25. Lady Gaga – Hair/The Edge of Glory
I’m as free as my hair. That’s why I’m growing it out. Because of Gaga. That and my newfound pledge of getting haircuts for free. Still haven’t found a way to do that yet though, so I’ve got to bask in “Hair” for the time being. I don’t mind, it’s bloody fantastic. Gaga has an intuitive connection to pop music that the world hasn’t seen since MJ, I swear. “The Edge of Glory” is equally awesome; a sex-/sax-laden romp. Try and count the hooks in both songs. You can’t. No one can count that high. The essence of pop music.
24. Adele – Someone Like You
Someone eviscerated a part of Adele. She used that energy/pain and burst out with “Someone Like You”, castigating some unlucky chap who’s become a footnote in the best ballad of the year. What followed? Only the entire free world flocking to listen to the ever-personal experience Adele revealed, heartbreaking line by heartbreaking line. As cathartic a break-up song as there can be. Although Adele is extremely talented, this is the best song she will ever sing. By miles.
23. Imiginary Cities – Marry The Sea/Hummingbird
“Marry The Sea” mollifies with its cheery musical disposition (great job Rusty) and Marti Sarbit’s affecting, voluptuous vocals. A simple concept and impeccable delivery. “Hummingbird”, the band’s lead single, is victorious in its attempt to cause pause and ask, ‘where are these sweet sounds coming from?’ They’re coming from Imaginary Cities. Get used to the name.
22. Cage The Elephant – Shake Me Down
Lead singer and Kurt Cobain look-a-like Matthew Shultz looks like a blackguard. He kind of sings like one too. His mid-summer performances wearing nothing but a sundress would suggest his motives are nefarious to at least some degree. “Shake Me Down” is a fabulous pop-rock song, and it particularly soars at 2:23, as Shultz repeats, “even on a cloudy day…I keep my eyes fixed on the sun” as the music buzzes with vitality. He sounds so enthused you begin to think staring at the sun might be a good idea. Let’s give it a shot.
21. Bon Iver – Calgary/Holocene
“Calgary”, a broken, mourning lament of a song, its beauty laying in its ability to connect. “Holocene”, a subdued jaunt down remembrance alley. Justin Vernon continues his mastery over the art of song. Both songs are positively wonderful. The sound of blood on a record. A mended heart that continues to beat is a heart all the same.
20. Rihanna f. Calvin Harris – We Found Love
Her second best song ever — yes ever — after “Umbrella”. Calvin Harris supplies a preposterous pop beat, yet it couldn’t be brought to life by just anyone. Rihanna has this je ne sais quoi; she doesn’t have fantastic vocal dexterity, range, or power, but she pulls her songs off with a winking aplomb that no other pop star in her arena can touch. This song is so big I’m pretty sure it’s reached the outer limits of the Milky Way by now. Its course henceforth is unknown. It could never be pinned down.
19. Future Islands – The Great Fire
The Great Fire came to a man in the most fortuitous of circumstances. Running from a gigantic predator, the man tripped on the ground and tumbled into a cave. Darkness ruled the night, except for a light near the end of the cave. The man was intrigued. He walked closer to the light and noticed it was moving. It was bright, it was hot, and it had no fixed form. He was mesmerized by the treasure before him. It had an energy, a force, a story. It was The Great Fire. Feeling like the luckiest being on earth, he had delusions of grandeur and took The Great Fire from its home. Little did he know the huge creature he’d just escaped from had been been watching as he took the element. When he exited the cave, the creature pounced, took hold of the man, and demanded the fire. The man refused, but was physically overmatched. He was dragooned by the dragon to give up the fire. With no other option before him, he relented. The dragon was mystified once it possessed the fire. Its eyes glimmered, its insides lit up. It cackled as it dropped the man onto the ground. The man watched as the dragon flew away, breathing the newfound element through its nose, illuminating the night sky with a streaking, red-orange hue. The man had a taste of power and vowed on his life to get it back. The Great Fire.
18. The Black Keys – Lonely Boy
Simple raconteurs, The Black Keys are. Poseurs, they are not. Provacateurs, maybe. Catchy alt-rock is what they do best. “Lonely Boy” happens to be the coup de gras of this formula, and the best song they’ve yet written. This song is a monster, and not one of those cheesy monsters you’ll see making up the GOP. I’m talking a Godzilla-, Mothra-type motherfunker. The chorus is so grating on the psyche it’s considered a halucenogen in 13 states (North Carolina’s on the fence–as usual). P.S. Black Keys + Derrick Tuggle = visual gold.
17. Grouplove – Colours
Gamboling without a care in the world, Grouplove see colours as variant perceptions of light and sound. Black, black, green and brown, brown, brown, brown and blue, yellow violets red. Sounds like we’ve got the spectrum there lady and gents. Fun incarnate. (Also, props must go to an American band spelling ‘colours’ the British way.)
16. The Airborne Toxic Event – The Graveyard Near The House/Half of Something Else
What pop instincts TATE have. They are a tour de force of pop mastery. “The Graveyard Near The House” has an inscription on its heart that doesn’t kill it and somehow emboldens it. It’s a warm, melodic, emollient love song. A fragile beauty. Mikel says it best, “it’s better to love, whether you win or lose or die…it’s better to love and I will love you ’til I die”. “Half of Something Else” is the aforementioned song’s kindred soul. Another crushing love song, featuring straightforward lyrics and a cascading musical track. The idea of being but ‘half of something else’ is one of the most compelling ways to put the idea of commitment I’ve ever heard. Breathtakingly august.
15. Lady Gaga – Bloody Mary
Madonna’s “Just Like a Prayer” + Taco’s “Puttin’ On The Ritz” + robots + humans + sex + bassline + choral (occultish) chanting + dancing (with hands) + a sprinkle of Jesus = “Bloody Mary”. My favourite song on Gaga’s indefatigable monster, Born This Way, and plainly, one of the best songs in her increasingly spectacular cache of pop masterstrokes.
14. Britney Spears – Trip to Your Heart
Impugn if you must, but I think this may very well be the best song Brit has ever been a part of. Femme Fatale is her best album, and it’s filled with some standout electro-pop smashes, but frankly, this song leaves them all in the dust — it pretty well leaves every song she’s ever done there. This tune is a one-off coast on a cloud to the epicentre of euphoria’s (electro) beating heart. Reminiscent of Nalin & Kane’s “Beachball” and classic early aughts DJ Sammy, but still different, and…better. Contains wave after wave of cascading, careening synths and hooks.
It’s by far the best headphone song she’s ever done. The most sensual. The classiest (I know, not normally an adjective used to describe anything related to Ms. Spears [except when she eats Cheetos] — but it’s true). The dreamiest (“Unusual You” is a close second). Titillating yet low-key, with her most understated vocal turn. That beat. What a fantasy. The production is impeccable; it’s an engineer’s wet dream. The capstone song in Brit’s repertoire. Absurd yet delicious that it wasn’t a single. A treasure.
13. Foo Fighters – Walk
Inconfutably, “Walk” is one of the Foo’s most energetic efforts, a song to stand proudly along “Best of You”, “My Hero”, “The Pretender”, and “Everlong”. Dave Grohl, ever the rabble-rouser, lets buck have filthy, unprotected sex with wild on this track. How he continues to scream with such unadulterated chutzpah is a revelation to me and voice specialists everywhere. A wall of sound (welcome back Pat Smear). A frothing intensity. A hellacious journey. Grohl’s on his knees, praying that he never dies. I think we’ve long since known that’ll never happen Dave. Carry on as your were.
12. Incubus – If Not Now, When?
I dig “If Not Now, When?” so much because of one reason: Bredan Boyd’s vocal. Sure, the guitar work is simmering in heat, the melody is fantastic, the lyrics are poignant and relevant to the masses, but that voice, my god, that voice. Technically, it’s the best male vocal I’ve heard in eons. Passionately, it’s just as wondrous. Specifically, it’s the way Boyd raises an octave at 2:12 as he reflects that “something’s missing here”. I’m here to correct you on that assertion BB. Nothing’s missing. Absolutely nothing.
11. Young Galaxy – We Have Everything/Peripheral Visionaries
Both songs are unencumbered in their beauty. Young Galaxy have crossed the rubicon. Not a household name, I exhort anyone coming across this list to investigate Young Galaxy’s Shapeshifting LP. It could very well be the best Canadian LP (among many deserving candidates) of the year. I came across this record early in the year and I was instantly flabbergasted. “We Have Everything” and “Peripheral Visionaries” are monolithic wonders, belying their state by moving with the ease and grace of an eagle. Young Galaxy were a solid band before Shapeshifting, but with a bit of a lineup change, they’ve become unrecognizable (in the best way possible). There is no analog for these songs. They inhabit their own space. They are unique. They are leviathans. They are Young Galaxy.