban radio pop and rural folk picking… find Kacey Musgraves and her fun, snappy, yet endlessly insightful portraits of a rural America impoverished by its own monotony, boredom, resignation. Like Randy Newman crossed with Lucinda Williams, Musgraves (and her talented co-writer Shane McAnally) finds complexity in the mundane – take the terrific album title, for starters. But what makes her rise to fame all the more astonishing is that she isn't afraid to skewer the sacred cows of her community, or of the notoriously conservative musical genre in which she writes and performs. Improbably, yet rightfully, this has made her into a star. There is some justice in pop music, after all. Song: "Merry Go 'Round"
26. Teenanger - "Singles Don't $ell"
Toronto's Teenanger released their third full-length this year and it's made some long strides in securing them as the country's finest garage-punk act. Without falling into the trap of being a tribute to the decades-old genre, "Singles Don't $ell" has seen their songwriting go beyond what many fans thought they could, and coupled with some of the most interesting production on guitar-based music since Grinderman, Teenanger have stepped up another full plateau. Standout track: "Singles Don't $ell"
27. Majical Cloudz - "Impersonator"
Haunting and heavy, this minimal synthpop record from Montreal duo Majical Cloudz showcases one of the country's most compelling and strongest new vocalists in Devon Welsh. The former Grimes collaborator strips down to the bone here, his intense confessionals about friendship and loss, nightmares and death supported by a warm ambient pulse. Don't be fooled by the title "Impersonator," Welsh and his emo electronica is in a league of its own. Featured Song: "Childhood's End"
28. Miley Cyrus – "Bangerz"
We may have fixated on many of Miley Cyrus’ actions this year – twerking, pot-smoking, pants-neglecting – but the true engine that drove the mania we saw before us was the pop star’s transformative album, "Bangerz." A matured step outside of the safe bubblegum hooks of her past, Cyrus embraced a bombastic new look and sound that actually paid off. Singles “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball” are among some of the year’s best songs with infectious melodies that possess a gift of longevity, a rarity in pop music today. But beyond that, the entire album proves to be an accurate portrait of a child star’s growing pains: it’s rebellious, it’s shameless and it’s everything one should expect from a 20-year-old woman trying to discover who she really is.
29. Arcade Fire — "Reflektor"
Following up their Grammy Award-winning album "The Suburbs," Montreal indie-rockers Arcade Fire upped the ambition with a two-disc opus this year called "Reflektor." Embracing a more celebratory, upbeat sound that crosses over into pop territory -- with some help from LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy — "Reflektor" translates the band's reflective words into something worth dancing to as opposed to toiling over. It's a glittering piece of work that maintains the band’s sincerity while exploring new sounds that are just as big and determined.
30. Earl Sweatshirt - "Doris"
We expected Earl to return from his boarding school sojourn giddy to be free, grateful for the rapturous "Odd Future" fanbase, and spitting venomous raps in the vein of his eponymous pre-fame 2011 mixtape. What we didn't expect was a kid practically sobered-up by the entirety of the experience. "Doris" isn't bratty or particularly vengeful; it's practically repentant and shot through with integrity. The lone piano on "Chum" and sinister bassline melody on "Hive," paired with Earl’s doleful, dense delivery, are two of the best, most brilliant rap moments of 2013. Featured Track: "Hive"(ft. Vince Staples & Casey Veggies)
31. Jessy Lanza – "Pull My Hair Back"
You can hear co-producer Jeremy Greenspan's fingerprints all over Jessy Lanza's stunning debut album, but it's her distinctive touch and haunting vocals that give "Pull My Hair Back" a sensual lushness that Greenspan's work with his own duo, Junior Boys, never achieved. Featured track: "Pull My Hair Back"
32. Shad - Flying Colours
"I never thought on the day I started to write rhymes / That I might climb / And now it’s like I / Just may be Jay-Z in my lifetime." He's been a One to Watch for almost a decade now but Shad still feels on the cusp of mainstream success. Regardless, "Flying Colours" is a tour de force, a true album with layer upon layer of clever wordplay both biographical and fantastical. His seven-minute track "Progress (Part 1: American Pie, Part 2: The Future is Here)" is as biting social commentary as you'll hear anywhere this year, and exhibits a musical sophistication that puts Shad up with the best anywhere in the world. Featured Song: "Stylin" featuring Saukrates
33. Charli XCX - "True Romance"
Responsible for co-writing Swedish duo Icona Pop's breakout hit, "I Love It," British songwriter/pop star Charli XCX released her own full-length this year, crafting the perfect hooks for herself using similar traits from her most successful hit. Brash pop melodies combined with industrial, house and mainstream influences from many eras, Charli’s collage sound is very much the patchwork of a young woman who grew up in the age of the Internet (she's only 21). Still, what stands out most is the star’s writing abilities, which have since earned her opportunities to work with the Princess of Pop herself, Britney Spears. Standout track: "You (Ha Ha Ha)"
34. Chance The Rapper - "Acid Rap"
"Acid Rap," Chance's second mixtape, was the great unifier in a rap landscape that is increasingly stratified based on aesthetic preference. Chance, who hails from Chicago, manages to straddle indie, commercial, and street rap demographics, with this pseudo-whimsical, nostalgia-streaked mixtape that pays homage to rap classics as well as Chicago's vibrant musical traditions. He's a deft, playful, engaging rapper who, as "Pusha Man" shows, can spin tragedy (in this case, Chicago's ongoing street carnage) into earworm-y prose. Featured Track: "Pusha Man (feat. Nate Fox & Lili K)"
35. Ryan Hemsworth – "Guilt Trips"
The much-hyped Canadian producer's debut album successfully brought together his eclectic influences into a cohesive album that nimbly jumps between ambient hip hop, futuristic R&B, and dramatic dance floor flourishes. Featured track: "Against A Wall" ft. Lofty305
36. Ariana Grande — "Yours Truly"
Heavily lauded as the new Mariah Carey, Ariana Grande has some large, diva-sized shoes to fill and her debut album, "Yours Truly," delivers. Matching Carey’s range, octave for octave, Grande’s honeyed vocals soar above a set of equally saccharine ballad-pop piano and R&B-influenced songs. "Yours Truly" successfully pulls Grande out of the shadow of her predecessors and shines the spotlight forward on one of pop's brightest stars. Standout track: "Baby I"
37. Isaiah Rashad - "Hurt Cobain"
This is an impressive, intelligent, introspective compilation mixtape from the newest addition to Kendrick Lamar's TDE crew, the only member from outside of California. A Tennessee native, Isaiah Rashad is a keen-eyed, breathless rapper who prefers a soundtrack of sweaty soul riffs and Erykah Badu samples, leaving all the grit and aggression to his delivery and performance – like a young, Southern-twanging Kanye West, minus the funnies. "S.B.B.B. (Goblins)" is the most uptempo, in-your-face track on here, and Rashad masters the pace without breaking a sweat. This isn't an official release – it's a compilation of previously released material – but it's a well-crafted introduction to the newest weapon in Kendrick's arsenal. Featured Track: "Hurt Cobain"
38. City and Colour - "The Hurry and the Harm"
On his first solo album since the split of Alexisonfire, singer/guitarist Dallas Green kept to the realm of grave acoustic confessionals he's been releasing as City and Colour since 2005, but with a freedom to get out his innermost anxieties without concern for band fall-out. The result is portrait of an artist as an aging man, taking his first steps towards writing things not about himself (the single "Thirst"), all the while preoccupied with his own mortality ("Two Coins," "Death Song"). Melancholic Americana that successfully bridges Green's past and his future. Featured Song: "Two Coins"
39. Tim Hecker - "Virgins"
Breaking out of the niche musical community that embraced his early experiments in drones and minimalism, Tim Hecker reaches new heights with this gorgeous collection of orchestral pieces. The abstract, unconventional structures and glitches of distorted noise are still there, but choreographed alongside organic instruments like woodwinds and harpsichord into a heavenly body of work. Featured Song: "Live Room + Live Room Out"
40. Chvrches — "The Bones Of What You Believe"
Glasgow trio Chvrches, like many on this list, produced one of the year's best debut albums because of their ability to hone in a signature sound right off the bat. Their heavy synth barrage of vibrant electronics sounds perfected like a science, with every loop and programmed beat fitted into its very specific place to set off the perfect sound foundation for singer Lauren Mayberry's sharp, pointed words. A brazen display of modern technology, Chvrches' human touches is what completes their sound, creating an album that's simultaneously futuristic and charismatic. Standout track: “Lies”
41. Quadron - "Avalanche"
Producer Robin Hannibal truly had a great year, as evidenced by his second mention on this list. Danish duo Quadron, comprised of Hannibal and singer Coco O, dropped second album "Avalanche" to an unsuspecting soul-pop world and was an underrated hit. Off the strength of the poppy first single "Hey Love" — which was featured on TV's "Grey's Anatomy" — "Avalanche" takes its cues from soul by way of soft rock, pop and jazz to create one of the stronger efforts of 2013.
42. Young Galaxy - "Ultramarine"
Pretty indie pop is reaching critical mass out there, but Young Galaxy (Montrealers by way of Vancouver) made something special on this fourth record, conjuring pure pleasure from many different moods. "Pretty Boy" is the best kind of 21st century new wave; "New Summer" can take over from the Hip's "Bobcaygeon" as your favourite cottage sunset jam; "Fever" is classic clap-a-long. Basically, "Ultramarine" is the album you wanted "Reflektor" to be. Featured Song: "New Summer"
43. A Tribe Called Red – "Nation II Nation"
Teaming up with Tribal Spirit Music gave Ottawa's A Tribe Called Red greater access to raw powwow music recordings, which allowed them to refine their proudly aboriginal club sound even further than on their critically-acclaimed self-titled debut. Featured Track: "NDN Stakes" (live)
44. War Baby - "Jesus Horse"
Any listener will give this record an obligatory Bleach comparison, and that's fair but with EDM ruling the airwaves as well as the live industry, it's a healthy reminder to re-discover your spastic guitar roots. With frontman Jon Red's House-Of-Guitars-style of absurdist humour in their videos and social media, and a live show that makes them sell out of merchandise nightly, expect big things from this rising act in the next two years. Standout track: "Horseless Headman"
45. Louise Burns -"The Midnight Mass"
It's mildly en vogue to switch lanes from dreamy, guitar pop into a more electronic realm, but Louise Burns' second record did it with more aplomb than her contemporaries. Instead of attempting to become a radio sensation by getting hyper-billboard producers and writers on board (which we’ll call "The Liz Phair Manoeuver") Ms. Burns enlisted The Raveonettes' Sune Rose Wagner to man the controls on a darker record than one might expect from her. Also with the help of indie all-stars Sandra Vu (Dum Dum Girls), Gregg Foreman (Cat Power), Darcy Hancock (Ladyhawk), Brennan Saul (Brasstronaut), and James Younger, Louise Burns is in an indie episode of Hollywood Squares, and she's in Betty White’s seat. Standout track: "Don't Like Sunny Days” Featured song: "Emerald Shatter"
46. Yuck - "Glow And Behold"
Yuck had a mountain to climb with their follow-up to their scorching, self-titled debut and they nailed it by doing something we don't see in music that often anymore: parity. All the songs have different styles to them, instead of just trying to make a sequel to the album that got them so much attention. "Rebirth" might be the most obvious "Loveless" tribute ever made (and that's saying something), "Middle Sea" could be on any Placebo full-length, and "Nothing New" belongs on Ash's 2001 release "Free All Angels." Standout track: "Middle Sea"
47. Brandy Clark – "12 Stories"
Brandy Clark, also writing with Shane McAnally, has made a record that in many ways can be described in the same words of praise as Kacey Musgraves'. But, with an album title that echoes Randy Newman's classic "12 Songs," Clark goes even further into the territory he occupied than does her younger contemporary. Playing the outspoken observer, the half-sensitive and half-arch chronicler of a certain North American way of life, Clark writes songs with an acid pen. Highlights abound, but the opening track "Pray to Jesus" may just be the very best song in this vein that I've heard in years. Balancing the bleakness of contemporary post-middle-class poverty with the futility of asking Jesus to let you win the lotto, Clark dares to suggest that even Christianity is a false panacea. A few songs later she's extolling the virtues of smoking dope to escape the pain of a housewife’s wasted life. Country music has told stories like these before, of course, but it feels like a long time since we've heard them sung with such confidence and wisdom Song: "Pray To Jesus"
48. Blood Orange - "Cupid Deluxe"
Released toward the end of the year, the fact that producer Dev Hynes's second album as Blood Orange is on this year is a testament to his strong brand of gritty, urban soul. As a long-time producer for artists such as Beyonce's little sis Solange Knowles, Florence Welch and the Chemical Brothers, with solo album "Cupid Deluxe" he lets his stylish aesthetic and diverse musical tendencies run wild, weaving in elements of classic R&B, pop and hip-hop to build a project that intrigues as it entrances.
49. The Ballantynes – "Liquor Store Gun Store Pawn Shop Church"
Northern soul was the original rave music. That beat can make any wallflower turn into a stomping, sweaty mess, and the fact that it's under-utilized is one of the great shames of fashionable music. Vancouver's The Ballantynes may be one of the only acts doing a straight-ahead version of this style, but they're not lazy about it. With vintage Hammonds and powerful backups vocals, they are being true to the genre and making even young fans nostalgic for a time they don't remember. Standout track: "No Love"
50. Brendan Canning - "You Gots 2 Chill"
Brendan Canning's not kidding. The second solo record from the Broken Social Scene founder is seriously mellowwwwww. The vibe is more living room than chill-out room, and each moment is carefully placed, fully present, from the opening acoustic guitar instrumental "Post Fahey" through dreamy folk for the Nick Cave and Elliott Smith lovers out there to the melancholy closer "Last Song for the Summer Hideaway." A fine follow-up move after Canning's soundtrack for the Lindsay Lohan flop "Canyons," putting him back on the 2013 "winners" list. Featured Song: "Plugged In"
51. Ashley Monroe – "Like A Rose"
At just nine songs and running a brisk 32 minutes, this tightly-constructed record is like a delirious one-nighter, enveloping you with its passion before running off into the night. Sparingly produced by Nashville veteran Vince Gill, Monroe's songs blend wry, subversive humour ("You Ain't Dolly," "Weed Instead of Roses"), social commentary ("Two Weeks Late," the extraordinary title track co-written with Guy Clark), and rollicking honkytonkers into a marvelously compelling whole. Fans of Monroe's pal (and Pistol Annies bandmate) Miranda Lambert will already know her voice, but newcomers will be dazzled by its gracefulness, and by Monroe's unrestrained confidence. Featuring yet another standout track co-written by Shane McAnally – the man is in many ways the story of popular country music in 2013 – "Like a Rose" is the third (along with "Same Trailer" and "12 Stories") in a trifecta of extraordinary, trailblazing country records by women looking to change the conversation. Amen to that. Song: "Like A Rose"