22. Solange’s Set at the Northside Festival in Brooklyn
Beyoncé may have the fame and the glory, but over the last several years her younger sister Solange has slowly become the “cooler” of the two and emerged as a bona fide style icon in her own right. But did you know she can sing too? Like, not just sing along in a dreamy haze like on her most recent hit, “Losing You,” but actually SING? Girl’s got pipes. Her performance at Brooklyn’s Northside Festival was as idyllic as it gets: gorgeous weather after a long period of never-ending rain and June gloom, and a crowd ready to dance thanks to Solange’s encouragement (“I see a couple people, like you and you and you, that need to be grinding like this. *Solange grinds, crowd cheers* “I want you to griiiind. You know, like we did in middle school dances and the guy would get a huge boner?”) Her impromptu encore was a song by the late legendary Selena, and she brought her 8-year-old son Juelz out on stage to dance with her. It was adorable. So while Beyoncé is a superstar and untouchable, Solange is like your best friend who you one day discover has an amazing voice out of nowhere. “Oh, me? It’s nothing.” She’d never make you feel like it was a big deal, but it’s definitely something. —Aylin Zafar
21. Lightning Dust, “Diamond”
Lightning Dust’s single “Diamond” has a cool, patient sound to it, but you can hear Amber Webber crack a little as she sings it, like she’s just barely holding back a tidal wave of emotion. She blames her feelings on the chemicals in her brain, and she remains stoic when someone apologizes for not being in love with her, but as much as she tries to hold it together and be a rational adult, her sadness and affection bleed through in every note, lending the song a subtle but powerful drama. —Matthew Perpetua
20. Jimmy Eat World, Damage
It’s hard to imagine the Arizona pop-punk band that wrote the 2001 teen anthem “The Middle” existing in 2013 and doing well; Jimmy Eat World is actually pulling it off. If “The Middle” was Jimmy Eat World’s pained adolescence, Damage, the band’s eighth studio album, represents their adulthood. Frontman Jim Adkins says that the record is his attempt at an “adult break-up album,” and offering a mature take on a universal problem. Jimmy Eat World has been putting out consistently top quality music since “The Middle” (and before!), and Damage is no exception — and if it’s an upgraded, self-aware nostalgia you want, look no further. —Maria Sherman
19. DEVolution, “Admire (MistaJam 1Xtra ‘Future Classic’)”
DEVolution is a duo that includes Pete Devereux, who was one half of U.K. 2-step mavens Artful Dodger. There is definitely some of two-step’s playful percussive shuffle in “Admire,” but it’s the thumping kick and deep house-y piano chords that make it so propulsive and fun. —Alex Naidus
18. Candy Claws, Ceres & Calypso in the Deep Time Forever
Candy Claws’ new album, Ceres & Calypso in the Deep Time Forever, feels a little confusing at first, maybe because it seems so strange for a shoegazer album to feel so bright, hopeful, and sorta extroverted. At times the music sounds like My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields producing Os Mutantes or Burt Bacharach — comfortable, now archaic sounds of luxury and pleasure heard at a distance, like walking around some resort so stoned that you feel like you’re barely there. —M.P.
17. Miley Cyrus, “We Can’t Stop”
Take a few giant dancing teddy bears, a French fry skull, bubblegum pink blood (Pepto-Bismol?), and what you get is only a fraction of the carnival of bizarro-awesomeness that is Miley Cyrus’ video for her summer jam “We Can’t Stop.” At one point, her friend eats a money sandwich, then she makes out with a doll in a pool, and later rocks a white mink coat while carrying taxidermied animals. The other 70% of the video is a tribute to twerking, which had led some people to accuse Miley of exploiting aspects of black culture to seem cool. —M.S.
16. King Tuff, Was Dead
The always-rad King Tuff’s phenomenal 2008 record Was Dead was reissued this month and is finally getting its rightful due. You know how people keep saying that there aren’t really any DEFINITIVELY GREAT SUMMER JAMS or whatever so far this year? This King Tuff album refutes that idea by providing you with 13 great stoney-bologna, turnt-and-sunburnt, guitar-centric dreamsongs (and OK, while they’re not NEW-new, they’re probably new to you, and they rule either way). My favorite is the dirty California beauty “Sun Medallion,” but each and every track is similarly good for waking late, throwing on whatever T-shirt’s on your floor, and venturing forth into the newly warm world around you. —Amy Rose Spiegel
15. Deafheaven, Sunbather
Historically, the genre of black metal has never been an accessible one. The songs are long, the screaming is abrasive, and more often than not, there’s no real melody. Some of these elements are at play in Bay Area band Deafheaven’s sophomore release Sunbather, but with one very real exception: They’ve managed to make it sound pretty. Borrowing guitars from shoegaze (My Bloody Valentine, anyone?), Deafheaven have created what could be seen as the first metal album for non-metal fans — hooks and all. Even the album cover is a gorgeous orange-pink, something like a San Francisco sunset. There’s no black and unreadable logo like their metal brethren. Oh, and it’s totally awesome! —M.S.
14. jj, “Fågelsången”
Get ready to roll around in bliss, because jj is back! Maybe you first came to love the sweet-Swede pop group in, like, 2006, when certain parts of the music world were bugging out about European twee, or maybe you’re just about to start adoring them right now, after you hear this song. It’s arctic and percussive and lovely, and it’s not really suited to soundtrack any particular activity — you just have to commit to sitting down and intently listening to it, and you’ll be happy you did. The song careens into so many different places, including heaven, which has “got a place for me and you” in its gorgeous last breath. So whether you are, in fact, a person with an abiding case of Scandimania or, conversely, someone who is all, “Wait, who is this band and what’s with the lowercase?” you’ll find a lot to love here, I think. —A.R.S.
CMT Crossroads finally delivered on the promise of connecting country music’s finest with interesting artists from other genres by bringing in the world’s foremost expert on friends: Willie Nelson. Willie brought Neil Young, among others, to come on and sing the Stills-Young band’s “Long May You Run.” The simple, perfect performance is a testament to the emotional power of acoustic folk music. If this doesn’t fill your heart with a sentimental ache, you might not be human. —Summer Anne Burton
12. Lone, “Airglow Fires”
I don’t think I’ve ever heard something so anthemic also sound so drunk. It stumbles around for a while with a syncopated, kinda jazzy ride cymbal and juuuuust off-the-beat synth stabs until the beat drops and somehow it all comes together and you’re dancing in your chair like a total spaz. —A.N.
11. Hanson, “Already Home”
The sixth track on Hanson’s new album Anthem is one of the best in their entire 21-year career. The first time I heard the song was when I saw the band perform it live for the first time in April, and my friends and I couldn’t stop talking about how spectacular it was, right off the bat. “Already Home” makes you want to drive with the windows down and scream the lyrics at the top of your lungs — it’s wistful, it’s hopeful, and it’s got a chorus full of power chords and typically tight Hanson harmonies. —Erica Futterman
10. J. Cole, Born Sinner
J. Cole’s Born Sinner is basically a Kanye West album from 2006. And just like a Kanye West album from 2006, it’s vibrant, energetic, and exciting. It suffers from a lot of the same problems too. It’s naive, melodramatic, and more than a little silly at times. Cole doesn’t have the personality that Kanye West had when he was in the dregs of his Midwest-conscious rap phase, so Born Sinner can get pretty dull, but aside from that, he manages to put together a warm, lived-in hip-hop album. If you get burnt out on West’s dark and oppressive Yeezus, Born Sinner is a really nice chaser. —Ryan Broderick
9. Nine Inch Nails, “Came Back Haunted”
Trent Reznor put Nine Inch Nails on hold in 2009 to focus on other things — his other band How to Destroy Angels, starting some kind of music service with Beats by Dre, becoming an Academy Award–winning film composer — but he has finally circled back to NIN. If you listen to “Came Back Haunted,” the first single from the forthcoming album Hesitation Marks, it’s clear why he had to come back to NIN — the song is so firmly in the sweet spot of NIN-dom that it wouldn’t make sense anywhere else. It distills everything that makes Nine Inch Nails one of the best and most distinctive bands of the ’90s while pointing in the direction of new sounds and textures. —M.P.
8. M.I.A., “Bring the Noize”
This sounds more like the M.I.A. that first blew our minds years ago; it’s tighter, more focused than her songs on /\/\ /\ Y /\, and more energetic and frenetic than last year’s “Bad Girls.” It’s minimal when it needs to be — the track opens with M.I.A. against a lone solid drumbeat — but explodes at the chorus with dubstep flourishes, echoing background vocals, and thumping bass. The timing feels right for something this big; both M.I.A. and Kanye West are going for the full-on assault to the senses, and Yeezus may be the perfect setup for her fourth album, Matangi, tentatively set for release this fall. —A.Z.
7. Eleanor Friedberger, Personal Record
Eleanor Friedberger is best known as the lead singer of The Fiery Furnaces, but she has firmly established herself as a solo star on her second album, Personal Record. Whereas Furnaces albums tend to be fairly dense and cerebral, Friedberger’s work on her own is plaintive and sentimental. As the title suggests, this is her most intimate and confessional record yet, and most of the songs tell tales of heartbreak and romance with her usual gift for evocative lyrical detail. —M.P.
6. Superchunk, “FOH”
Someone find me a cassette, I NEED to make a mixtape that starts with this song. It will be the kind of tape that inspires cute boys to take off their glasses and make out. Later we’ll listen to it with the windows down and yell all our favorite parts out the window. —S.A.B.
5. Boards of Canada, Tomorrow’s Harvest
Tomorrow’s Harvest is the Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada’s first new album in nearly a decade, and judging by the sound of it, it may have been a fairly grim time for them. The record is incredibly bleak — it often sounds like the soundtrack to a film set after some sort of apocalypse, but perhaps a little more downbeat. Despite the bad vibes, though, there are still several moments of jaw-dropping, tear-jerking beauty. —M.P.
4. Mo’ Meta Blues
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is the best kind of music nerd, and he’s written the best kind of memoir: One that brings you along for the ride rather than observing from a distance. You don’t need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of music to appreciate or understand Mo’ Meta Blues; the Roots drummer is a compassionate and humble guide, and the memories and events he details in his book would be appealing to both the biggest of music fans and casual listeners. There are heartwarming details from his early years: how he started playing the drums at the age of 2, and filled in for the drummer of his father’s doo-wop band when he was just 10. We find out that The Roots was the product of an attempt to impress a girl at a high school talent show, with Questlove and Tariq “Black Thought” Thompson teaming up to perform live for the first time. There’s such joy in reliving these memories along someone who is so passionate about music and the people who make it. Questlove describes priceless encounters with his idol, Prince; and whether he’s stammering nervously upon first meeting him, or recounting how bizarre but wonderful it was to attend his roller skating party, you feel like you’re right there, gleefully, wondrously experiencing it with him. —A.Z.
3. Pharrell’s Summer Pop Domination
Pharrell sings lead on both of this summer’s biggest hits — Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” Which is weird. He’s been, for the most part, out of the mainstream pop music realm for a while now. But if you think about Pharrell’s laid-back, whatever kind of vibe, it makes perfect sense he’d pop back up this summer. Last summer was, maybe, the pinnacle of meme-song domination. “Call Me Maybe,” “Gangnam Style,” and “Someone I Used to Know” were three hugely popular songs that required a massive participatory element from an audience that DROVE them to success, like three internet-based “Macarenas” happening at the same time. Pharrell popping up in dulcet, easygoing hit songs is almost like a counterbalance to that. He’s the aspirin and coffee for our summer-jam hangover. —R.B.
2. Disclosure, Settle
Disclosure’s debut is the best dance album in years, and so packed with joyous, astonishingly great singles that it basically plays like a greatest-hits record. The first five tracks, from the thumping “When a Fire Starts to Burn” on through the chill yet bouncy “Defeated No More,” is utterly flawless, and sets an incredibly high bar for the rest of the record, but seriously, all of this is amazing. Anyone who was disappointed that Daft Punk made a laid-back disco album rather than a set of full-on bangers needs to listen to Settle right away. This is the record you want in your life. —M.P.
1. Kanye West, Yeezus
Yeezus is intentionally un-fun, disquieting, and relentlessly noisy. Kanye’s infamous ego seems to have reached a peak here, and the result is an album that plays an aggressive offense to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s self-loathing defense. Yeezus evokes a visceral anger and resentment toward, well, everything, which has heretofore been simmering under the surface of Kanye’s work. Around the midway point of “Blood on the Leaves,” the album’s best track, you might start to feel your own repressed rage boiling over. —S.A.B.
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