The 50 Best Songs of the Year

Brandi Carlile Performs 'The Story' and 'You and Me on the Rock' on <i>SNL</i>
Brandi Carlile Performs 'The Story' and 'You and Me on the Rock' on SNL

There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and year-end lists. So with each go-round, I have a harder time writing these intros — gazing down at the meticulously formatted blurbs and thinking, “What can I possibly say in 100 words that would astutely summarize another 12 months of indie-rock, hip-hop, R&B, metal, electronica, jazz-fusion, and whatever weird shit we managed to squeeze in?”

But wait — maybe that admission is enough of a mission. There is no through-line of 2022, just like there wasn’t for 2021 or any other year. Music is a web, and the joy of these lists is getting yourself all twisted up in it. With that said, let’s dig into the nerdy dance-rock (Hot Chip) and joyous Afrobeats (Fireboy DML), the twitchy art-pop (Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith) and nostalgic disco-funk (Beyoncé).

More from Spin:

These are the 50 Best Songs of 2022. – Ryan Reed

50. Sunrise Patriot Motion – “I Search For Gasoline”



Yellow Eyes’ guitar-wielding brothers, Sam and Will Skarstad, take a gothic turn with Sunrise Patriot Motion, bending melodic black metal toward bleak post-punk desperation on “I Search For Gasoline.” Post-punk/black metal fusions were kinda played out for a minute, but the Skarstads’ nimble prowess, drawing upon Lifelover’s messy, buzz-ridden Cure palettes, trades black metal’s claustrophobia for awe of the open. Their guitar lines salivate the need for the hunt. Whether they’re searching for salvation or survival is a mystery, but as Lemmy once said, the chase is better than the catch. – Andy O’Connor

49. Nu Genea – “Tienaté”



It’s impossible to identify a definitive Mediterranean sound, the same way it would be reductive to think of all American music as being one and the same. Yet if we resort to the “sea, sex, and sun” philosophy that offered the existential foundations of Italo Disco, perhaps we can start tackling its core ethos. With “Tienaté,” the second track from their 2022 album, Bar Mediterraneo, Neapolitan duo Nu Genea offer a vivid portrait of this throwback dolce vita: drinking from the seemingly bottomless well of electro-disco while dabbling in the inebriating joys of boogie underground. The exotic pièce de résistance comes from the Italo-Dalmatian dialect used in the song’s lyrics — immediate teleportation to cocktail hour on a deserted island. – Ana Leorne

48. Fireboy DML – “Bandana”



With 2021 hit “Peru,” Fireboy DML brought his unreasonably catchy version of Nigerian street pop to the world. (The remix featuring Ed Sheeran predictably took it bigger and higher.) Then, with his third album, Playboy, the rising star outdid himself with a collection of quintessentially euphoric Afropop. The capsule autobiography of surprise single “Bandana’’ is the project’s most blissful moment: It launches gently, with bright, highlife-influenced guitar and a distinctly West African beat, then floats away on a lighter-than-air melody, propelled by a powerful vocal hook courtesy of YBNL Nation label mate Asake. The sky’s the limit. – Beverly Bryan

47. Lulu Be. – “Shugga Cane”



It’s not the words, per se; it’s the voice. The bars are, mostly, a grab bag of pop-culture signifiers on loan from everywhere and nowhere. But Lulu Be. — Ethiopian-born, Chicago-raised — raps in a lithe, brisk patois that seizes the ear, demanding attention. Much of the allure of “Shugga Cane” lies in the flat, swift indifference of the affect; while we should be impressed by her, she isn’t, as though her superiority is just inherent and unimpeachable and impervious, a natural fact. (Fans of 2010s drill rap will find a lot to like here.) The rest can be attributed to the song’s bouncy, pointillist production, African and slightly Caribbean in its zest. Dazed? Join the club. – Raymond Cummings

46. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – “Unbraid: The Merge”



“What does it sound like?” “Like running your hand through a rock box.” “…rock box???” “Like those souvenir ones, at a gift shop, like all those smooth stones. And you can fill a little pouch.” “No, what does the Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith song sound like?” “Like a rock box!” “Don’t be figurative!” “It isn’t figurative! Every agate there is made, full of time and energy, heat and cold. It’s voices that overlap — where does one start? Where does one stop? And as they sift, a beat begins spinning, holds you in a little pouch. Sounds of apricot, blue lace, green moss, all precious smooth tip-tup.” “…you never really did write about music.” “Tumble with me.” – Frank Falisi

45. Bala Desejo – “Baile de Máscaras (Recarnaval)”



In November, Gal Costa unexpectedly left us. Despite the immense loss that represents for Brazilian music, both effectively and symbolically, one of the few consolations is her legacy living on through the voices of new generations. Bala Desejo are one of those voices, their music (once again) reinventing the numerous paths that gather Tropicália, samba, MPB, funk, forró, and many other disparate genres that comprise Brazil’s distinctive sound. This is fully embodied by “Baile de Máscaras (Recarnaval),” the standout track from the band’s Latin Grammy-winning debut LP, Sim Sim Sim (“Yes Yes Yes”), which PopMatters’ Ana Clara Ribeiro accurately describes as “progressive nostalgia.” The best part? They’re just getting started. – Leorne

44. Hot Chip – “Down”



“DOWN!” is the first syllable you hear on Hot Chip’s new record, and for the next four minutes, the aptly named “Down” never lets up. Built around a sample from the obscure disco outfit Universal Togetherness Band, the single weds rare-groove funk to art-punk — capturing such a jittery, NYC-style energy, you almost forget these dudes are from London. In the past, Hot Chip have carried themselves with the urbane restraint of the Pet Shop Boys, even at their most floor-killing. Amid the clatter of “Down,” you can almost picture the rock-averse Neil Tennant tugging on Chris Lowe’s shoulder in the club and saying, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” – Daniel Bromfield

43. The Callous Daoboys – “Field Sobriety Practice”



A Callous Daoboys track can be a half-dozen songs rolled together — goofy and vulnerable, vicious and tender, all at once. Nestled at the middle of the band’s second LP, Celebrity Therapist, “Field Sobriety Practice” is a mathcore rock opera in miniature, wedging in scene-era screamo, clean jazz guitar licks, death metal breakdowns, melodic sweeps of violin, and vocals braying like donkeys — all in under six minutes. Anchoring it all is Carson Pace’s beating lyrical heart: a narrative of uphill struggles with sobriety (“For the longest time I loved to call it quits / On what prevents the quiet pill delete”), cycling through conflicted impulses alongside each of the band’s rapid-fire shifts. – Natalie Marlin

42. Vince Staples (feat. Ty Dolla Sign) – “Lemonade”



Vince Staples is known for matter-of-fact street rap and spurts of wry humor, but he’s also got a low-key knack for melody. He shows off his vocal chops on “Lemonade,” a breezily ambient cut that pairs bliss with danger. In each verse, he serves up a microcosm of life in Northside Long Beach, where violence can ruin a good time: “Used to kick it in they hood ’til we shot it up.” For the hook, he unloads a metaphor that’s a lot more desolate than his easy-going half-singing makes it sound: “Nowhere to go when we in the shade.” Vince hasn’t found reprieve yet, but “Lemonade” is a measure of vigilant peace. – Peter A. Berry

41. Surya Botofasina – “Sun of Keshava”



Raised in Alice Coltrane’s Sai Anantam Ashram, Surya Botofasina is the ideal artist to bring his one-time swamini’s style of spiritual jazz into the next generation. On “Sun of Keshava,” his fingers arc across the keys, each chord change building to the next for maximum impact, before a burbling synthesizer enters in its final minutes like a river cutting through the landscape. With “Sun of Keshava” and its parent album, Everyone’s Children, Botofasina declares himself a formidable new voice in a conversation that extends from the Coltranes through Marion Brown and Harold Budd: non-denominational devotional music, ambient in sound but rigorous in execution. – Bromfield

40. A Pregnant Light – “Too Pure”



A Pregnant Light has been on a tear with singles this year — “Beast About” made our mid-year songs list — and “Too Pure” unabashedly swings for poppier frontiers. Damian Master switches to clean tones to ramp up his urgency in the first verse, among his hungriest, before kicking into swagger that’s total late ’80s goth sleaze. (Even a Master bows to Andrew Eldritch.) Keep in mind, he’s bashed out hooks since the Blogspot days, yet he’s never been this accessible and bare. Had “Pure” come out 15 or 20 years earlier, Century Media or Nuclear Blast would have swooped him up. Master’s charm, though, is that he’s always done it his way. – O’Connor

39. Tears for Fears – “The Tipping Point”



In late November, when the site’s collapse seemed imminent, Tears for Fears started trending on Twitter. It was one of those inexplicable surges, likely triggered by some nostalgia account tweeting out the video for “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Scrolling through the usual reactions, I didn’t see any mention of The Tipping Point, Tears for Fears’ first record in 18 years. That’s a shame — Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal are still the world’s premier purveyors of immaculately crafted pop for adults. The Tipping Point’s title track is its stirring highlight, a beautiful but anguished tribute to Orzabal’s late wife that pairs gauzy synths to twitchy rhythms. The chorus offers a classic Tears for Fears call-and-response, with the duo ultimately meeting in harmony like they have for four decades: “Who’s that ghost knocking at my door? / You know that I can’t love you more.”- Brad Sanders

38. Pharrell Williams (feat. 21 Savage and Tyler, the Creator) – “Cash In, Cash Out”



It warrants scientific study, the way Pharrell Williams oscillates from inexplicable attempts at Top 40 radio fluff to groundbreaking rap beats. But the producer went on a good run in 2022: working with Pusha T, Rosalía, and Kendrick Lamar — and saving his best work for himself. With little more than an 808, snare, and clipped vocal sample, “Cash in Cash Out” still sounds big enough to fill up a stadium. It’s punchy and wild, the perfect backdrop for 21 Savage and Tyler, the Creator to sling insane verses. From 21’s dry punchlines (“She swallow all my kids / She a bad babysitter”) to Tyler’s winking jealous-rage streak (“I don’t like violence / But the guns do”), “Cash in Cash Out” finds power in minimalism, immediately ranking alongside other Pharrell-built classics like “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” We’ll say it: “Cash in Cash Out” is even hotter. – Evan Sawdey

37. Wu-Lu – “Times”



In the music of South London punk Wu-Lu, distortion speaks as much as the vocals do. Often, they intertwine with the same, growling message of discontent. This gravelly buzz of disaffection greets the listener at the outset of “Times,” ringing out over a crash cymbal-heavy half-time drum rhythm, before giving way to Wu-Lu’s baritone, spilling paranoid lyrics on being able to trust the twists and turns of his mind. “Times” bounces with the energy of a festival mosh pit, but beneath its kineticism is a darker undertone – the raw expression of an embattled soul, making himself equally heard through words and contortions of sound. – Ammar Kalia

36. Angel Olsen – “All the Good Times”



With the smears of pedal steel and the stomps of barrelhouse piano in the background, the title track to Angel Olsen’s sixth album is her most eloquently and straightforwardly country song to date. She takes that most evergreen of country subjects — losing at love and life — and gives it a happy ending. “Guess I had to be losing to get here on time,” she declares, as though all every soured relationship and every broken heart led her to this point of sublime happiness. Olsen’s never sounded quite as ecstatic or as unguarded as she does on the chorus: “I’m loving you big time; I’m loving you more!” – Stephen Deusner

35. Leikeli47 – “Secret Service”



The third album in the rapper’s “Beauty Series” trilogy, Shape Up puts a finer (and final) point on Leikeli47’s exploration of Black aesthetics: the ways these aesthetics figure not only masks to the world — literal and figurative armor — but also modalities of self-care. On “Secret Service,” Leikeil’s distinct flow shines over a hard, techno-inflected beat, with pounding bass you can feel in your chest. The production is detailed; layered vocalizations bring the pulsing trance to life. The song features just one of the shapes Leikeli takes across an album as wide-ranging and nuanced as the Blackness she celebrates: She’s playful and tough, sensual and fiercely braggadocious, both seasoned and as fresh as ever. – Kriska Desir

34. Fire-Toolz – “Soda Lake With Game Genie”



Fire-Toolz reminds me of the all-encompassing sprawl in your basement: the box-tower of Lego, the marbles satchel, the Panasonic RQ2102 tape recorder. There’s the unmarked cassette tape with the old Bulls-Pistons games, segueing into your dad’s recorded laughter — time travel manifesting as sound waves. Fire-Toolz reminds me that everything isn’t happening simultaneously — that, actually, everything exists in a long song, a basement of interlocking memories called “Soda Lake With Game Genie.” It’s Dreamcast aria, a scorched vocal cord that scrubs saxophone through electric distortion straight to the heart of the matter (*us). The changes track our living; the song is everything. – Falisi

33. Death Cab For Cutie – “Foxglove Through the Clearcut”



The half-spoken centerpiece of Death Cab’s best album in (at least) a decade unfurls like a fisherman’s yarn: Ben Gibbard spins the tale of a man who lived by the ocean but never set foot in the sea, fearing its constant churning. It’s a post-rock dirge of sorts, the singer’s haunting lines ushering in crashes of ambient guitar to break up the verses. It’s been a while since Death Cab was this experimental —  fittingly, Gibbard lifted some of the guitar parts from an early demo he found from 1998. The track’s somber and thoughtful journey anchors an album of winning jams, reigniting a career that felt somewhat stagnant. – Bobby Olivier

32. Spoon – “Wild”



Spoon remains remarkably consistent. After dabbling in electronic flourishes on 2017’s Hot Thoughts, the indie veterans made a return-to-rock record with this year’s Lucifer on the Sofa, which holds some strong callbacks to the band’s mid-aughts heyday. “Wild,” co-written by everywhere-man Jack Antonoff, is one of the album’s heavy hitters: a charging, optimistic ode to feeling inspired again after a period of burnout. Pushed along by chugging guitar chords and a strutting groove, Britt Daniel howls about finding renewal. “And the world, still so wild, called to me,” he sings, recharging his swagger and building on a two-decade catalog of reliably killer tunes. – Jedd Ferris

31. Sault – “Angel”



In October, enigmatic British collective Sault released “Angel” just like all their music: without interviews, photos, a video, or press announcement. The 10-minute, 10-second track speaks for itself. Sparse, foreboding reggae shifts to piano-led gospel, telling the all-too-familiar story of a young boy “turned a rebel in the streets” gunned down by police. Choral voices and spoken word invocation usher his soul crossing “that bridge to Zion.” Produced by frontman Inflo with the voices of Jamaican megastar Chronixx and English songwriter Jack Peñate, this guitar-woven ascent is one of 2022’s most moving tracks. – Andrea Bussell

30. IDK (feat. Denzel Curry) – “Dog Food”



IDK and Curry are among the elite of rap’s deep thinkers, and they’ve built up a clear chemistry on previous collaborations like “Uh Huh” and “Once Upon a Time.” That streak continues with “Dog Food,” a highlight from IDK’s Simple EP, produced entirely by Kaytranada. Over the track’s vibrant and funky beat, IDK pays homage to Lil Wayne’s 1999 single “Tha Block Is Hot” while throwing in some extra meaning during his verse: “They tried to frisk me, want me hot,” he begins. Later, Curry reciprocates: “The block’s definition of hot, I be a simile.” – Eric Diep

29. Makaya McCraven – “In These Times”



The unifying mood of our times seems to be uncertainty. Not knowing is unavoidable – it is now a formative mode of living. Yet these ever-changing shifts of experience are where Chicago producer Makaya McCraven thrives. On the title track of his latest album, he beat-switches and audio-splices to create seven minutes of groove-fueled unpredictability. After opening with a smattering of applause, we veer from a complex, vamping polyrhythm into a lilting half-time beat, before soaring through a lyrical saxophone solo. McCraven forces us to exist within these changes – finding moments of beauty without knowing where we’ll be led next. – Kalia

28. Joyce Manor – “Gotta Let It Go”



Fourteen years deep, these once snarling, mile-a-minute punks have inevitably mellowed a little. “Gotta Let It Go” is a relaxed-tempo track about aging and disillusionment — but that doesn’t mean it won’t make you head-bang. The production is enormous, the riff irresistible, and there’s no choice but to blast it loud. Frontman Barry Johnson has spent Joyce Manor’s last few albums proving himself a gifted power-pop songwriter, and those chops are on full display here — his lyrics and vocal melodies are simple yet perfectly crafted to translate a deep, everyday melancholy. – Mia Hughes

27. SZA – “Shirt”



SZA is a master of revealing beauty in our messiest emotions. She reminds us of that fact with each sporadically issued solo track, always using her deceptively human voice to spin tales of entanglement and unraveling. On “Shirt,” a slow-simmering electro-R&B jam, she imparts uncommon wisdom in a controlled gush (“In the dark right now / Feeling lost, but I like it / Comfort in my sins, and all about me / All I got right now”) — reminding us that if you hurt, at least you feel something, and if your life is a mess, at least it’s yours. – Bryan

26. Grace Ives – “Loose”



From the opening couplet of “Loose” — “I wanna make the cut / Spoken with a severed gut” — Grace Ives’ lyrics are already buried in despair. The music, though, is anything but. As her Roland MC-505’s breakbeat percussion skitters, the janky star chases bassy staccato synth notes and 8-bit “game over” noises with a variety of 20-something crises: overdraft fees, cut hours at work, bedbugs, doing yoga stoned, and making “a loser sound” when falling over. But when Ives belts out “I’ve been loose / Every night / Wind me tight” on the chorus like it’s a soaring Goldfrapp hook, it’s as if she’s breaking through every suffocating force around her. Personal collapse never sounded so exuberant. – Marlin

25. Mabe Fratti – “Cada Músculo”



The more I hear, the more the instrumentation reflects my biology: knees pop, pulse pounds, hearts beat, and eardrums thrum. Brains fugue before they end. Memories echo. We sound. Lining cord and tendon — our inside! — with cello riff both rawly insistent and pingly discordant, “Cada Músculo” tensionizes the terror and pleasure of being a sounding thing; we are singing lumber. In Mabe Fratti’s voice — the one inside her throat, the one her fingers unstring — reminds us that all we are is every muscle. Neither the human body nor the musical instrument is a self-evident object, even if both incline towards the divine, even if both are contraptions of chamber and resonance, strings of strings. – Falisi

24. Lea Sen – “I Feel Like I’m Blue”



Simplicity is crucial to the introspective sounds of singer-songwriter Léa Sen. With a drum machine, guitar, and a crystalline falsetto, her tracks contain an arresting depth of emotion told through memorable melodies. The pinnacle of this deft approach comes on single “I Feel Like I’m Blue”: Backed by a crawling boom-bap and a lilting guitar line, Sen’s soft and intimate vocal takes center stage, repeating the song’s title as a refrain and pulling us closer and closer into her melancholy. With each repetition, it’s as if Sen is questioning herself — a simple loop to ingeniously express the uncertainty of vulnerability. – Kalia

23. Mitski – “Love Me More”



“Love Me More” is a rhapsody of relatable doubt, hope against big odds, and the power of articulating what you want. Like a lot of Mitski’s best tracks, it starts out quiet, grounded in a hum of shoegaze and synth. The verses express angst, narrating isolation-induced fears (“If I keep myself at home, I won’t make the same mistake”). And then the chorus explodes outward and upward with ’80s verve and desire (“Love enough to fill me up”). Sonically, the song is addictive enough to consume on repeat. You can feel the mood change in your body as you listen. – Hilarie Ashton

22. JID – “Lauder Too”



Five years ago, JID’s dreams of going big in the rap industry felt like he was manifesting his future. Take “Lauder,” in which he rapped “pushing the same piece of shit until I get me a Bentley,” a direct reference to the Pontiac that he kept until it couldn’t run anymore. The Dreamville wordsmith continues to grapple with his life’s arc on “Lauder Too,” a sequel that delivers on heart and vulnerability. Utilizing a steadfast flow and intricate rhyme schemes, he navigates powerful lines about suicide and pursuing a higher purpose. As the intensity mellows out, JID is left to feel the love and ease his fears. – Diep

21. Alvvays – “Pharmacist”



Finally, after stolen demos, flooded apartments, and probably the odd locust, Canadian indie-pop gurus Alvvays returned this year with Blue Rev, their nostalgic, melancholic, and stupendously fun third LP. The project is paced by “Pharmacist,” its fleet-footed opening track and lead single, which packs a wallop in two tight minutes. Molly Rankin’s sharp lyrics weave a brief tale of an ex-lover returning to town with a new squeeze — she learns about it from his sister, at the pharmacy. Suburban angst gives way to attempts at rationalization: “You know it happens all the time; it’s alright,” Rankin convinces herself before Alec O’Hanley’s searing, extra crispy guitar solo. Exhilarating. – Olivier

20. The Mars Volta – “Blacklight Shine”



If Mars Volta songs live and die by the “Where the hell is this song going?” meter, the opener from the band’s decade-in-the-making self-titled album is a welcome, less unhinged reintroduction. “Blacklight Shine” is three minutes long — a blink in Mars Volta land — and might be the most accessible song on their most accessible album yet. The track still twists and turns through silky wah-wah and Latin grooves, proving Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala can be direct without sparing musicality. Nothing screams “maturity” like not trying to cram 12 tempo changes into one song. – Brady Gerber

19. Beabadoobee – “Talk”



Beabadoobee’s “Talk” is the most thrilling song about going out…on a Tuesday. The Beatopia highlight is an ode to trying and failing to ditch a love that’s run its course — a souring silhouette in one’s head of a former love that’s now as sad and restlessness-inducing as…trying to go out on a Tuesday. “We go together like the gum on my shoes,” Bea Kristi sighs over memorably melodic bass lines and the fuzzy “idk, just give me space to freak out” guitars that are becoming her signature sound. Heartache feels good in a song like this. – Gerber

18. Steve Lacy – “Bad Habit”



So few songs end up becoming actual earworms nowadays — with so much music drifting around, even modestly catchy tracks plunge without notice into the ether of lost memory. That, however, wasn’t the fate of “Bad Habit,” the breakout No. 1 hit and soulful centerpiece of Steve Lacy’s second LP, Gemini Rights. It’s undoubtedly one of the year’s most sing-a-long-able singles — you can either try to approximate his gentle croon or dish it out in a nasally, Tom DeLonge-like whine if you’re feeling emo. Either way, it was the song of the summer for both broody R&B heads and indie-psych sad sacks. The best of both worlds. – Cervanté Pope

17. Big Thief – “Simulation Swarm”



Big Thief’s best songs often smuggle a quiet intensity through warm and gentle sounds — think the bloody freak accident of “Mythological Beauty” or how “Not” nearly collapses under the weight of its own tension. “Simulation Swarm” is no different in that regard, but more than ever singer Adrianne Lenker choreographs the emotional rush with grace and poise, weaving together reflections on her childhood, breakups, and a brother she’s never met in an abstract lyrical ballet, seamlessly delivering musically stunning phrases like “From the 31st floor of the simulation swarm / With the drone of fluorescence / Flicker, fever, fill the form.” Only Buck Meek’s two guitar solos ever seem to suggest the slightest crack in the surface. This isn’t a full-blown cathartic release, but a moment to make peace with everything left unresolved. – Jeff Terich

16. Lucky Daye – “Candy Drip”



R&B hitmaker Dernst “D’Mile” Emile II just earned his first Producer of the Year (Non-Classical) nod for the 2023 Grammys. And while his work with Silk Sonic, Mary J. Blige, and Jazmine Sullivan certainly helped, Lucky Daye’s “Candy Drip” exemplifies D’Mile’s unique gift for ear candy. Highlighted by guitar stings that sound like they could’ve come from a ‘70s Barry White hit, a deep groove propelled by burbling synth bass, and a wide array of effects and distortions on Lucky Daye’s lithe vocal, it’s psychedelic soul updated for a new generation. – Al Shipley

15. Pusha T – “Diet Coke”



Back in January, Ye was captured at a Paris fashion party previewing “Diet Coke,” with Pusha firing off bars like “Snow’s a must; the nose adjust / Young Gs like we Hov and Puff.” But that clip only teased the song’s greatness: The full-length “Diet Coke” is a top five Ye/Push collab alongside “New God Flow” and “Runaway.” It’s not just Ye and 88-Keys’ filthy and glittering beat, but also how Pusha rides it to expertly describe his kingpin lifestyle. The affinity for coke stays the same — Pusha just knows his clientele all too well. “The number on this jersey is the quote price,” he sneers. “You ordered Diet Coke / That’s a joke, right?” – Diep

14. Yeah Yeah Yeahs (feat. Perfume Genius) – “Spitting Off the Edge of the World”



Two-odd decades after Yeah Yeah Yeahs helped put Brooklyn’s DIY underground movement on the map, they remain an iconic art-rock institution and crucial force of nature. “Spitting Off the Edge of the World,” the arena-huge single that kicks off Cool It Down, their first album in nearly 10 years, runs the heart-wrenching sonic gamut only they can achieve. Fueled by woozy, futuristic synths and a slow-burning beat before erupting into a raised-fist-to-the-sky chorus, the track is both gorgeous dreamscape and urgent anthem about the horrors of climate change being unceremoniously passed on to the next generation. When Karen O sings, “And the kids cry out…We’re spitting off the edge of the world,” it serves as a desperate call to action. A stone-cold Yeah Yeah Yeahs epic — complete with an ethereal Perfume Genius cameo — right up there with their classic “Maps.” – Brad Cohan

13. Bartees Strange – “Heavy Heart”



Bartees Strange’s past few years have been transformative, as he’s blossomed into a critical favorite and legit touring artist. He explores some of that change on “Heavy Heart,” but he also pauses to appreciate the little things: “You look so nice in a cherry scarf,” he croons, “We should go to Toronto more often.” In a captivating blend of vulnerability and fuck-you confidence, Strange reflects on the hardship and loss he’s faced, questions whether he’s showing up for the people in his life amid all the “rushing around,” and indulges in some fun bravado (“I’m a rich n****, rad dude / I can buy that, damn fool”). The arrangement is similarly restless, from the moody and memorable chorus to the squalling guitar-solo outro to the breakdown with a horn section. It’s obvious the guy is unstoppable. – Hughes

12. Drake – “Sticky”



Drake’s Honestly, Nevermind wasn’t as transformative as its sonic shift suggested, but “Sticky” was the one. Here, the 6ix God laces frenetic Baltimore club rhythms with the kind of punchy quips that make his best raps so compelling — a feature generally lacking on his latest solo LP. On “Sticky,” he makes time to recall his mom’s begrudging acceptance of his career and unload a cheeky double entendre: “My brother named his ting Nadal / Let’s stop all that back and forth over the ‘net.” Fusing humor, bits of flexing, and perspective with frenzied rhythms, Drizzy winds up with a track equally infectious and unique. – Berry

11. Nilüfer Yanya – “Midnight Sun”



“Love is raised by common thieves / Hiding diamonds up their sleeves,” Nilufer Yanya sings on “midnight sun” — a profound summation of a song perched on a thin line, or else a yawning chasm, between desolation and deliverance. Yanya sounds like it could go either way, finding a balance between fatalism and restrained hope as she threads her sweet, tousled voice through a repeating guitar figure both hypnotic and a little foreboding. The song builds in intensity, exchanging vulnerability for potency before receding back to its quiet beginnings, as if Yanya has stepped out of a whirlwind of fraught emotion just in time to save herself. – Eric R. Danton

10. Rosalía – “SAOKO”



“Yo me transformo [I transform],” sings Rosalía during the chorus of MOTOMAMI‘s opening track. That line feels like a statement of purpose: The Spanish pop star may have risen to stardom with her flamenco-trap beats, but she proves a wider versatility on her third LP. The experimental “SOAKO” begins with avant-jazz then transforms into reggaeton paired with doomy synths. Paying homage to reggaeton greats Wisin and Daddy Yankee with a reference to their 2004 collaborative track, Rosalía carves out her own space within the genre, while also showing that she brings something distinct to it. – Tatiana Tenreyro

9. Denzel Curry – “Walkin”



Denzel Curry vented about the Grammys’ 2023 Best Rap Album nods on Twitter, convinced the mainstream often overlooks talented rappers like him. He has a point: On Melt My Eyez See Your Future, his un-nominated fifth album, Curry was intentional with each track — resulting in his finest, most cohesive work in terms of sequencing and pace. Produced by Dallas’ Kal Banx, centerpiece “Walkin,” which samples Keith Mansfield’s “The Loving Touch” throughout, begins with a mellow, De La Soul-esque vibe before the drums start to crescendo. Curry creates a Texas-Florida connection, attacking the beat switch with precise, mosh-worthy rhymes: “Keep on walkin’, ain’t no stoppin’,” he observes, “In this dirty, filthy, rotten, nasty little world we call our home.” – Diep

8. Momma – “Speeding 72”



Feeling cooped up? If so, “Speeding 72” is just what you need. Momma’s riff-driven anthem is an ode to the restorative power of getting in a car and hitting the road. Etta Friedman and Allegra Weingarten’s breakout jam is playfully powered by ’90s grunge and alternative nostalgia, especially Liz Phair, Juliana Hatfield, and The Breeders. (It even name-check’s Pavement’s “Gold Soundz.”) But it manages to mix memory and desire with a fresh, optimistic, and often ironic voice unique to their project. Despite a year of record-high gas prices, it’s important you take this one for a spin. – John Paul Bullock

7. Phoenix (feat. Ezra Koenig) – “Tonight”



On the third single from Alpha Zulu, frontman Thomas Mars is joined by Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig — a team-up that sometimes feels like a sideways spiritual successor to Paul Simon’s 1986 single “You Can Call Me Al.” Sharp, propulsive, and sheathed in neon, “Tonight” is a pop song primarily about its own tingly, pneumatic giddiness and Mars’ repeating Dadaist ESL word-salads. If the lyricism, slurred in and out of abstraction, harmonized or not, orbits a specific scenario – the dinner party from Hell? – it’s equally likely that evocation is the goal here. The music casually slides phrase knives into your consciousness almost by accident, most memorably “I used to love thinking of me.” Well, you know, who didn’t? – Cummings

6. Sharon Van Etten – “Mistakes”



Sharon Van Etten first lured us in with intense, slow-burning ruminations. But in recent years, she’s been known to occasionally shake off some of the heartache and cut loose. An uninhibited banger — and a high point along the emotional ride of her latest album, We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong — “Mistakes” shines with buzzing synths, pulsing disco beats, and a big, bright chorus. Urgent and seductive, it finds Van Etten at her most confident, accepting past transgressions and shedding self-consciousness via a sly Seinfeld reference (“I dance like Elaine”). – Ferris

5. Beyoncé – “Virgo’s Groove”



When Beyoncé released her seventh album, fans collectively lost their shit. No surprise: Bey has a way of causing a stir. This time, though, she did something very different. Renaissance is rightly held as one of the year’s most innovative albums, regaling us by exploring the club-friendly side of her sound. But there’s something for traditionalists too, as “Virgo’s Groove” calls back to the sensual ‘70s sassiness of “Blow” from her self-titled 2013 opus. Both are catchy, sensual jaunts tapping into the artist’s personal life, but “Virgo’s Groove” takes it one step further — lyrically melding the intricacies of love and sex, and providing it with her own groovy, sun-sign soundtrack. – Pope

4. Maggie Rogers – “That’s Where I Am”



“That’s Where I Am” is a pop marvel. Rogers uses her smoky, effervescent voice to muse on the future of a new love, elevating the relationship song to new heights. If you aren’t utterly thrilled at first, you will be when the beat drops after the first chorus. As the track’s delightful video demonstrates, with Rogers prancing through the streets of New York, mugging with David Byrne and Hamilton Leithauser, “That’s Where I Am” is a perfect soundtrack of the imaginary movie some of us play in our heads as we move through the world. – Ashton

3. Kendrick Lamar (feat. Beth Gibbons of Portishead) – “Mother I Sober”



Backed by little more than a trembling piano and heartbeat kick drum, Kendrick Lamar has nowhere to hide on Mr. Morale‘s penultimate track. Part memoir, part excoriation, “Mother I Sober” finds the rapper at his most vulnerable, confronting sexual abuse, addiction, grief, and intergenerational trauma in what feels like one breathless exorcism. Like much of Lamar’s work since DAMN., the song arrives at the truth that wealth, fame, and booze will never cure you from longstanding pain; the remarkable final verse seeks long-sought catharsis in liberation. Beth Gibbons’ celestial guest vocals help render “Mother I Sober” as one of the most wrenching moments in Lamar’s catalog. – Zach Schonfeld 

2. The Smile – “The Smoke”



Occasional L.A. resident Thom Yorke knows what it’s like to feel the smoke bearing down on you. These days it seems to be a ceaseless presence, rolling down the hills from the fires above. “Smoke wakes me from my sleep,” he sings in a fragile falsetto on “The Smoke,” the second single from his debut LP with The Smile, a collaboration with Jonny Greenwood and Tom Skinner. Like a sequel to Radiohead’s 2003 song “Go to Sleep,” in which Yorke decided to snooze off the corporate war-hawking taking over the western world, “The Smoke” finds him waking to a different, related catastrophe. “We set ourselves on fire,” he realizes, hoping for a second chance — a “one true revolution.” It’s a groggy-eyed look at the danger approaching, deceptively packaged alongside a funky, complex riff. It sneaks in under the door, it corners you in your bed. – Nate Rogers

1. Sudan Archives – “Home Maker”



Sudan Archives (born Brittney Parks) is a versatile talent: a violinist, singer, songwriter, and producer. She’s also a shapeshifter. Her second album, Natural Brown Prom Queen, leads with “Home Maker,” which presents her signature sonic mosaic — electronic, pop, R&B, and the West African and Sudanese-style rhythms that inspired her moniker — at its most refined. The track starts off uncertain and restless, slinking through quick bites of synth and warbling trumpet before a hypnotic, danceable R&B vibe takes over. Parks is not just a home maker — she’s a world maker, just as comfortable in her singular take on R&B as she is anticipating all the places her music might go. – Desir

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