It's been as wide-open a race for our favorite songs of the year as any 12-month period we can remember; without one specific artist or movement really putting their imprint on the year, just about anyone could've claimed for the top spot. Hence, our list of the 101 Best Songs of 2014 includes just about everything; our top 20 alone contains a pair of former child actresses, a band three decades deep into their career, an icon who's been dead for five years, and an artist that doesn't technically exist by some definitions. Regardless of the improbability of some of the performers involved, though, the songs themselves were as strong as ever — songs that made us go up, turn down, and swing from the chandel-li-iiiiiieeer. Close your eyes, and let's start counting. 101. Nico & Vinz, "Am I Wrong" //www.youtube.com/embed/bg1sT4ILG0w"I ain't tryna do what everybody else doing," cross-cultural duo Nico & Vinz (born Kahouly Nicolay Sereba and Vincent Dery) declare on the inquisitive "Am I Wrong," a radio-ready Afro-pop banger with an irresistibly sincere spin. It's a melting pot of genres: hip-hop, R&B, reggae, and dance, accented with sharp horns, tribal drum beats, and vigorous step-dance-inspired hand claps. As promised, the guys aren't retreading well-worn territory: They might hail from Oslo, but Sereba and Dery — who are also of respective Ivorian and Ghanaian descent — saturate their soulful single with a south-of-the-equator edge. RACHEL BRODSKY 100. CFCF, "Windswept" //www.youtube.com/embed/lID3o9W4-BoOne of the most accurately titled songs of the year, arriving via zephyr, blowing through five gorgeous minutes of hushed vocals, lightly shuffling drums, and briefly flaring synths. The 50 or so people who were really excited this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Bark Psychosis' post-rock standard-bearer Hex probably think this track should be way higher. ANDREW UNTERBERGER 99. Slipknot, "Skeptic" //www.youtube.com/embed/muSqlefHGVQTurn-of-the-century metal avengers Slipknot would be nobody's guess to make one of the year's most affecting love songs, but the death of bassist Paul Gray inspires the band to surprisingly maudlin heights on the scream-along chorus: "The world will never see another crazy motherfucker like you / The world will never know another man as amazing as you." Thankfully, the song is far too pulverizing to ever be considered their "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," but it's a rare unmasked moment for the enduring septet. A.U. 98. Vince Staples, "Hands Up" //www.youtube.com/embed/UF7P2PlWdeAShortly after this song's release, 21-year-old Cali rapper Vince Staples took to Twitter to spell it out in no uncertain terms: "'Hands Up' is not about Ferguson." Still, the MC would have to admit that the timing was eerie — just a month after the Michael Brown shooting and subsequent riots engulfed Missouri (and to a lesser extent, the rest of the nation) in civil turmoil, there was Staples with a bullhorn and an air raid siren, rapping over a DJ Mustard-gone-horrorcore beat: "Shoot him first without a warning and they expect respect and non-violence / I refuse the right to remain silent." Even if it wasn't about Ferguson, we kinda needed it to be at the time. A.U. 97. The Black Keys, "Turn Blue" //www.youtube.com/embed/C5a1Cl_JOJM A band who grew formulaic fast without Jack's chainsaw riffage or Meg's cavewoman cymbal splashing, the Black Keys left oily blues behind long before they indentured Danger Mouse for chart hits. But like ZZ Top (one of the last 12-bar chart-toppers), Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney just kind of stopped knowing their next move. Then they laid down this cast-iron bassline. Who knew meat-and-potatoes tour monsters could be so graceful with textures? Your future's in mournful ballads with druggy-elegant "Shaft" strings, boys. DAN WEISS 96. Candy Hearts, "I Miss You" //www.youtube.com/embed/5CIWlHMsF3gNew Jersey pop-punk foursome Candy Hearts ooze childlike infatuation on the bouncy puppy-love single "I Miss You," a wide-eyed ode to such kissy-smoochy activities as penning love notes and (literally) sleeping together. Narrating her affection with punchy three-chord melodies and racing-heart percussion, "not sentimental" lead singer Mariel Loveland is so can't-eat-can't-sleep enamored that she'd totally spend "forever hanging out with you." It's almost enough to make you miss high school. Almost. R.B. 95. Ga-In (??) feat. Bumkey, "Fxxk You" //www.youtube.com/embed/VSAVsstaj4E"Fuck you / Don't want it now" are the least mistakable lines to us Westerners in this singular K-pop hit. The fatalistic video and shards of English lyrics display rape and domestic violence in jarring contrast to the loungy, tropicalia-style beat, while the odd chords and inverted "oooh-oooh" response vocals travel backward. Supposedly about the aftermath of a woman beginning to say "no" to her partner, the visuals of "Fxxk U" spurt blood while the jazzy calm of the music never tips its hand. It's upsettingly fitting. D.W. 94. Travis Scott feat. Young Thug, "Skyfall (Chopped Not Slopped)" "Skyfall" was already plenty head-fucking in its original form as a centerpiece to Travi$ Scott's 2014 mixtape, Days Before Rodeo, with its circular vocals and forebodingly groaning beat that complements the spinning-out lyrics just fine. But Slim K's "Chopped Not Slopped" remix drags it down into a whole new dimension, turning the track from a run-of-the-mill lousy buzz to a hellish descent into oblivion, as Scott wails like he's stuck in the Phantom Zone: "I DON'T WANNA BUYYYYYYY NO MORE! / YO SHIT AIN'T GETTIN' ME HIIIIIIIIIGH NO MORE!" Say no to drugs, kids — the bad ones, anyway. A.U. 93. Ten Walls, "Walking With Elephants" //www.youtube.com/embed/rymUSbYQjw8It leads you in with about a minute's worth of "Unfinished Sympathy"-style weeping strings, and then heeeeeeeere come the elephants, a booming brass procession that serves as the ultimate juggernaut house riff of 2014. There's actually a vocal version of this out there, but it's no wonder that you've never heard it — any singer who dared to step on this track was bound to get crushed in the stampede. A.U. 92. Ariel Pink, "Sexual Athletics" Cocksure creeper strut + floaty ad-jingle pop + carnivalesque swirls that would give Panda Bear a headrush "Sexual Athletics." This is unfiltered Ariel, Pink at his purest. Don't call it perversion. KYLE MCGOVERN 91. Toni Braxton & Babyface, "The D Word" //www.youtube.com/embed/qPyrfVdndP8Toni and 'Face were definitely on some grown-up shit for their excellent collaborative album, Love, Marriage & Divorce, the last phase of which obviously gets the focus on closing track "The D Word." After an album of mostly raw emotion, the song is startling in its evenness, Babyface's voice never raising above a resigned sigh as he moans, "There's so much I want to tell you / But I really need to forget" over the song's warm, sympathetic groove. It's a pretty devastating listen, but hey, we're all adults here. A.U. 90. Perfect Pussy, "Interference Fits" //www.youtube.com/embed/_R4YuekVuNY A distortion-dipped treatise on love, commitment, and tradition ("When did we all decide to give up? / Since when do we say yes to love?") that grafts riot grrrl ferocity onto "Cherry Chapstick"-flavored chords, then lingers for an extended fadeout, leaving you behind to survey the blast radius. K.M. 89. The Chemical Brothers feat. Miguel & Lorde, "This Is Not a Game" //www.youtube.com/embed/_bXP89Q_Vg0 Remind us how well these unlikely collaborators meshed whenever we question the legitimacy of future one-off supergroups. "Game" sounds as close to Kanye West and Jay Z's "H.A.M." as any pop song since has gotten, a brash and howling scorcher of a track that never relents its hard-edged grip, but Miguel's impassioned yelps ("Talking 'bout a revolution!") keep the suspense in check. BRENNAN CARLEY 88. OG Maco, "U Guessed It" //www.youtube.com/embed/kT3OQwyvKmk The guerilla hip-hop hit of the year: just a graceless Fisher-Price piano hook, cheaply booming drums, and a rapper who can't seem to locate the volume knob for his own vocals. It might not sound like much, but the party-crashing élan of "U Guessed It" is absolutely exhilarating — like going nuts in a hotel hallway at 3:36 a.m., as the video ably illustrates — and Maco's delivery is so volatile and unpredictable that he makes Lil B seem like a stuffed shirt by comparison. A.U. 87. Vic Mensa, "Down on My Luck" //www.youtube.com/embed/5jUGAVUwhRU A rapper from Frankie Knuckles' city whose first hit went Top 40 in the U.K., Vic Mensa was born to deep house. But the way his half-sung rhymes pile up and logjam over the burbly beat, you'd never know there's ice cold loneliness at the center of this unrelenting party. "You need to know someone to know no one," he spits in regards to Hollywood, as if the Frank Ocean of "Novocane" had a few more numbing years (and relationships) under his belt. "I know my fate like bullets in a shotgun." Kind of a lot for an artist barely into his twenties. D.W. 86. Drake, "0 to 100 / The Catch Up" //www.youtube.com/embed/I2bBZvSPpOo Wherein Drake inspires speculation as to the release of his fourth full-length ("We already got spring 2015 poppin'"), mints yet another catchphrase ("Real quick… real fuckin' quick"), and targets pretty much everyone else in the game ("I'm only 27 and I'm only getting better / If I haven't passed you yet, watch me catch up now"), doing so with a two-part mini-epic that's already faded on its own myth. K.M. 85. Soft Pink Truth, "Black Metal" //www.youtube.com/embed/cEC2hUHqEg4 The best IDM cover of a subgenre-defining metal song you'll hear in 2014, to be sure. Soft Pink Truth's "Black Metal" takes Venom's critical '82 classic in directions the British thrashers never would have dreamed: a clanging industrial thump that stops and starts with the sneered-not-screamed vocals of singer Bryan Collins, a pogoing double-time breakdown section where the majestic fret-racing solo should be. But like all of parent tribute album Why Do the Heathen Rage?, "Metal" is ultimately more reverential than disdainful. It takes a very different path towards laying its soul down to the gods' rock'n'roll, but gets there with similarly incendiary verve and wicked glee. Shredding guitars or skittering beats, Satan doesn't discriminate. A.U. 84. Sun Kil Moon, "Carissa" //www.youtube.com/embed/GBNdOTu2Wn0 Say what you will about Mark Kozelek the Internet-baiting crank, but no amount of ornery dick-swinging will rob this plainspoken eulogy of its poetry. An acoustic play-by-play of the days following the sudden, tragic death of Kozelek's 35-year-old second cousin, "Carissa" devastates and demands reverence in the same wounded breath. It's the only song released this year that deserves a dress code. K.M. 83. Claptone, "Control" //www.youtube.com/embed/OisNn_sKPhw One of the best Lou Reed tributes to come in the past year was this free download from German house producer Claptone, who wove the instantly recognizable (and oft-sampled) bass hook from Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" into a "Loaded"-esque spoken-word anthem about recapturing the (non-chemical) ecstasy of dance music. Finding the dance-floor rapture in that played-out three-note bass pattern gives the sample a life it hasn't had for decades, and the song's principal thesis is so pure and inarguable ("Maybe we need to stop... and let the music take control") that even the Queen Bitch himself would have to grumble in approval. A.U. 82. Eric Paslay, "Friday Night" //www.youtube.com/embed/BhQbhDjtreI Calling "Friday Night" the country "Call Me Maybe" is probably overstating the case a little, but not too much. The song packs the same kind of giddy, getting-ready-for-life rush, and the clipped strings of the intro and post-chorus will absolutely give you those "Hey, I just met you..." acid flashbacks to the summer of 2012. Paslay had actually already farmed this song out to Lady Antebellum for their 2011 Own the Night album, but he was right to reclaim it here; hell, the Lady A version doesn't even have handclaps. A.U. 81. Sharon Van Etten, "Your Love Is Killing Me" //www.youtube.com/embed/nyuPWHwZru0 As violent, cinematic, and sweeping as David Fincher's latest cold-blooded domestic drama, but here the destructive power dynamic is used to break hearts, not fuck minds. K.M. 80. Usher, "Good Kisser" //www.youtube.com/embed/1lQtoRFaLsA Robin Thicke should take note: Usher Raymond has a Teflon quality to rival Reagan himself, as he's managed to make real-life cheating ("Confessions Pt. 2") and threesomes ("Lil Freak") sound appealing to his core audience. And now with the help of a nicely rounded bass'n'drum-fill hook he gives us… the classiest blowjob song ever? At least he didn't name his album Chilli. D.W. 79. Speedy Ortiz, "American Horror" //www.youtube.com/embed/vzcfBqAIj5g Flannel-minded '90s nostalgists Speedy Ortiz pile on the distortion in "American Horror," an alt-rock-verging-on-metal jam that wouldn't be out of place on a greasy-haired Gen X-er's "Fuck and Run" playlist (between Pavement and Dinosaur Jr., of course). As introspective as it is "eh, whatever," the opener to the Real Hair EP spotlights frontwoman Sadie Dupuis, who emotes with the tough yet vulnerable presence of Liz Phair, but whose guitar-heavy orchestration is all post-millennial Marnie Stern. R.B. 78. Agalloch, "Celestial Effigy" //www.youtube.com/embed/4v7numMmSeQ The spectral centerpiece to Agalloch's The Serpent & the Sphere LP kicks off with all the shadowy majesty and stately elegance of a mid-'80s Cure or Echo and the Bunnymen epic, before the simmering tension underneath erupts into a blitzing forward-march, with singer John Haughm hissing, "There is a voice deep in the darkest places... CALLING!... HAUNTING ME!!" Not quite the time-old battle between light and dark, but compelling drama nonetheless. A.U. 77. Future feat. André 3000, "Benz Friends" //www.youtube.com/embed/ezZH7NqdRwU If the OutKast reunion left you cold, find solace in this hands-up highlight from Future's sophomore LP, in which André 3000 continues his streak of scene-stealing guest verses and very nearly overpowers the album's other star-stuffed tentpole. #JustBeingHonest. K.M. 76. Kacey Musgraves, "Love Is a Liar" //www.youtube.com/embed/S2fEdlumuKQ Buried in the middle of a countrified Nicholas Sparks movie soundtrack, "Love is a Liar" rolls along pretty enthrallingly, with Musgraves singing, "If love wore pants / They'd always be on fire" in her trademark resigned huff. It's all very Diary of a Mad Musgraves, but better for it — best of all when it goes for blood ("You take another pill / Just to kill another hour, ha"). B.C. 75. Sophie, "Hard" //www.youtube.com/embed/V8fwWZD159k To peg the boy named Sophie to any kind of established sound-set, you have to reach back to Aphex Twin at his most playful. Excellent though the jazzy Syro may be, it's a few tit jokes short of Richard D. James Album, which nearly 20 years ago was the last place we heard anything like the titanium silly putty of "Hard." The QT silent partner's Aphex update has the benefit of the last ten years of advancements in hip-hop and electronic production: post-Kanye chipmunking, vacuumed-up trap synths and J-pop's Dadaist sugar rush. But you get the sense that describing the end result is missing the point somehow. As with any PC Music affiliate, the guessing is the game. D.W. 74. Young Thug, "Danny Glover" //www.youtube.com/embed/gPbzMMorE_E "Stoner my lifestyle" is just the tip of the iceberg, though the rapper born Jeffrey Williams isn't nearly as lazy as his primordial drawl and limited hobbies might suggest. His choked-Wayne whine, cracked melodic sense, and triplet-rigged flow all come together on his best salvo since "Picacho." The bad role model of the year likes his women virgins, his cups dirty, and his product stirred till he needs new wrists. Danny Glover may be too old for this shit but the rest of us are just getting started. D.W. 73. Ty Dolla $ign feat. B.o.B., "Paranoid" //www.youtube.com/embed/cC2ZgCEaLWs If not the best DJ Mustard beat of 2014, then certainly the most definitive: Just a three-note "Show Me Love"-esque, ringing synth hook, a snapping-and-spitting drum line, and a whole lot of "HEY!"s on the downbeat. Ty proves the ultimate match for Mustard's productions, self-harmonizing like a punchdrunk Freddie Mercury on the indulgently overwrought chorus, and offering hilarious stream-of-scumbag-consciousness proclamations on the verse ("Both of my bitches drive Range Rovers / None of my bitches can stay over"). Even the super-off-brand B.o.B. verse can't help but be a little lovable in context. A.U. 72. Kiesza, "Hideaway" //www.youtube.com/embed/ESXgJ9-H-2U Chances are, you saw the "Hideaway" video before you'd even heard of Kiesza, a smartly-coiffed Canadian singer with the heart and soul of a '90s house diva. The visuals lend emotional heft to her acidic debut single, a relentless production buoyed by the singer's stronger-than-they-need-to-be vocals. With each repeat listen, she seduces you further into her freewheeling, throwback mindset, until you're right there with her, side-stepping down the streets of Williamsburg. B.C. 71. Nicki Minaj, "Lookin Ass" //www.youtube.com/embed/2mwNbTL3pOs For someone who waited till the last minute to (hopefully) drop an album, Nicki Minaj sure kept people talking this year, and one reason was this surprisingly dead-eyed Molotov cocktail for all the guys she can't stand — "I don't want sex / Give a fuck about your ex / I don't even want a text from y'all niggas / I'm raping you niggas." And Peter Rosenberg goes quiet. D.W. 70. Todd Terje feat. Bryan Ferry, "Johnny and Mary" //www.youtube.com/embed/ibuSxgL83dE Norway's preeminent purveyor of nü-disco slows the mirror ball's spin for this Robert Palmer cover, which grounds and stands apart from an otherwise gleefully jittery debut album. In casting Roxy Music mastermind Bryan Ferry as lead vocalist, Todd Terje produces a dusky epic, an opera fit for the Reagan era but timeless all the same. K.M. 69. Rick Ross feat. Big Sean & Kanye West, "Sanctified" //www.youtube.com/embed/yFXxqXCohBk A big-budget huddle where three major stars suss out the importance of paper-chasin', champagne-sippin', and achieving good ol' fashioned redemption, arranged by DJ Mustard and co-producer / featured player / han-ker-chay-eff enthusiast Kanye West. The real heavy, though, is 60-year-old soul singer Betty Wright, who recorded the track's golden-hued gospel hook as a last-minute favor. If only every other by-the-numbers blockbuster could be so blessed. K.M. 68. Protomartyr, "Maidenhead" //www.youtube.com/embed/FK44hviu5qo If there was such a genre as cold-weather surf-rock, Protomartyr might've invented it with Under Color of Official Right opener "Maidenhead," its rollicking guitar, crashing drums, and gently rolling bass chilled by the cavernous production, and frontman Joe Casey's portentous vocals, howling, "Don't feel nothing for anyone / Don't feel no love for anything." Like the best Walkmen jams, it's both rousing and roundly sobering. A.U. 67. Falls, "Please" The Sydney folk-pop duo harmonize to the heavens on this passionate heartbreaker, written in the wake of the couple's real-life romantic breakup. "Please" is a brutally honest cry to be noticed, made whole with quiet acoustic-guitar plucking and the persistent plinking of the same piano key, over and over. B.C. 66. Maddie & Tae, "Girl in a Country Song" //www.youtube.com/embed/_MOavH-Eivw Things the best hit country songs usually are: catchy, relatable, clever, anthemic. Things the best hit country songs just about never are: sarcastic, self-referential, anti-establishment, shit-starting. Maddie & Tae have their cherry pie and eat it too in "Girl in a Country Song," one of the smartest and most fun singles of any genre this year. "Girl" rightfully protests the generally crappy treatment of women in the pervasive bro-country of the day, even calling out hits by Thomas Rhett, Chris Young, and Tyler Farr by name, while packing a chorus so instantly memorable that radio stations had to play it, even as it badmouthed the rest of their playlist. It'd probably be a disaster, but we're praying for an answer song anyway. A.U. 65. Lone, "2 Is 8" //www.youtube.com/embed/7XbHhpDo_OM The far-too-brief "2 is 8" has such a good, genre-spanning beat that it almost seems to beg for someone to lay a verse or two over it. But that would ruin the song's sublime build and relaxed vibe, spruced up every minute or so by a delightful "Yay!" from a chorus of unseen children. Lone knew exactly what he was doing when he created this breezy soundscape, confidently bridging the gap between Boards of Canada and Clams Casino. JAMES GREBEY 64. Jessie Ware, "Tough Love" //www.youtube.com/embed/XLaOxbd37jc Though her gloomily gorgeous debut album Devotion mined some emotional depths, the title track on Jessie Ware's second effort goes for broke. It's difficult not to empathize with the narrative the Brit offers: "When your heart becomes a million different pieces / That's when you won't be able to recognize this feeling." The BenZel production shrouds Ware in an added layer of emotionally dense fog, leaving you grasping for more. B.C. 63. Jason Derulo feat. Snoop Dogg, "Wiggle" //www.youtube.com/embed/hiP14ED28CA For all his will.i.am-isms ("Go ahead, go ham sandwich") and his goofy reputation, Derulo's managed to carve out his own space in a year crowded with horny butt songs. "Wiggle" sounds like nothing else this year, with its whistle and folk-guitar intro making like Robert Plant about to a extol a hobbit, grinding to a halt for the sudden "You know what to do with that big fat butt!" and changing to an unforgettable riff tootled on a recorder, just like the one you had in fourth grade. A subtle reference to the maturity level on display (Snoop: "Damn baby, you've got a bright future behind you")? Nah, there's no subtlety in the best song comparing asses to interplanetary masses since "She Wants to Move." D.W. 62. Ty Segall, "The Singer" //www.youtube.com/embed/Quou6o05g5A The crown jewel of Ty Segall's most recent studio opus, and by far the best Suede song Brett Anderson never wrote. K.M. 61. Homeboy Sandman, "Problems" //www.youtube.com/embed/prBsyiMki2k Over a crumpling lo-fi pitter-patter that sounds like he's pressed up against a rainy windowsill, the ultra-prolific, always-good Angel Del Villar II ponders his existence: how much sex he's supposed to have in between visits to the clinic, exactly how much he likes independent movies, who to call, what to eat, who to lo-ove. In this meditative "Umi Says" mode, it's not hard to imagine his options increasing exponentially. Someone hook him up with Ariana Grande stat. D.W. 60. YG feat. Drake, "Who Do You Love?" //www.youtube.com/embed/VN4upVaDFFs Maybe Drake is inspired simply by landing an appearance on one of the year's strongest hip-hop LPs; or maybe he's enlivened by DJ Mustard's svelte-but-still-somehow-fat production, feeding off of the piano plinks and murky synths. Either way, Aubrey turns in his best-rapped verse of the year on the YG-fronted "Who Do You Love?," overshadowing the song's star by delivering a flashier, honed-in ream of rhymes ("We turnt up in the studio late night / That's why the songs that you hear are comin' real tight"). Nicking lines from Rappin' 4-Tay's 1994 hit "Playaz Club" cost him $100,000, but Drizzy's Bank of America account got way more than six figures, anyhow. K.M. 59. Oliver, "Light Years Away" //www.youtube.com/embed/Djgwyy821SI Like Daft Punk's Tron: Legacy soundtrack stuck in a pinball machine, Oliver's electro-house scorcher "Light Years Away" is all bells, whistles, flashing lights, high scores, and precarious tilts. From the first synth-bass throb, "Light Years" buzzes along with a motor unlike any other dance song in 2014, zooming at you from all directions, building unbearable amounts of tension while revving up to the mid-song drop, and releasing it all in one liberating "LIGHT YEARS AWAY!" shout. You'll gladly spend all day plugging in quarters to this one. A.U. 58. Beyoncé, "Partition" //www.youtube.com/embed/pZ12_E5R3qc May we never pronounce the word "liquor" without a popping –icka suffix ever again, just the way Queen Bey does on "Yonce," the "Partition" intro. Though the latter had a handful of producers, the biggest thumbprint is Timbaland's, whose thumps and bumps keep the track smooth and unforgettable. Bey coos and teases more about her behind-closed-doors life than she ever has before: "I don't need you seeing Yonce on her knees," she purrs in a rush of syllables. Revealing stuff. B.C. 57. Lil B, "No Black Person Is Ugly" //www.youtube.com/embed/83p69JhDnwU Brandon McCartney's innocence is why people love him, but there's a nasty side to his fanbase — the kind who interrupts his NYU lecture to smirkingly shout, "Thank you Based God!" — which echoes that of the late Wesley Willis. Whether B knew it or not whilst recording song No. 5,612 between Nos. 5,611 and 5,613, "No Black Person Is Ugly" is an unambiguous rejoinder that cannot be ironized: "Sunshine, sunshine / Looking for the sunshine / No black person is ugly / Don't say it one time," over a vintage liquid-beauty beat that rivals "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" and "It Was a Good Day." He may never again make something this focused, or have a whole album at the ready. But now even his meanest fans know what he has in him. D.W. 56. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, "Kelly" //www.youtube.com/embed/_c8fkmzd8vY Sprightly synths and a "This Charming Man"-esque bassline tower over this precious Days of Abandon cut. Replacing former vocalist Peggy Wang on the high-voiced hooks, A Sunny Day in Glasgow's Jen Goma guest-sings a story about the titular intriguing-yet-directionless damsel ("And there's a thousand lives you'd like to try / But never do"), while main man Kip Berman twee-ishly strums Rough Trade melodies and harmonizes in the back. That's the Pains of Being Pure at Heart: sugar-sweet, concerned, and forever your friend. R.B. 55. Wussy, "Teenage Wasteland" //www.youtube.com/embed/ek0GFoQTw8s Title references aside, no band besides the Who is supposed to write songs that build this well. An aching guitar tremolo leading into a twinkling piano hook, with loping bass and gently supportive drums, hushed backing vocals and light strings, and even a preview of the devastating chord change in the chorus to come, all before you get to the opening lyrics. And dear lord, those first two lines: "Do you remember the moment you finally did something about it / When the kick of the drum lined up with the beat of your heart?" If you're not weeping by the time you get to the chorus — and it's every bit as heart-burstingly exultant as you'd hope it would be, by the way — you need some more guitar-rock earnestness in your life, friend. A.U. 54. Grimes feat. Blood Diamonds, "Go" //www.youtube.com/embed/vIi57zhDl78 "Go" might lie in the Top 40 graveyard of Songs Rihanna Rejected, but you know what they say: One chanteuse's cubic zirconia is another's pop gem. Penned by Grimes (née Claire Boucher) and her Canadian cohort Blood Diamonds, the resuscitated "Go" also delivers a slicker, more mainstream left-turn for the experimental-minded 26-year-old. The single allows Boucher to grow up — where her earlier concoctions have a hair-dyed, college-freshman look, this spectral collab is sexier, more adult, and dreamily mysterious. We'll go wherever Grimes leads. R.B. 53. Ought, "Habit" //www.youtube.com/embed/gZ9Gkg_tado In this highpoint from their More Than Any Other Day debut album, Montreal's Ought unfurl a six-minute ode to making art and expressing oneself, in the process channeling Television, nodding to the Talking Heads, and nestling into a Velvet-y coda. Best of all is frontman/lead speak-singer Tim Beeler, sounding possessed as he howls the fear of every thin-skinned record geek: "Do you feel it like I feel it? / Cause I need to know I'm not alone." K.M. 52. Robyn & Röyksopp, "Do It Again" //www.youtube.com/embed/btBSxtKzF6Q Though singer and producers have paired up in the past ("None of Dem" and "The Girl and the Robot"), their collaborative mini-album from this spring yielded this rubbery, frenzied return to fighting form. It's equal parts build-up and subsequent synth explosions, all while layers of Robyns bring roaring feelings into the mix. If only the EP were ten times longer and had seven more of these. B.C. 51. Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea, "Problem" //www.youtube.com/embed/iS1g8G_njx8 The brassiest horn blast on a diva smash since Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love." This one contorts and bleats, shrinks and grows in volume, between Big Sean's perfect whispered hook and the stars' turns: Grande as a syllabic daredevil who, contrary to popular belief, never quite reaches Mariah's tea-kettle extremes, and Azalea's sass-mouthed overflow. "Problem" gave all three recent upstarts a little less to prove. D.W. 50. Purling Hiss, "Six Ways to Sunday" //www.youtube.com/embed/SP4g-LOMGGg Mike Polizze's solo-project-turned-band closes their latest album, Weirdon, with an eight-minute, guitar-obsessed epic that moodily ruminates with minor-key melodies and deadpan delivery. Layering downcast distortion and lo-fi vocals that borrow influence from early-'00s Brian Jonestown Massacre, mid-'90s J Mascis, and Crazy Horse-era Neil Young, Polizze practically portrays a broken-down Beatle on the song's refrain. Ooh, he needs your love, babe — six ways to Sunday. A.U. 49. Behemoth, "O Father O Satan O Sun!" //www.youtube.com/embed/DM-N4d8NLLo By Behemoth standards, this probably ranks as a power ballad, but oh, what power. The seven-minute, shapeshifting closer to their unambigiously titled The Satanist has stretches of black-metal jack-hammering, tied together with Neil Peart-like drum fills and some surprisingly melodic guitar soloing, before it gives it up for the big guy: "Satan, Thou Eye, Thou Lust!... O my Father, O Satan, O SUN!" There's a whole lot of very nice music out there that's going to sound pathetically mortal after listening to this. A.U. 48. The War on Drugs, "Suffering" //www.youtube.com/embed/o8R5frsqBDA Not like there are a whole lot of War on Drugs jams out there themed around happiness and gratification, but even for WoD, "Suffering" is a particularly stark low on Lost in the Dream. A molasses-slow closing-time ballad to follow the album's arena-ready one-two opening punch of "Under the Pressure" and "Red Eyes," the song is soul-crushing, not just for its dragging tempo and bleak lyrics ("I'll be frozen in time but you'll be here, suffering"), but for its tenor of unbegrudging acceptance — there's no despair in "Suffering," just reality, in a way that's deeply depressing but also strangely comforting. It's impossibly lonely, but the loveliest, most dignified kind of loneliness. A.U. 47. Miranda Lambert, "Platinum" //www.youtube.com/embed/rbIfI-8iYuA The title track from the country queen's latest album, "Platinum" drips with sass and blustery shade. It's at turns both a self-empowerment anthem ("What doesn't kill you only makes you blonder") and a resigned rebuttal ("Don't you know I blazed a trail / But hell / You can come with me"). The song covers a lot of lyrical ground without ever turning preachy or silly, and her phrasing is captivating — can she teach us how to pronounce "ir-re-fu-ta-bly" with that twang? B.C. 46. ScHoolboy Q, "Man of the Year" //www.youtube.com/embed/rEMsjeq43_U Would the bleakest Black Hippy rapper have struck number-one gold without some commercial sweetening? Maybe sooner or later, but not in 2014. So we can thank the "Man of the Year" for setting aside his dark, multipartite demons to pen a Sellout Hook that people actually like — simple enough to repeat ad infinitum, with plenty of room for a menacing orchestral overlay to crawl beneath. Bounce! D.W. 45. Hamilton Leithauser, "Alexandra" //www.youtube.com/embed/eTvcAm_BxQg Hamilton Leithauser sounds like he's waited a long time to sound this happy. The exuberant "Alexandra," co-written by Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij, feels plenty light compared to his wise-owl days in the perpetually pained Walkmen. Now that he's solo and totally mingling, Leithauser gleefully hand-claps, foot-stomps, and jangles through this Black Hours single, which opens with the same "beat-punch-beat-punch" percussion from Iggy Pop classic "Lust for Life." OK, so he's still a little insecure ("Will you whitewash / Your memory / When I call you / From a crazy sleep?"), but hey, even the cockiest singer-songwriters have down days. R.B. 44. Mark McGuire, "The Instinct" //www.youtube.com/embed/KGxosUuBg0A The most impressive thing about Mark McGuire's 12-minute, not-as-ambient-as-you-think behemoth is the way it constantly fools you into believing it's settled into its stride, only to ascend to another level of gorgeously layered intensity. For a good three minutes, it seems like it's going to be little more than a Tangerine Dream-y cloud of circular guitar interplay, but it keeps building, until the beat — yes, there is a beat — kicks in around the seven-minute marker. By the time there are more strains of guitars assaulting your brain than you can possibly isolate, you might be a little sore that you weren't given a proper heads-up — but you'll be too busy floating in the musical aurora borealis to care too much. A.U. 43. Sun Kil Moon, "War on Drugs: Suck My Cock" //www.youtube.com/embed/VjDwit8ryEA Forty-seven-year-old Mark Kozelek says otherwise, but 2014 was his "biggest" year as a musician. His reviews were always good, but never this good. He was in the news more than ever, for better or worse. And even though he's stopped commenting on it, "War on Drugs: Suck My Cock" suggests that he had fun being notorious for a spell. For one thing, it was refreshing to see someone go overboard openly dissing a band that he just didn't like; even juicier was the fact that said someone was an artist as acclaimed as Kozelek, and just as "white" as the group he was targeting. Then there's the matter of the derided "hillbillies," a class that probably (by the singer-songwriter's own definition) includes at least some of the people eulogized on Sun Kil Moon's Benji. Come to think of it, they'd probably "rock out to some beer-commercial lead guitar," too. Over seven unprecedented minutes Kozelek sinks to (and below) everyone's level for the lulz, trolling us all with his own lead guitar, which is as pretty here as it was on anything else he did in 2014. There's a little Kanye in all of us. D.W. 42. Bleachers, "I Wanna Get Better" //www.youtube.com/embed/o5osPtE7kXI Things might not be going great for Jack Antonoff on his Bleachers breakout, but his new outfit powers through the depths with determined optimism and an irresistibly energetic keyboard stutter. The former sideman's Fun. side eventually comes out during the anthemic chorus, a soaring chant to self-empowerment and a desire to, well, you know. Even if you can't relate to the sentiment — unlikely — it shouldn't stop you from skip-shouting along. J.G. 41. Cymbals Eat Guitars, "Warning" //www.youtube.com/embed/-nFHXNN_dzk The core-shaking quarter-life crisis surrounding Cymbals Eat Guitars' LOSE reaches an early peak on the album's emotional monsoon of a lead single, with a stadium-sized riff that could take down a couple of trees and power lines all on its own. And just when you think the storm might've let up after the final self-flagellating chorus ("I am some kind of handful / Empty as a dream Grand Central"), the band hits you with one more guitar downpour, in case they hadn't felt it in the back rows yet. Don't say you weren't warned. A.U. 40. DeJ Loaf, "Try Me"//www.youtube.com/embed/j1T_NGBlr0Q DeJ Loaf crash-landed in late 2014 as if arriving back from a long trip to another planet, where all the cool kids don Coogi bathrobes on live TV and name themselves after abbreviated versions of dress shoes. It wasn't just her personality that was out of this world, though — sonically, DeJ was without earthly peer this year, spitting in casually bloody braggadocio ("Give lil bro the choppa for all you actors / Leave a bitch nigga head in pasta") with a playground-rhyme cadence, like the Boss Bitch of Patty-Cake, all over a dreamy, distant echo of a beat that owes as much to Grimes as it does to Mike WiLL. Future may have already planted the flag as the First Astronaut of Hip-Hop, but call DeJ Loaf the Sally Ride of this shit. A.U. 39. Porter Robinson, "Sad Machine" //www.youtube.com/embed/HAIDqt2aUek A half-decade of increasingly intersecting house music and bedroom pop — from Passion Pit to M83, even to Coldplay — feels like it was leading up to "Sad Machine," the clarion-call advance single from Porter Robinson's digital dreamscape LP, Worlds. The album doesn't always get there, but "Machine" hits you right where you live, a brilliantly coruscating synth chime sounding the alarm for what ends up being a Wall-E-esque lonely robot love song, with tortuously delayed drops that wash man and machine alike in euphoria when they finally land. Whether they realized it or not, a whole lot of people had been waiting for this song. A.U. 38. Sylvan Esso, "Coffee" //www.youtube.com/embed/Qr5AIKRPIHo Slow, syrupy synths and frontwoman Amelia Meath's deliberate vocals blend together in this standout from Sylvan Esso's self-titled debut. "Coffee" invokes a subtle sense of longing with its melancholy lyrics ("Wrap me in your arms / I can't feel it but") and a quiet tension via producer Nick Sanborn's gently dripping beat. Much like the titular beverage, the song is both comforting and jittery — perhaps creating a new genre of pleasantly unsettling café music. J.G. 37. Tokyo Police Club, "Argentina (Parts I, II & III)" //www.youtube.com/embed/4MG6rKuCfyo "I don't want to want you like I want you," David Monks sings, like so many heartbroken twentysomethings before him who didn't have the chutzpah to turn their romantic incompatibility into a nine-minute suite. Three movements give this perennially underrated band time to pine ("I wish you had another sister for me"), reminisce ("We share bottles, we share gum"), and ultimately realize that they're the problem ("I would have been so, so, so, so much nicer"). Monks' reedy voice is taking on an Ezra Koenig-like airborne delicacy, while his guitar has sharpened immensely. But it's that lightheartedness that's going to keep these guys around long enough to stop being underrated: "If I was an asshole / Thank you for keeping a smile on your face." D.W. 36. Beyoncé feat. Nicki Minaj, "Flawless (Remix)" //www.youtube.com/embed/56qgO0C82vY The headline remix of the year — any year, maybe — felt more like a current event than a song, which is probably why there's no real structure to "Flawless" Mark II. It's just the Queen and Her Minajesty flexing at their leisure over the ice-coldest beat from Beyoncé (temporarily warmed up by a brief Aquemini detour), Bey settling all family business with the instantly iconic "billion dollars on an elevator" line, and Nicki increasing Google-search traffic for "Propofol" by ten-thousand percent. It got only moderate radio airplay and missed the Top 40 entirely, but "Flawless (Remix)" towered over pop music in 2014. A.U. 35. The Knocks, "Classic" //www.youtube.com/embed/emOKaGi8u5U "Classic" feels like the song that the Knocks — the New York-based production duo whose name you shouldn't be surprised to hear more often after this one — were destined to make. At turns, it's a breezy beach jam, a late-night disco excursion, and a let's-get-high-and-make-out-in-the-backseat crowd-pleaser that hits all of its marks. It has guitar licks to rival "Get Lucky," and a breathy assist from electro-pop duo Powers (guitarist Mike Del Rio and singer Crista Ru) makes "Classic" worthy of its title. B.C. 34. Various Artists (Rookie Magazine), "Go Forth, Feminist Warriors" //www.youtube.com/embed/wo1osciP_cQ The feminist "We Are the World," and it should have sold twice as much. (If Rookie Mag had bothered to release it for sale, anyway.) The song's all-star cast — Tegan & Sara, Kimya Dawson, MNDR, Aimee Mann, many more — toes two difficult lines at once with "Warriors." First, they get the song's mission statement across without taking it — or themselves — too seriously. Second (and more impressively), they manage to take the piss out of the patently ostentatious charity-song format, while also creating an anthem that gets you singing and clapping along by the time of the climactic key change. You'll never have felt so empowered to order a pizza before, that's for sure. A.U. 33. Ryn Weaver, "OctaHate" //www.youtube.com/embed/hTVZdW8pTEM Too many cooks can spoil the broth, but Ryn Weaver enlisted just the right team for her debut single. Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos, Benny Blanco, and Charli XCX work hand-in-hand on the Cashmere Cat production, a captivating sparker that peppers in some electrifying vocal flourishes ("You shot me down from the live wire!"). Ryn's clearly a talent to watch closely: "OctaHate" feels like the start of something exciting. B.C. 32. The New Pornographers, "Another Drug Deal of the Heart" //www.youtube.com/embed/tg_GR73zErQ The New Pornographers have a stacked roster of all-star singers, but the criminally underrated Kathryn Calder shines on this elliptical Brill Bruisers deep cut, snatching the spotlight (albeit briefly) from comrades Carl Newman, Dan Bejar, and Neko Case. "Are you sure we bought the right thrill here?" Calder asks. We're positive. K.M. 31. DJ Snake & Lil Jon, "Turn Down For What" //www.youtube.com/embed/HMUDVMiITOU The glitchy barrage of noise and Lil Jon's endlessly shouted rhetorical question make this anthem to raucous partying kind of annoying. But that's exactly what's so great about "Turn Down For What." It doesn't care, and neither will you after ANOTHERROUNDOFSHOTS. J.G. 30. The Drums, "I Can't Pretend" //www.youtube.com/embed/UzuobjUuxAQ Many synth-juiced songs earn the tag of "John Hughes rock," but few make open-veined fatalism feel as sexy and appealing as this Encyclopedia standout. Count "I Can't Pretend" as undeniable proof that the Brooklyn duo's darker side is just as rewarding as their sun-baked escapism. K.M. 29. Lana Del Rey, "West Coast" //www.youtube.com/embed/oKxuiw3iMBE After the Cedric Gervais remix of "Summertime Sadness" gave her career long-overdue crossover power, it seemed like a smart bet that Lana Del Rey would continue down the EDM path of least resistance to superstardom. Nope — instead, Lana went back to the cinematic dream-pop of her first LP, halved the tempo to be on the safe side, and came up with "West Coast," the lushest and most narcoleptic Top 40 hit of 2014. Producer Dan Auerbach gets Lana at her gauzy, old Hollywood sweet spot on the single, the star of her own doomed and possibly imaginary romance, half Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass and half Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. It's got nothing to do with MDMA, but it's plenty narcotic just the same. A.U. 28. Drake, "Trophies" //www.youtube.com/embed/vkSFh6HMUtQ When Drake first played a snippet of this horn-heavy banger at his New York "Would You Like A Tour?" stop, the crowd went wild, with people shmoney-dancing all over the place well before Bobby Shmurda was the flavor of the month. "If I was doing this for you, I wouldn't have nothing left to prove," Drake raps, toggling between introspection and the song's delightfully cornball verses: "This a fuck a stripper on a mink rug song!" Aren't they all? B.C. 27. Spoon, "Inside Out" //www.youtube.com/embed/IpT5SBg1Mmk In which one of the most dependably lean bands working today gussies up their routine with rippling harp effects, chilly synths that leave your breath hanging in the air, and touching lyrical pathos ("Time keeps on going when / We got nothing else to give"). As bittersweet as triumphant comebacks can get. K.M. 26. Betty Who, "Runaways" //www.youtube.com/embed/EOWgHcjf7J8 Betty Who's drive down the road to pop success has been slower than what feels deserved — she's turned up on a ton of "Criminally Overlooked" lists over the last two years — but the 23-year-old Aussie is at long last way over the speed limit on the soaring, synth-seared "Runaways." A youth-obsessed tune about "sneaking out late after midnight" and "hijacking your daddy's car," the Take Me When You Go climax inspires everything from fist-pumping to ass-shaking to "Bonnie and Clyde"-ing. Betty's "may-be we're just run-a-ways" rolls in the same lane as Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" — another highly chantable, hair-in-the-wind ode to uncomplicated young love — but with a slightly darker, destination-oriented edge. Betty deepens "Runaways" by admitting she understands the downsides of letting infatuation fuel her escapist decision-making ("You keep me living your deluded game"), but she's still young enough not to care. R.B. 25. Kira Isabella, "Quarterback" //www.youtube.com/embed/tUQ2ltrdkTw Bon voyage, Ms. Swift, we wish you the best on the pop charts. In the meantime, this 20-year-old Canadian unknown put her name on the finest country song of the year. Inspired by the Steubenville tragedy and discarded by Carrie Underwood because of fears it would stoke rumors about Tony Romo, "Quarterback" benefits from Isabella's previous anonymity, which adds crucial commonness to the detail-heavy tale of a "no-name" freshman who's date-raped by the town hero and further humiliated "when she saw those pictures on the Internet." Every phrase is perfectly turned and the right things are left out — the only action from the titular monster that we hear in real-time is when he holds a drink to her lips. Isabella knows the truth and so do we. But we also know that's not the way it works in real life, and she released a second, more realistic cut of the video to reflect that. More people need to hear this song than there are country fans. D.W. 24. Charli XCX, "Boom Clap" //www.youtube.com/embed/AOPMlIIg_38 Charli XCX's excellent use of onomatopoeia gives this intoxicated Sucker cut her most unforgettable chorus yet. There's something undeniably visceral about how brash and straightforward "Boom Clap" is — the thunderous refrain compels you to sing along, and its love-struck lyrics are about as emotional and raw as you'd expect from a song that first premiered on the Fault In Our Stars soundtrack. J.G. 23. Cloud Nothings, "I'm Not Part of Me" //www.youtube.com/embed/74TP8QhupLU A self-help seminar rendered as post-hardcore shout-along, "I'm Not Part of Me" is one of the finest thrashers to spring from the mind and mouth of Cloud Nothings' rock-savant, Dylan Baldi. "I'm not telling you all I'm going through," the 23-year-old swears on the sore-throated album-closer. That may be true: The song's lyrics aren't very specific, but with a recording this raw, they needn't be. K.M. 22. Future feat. Pusha T, Pharrell & Casino, "Move That Dope" //www.youtube.com/embed/ksxbIY-EAzU Mike WiLL Made It might've ceded his Producer of the Moment title to DJ Mustard in 2014, but he was responsible for corralling one of hip-hop's all-time greatest assembly lines on "Move That Dope." Propelled along by its inspired Salt-N-Pepa lift — Pusha must've been kicking himself for not coming up with that one a decade ago — the four rappers do what they do best: Future rambling incoherently in hypnotic triplets, Push winking at his younger kingpin self from across the room, Pharrell offering valuable life advice from a guy already living the best existence possible, and Casino just kinda yelling a lot. It's all held together with that conveyor belt of a chorus, exhilarating in its rote-ness, Mike WiLL turning the warehouse into the ultimate trap spot. A.U. 21. Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne, "Rather Be" //www.youtube.com/embed/m-M1AtrxztU Saxophones are old hat in pop now, so if Clean Bandit's rise to prominence carries with it the rise of strings on the radio, we'll take it. "Rather Be" also introduces the British singer Jess Glynne to American shores, her velveteen voice doing a lot of the heavy-lifting on an otherwise sparse track. It's the highlight of the U.K. collective's debut album New Eyes, and it does well to move disco out of its synthetic doldrums and back to its instrumental roots. B.C. 20. How to Dress Well, "Repeat Pleasure" //www.youtube.com/embed/ZTkGTfsMRYE "Even broken my heart will go on," Tom Krell wails on "Repeat Pleasure," an ominous pop-n-B track that ponders love through the lens of German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who once said, "Too fair to worship, too divine to love." Krell contemporizes this with twitchy, excitable guitar picking and Hallmark-worthy sentiments like, "I say there's no one above you / But now there's a new place above that line / Now that I've known you." As infatuated as "Repeat Pleasure" gets, it never loses sight of a disheartening fact: Love fades. Relationships end. The song's not necessarily nihilistic — as demonstrated by the undying optimism of the Celine Dion-referencing climax — but it is a stark, much-needed shot of reality that most portrayals of modern-day rapture refuse to reference. R.B. 19. Swans, "Screen Shot" The opening salvo off of Swans' two-hour opus To Be Kind is the album's most insidious cut: led by a warbling, menacing bassline that Tool probably swore they wrote three albums ago, matched with a counter-melodic piano hook (relatively speaking), eventually exploding into a full-band frenzy frightening enough to drive lesser men to madness. Above it all, bandleader Michael Gira whispers, then bellows: "LOVE! NOW! BREATHE! NOW!," hypnotizing you to join in the chant. If you can't handle this, good luck with the rest of Kind; but if you can, you might find yourself as part of their drum circle without even remembering how you got there. A.U. 18. Foxygen, "How Can You Really" //www.youtube.com/embed/PqW7EfA3VWE Foxygen have made their career on living in the past, but the pop-leaning "How Can You Really" finally sees the band drifting closer to the AM dial than the FM, with a melody that wouldn't feel out of place on the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack and charmingly laid-back vocals that sound like they may have been mixed in the same studio as Something/Anything? The '70s-Top-40 feel makes the question at the core of the song ("How can you really love someone who can't love you?") seem all the more earnest, stripped of most of ...And Star Power's scattered, sprawling shtick. It's a more satisfying single than we ever would have hoped for from the psych-rock students. J.G. 17. Michael Jackson, "Love Never Felt So Good (Original Version)" //www.youtube.com/embed/fw-iK0Nztv0 Forget the ultra-produced single version and the too-slick-for-its-own-good duet featuring JT. This stripped-bare rendition of MJ's "Love Never Felt So Good" — originally recorded in 1983 and bundled into this year's posthumous Xscape collection — comes more or less unadorned: just handclaps, co-writer Paul Anka on piano, and Jackson's wholly disarming, gut-punching, leave-a-lump-in-your-throat voice. An Off the Wall-worthy treasure (yes, really, and discovered in 2014, no less), this one isn't destined to become a wedding dance-floor classic like its glossier counterparts; instead, save it for last-call at any cocktail lounge, and just wait for the tears to pepper your Old Fashioned. K.M. 16. Katy Perry, "Birthday" //www.youtube.com/embed/jqYxyd1iSNk Katy Perry is pop's resident cheeseball, a badge that would feel worn-out were it not for the singer constantly finding new ways to top her own cupcake-boob, poop-emoji cheesiness. "Birthday" is the ultimate synthesis of what makes Perry great: It's cheekily self-aware (the thousand-times-winking "It's time to bring out the big balloons" bridge), but it also carries on her Teenage Dream legacy of pop smashes that sound as sublime as anything else on the radio. Dr. Luke and Max Martin return for production duty, inflating "Birthday" with ebullient hooks and slinky breakdowns along the way, and Perry's longtime songwriter Bonnie McKee infuses the song with enough celebratory b-day-candle sparks to burn down a Baskin-Robbins. It's a welcome, carefree high in the middle of an album stuffed with Mature Pop Star Moments, and while the song's controversial music video didn't help, Katy's steadfast commitment to carrying the bad joke through to its conclusion makes her all the more lovable. B.C. 15. FKA Twigs, "Two Weeks" //www.youtube.com/embed/3yDP9MKVhZc Songs this sexy shouldn't be this scary, songs this scary shouldn't be this soothing. Honestly, it's hard to know what you're feeling for most of "Two Weeks" — all you know for sure is that no other song has ever made you feel that much like it before. A.U. 14. Kendrick Lamar, "i"//www.youtube.com/embed/8aShfolR6w8 We can complain that it's too lightweight, too obvious of a plea for radio airplay. We can say we want to reserve judgment until we hear Kendrick's next album in full. Or we can simply shut up, enjoy a nourishing, Isley Brothers-indebted single from one of the finest MCs we have right now, and bask in the positivity — then, if we have the time, ponder the decay that must've spawned a mantra-cum-chorus as determined and delirious as "I love myself." Your call. K.M. 13. tUnE-yArDs, "Water Fountain" //www.youtube.com/embed/jbiFcPhccu8 Merrill Garbus' incredible, choreographed stage show would've never been realized if she was still close-miking a ukulele into free recording software. But this is a woman who has continued to make the most of her (small) fortune, revamping her already-heightened syncopation sense in Haiti and using her lyrical podium to highlight injustices between borders. "Water Fountain" is complex even by her standards, sounding like three tUnE-yArDs songs playing at once, but every layer signifies, from its clappy beginnings to the chainsaws and lasers that finish it off. The vignettes described — the blood-soaked dollar, the sidewalk with no side, the burning hell without water — warn against the same colonialism that gives her a beat. It's to the white girl's credit that she uses her single to make things as discomfiting as possible: "Serve me up with your homegrown rice / Anything make me shit nice." D.W. 12. Tinashe feat. ScHoolboy Q, "2 On" //www.youtube.com/embed/-s7TCuCpB5c Tinashe's "2 On" is possibly the sexiest ode to turning 21 that manages to go nowhere near creepiness, a double miracle considering ScHoolboy Q beats the pussy up in the first lines of his verse. But Tinashe's ineffable cool, her sinuous way with a melody that would be blunt in someone else's hands, and most crucially, her tolerance for getting faded with the big boys, keeps everything upright in the most hypnotic jam of the year. In fact, the 21-year-old — who withstood an arc as a love interest on Two and a Half Men and carefully delayed her album for extra simmering — seems pretty capable of taking care of herself. It's the big boys we should be worried about. D.W. 11. Caribou, "Can't Do Without You" //www.youtube.com/embed/BI2Et19vDCM Dan Snaith's latest LP under his Caribou alias — the sumptuous and big-hearted Our Love — blossoms in its very first moments with opening track and lead single "Can't Do Without You," a subwoofer-busting beauty. Flush with color, the electronic tune counters its down-pitched, R&B-inflected refrain with a head-in-the-clouds elation that's just as addictive as any four-on-the-floor rhythm. Song titles don't get any more self-fulfilling than this one. K.M. 10. Jenny Lewis, "She's Not Me" //www.youtube.com/embed/k9hKp2zm6X4 Those polished-to-perfection guitar licks. That incessantly singable chorus. That gorgeous bridge, with its weepy, sneak-attack strings and always-devastating lyric about damaged drywall. That confident strut, the kind an artist can only develop after she's fully come into her own. That solo's soft fade. That endless replay value. K.M. 9. Childbirth, "I Only Fucked You As a Joke" //www.youtube.com/embed/0u4tpZFf5xI Even Christopher Hitchens would've conceded that "I Only Fucked You as a Joke" is hilarious. "Hear" isn't a strong enough verb for this minute-and-45-seconds of proof that "Stairway to Heaven"-caliber classics can be recorded for $100 — as your mother would tell you, you have to experience Childbirth, whose definitive rave-up sounds like the Chastity Belt/Tacocat/Pony Time supergroup was practicing a half-song before singer-guitarist Julie Shapiro received a text from a deleted number that she couldn't help responding to aloud. Second-best line: "Oooh… I hope I'm not pregnant!" Best: "I can't make good decisions every day!" D.W. 8. Sia, "Chandelier" //www.youtube.com/embed/2vjPBrBU-TM Australian hit-making machine Sia swings from the highest heights of her career on "Chandelier," a scraped-knee-raw pop anthem that gets right to the marrow of surviving in the mainstream music industry. Another gem initially meant for Rihanna, Sia's sobering lyrics land so close to home that 2014's true elusive chanteuse straight-up kept it for herself. Good thing, too: Spilling her soul into an organic stew that evaporates steam from Beyoncé's "Pretty Hurts," Ri's "Diamonds," and Britney's "Perfume" (all of which Sia wrote), the 38-year-old's morning-after sentiments on "Chandelier" go down easier than the smoothest vodka. R.B. 7. Beyoncé, "XO" //www.youtube.com/embed/3xUfCUFPL-8 What's left to say about Queen Bey that hasn't already been said? Her entire catalog bows down to her once-in-a-generation, arena-filling voice, but here's what makes "XO" extraordinary: Its message is so much simpler than Bey's stockpile of recent high-powered, politically loaded, glass-ceiling-shattering anthems ("Run the World (Girls)," "Flawless," "Pretty Hurts"). Of course, it's not to say that we don't need Beyoncé's call-to-feminist-arms — it's just that gender equality leaders are still allowed to act earnest and display affection, too. And here, Beyoncé does exactly that: Penned by Ryan Tedder and produced by Hit-Boy, "XO" is a considerably softer, mid-tempo sing-along tailor-made for scoring cool, responsibility-free summer nights. B's profound message doesn't require much close-reading: "I love you like XO," she croons. "Your face is all that I see, I give you everything / Baby, love me lights out." Simple pleasures, guys. R.B. 6. Run the Jewels, "Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)" //www.youtube.com/embed/UvVuEEPM3j0 Run the Jewels joining forces with Zach De La Rocha almost makes too much sense, but then again, RTJ's El-P and Killer Mike don't have the time or patience for subtlety. They're too busy lobbing lyrical grenades every which way, cheering on prison riots and threatening to swallow cyanide pills to avoid prosecution, all while El's bruising, body-checking production wreaks havoc. And even if we didn't consider De La Rocha's iconic CV, the Rage Against the Machine frontman more than earns his keep on this sorta-supergroup-powered salvo from Run the Jewels 2 — he spits the chopped and looped hook, and fires off the phrase "Philip AK Dickin' you" on his casket-slamming guest verse. In short: Fuck the slow-mo. K.M. 5. Parquet Courts, "Instant Disassembly" //www.youtube.com/embed/mKVARXSHZD8 In a year that wasn't necessarily pummeled to the ground by rock bands with future stadium sing-alongs, the most ambitious indie-rock breakup ballad of the last ten years will have to suffice. Over a ramshackle Stones groove, singer Andrew Savage reads something more emotional than his deadpan would seemingly allow: "I can't breathe, I can't breathe / It's hard to inhale" sounds more convincing because the band is gently strumming the same chords Andrew Bird needed for "Scythian Empire." But the more you listen, the more his pain makes itself known: "I kept explaining that I was too tired to continue to speak," "You did your heart no favors / When you taught me to crawl," every stanza comically addressed to a "mamacita" by an ex-Texan who has yet to prove on record that he can roll his R's. By the time he's out of breath, 2014's had a rock anthem after all. D.W. 4. QT, "Hey QT" //www.youtube.com/embed/z6_ikWlJu_0 We may deny our collective fascination with manufactured pop, but by now even its satiric deconstructionists know how to get an unforgettable jingle lodged in your ear. QT claims to not be a pop star but a soft drink; that's a new one, even by the corporate-pop-parody standards set by 2Gether and the live-action Josie and the Pussycats film. But this is where Sophie and A.G. Cook, the big movers behind the so-called PC Music collective, eclipse high-concept hijinx with songcraft: joining Hall and Oates — or if you'd rather, Warren G and Nate Dogg — with a gigantically irresistible pop song that leaves all thinkpiece-worthy subversions offstage. (Literally — Sophie's been known to hide in the crowd during "live" QT performances.) But despite both clever producers' attempts to make QT more brand than person, they humanized "her" enough so she can feel her own qt's warmth, drive around, and even criticize music: "Last weekend I was out at this new place / Dancing with friends but the music was so sad." Hey, corporations are people too. D.W. 3. Nicki Minaj, "Anaconda" //www.youtube.com/embed/LDZX4ooRsWs At this point, "Anaconda" is much more than just a song — it's a cultural movement that furled itself around the national conversation and squeezed. When a low-quality snippet leaked back in late July, a fuzzy Sir Mix-a-Lot sample didn't do much to inspire faith in Minaj's return to the pop well, but oh how "Anaconda" takes pains to shut down what anyone has to say about it. Minaj borrows, but she flips to her narrative advantage; she raps, but she gets all sing-song at times, purring her way through lines like, "Gun in my purse / Bitch I came dressed to kill / Who wanna go first? / I had them pushing daffodils." She talks about her ass, she talks about your dick, and best of all, she sounds like she's having the time of her life. "I wanna see all the big, fat-ass bitches in the motherfucking club / Fuck you if you skinny, bitches / What?" she raps, putting the hit out on the year's other rear-minded songs. B.C. 2. iLoveMakonnen, "Tuesday" //www.youtube.com/embed/avFq9errZCk With his breakthrough single, Makonnen managed the absolutely impossible: He made Tuesday exciting. Tuesday has long been low-key the worst day of the week, lacking the weekend afterglow and built-in conversation topics of a Monday, without even getting you halfway to Friday by day's end. Makonnen could've chosen any day to make the club go up, but being naturally sympathetic to the outsider, and not generally one to go the easy route in the first place, he accepted the degree-of-difficulty of setting his soon-to-be-signature jam on a Tuesday. And now, if you can make it through one day-before-hump-day without joking about something "going up..." Well, you don't work at the SPIN office, anyway. "Tuesday" is a whole lot more than just an inspired oddball catchphrase, though. There's never been a radio hit quite like it before, with the cadence and brio of hip-hop, the musicality and patience of R&B — good R&B, at that — and the strobe-lit sonics and spaciousness of EDM. And there's definitely never been a performer quite like Makonnen, with his angelic falsetto, wicked sense of humor, endearing giddiness, and druggy malevolence. He's the most left-of-center new artist we've seen break out on this scale in some time, but also the most straightaway likable. The Drake cosign was valuable, but Drizzy's guest verse is ultimately unnecessary: Tuesday is Makonnen's day, and he's pulling it out of the cellar single-handedly. A.U. 1. Future Islands, "Seasons (Waiting on You)" //www.youtube.com/embed/-5Ae-LhMIG0 Sometimes the number-one song of the year chooses you, and sometimes you actually choose it yourselves. The story of "Seasons" is the story of Future Islands alone — it has no obvious peer, is part of no larger movement, and speaks to nothing of significance culturally or historically. It is, however, the year's most enjoyable song, and rather obviously and comfortably so: a synth-pop gem with an instantly familiar hook, an anchoring bassline worthy of New Order, and some of the best vocal histrionics since the days of Marc Almond, courtesy of inimitable frontman Samuel L. Herring. The lyrics have a Motown feel to them in their passed-down wisdom, and are as affecting as a classic Smokey Robinson hit. There's nothing you want a pop song to do that "Seasons" doesn't. Would it be our top song of 2014 without the brain-searing Letterman gig, which launched the Baltimore trio to national renown and quickly became inextricable from the song? Hard to say, since the memory of Herring's singularly full-bodied performance — alternately alienating, seductive, and threatening, never less than transfixing — will forever inform our impressions of the song, giving it both a malice and a desperation that it may have lacked as an isolated text. But even without the depth added by the YouTube classic, "Seasons" would stand alone as the most purely satisfying song of 2014, not a second or word wasted, and utterly impossible to get sick of — like Dave, we've taken all of it that Future Islands have got, and we're still good for another listen when you are. A.U.