50. Frank Ocean – Pyramids:
We knew there was something special about Frank Ocean – his mixtape ‘Nostalgia, Ultra’ was a fat enough hint – but the epic ‘Pyramids’, taking us from ancient Egypt to a strip club, revealed the real breadth of his vision, taking R&B to cosmic conscious heights. His bruised, yearning performance immediately put him up there with soul’s greats.
49. Royal Blood – Little Monster:
Playing a bass as a lead guitar just because he can (and it neatly sidesteps White Stripes comparisons), Mike Kerr wrings the meatiest riffs and screechiest solos out of his bastardised axe, going head-to-head with Ben Thatcher’s punishing beats, and realising the “lust on his tongue” through the grinding power of rawk alone.
48. Arctic Monkeys – I Wanna Be Yours:
‘AM”s closer is a final shot of romance, almost completely undermined – or strengthened? Depends on your object – by John Cooper Clarke’s absurd, deliberately banal lyric. “I wanna be your vacuum cleaner,” Alex Turner finds himself saying, “Breathing in your dust,” and the whole heady potion comes up tasting pretty sweet.
47. St Vincent – Digital Witness:
The St Vincent song that bears the most obvious debt to Annie Clark and David Byrne’s ‘Love This Giant’ collaboration, ‘Digital Witness’ is a bouncing, parping, funky quirk that’s New York to its brittle bones. “If I can’t show it/You can’t see me/What’s the point in doing anything?” Clark pretends to wonder, lampooning the social media generation.
46. M83 – Midnight City:
It’s testament to the brilliance of the squirty ‘Midnight City’ synth riff that you’re not tired of it yet, no matter how many adverts and TV shows co-opt it to add a bit of hipster-pop cool. For most, it’s undiminished and still brings a shiver every time it bursts out of M83’s more, um, functional verses. Sometimes a hook’s all you need.
45. The Horrors – I Can See Through You:
The Horrors’ 2011 album ‘Skying’ proved – thank the Lord – that ‘Primary Colours’ was no fluke, and on ‘I Can See Through You’ they even built on the previous album’s widescreen motorik power to come up with something that teetered on the line between synth-pop and breathy goth-rock, a majestic kohl-eyed anthem.
44. Foster The People – Pumped Up Kicks:
Everybody loves ‘Pumped Up Kicks” baggy shuffle and circular chorus that goes on and on and on. It was the song that threatened to over-shadow the start of the band’s career but they returned with second album ‘Supermodel’ in 2014.
43. The Vaccines – Post Break-Up Sex:
Yes, exactly what did you expect from The Vaccines? If it was snappy indie romanticism with a pervasive flavour of 1950s rock’n’roll crooners, then you’ve got an odd turn of phrase – but you’re essentially correct.
42. Janelle Monae – Tightrope:
Did anyone have a bet on the reincarnation of James Brown being a sci-fi-obsessed ArchAndroid from Kansas? You should’ve done. The single that brought Janelle Monae to worldwide attention is a skittering, fleet-footed R&B belter that takes trad tools and makes something thrillingly new.
41. Drenge – Bloodsports:
How blessed we are to have Drenge, two brothers – Eoin and Rory Loveless – who understand the value of blisteringly fast blues-punk played by young lads decked out in floral-patterned dresses (sometimes). ‘Bloodsports’ is the apotheosis of the form, two-and-three-quarter minutes of perfectly economic thrash.
40. Iceage – Iceage (Broken Bone):
The school-age punk Danes’ debut EP took a while to filter through over here in Blighty, but once it took root few could resist. ‘Broken Bone’, the EP’s killer track, is a beguiling mix of Adam And The Ants tribalism, surf guitar and snotty vocals from Elias Rønnenfelt that discovers a way to bring skank to Scandinavia. The disparate blend comes out cool.
39. Fat White Family – Touch The Leather:
“They thrive on chaos,” said our own Matt Wilkinson. “They thrive on things going wrong.” Everything feels slightly wrong with Fat White Family, always, but that’s all part of their dubious charm. ‘Touch The Leather’ is an almost convincing skewed pop song, but its rubbery guitar and horror-squeals take it somewhere darker and dingier altogether.
38. Jake Bugg – Lightning Bolt:
Unlike Lorde, Jake Bugg was a teen sensation who knew exactly where he came from, and was fairly determined to return there. ‘Lightning Bolt’ is almost Woody Guthrie-esque, and certainly influence by Bob Dylan, a curled-lipped busy blues-rock pearler that announced an impressive new talent – and one that continues to blossom.
37. Cold Cave – The Great Pan Is Dead:
A pummeling curtain-up for second album ‘Cherish The Light Years’, ‘The Great Pan Is Dead’ is everything Wesley Eisold does so spectacularly and more besides. A raging heap of synth stacks and pounding drums and Eisold’s goth-yelp of a vocal, it moves from new-pop to speeding industrial rock without a degree’s drop in temperature.
36. The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio:
This is how we were introduced to ‘High Violet’, one of the decade’s highwater marks, at least so far. ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ finds Matt Berninger’s baritone maintaining its intense equilibrium as squalls swoop up around it, guitars flickering, piano rolling relentlessly along. It’s impenetrable but soul-deep affecting all at once.
35. Warpaint – Undertow:
LA’s Warpaint were a softer, more approachable proposition on debut album ‘The Fool’ and on ‘Undertow’ they found some kind of middle ground between lo-fi post-punk like Young Marble Giants and The Breeders’ quieter pop reflections. Harmonies drift dreamily around a steady bass judder, gradually giving way to a scratchy, scuzzed-up funk.
34. These New Puritans – We Want War:
Alterna-universe Mercury Prize winners These New Puritans have been bucking any trend you can chuck at them for the best part of a decade now, and ‘We Want War’ – from startling second album ‘Hidden’ – is a paragon of their uncompromising battle-pop, a by-turns raging and brooding tribal assault on your safe, unchallenged senses.
33. Best Coast – Boyfriend:
Leading lights in the 2010s Fleetwood Mac-esque summery pop revival frenzy, Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno made their biggest splash with debut album highlight ‘Boyfriend’, a crashing, chiming, melodically pure fuzz that topped charts absolutely nowhere, and more fool all of us.
32. Jungle – Busy Earnin’:
One of 2014’s most pleasant surprises has been the emergence of London collective Jungle. The blue-eyed soulsters manage to fashion an electronic R&B sound that feels ersatz and authentic all at once, a trad vibe that’s as modern as Google Glass, and probably way more useful. ‘Busy Earnin”s the standout so far, slinky, seductive and jam-packed with da funk.
31. Arcade Fire – Ready To Start:
More suburban melodrama from Montreal’s finest, this time getting into a dark post-punk groove, somewhere between New Order and the chiming shards of Magazine. “The business drink my blood,” Win Butler assures us, “Like the kids in art school said they would,” as the band unfurl one of their bleakest – but most powerful – songs yet.
30. Lorde – Royals:
Barely able to remember the 1990s, New Zealand teen prodigy Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor (if we’re doing full, catchy names) is unshackled by history. ‘Royals’ is unshackled by pretty much anything, sparse and direct as Lorde’s mononym, but still managed to send seismic shudders through charts around the world in 2013.
29. Blur – Under The Westway :
Written to provide a novel treat at Blur’s Hyde Park comeback show, ‘Under The Westway’ came out with another new track ‘The Puritan’ and immediately established itself as a Blur classic. It has the majestic sweep of ‘The Universal’ or ‘To The End’, a big old ballad to get the hardcore swaying, as if nothing had ever changed.
28. David Bowie – Where Are We Now?:
A song that’s resonant enough for the circumstances of its arrival – a Dame-shaped surprise released without warning on the morning of 8 January 2013, 10 years after the last new Bowie material – ‘Where Are We Now?’ fits the bill in its bones too. Bowie lists his own Berlin landmarks, sating the fans, but the pain of this strange elegy is what lingers.
27. Pulp vs Soulwax – After You:
The one new product of Pulp’s 2012 comeback tour, ‘After You’ was a James Murphy production that was dragged even further onto the dancefloor when Soulwax got their mitts on it and turned it into an eight-minute, scratchy electro monster with Jarvis still to the fore but now battling bleeps, glitches and whipcrack beats.
26. Metronomy – The Bay:
Not as jaunty as ‘The Look’, the third single from Metronomy’s ‘The English Riviera’ takes us neither to Paris, London, Berlin or Hong Kong, but rather to the heart of wonky 1980s pop. It’s the band’s burgeoning skill that allows them to combine guitar solos, New Romantic swing and sweet synth-pop with nothing out of place.
25. Crystal Castles – Plague :
The first single from the late, lamented Canadian electro warlocks’ third album ‘(III)’ finds Alice Glass buried deep beneath the synth rubble as Ethan Kath whips up a near rave dynamic, dipping into found sounds and industrial clatter before rising again into something that’s almost pop. Albeit pop from your darkest, loneliest nightmares.
24. LCD Soundsystem – Drunk Girls:
Sometimes LCD Soundsystem just ditched the hipster introspection and epic musings on life slipping by like a greased pig, and concentrated on the important things in life. ‘Drunk Girls’ taps into James Murphy’s other obsession – not the titular females, more the jagged, juddering post-punk, hurtling out of control with spiky riffs and splashy beats.
23. Grinderman – Heathen Child:
In which Nick Cave and pals sucked their guts in once more and stalked out over growling riffs and keening whines to “become the wolfman”. Everything burst out into a rampant, squealing chorus as Grinderman exercised their more dunderheaded blues-rock whims, enjoying the release from the day job.
22. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – AKA What a Life:
Noel without Liam – that’s never going to work, is it? Somehow the old boy pulled it off, and this standout from the Flying Birds’ debut showed he could front a rolling rock chunker with ease. The working title of ‘Ride The Tiger’ seems more apt than the final choice; this bowls along with pacy muscularity. And it’s stripey.
21. Jack White – Sixteen Saltines:
Jack White with the handbrake off – he even manages a “Woo!”. It’s alarming to think, but there are traces of The Hives here in the gleeful, punky rush, but blues rock’s always going to have its derivative elements. ‘Sixteen Saltines’ succeeds in its invention, all organ parps, cock-rocking solos and riffs so bristly you can clean your teeth with them.
20. Arcade Fire – We Used To Wait:
‘The Suburbs’ – Arcade Fire’s third album – found the Canadian baroque rockers broadening their reach, sneaking into the pop field and finding new ways to cloak state of the nation addresses. ‘We Used To Wait’ has an urgent, new-wave thrust but a sweet, soaring chorus as Regine Chassagne takes over, soothing ol’ Win’s furrowed brow.
19. Kanye West – Power:
Almost rock in its grimy heft – and some of the credit there has to go to the sample of King Crimson’s ’21st Century Schizoid Man’, cementing a to-this-point unrequired connection between hip-hop and prog – ‘Power’ is a relentless assault of slaps around the chops, the balls-out hardest moment on ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’.
18. MIA – Born Free:
We all know Suicide’s ‘Ghost Rider’ is amazing, but somehow M.I.A. managed to tease even gnarlier aggression out of its already pretty dark new-wave electro monotony. ‘Born Free’ is a head-fuck in the sweetest way, pounding the brain even as it boots you onto your feet to pogo like a loon.
17. Gorillaz – Stylo:
Damon Albarn’s cartoon marauders returned in 2010 with a slab of hot funk, decorated by Mos Def’s megaphoned rhymes and a career-revitalising turn from soulman Bobby Womack, testifying like it was one last chance. He’d get another, when Albarn himself helmed ‘The Bravest Man In The Universe’, a tremendous last hurrah.
16. Tyler the Creator – Yonkers:
Tyler’s menacing stream-of-consciousness on this smash was sometimes hilarious (“I’m a fucking walking paradox – No I’m not”), sometimes a bit off (“stab Bruno Mars in his goddam oesophagus”), sometimes very off (all that splenetic stuff about “faggots”). It was always compelling though, no matter how dirty you felt afterwards.
15. Arctic Monkeys – R U Mine?:
Our initial exposure to the snake-hipped rock beast that is ‘AM’ was this rumbling, Led Zeppish stalker, all fiddly bass and hammer-blow riffs unleashing some monolithic power. It’s all a far cry from ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’, the boys now whiskery, leathery and confident enough to speak to girls and stuff.
14. Jamie T – Zombie:
Possibly the most glorious return of 2014 was that of Wimbledon beat-punk poet Jamie T, who bowled in with a third album like nothing had happened. No question that ‘Zombie’ is its one big addictive moment, springing from a false acoustic dawn to a rollicking chorus that shoves its undead claws in your brain and never lets go. Why would it?
13. Pond – Xanman:
More Australian psych-rockers, this time with an absolutely vast, splashing, crashing glam rock machine that lurches from crescendo to crescendo, sometimes slowing, sometimes flaring out like a sunburst. Belongs on the Dazed And Confused movie soundtrack, to be honest.
12. Grimes – Oblivion:
Grimes’s breakthrough single – from third album ‘Visions’ – is her purest pop moment, a plinking, plonking little sliver of synth-pop that harks right back to the glory days of The Human League and Depeche Mode, pioneers of tinny electronica from a distant future.
11. Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting On You):
Hard to separate this breakout hit from their Letterman performance in March 2014, and perhaps you shouldn’t anyway. Sam Herring put every ounce of feeling into both record and TV slot, finding space in all our hearts for a chest-beating Brando look-a-like with wobbly legs and swinging hips, fronting a soaring spear of tear-jerking synth-pop.
10. Disclosure – White Noise:
Guy and Howard Lawrence repackaged and resold deep house in 2013 as sharp, jacking pop music. Outstanding single ‘White Noise’ is a collaboration with AlunaGeorge (or, let’s face it, just Aluna Francis) that turns the neat trick of appealing equally to the charts and the dancefloor, a feat not managed since Yazz’s ‘The Only Way Is Up’. Probably.
9. Palma Violets – Best Of Friends:
Our very own song of the year in 2012 was a debut single with all the Clash-like attributes to prompt sepia memories of punk. For a first attempt, it’s about as cohesive as you can expect, and certainly as cohesive as the ramshackle Violets ever get, threatening to dissolve into a whole heap of mess even as they sail into a glittering chorus.
8. Alt-J – Breezeblocks:
Finally, the second decade of the 21st century belched forth Radiohead’s natural sons. ‘Breezeblocks’, the second single from 2012 Mercury-winning debut album ‘An Awesome Wave’ is a bewitching combination of complex rhythms, medieval folk song and lyrical lifts straight out of Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are. How could it fail?
7. Tame Impala – Elephant:Who knew we were ready for the woozy return of psychedelic rock? It’s always there as an undercurrent but usually too stoned to make itself heard. The second single from 2012’s ‘Lonerism’ is a glam stomp (a bit ‘Spirit In The Sky’, all told) turning cosmic with some fairy organ and Aussie space cadet Kevin Parker’s alarmingly John Lennon-ish, whacked-out vocal.
6. Lana Del Rey – Video Games:
Is she a fraud? Is she the real deal? The authenticity debate rages on even now, but little of it really matters when Lana Del Rey’s capable of drawling out this kind of noir-pop. ‘Video Games’ is as Lynchian as everyone says, transporting you to a creepy, plastic, ’60s movie set where our strung-out heroine’s buffeted about, always coming back.
5. Azealia Banks – 212: It’s odd to think that Azealia Banks finally has an album out. ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’ is a strong record, but its most startling moment is still ‘212’, a track now three years old but undiminished in its punch and chin-jutting attitude (and blunt vocabulary). Maybe Banks realised that people really didn’t need anything else, not for a while at least.
4. Foals – Spanish Sahara: For second album ‘Total Life Forever’, we were treated to a new Foals, a band that had found a way to stretch their wings in the shortest possible time. Its standout track wasn’t the itchy math rock we were used to; ‘Spanish Sahara’ is a slow-burner, quite and affecting with an intensity building to a free, euphoric finish.
3. Arctic Monkeys – Do I Wanna Know?: The first single from the Arctics’ fifth album ‘AM’ was (and indeed still is) a grisly stomp that combined all those snarling rock chops learned from Josh Homme with the band’s natural pop smarts and added a dash of newly acquired bequiffed sex appeal. By its release, it was already embedded as a swaggering gig opener.
2. Daft Punk – Get Lucky: Daft Punk’s long-awaited return was trailed by tiny traces of ‘Get Lucky’, specifically Nile Rodgers’ classic, clipped Chic riff. We knew Pharrell was going to be on ‘Random Access Memories’ too but no one was quite sure they were on the same single. The big reveal on giant Coachella screens confirmed it, and 2013 had its deathless neo-disco anthem.
1. Watch The Throne – Niggas In Paris: Jay and Ye’s 2011 LP proved theirs was the most fizzing chemistry not just in rap but in modern music as a whole. A thundering tale of black empowerment, its standout single weaved over an addictive Hit-Boy beat stories of Parisian sleaze excused by one hard-hitting Hova line: “if you escaped what I escaped, you’d be in Paris getting fucked up too.”