No chorus this year described an artist’s arrival into the pop arena better than “Wrecking Ball”. The reinvention of the artist formerly known as Hannah Montana was one of the most blatant stab-in-the-dark attempts at relevance in recent memory, but when you consider how Disney stars of a similar pedigree have fallen to the wayside over the years, you can admire Cyrus’ smash-and-grab approach. And as tiresome as her schtick could be, this gutsy, Fleetwood Mac-esque ballad offered the twenty-one year old some redemption. The main concern when it comes to ballads in the 2010’s is that they be appropriated and rendered anonymous by the singing competition circuit, so kudos to Cyrus for providing a raw, impassioned, twerk-free performance that should by right go down as her greatest achievement to date.
19. Jon Hopkins – Open Eye Signal, Immunity
Jon Hopkins’ astonishing collection of muscled dancefloor odysseys was one of the most acclaimed albums of 2013. Gone are the soft ambient flavours of his early work; the weighty anthems of “Immunity” crack and fizz at an often hypnotic pace, lulling the listener into a state of astral projection. Standout track “Open Eye Signal” repurposes the dancefloor as a battlefield. Razor-sharp synths gurgle and race over a 4/4 beat, with occasional detours to the cosmos, and – at its finest moments – Heaven itself.
18. Sasha Keable – Careless Over You, Black Book Mixtape
With production from All About She – who, between their dark electro-banger “Bullet” and Top 20 hit “Higher (Free)”, have been demonstrating their range for some time now – this magnetic mid-tempo chimes along as Keable’s vocal flits from smoky to breathless. The production is dense but never overpowers – ceasing almost entirely in time for an interpolation of Rudimental’s melodramatic hit “Waiting All Night”. It’s an inclusion that could have gone either way, but Keable manages to convey all of the heartbreak without any of the histrionics.
17. The 1975 – Chocolate, The 1975
In 2012, Madonna included a song called “Masterpiece” on her twelfth studio album. The track is pleasant enough on its own terms, but considering the a) the stature of the artist in question and b) the portentousness of its title, the listener expects – nay, deserves – more, and as a result we’ve come to regard this track with disdain. Any track named “Chocolate” runs into a similar problem. How does one commit the many sensory pleasures associated with said food item to an aural experience? Kylie Minogue mapped out a sexy little number based on the stuff, and while we know The 1975 aren’t averse to the subject , their hit single is instead a colourful tribute to the joys of smoking marijuana. Frontman Matthew Healy may have the worst rock star name in recent memory, but his nasally squall is refreshing for its blunt emoting and bold lack of pretension.
16. Little Mix – Move, Salute
When Little Mix returned with their new lead single last September, they didn’t just avoid their sophomore slump, they gave it a swift kick to the baby-maker. “Move” is an almost comically brash stomper in the mould of Girls Aloud – building from a skimpy, hiccupping beat into a full-blown pep-rally. Most essential to the track’s success is how the talented foursome never lose their composure, keeping even their chanting on the right side of militancy.
15. One Direction – Kiss You, Take Me Home
When listening to One Direction’s latest record – which takes pseudo-folky production cues from bands such as Mumford & Sons – it’s tempting to think that the world’s biggest boyband went down the mature route a touch too early. “Kiss You” is the kind of hyper-active power-pop that only they can pull off – an infectious storm of buoyant guitars, clap-along drums, tidal wave hooks, and a “Na-na-na”-led middle-eight section that would border on self-parody were it not for boys’ perpetually game attitudes.
14. Disclosure – White Noise [feat. AlunaGeorge], Settle
Dark synths pop, swirl and percolate in this caustic banger from brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence. A hands-down, modern-day house classic, “White Noise” boasts a ferocious performance from Aluna Francis, breaking free from the more subdued atmospherics of her own acclaimed duo AlunaGeorge.
13. Ciara – Body Party, Ciara
The princess of crunk made quite a comeback last year with “Body Party”, a thoroughly 90’s sex jam filtered through MikeWiLLMadeIt’s creamy production. Co-written by Ciara’s fiancé Future – as well as hinging on a sample from Ghost Town DJ’s R&B classic “My Boo” – the art-imitating-sex-life angle is palpable. It seems the power couple were eager to prove the track’s baby-making credentials; they announced their pregnancy earlier this month.
12. Lorde – Royals, Pure Heroine
Once again proving pop music to be a fabulously unpredictable field, one of 2013’s biggest success stories was that of a precocious, New Zealand-born nymph named Lorde. Her debut single “Royals” was a scathing treatise on modern hip-hop culture. Joel Little’s airy, minimalist production gave the loaded subject matter room to breathe, politely subscribing to the “substance over style” mantra that dominates the song’s lyrics. While any chart-topping single that decries the perils of capitalism must stand open to claims of hypocrisy, Lorde comes off as brazenly content in her own station rather than a preachy spoil-sport. With only echoing clicks, thudding drums and small electro-spasms for company, “Royals” is the sound of an awkward talent curating a séance, trying desperately to raise good taste from the dead.
11. Petula Clark – Cut Copy Me, Petula
This gentle lullaby from Petula Clark may have arrived early last year, but it’s fragile beauty has yet to be forgotten. She’s best known for her show-stopping classic “Downtown”, but “Cut Copy Me” is of a different breed entirely. The delicate instrumentation is effortlessly captivating, much like Clark’s still-superb voice – a weathered but hopeful timbre that displays unwavering conviction to the song’s celebration of love at any age.
10. The Knocks – Modern Hearts [feat. St. Lucia], TBA
The question at the centre of this rapturous dancefloor-filler is if there’s “a place for the love in modern hearts”, but we can’t help but feel a more pertinent matter is whether or not there’s a place for heart in modern dance music. With the David Guetta/LOL-pop trend reaching its nadir with the intelligence-insulting “Play Hard” earlier this year, it seemed the days of emotionally charged, passionately sung blasts of euphoria were but a distant memory. Enter The Knocks, who – along with the vocal elasticity of New York-based musician St. Lucia – provided one of the best dance tracks in recent memory. The production relies on proven hallmarks of the genre – the synths are sugar-coated, the beat hits with sledgehammer-subtlety – but mixes things up just enough to stand out from the crowd. With what can only be described as a lovelorn bagpipe suspended in the mix, “Modern Hearts” is as restless and vital as the organ of the title.
9. All About She – Higher (Free), TBA
This effervescent piece of early noughties two-step garage was a welcome surprise last autumn, heralding the arrival of a very exciting new act. The song’s success lies in its endearingly innocent nature and feel good spirit. Anyone who complains about the repetitive lyrics whilst in its joyful presence should check their pulse.
8. Annie – Invisible, The A&R EP
Given Norwegian popstar Annie Strand’s unparalleled standing in the field of sharp, glitchy, avant-garde electro-pop, it makes sense that the only person fit to battle her on record is the wispy-voiced songstress herself. “Invisible” crafts a dialogue between two parties embroiled in messy break-up, each stating their case in spoken-word verses over a dark, stubborn beat. Strand’s voice is pitched down for her turn as “Mannie”, adding a slightly sinister bent to a dizzying reiteration of the song’s coda – “It is over.” – during the track’s middle eight. The gimmicky effects may lend her famously thin voice a welcome bit of muscle, but the attitude is all Annie’s.
7. Cyril Hahn – Perfect Form [feat. Shy Girls], TBA
Cyril Hahn made his name through mildly spooky remixes in which the female vocalists were warped beyond recognition – most notably in his reimagining of Destiny Child’s “Say My Name”, where Beyoncé’s stoic timbre is transformed into a deeper, more soulful incarnation. That viral hit was the launch pad for high-profile commissions and an extensive touring schedule throughout 2013, and last June saw the release of his first official single. That Hahn should ditch the middle-(wo)man and work with an actual male vocalist in the form of Dan Vidmar (AKA Shy Girls) came as little surprise, as did the resulting quality of the track. “Perfect Form” is a scarily assured debut, taking the initial promise from Hahn’s early work and creating both a lush listening experience and a catchy, rock solid pop song.
6. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Thrift Shop [feat. Wanz], The Heist
He had us at “What up? I got a big cock!”
Okay, so perhaps it’s a bit more complex than that. It was more so the way Seattle-born rapper Ben “Macklemore” Haggerty immediately checked his swag at start of his own Number One debut single that threw up some read flags. Here was a stylish, eloquent rapper who refused to partake in the usual trappings of hip-hop culture. More than anything, Macklemore’s flow drips with compassion. He and production partner Ryan Lewis would put their name to more credible work throughout 2013 (“Same Love”, “Can’t Hold Us”), but even this ode to vintage shopping feels affectionately instructional. It’s tempting to label any successful pop song that doesn’t immediately deal with either love, sex, or getting plastered to be a “novelty”, but like Lorde’s “Royals”, the track offers a slickly subversive view of our modern consumerist culture, as well as stellar production from Lewis. His svelte blend of looped saxophone samples and thunderous handclaps proved to be one of the most infectious concoctions of the year.