16. David Bowie, “Where Are We Now?”
There’s never been a worse time in history to keep a secret. Yet there we all were on the morning of Jan. 8, David Bowie’s 66th birthday, listening to…a new David Bowie song. From a new David Bowie album, The Next Day, due in March. There had been no rumors, no leaks, no rumors of leaks; after years of Garboesque invisibility, during which his health may or may not have been dire, this would maybe be the Bowie-related development we’d have expected least. And there it was. Melancholy as fuck, “Where Are We Now?” is a piano-driven ballad about wandering through Berlin, site of perhaps his most creatively fertile period in the late ’70s, and maybe not doing a whole lot to dissuade from the notion that Bowie has had reason to grow rueful and reflective in his golden years. Given the fractious state of pop, it’s hard to recall a moment when a song was greeted with such universal joy and gratitude. Is it a canon-worthy return to form? A point of entry for the uninitiated? Have we been listening to it on repeat ever since? Does it have to matter? —Steve Kandell
Three years after their last album and two years after an uncomfortably public lineup change, Paramore blasted back this month with “Now.” It’s got elements of bands like No Doubt and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs — especially in Hayley Williams’ cutting vocals — and the driving spunk and anthemic heart that’s at the core of Paramore’s best tunes (“Misery Business,” “Brick by Boring Brick”). Paramore aren’t shying away from what’s happened, and their brutal honesty (“But were we indestructible, I thought that we could brave it all / I never thought that what would take me out was hiding down below”) works in the band’s favor — as does the earworm of a chorus they’ve crafted. —Erica Futterman
14. Ke$ha, “C’mon”
Ke$ha once again proves to the world that she is the personification of the phrase “life of the party.” How could anyone ever feel anything but stoked when watching a music video that includes everything from oddly altered mascot costumes to country pigtail Lolita vibes to a van shaped like a cat? Long may she reign as the demented patron saint of staying out way too late. —Amy Rose Spiegel
13. Kendrick Lamar, “Backseat Freestyle”
The video for Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle” is like a gift to everyone who has pored over his phenomenal debut album, good kid, m.A.A.d city. The footage shot in Lamar’s hometown of Compton, California, is full of Easter eggs for close listeners, from a clip of Lamar’s ranting father, who is prominently featured in the album’s skits, to a look at Sherane, the record’s booty-clapping muse. The footage shot in Paris is a nod to the song’s over-the-top chorus — “I pray my dick get big as the Eiffel Tower so I can fuck the world for 72 hours” — but thankfully there’s no actual planet-fucking in the video. —Matthew Perpetua
12. Yo La Tengo, “Fade”
The long-running Hoboken, New Jersey, band’s 13th studio album is the most serene and relaxed record of their career, with singers Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley reflecting on the passage of time, mortality, and the dynamics of long-term relationships over hypnotic beats, warm tones, and delicate guitar parts. —M.P.
11. Icona Pop’s “I Love It” on “Girls”
I’m pretty sure Lena Dunham made the perfect music video for Icona Pop’s “I Love It” in the third episode of the second season of Girls. Her character, Hannah, owns the fuck out of a dance floor as she lip-synchs along with the bonkers Swedish dance track while coked out of her mind. What could more perfectly express the song’s fuck-it-all joyousness than bouncing boobs in a yellow mesh tank top, rampant recreational drug use, and unkempt, sweaty hair being whipped around on a dance floor? —A.R.S.
10. “The Winner’s History of Rock and Roll”
History is written by the winners everywhere but in rock journalism, where critics have long favored a historical narrative focused mainly on cool but commercially unsuccessful artists. Steven Hyden’s new series of essays on Grantland counters this trend by examining the stories of enormously popular rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Kiss, and Bon Jovi, who were all loathed by critics but have a much bigger place in pop culture than, say, Sonic Youth or The Velvet Underground. Hyden’s writing is insightful and evenhanded, and sharp in the way it challenges conventional wisdom based on long-outdated critical biases. —M.P.
The Lonely Island have effectively ended the reign of “YOLO” with this SNL digital short featuring Adam Levine and Kendrick Lamar. Their literal interpretation of “you only live once” flips the adventurous, “carpe diem” spirit of the slogan into a mantra of extreme caution verging on paranoid survivalism. It’s funny enough to hear Levine urge listeners to remove their teeth to avoid biting their tongue, and even better to see Lamar rap about mortgages while dressed up as an old man. —M.P.
8. Anamanaguchi, “Meow”
Anamanaguchi is excellent at making vibrant, awesome dance music, albeit by the nerdiest means possible. As with everything the band releases, “Meow,” the first single off their forthcoming album Endless Fantasy, was created with video game software from decades past. Despite its 8-bit origins, the track projects an ecstatic energy that makes it a guaranteed party starter. It sounds like your favorite arcade game got together with your favorite Andrew W.K. song, fell in love, and had weird robot kittens who went on to form a band. —A.R.S.
7. Justin Timberlake featuring Jay-Z, “Suit and Tie”
Justin Timberlake took 15 forevers to come back to music, but it was worth the wait. “Suit and Tie” is slick, luxurious pop, with Timbaland updating chill, loungy grooves while JT and Jay-Z sound like they’re daydreaming about Esquire photo spreads. This is the best song ever about men getting dressed up, so get ready to hear this at every formal dance and wedding reception for the rest of your life. —M.P.
6. La Big Vic, “Cold War”
Trying to explain the sound of La Big Vic’s second album, Cold War, is like attempting to describe the plot and feeling of a vivid, surreal dream: “So, we’re in a really nice lounge, and it’s the future, but all the technology is actually old, and we’re hearing something that’s kinda like Mariah Carey and TLC and Liz Phair and Nico and Roxy Music and Everything But the Girl all at once, but not really…” It’s almost impossible to pin down, but very easy to appreciate. The melodies are gorgeous, the atmosphere is rich, and the whole record has a wonderful air of cosmopolitan cool and sophistication. —M.P.
5. Foxygen, “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic”
The members of Foxygen are barely into their twenties, but they’ve internalized the sounds of the ’60s to such an extent that their dizzying mishmash of early Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Motown, and The Kinks comes out sounding incredibly natural and nuanced rather than forced and stuffy. They’re in love with the past, but the album is firmly rooted in the present day, both in terms of its lyrical concerns (“There’s no need to be an asshole / you’re not in Brooklyn anymore”) and its sound, which benefits from producer Richard Swift’s crisp aesthetics. The record is a pleasure from top to bottom, and it’s bound to be in heavy rotation at every hipster bar through the end of 2013. —M.P.
4. Jessica Lange sings “Name Game” on “American Horror Story”
American Horror Story has had amazing music all season, but it wasn’t until Jessica Lange performed the ’60s novelty hit “Name Game” that it was clear that creator Ryan Murphy was willing to push the absurdity of his show to the limit. The scene is gleefully crazy and totally unnerving, and the kind of risky “sure, why not?” moment that’s become far too uncommon on TV these days. —Ryan Broderick
3. The Knife, “Full of Fire”
The Knife’s first proper single since 2006 is a gothic electro odyssey that gradually amps up it tension level until it’s almost unbearable. It’s all sustained paranoia and suspense, like lingering the scariest, most thrilling moment of a horror movie for about 10 minutes. The video, directed by Marit Östberg, highlights the feeling of dread by setting the music to some mundane moments that somehow become terrifying in context, like you’re just waiting for something horrible to happen. —M.P.
2. Tegan and Sara, “Heartthrob”
Tegan and Sara have long been great at capturing the naked angst of young love, but as the twins settle into their thirties (they’re now 32), there’s a new urgency, and catchiness (thanks, Mike Elizondo!), to their music. I spent much of January in Los Angeles, and so I spent much of January driving, and Heartthrob became my soundtrack as I cruised up Sunset on my way to work. That meant a lot of head-bopping and dancing in the driver’s seat. But one of my favorite tracks on the album is the uptempo ballad “I Was a Fool,” which opens with a dramatic-bordering-on-cheesy piano solo, builds to an ’80s-style bridge, and features the refrain “I was a fool for love.” In other words, I can’t wait to incorporate it into my karaoke repertoire. —Doree Shafrir
1. A$AP Rocky, “Long.Live.A$AP”
A$AP Rocky is a talented rapper with a highly expressive voice, but the brilliance of his debut album mostly comes down to his excellent taste in production and guest stars. Long.Live.A$AP sounds like the result of an extravagant musical shopping spree, with the Harlem rapper taking advantage of his budget to work with the most stylish producers — Clams Casino, Hit-Boy, Danger Mouse, Skrillex — and the most gifted rappers in his peer group, like Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Danny Brown, Drake, Joey Bada$$, and Action Bronson. A$AP’s taste goes beyond just knowing what’s hot this season. The best tracks are musically ambitious and fashion-forward in terms of production choices in hip-hop. “LVL,” a stoned track by Clams Casino, takes the abstracted CD-skipping sound of Swedish minimal techno producer The Field and finesses it into a rap track without sacrificing its ambient quality, while the title track puts a melancholy spin on The RZA’s menacing, cinematic style. —M.P.