Phosphorescent - "Song for Zula"
Padded with atmospheric strings and a stuttering light drumbeat, Matthew Houck refigures Johnny Cash in this aching track.
Twin Shadow - "Old Love / New Love"
Twin Shadow keeps killing it for me. This one begins in a dirge then kicks up unexpectedly with a catchy piano riff, percussive stabs and lyrics in alternating states of emotion.
Miley Cyrus - "Wrecking Ball"
I tried to ignore the annoying phenomenon of this year's made-over Miley but this power ballad was undeniable. Well-crafted and performed--a stirring mix of vulnerability and defiance.
Drake - "Hold On We're Going Home"
Drake said he wanted to channel the Michael Jackson / Quincy Jones era on this warm, laid-back, and alluring single (produced by Majid Johnson).
Kanye West - "Black Skinhead" / "Bound 2"
Two diametrical songs from Kanye's record: "Black Skinhead" is barky (literally), ferocious and desperate with its Marilyn Manson-esque dirty industrial processing and beats. Not being able to tell what West is doing is earnestly serious or purposefully absurd (with his lyrics and music videos) might be part of his mystique. I think "Bound 2" is a great, oddball track (it marries Brenda Lee's "Sweet Nothin's" and Ponderosa Twins Plus One's "Bound") that ended up with a mystifying clip (which like Miley's, lended itself well to parody) and was a strong, strikingly abrupt closer to his album.
Du Tonc - "Darkness"
I listened to this a lot this year and never tired of it. Perhaps it's the irresistible dance beat and the coolly detached vocal which builds and builds to a strong climax ("All I need is the road I'm walking").
Disclosure - "White Noise" / "When A Fire Starts to Burn"
Some of the best singles came early this year as is the case with Disclosure & AlunaGeorge's giddy house jam "White Noise."
Blending UK Garage and gospel is nothing new but Disclosure did it so well and so irresistibly in their stomp house hit "When A Fire Starts to Burn."
Robin Thicke featuring Pharrell Williams & T.I. - "Blurred Lines"
It's too bad that because of a barren mainstream pop landscape, radio and overexposure can systematically murder a great song (as it kind of did with my #1) but this meticulous trio of Robin Thicke, Pharrell and T.I. is distinct and searing R&B elation.
Pet Shop Boys - "Love is a Bourgeois Concept"
I wish Stuart Price would make music this good for Madonna. With bits of snarky, knowing pretentiousness, regret and full-on lament all set to grand, kingly Village People disco, the Pet Shop Boys really hit an elegant stride here.
Daft Punk - "Get Lucky"
Intimate and incredible--sounding as if it's being performed to you in your living room, Pharrell's charmingly slightly off-key vocal, Nile Rodgers mesmerizing Chic throwback bass licks, and Daft Punk's computerized and organic pitching created by far the best single of the year.