13. Atoms for Peace - Amok
The second album in what I suppose is easiest to just call Thom Yorke’s non-Radiohead body of work is very difficult to pin down. It’s all based on rhythm and groove, but the music is so chilly and cerebral that it negates its own funkiness. And yet you have songs where Yorke is putting his spin on Afrobeat, or taking the essence of late ’90s/early ’00s Timbaland and filtering it through his distinct brand of ambient self-loathing and melancholy. It’s hard to know what to do with this music — you can’t quite dance to its subtle sputtering beats, and its passive-aggressive spirit is at odds with its sexy vibes — but it has a way of slowly worming itself into your mind, just like Yorke’s The Eraser and Radiohead’s similarly chilly The King of Limbs. —Matthew Perpetua
12. Kurt Vile, “Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze”
Kurt Vile’s all about an understated vocal paired with a lush guitar line, and this song is no exception. His quiet, easy singing highlights the full-bodied, strummy melodies that give “Wakin on a Pretty Day” its charm. But his voice never gets lost or otherwise overwhelmed by the music — instead, they complement one another beautifully, as usual. As we head into spring, this is going to be great for headphone walks around the neighborhood. KV’s next album, Wakin on a Pretty Daze, is out in April, as well. —Amy Rose Spiegel
11. Kelly Clarkson Vs. Clive Davis, Round 2
It’s a story that’s earned a place in the music industry beef hall of fame: Clive Davis ushered Kelly Clarkson into post-American Idol superstardom after she won the show in 2002, and all was (reportedly) well until she was prepping her third album, at which point the two had major differences over the creative approach to the record and parted ways. It’s bubbled under the surface over the last handful of years, but Davis released a memoir earlier this month that reignited the he said/she said battle. Clarkson posted a public letter eloquently addressing claims Davis made in the book about the success of her third album, My December, and “what he left out” in his recollection; Davis defended his writings, saying he had independently confirmed the events with five different people. We may never know what actually happened, but one thing’s for sure: Clarkson remains a class act. —Erica Futterman
10. Phoenix, “Entertainment”
“Entertainment,” the first song from Phoenix’s first new album since hitting the big time with “1901” in 2009, manages to be exactly what you’d want from a Phoenix song, but also something of a curveball. It’s crisp and meticulously crafted, and has that “I am living out an awesome scene from a stylish movie” vibe, but it’s vaguely cold and melancholy. This makes sense, though, as Thomas Mars seems to be singing about being a passive witness to his own stardom. It’s approaching the idea of being a rock star and an entertainer from a bit of distance, so no wonder it feels simultaneously exhilarating and glassy-eyed. —M.P.
9. That Photo of Adele and Chris Brown
One of the most viral photos from the Grammys this year was of Adele seemingly yelling at Chris Brown after he refused to stand up to applaud Frank Ocean at the ceremony. Adele has since explained that she wasn’t yelling at Chris Brown, and that it’s actually a picture of them congratulating each other. But either way, the photo blew up because it so perfectly encapsulated what everyone wants to do to Brown, which is yell some damn sense into him. —Ryan Broderick
King Tuff knows how to plain-long write a solid psych song, and “Sun Medallion” is no exception. It’s all gritty sunshine as told by a few easy-on-the-ears guitar lines. The lyrics are similarly casual and great — they tell a story full of luck and chance, but also just recount the general hanging-around that life can be sometimes. “Sun Medallion” was originally released as a cut from one of King Tuff’s earliest recordings, the vinyl-only Was Dead, but the song will be properly released in April (and not just on vinyl this time, either). —A.R.S.
7. James Blake, “Retrograde”
Dubstep producer James Blake spent a lot of his debut album sounding a bit timid, as though he knew how amazing his music became when he added his voice, but he wasn’t sure just how much singing he should be doing. This song, the first single from his second album, has him firmly committing to being a singer, and it’s fantastic. His vocal style is essentially modern R&B, but his tonality and tics reveal traces of indie and goth — there are points in “Retrograde” where he sounds like a strange but wonderful mishmash of Robert Smith and D’Angelo. —M.P.
6. Drake, “Started at the Bottom”
The first single from Drake’s upcoming third album, Nothing Was the Same, revisits common themes from his back catalog — working hard to establish himself as a credible rapper, having a conflicted attitude about success, being wary of “fake friends” — but it all sounds fresh in the context of a moody track by Mike Zombie that pairs a sad, minor key piano melody with a deep pulse when the beats kick in. —M.P.
5. Doldrums - Lesser Evil
Airick Woodhead, the mastermind of Doldrums, makes electronic pop songs that seem to burst at the seams with buzzes, hums, and super-saturated tones. It’s a deliberately overwhelming sound, and it perfectly captures the feeling of being overstimulated and overcome with dozens of contradictory emotions. But even when the music is most chaotic, as in barrage of laser-gun tones crisscrossing the single “She Is the Wave,” there’s always a sense of serenity at the center of the music. —M.P.
4. Autre Ne Veut, “Play by Play”
Bring on the ‘80s cheese and fog machines — Autre Ne Veut doesn’t want to be your guilty R&B pleasure, your secret date on the down-low. He doesn’t know what guilt sounds like. He’s Drake in drag karaoking in a literal Passion Pit. He’s the lovelorn nerd in consignment sequin weeping after every romantic movie. “Play by Play” will make Prince sound like a frigid, withholding stoic. He makes you uncomfortable, aware of how we’re all sweating, secreting bags of raw need. You can’t help but adore him for singing it. —Kevin Tang
3. Beyoncé at the Super Bowl
The Super Bowl halftime show is a tough gig, but Beyoncé rose to the occasion with one of the most thrilling spectacles in the history of the event, on par with past performances by Michael Jackson and Prince. The show was basically the purest essence of Beyoncé-ness: intense, bombastic, fierce, and utterly meticulous in its attention to detail. Good luck to whoever gets this job next year; this is a very tough act to follow. —M.P.
2. “Harlem Shake” Meme
The “Harlem Shake” meme deserves some credit as being the dance craze that went from outright hilarious to sorta unbearable in the shortest span of time. But for better or worse, it took the internet by storm, Baaur’s song hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 thanks to a new rule allowing viral videos to be counted for the chart, and there is now a “Harlem Shake” for every occasion. —R.B.
1. My Bloody Valentine - MBV
My Bloody Valentine kicked off February with the surprise release of MBV, their first collection of new songs since their highly influential masterpiece Loveless came out in 1991. Many fans, nearly all of whom had resigned themselves to never hearing from My Bloody Valentine ever again, prepared to be very disappointed. But as it turns out, all of that trepidation was unnecessary. MBV is a worthy successor to Loveless and a masterpiece in its own right. The album is sequenced like a journey, starting off right around where band mastermind Kevin Shields left off in the early ’90s, and ending with his most far-out experiments. The album is divided into three acts: an opening sequence that offers a more raw version of Loveless’ overwhelming haze of guitar, a middle section that swaps out the guitar fuzz for glowing synth tones, and a disorienting final third in which Shields uses busy beats for both texture and tempo. It’s a dense, beautiful, and wonderfully inscrutable record, and absolutely worth the wait. —M.P.
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