100 gecs

“Dumbest Girl Alive”

Best of the Best — EDM, nu-metal, hyper-pop and the sound of the THX deep note clash together in one of the most memorably chaotic and fun songs of this year, featuring singer Laura Les proudly recounting all the ways in which she’s dumb as hell. — Hazel Cills

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6lack

“Since I Have a Lover”

Like Frank Ocean and Steve Lacy before him, this is a young Black man schooled in R&B making better use of the jangly, softly voiced, sincere side of the indie rock toolkit than most bands working today. — Jacob Ganz

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Gracie Abrams

“Where do we go now?”

A moment of clarity in a failing union, its questioning hook melts and reforms through desperate repetition until it seems to reaffirm the path of least resistance: one more night in a world drained of color, curled up beside the devil you know. — Daoud Tyler-Ameen

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Tanner Adell

“Buckle Bunny”

A buckle bunny gets gussied up to go to the rodeo, only to face accusations that she’s there more for the riders than the show. Adell, who melds hip-hop and country with ease, reclaims this figure and puts her in the saddle. Don’t mess with this mini-skirted mini-mart queen. — Ann Powers

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Nonso Amadi (feat. Zinoleesky)

“Lock Up”

A pair of fringe Afro-pop visionaries continue the genre’s deconstruction in a moment of transition with a patiently propulsive exploration of rhythm and style. Moored by a low-key but detailed production of gentle, deliberate shifts, the song carefully transmutes its core components, over and over, until it cools to a simmering coda. — Sheldon Pearce

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Anjimile

“The King”

In a year of big swings and reinvention, Anjimile made a startling pivot from reflective folk with this sometimes epic, deeply layered concept piece on race, religion and identity. It’s a sonic and harmonic wonder full of equal parts fury and love. — Robin Hilton

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ANOHNI and the Johnsons

“Sliver of Ice”

Best of the Best — The miracle of this song inspired by friend Lou Reed’s account of his own final days, when “the simplest sensations had begun to feel almost rapturous,” is that it works on so many levels: as an evocation of Reed’s classic ballads, like “Candy Says”; as a keen for a departed soul; and as a remarkably tender, euphoric celebration of life. — Ann Powers

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Omar Apollo

“Ice Slippin”

A gripping coming-out song with no tidy conclusion, “Ice Slippin” chronicles Apollo’s futile pursuit of his family’s acceptance — and the hard choices that extend from their emotional distance. The song’s final words are an absolute heartbreaker: “I still believe I can make you proud.” — Stephen Thompson

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Alé Araya (feat. Joseph Chilliams)

“Midnight Gospel”

It’s a wistful groove. It’s also a mood, with a sexy, cool vibe that can soothe or embolden. The perfect listen for 4 a.m. post-party contemplation. Just be sure to sing along: “Dancing till the sun comes up, ah-ah-ah-ah.” — Suraya Mohamed

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Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society (feat. Cécile McLorin Salvant)

“Mae West: Advice”

Mae West, the original bad bitch of Hollywood, is the inspiration for this lascivious big band number, which is fitting, given that she put Duke Ellington in one of her movies. Cécile McLorin Salvant purrs one-liners as Ingrid Jensen’s trumpet sashays over a lush arrangement. — Lars Gotrich

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Bad Gyal (feat. Tokischa & Young Miko)

“Chulo pt.2”

Regional Mexican supplanted reggaeton in discussions about Latino Urbano this year, which meant “Chulo pt.2” sometimes felt like a secret you’d share among friends. Which is a funny thing to say about a club-caliber banger with almost 400 million plays across Spotify and YouTube. — Otis Hart

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The Beaches

“Blame Brett”

A ridiculously catchy preemptive apology tour, “Blame Brett” directs all complaints about future misbehavior — “I’m prob’ly gonna let you down / I’m prob’ly gonna sleep around” — to one dastardly ex. Every line is gold, starting with a reassurance that Toronto-based singer Jordan Miller is done dating rock stars: “From now on only actors / Tall boys in the Raptors.” — Stephen Thompson

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Blondshell

“Joiner”

Everything recounted in this grim little indie-rock song about two destructive souls living out of “the bottom of the bin” is creepy, and yet it all plays like a wildly fun, seductive ride over jangly pop guitar. — Hazel Cills

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boygenius

“Not Strong Enough”

This four-minute encapsulation of everything that makes the supergroup a world-beater gives its three stars space to swap verses before dropping a phrase so iconic that they repeat it 12 glorious (and ironically divine) times: “Always an angel, never a god.” — Stephen Thompson

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jaimie branch

“Baba Louie”

Best of the Best — The poignant final statement Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war)) reaches its peak with a calypso that radiates party vibes for its first five minutes — before a minor-key downshift, with an echoey dub vocal turn. — Nate Chinen, WRTI

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Zach Bryan (feat. Kacey Musgraves)

“I Remember Everything”

Best of the Best — Gentle, rueful, smelling like last call, this contradictory exchange between lost lovers starts out tender and ends up crushingly revealing. Bryan and Musgraves perfectly blend their reedy voices; nostalgia’s glow gets harsh when the bar lights come up at 2 a.m. — Ann Powers

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Bully

“Days Move Slow”

Sometimes you just need a song to punch a wall to. The artist funnels all of her pent up rage and frustration into this wickedly catchy, blow-out rock song for all those living in a black hole. — Hazel Cills

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James Casey

“New Bloom”

“No matter what problems come your way, you’ve got today” is the message bequeathed to us by James Casey. Just 40 years old when he died from colorectal cancer, this song epitomizes his tenacity, cheerful nature and belief that music is medicine. — Nikki Birch

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Louis Cato

“Unsightly Room”

While other artists released big studio productions, Cato’s simple guitar and haunting voice reaffirm the power of back-to-basics songcraft and storytelling. It’s a deceptively sweet song with an earworm melody, but something truly horrifying is lurking in the shadows. — Robin Hilton

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Cautious Clay (feat. Immanuel Wilkins & Ambrose Akinmusire)

“Yesterday’s Price”

A fast, driving beat provides a foundation for each red-hot horn player to explode over the track of this standout from Clay’s new album, which should inspire you to explore his recent shift back to a more jazz-focused sound. — Mitra I. Arthur

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Central Cee x Dave

“Sprinter”

Best of the Best — The greatest rapper in the U.K. (and maybe anywhere) links up with the nation’s fastest-rising, most charismatic star to run a rap two-man from Europe to the Caribbean and back. Swapping in and out of frame, they trade quips as the beat unwinds beneath them; Dave ruthlessly clever, Cench caustically nonchalant, both untouchable. — Sheldon Pearce

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Tyler Childers

“In Your Love”

Best of the Best — An instantly iconic bended-knee ballad that locates love and lust in the impulse to be useful. “I will work for you / like a team of mules / pulling hell off from its hinges,” Childers wails. He wants to be your beast of burden. — Jacob Ganz

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Brandy Clark

“Buried”

This is no ordinary love. One of our favorite lyricists writes a brutal, beautiful torch song that tracks unrequited affection from the breakup to the grave, with nods to Larry McMurtry and Leonard Cohen along the way. — Otis Hart

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Luke Combs

“Fast Car”

Country music often doubled down on revanchist grievances in 2023. But it also expanded its horizons enough to accommodate a faithful — not to mention heartwarmingly popular and award-winning — retelling of Tracy Chapman’s unimpeachable 1988 masterpiece. — Stephen Thompson

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Confidence Man x Daniel Avery

“On & On (Again)”

An instant rave classic. Confidence Man is an Australian duo with a sincere love for Eurodance, while Daniel Avery is pure class through and through. Together, they’ve produced a track that’s equal parts fun and furious. — Otis Hart

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Ivan Cornejo

“Donde Estás”

Best of the Best — Lyrically multifaceted and melodically adventurous, “Donde Estás” adds to this endearingly hopeful loverboy’s catalog of heartbreak. Ethereal synth coos and 12-string guitar ground the sierreño king as he sings with the ease of some of the greatest heartbroken vaqueros. — Anamaria Sayre

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corook (feat. Olivia Barton)

“if i were a fish”

This quirky anthem about loving yourself and ignoring the comments section can feel like a Hallmark card one moment and a gift from god the next. Nashville’s corook and Olivia Barton are earnest to a fault and loving every moment of it. — Otis Hart

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Miley Cyrus

“Used To Be Young”

It’s hard to write a relatable song about superstardom, but Cyrus pulls it off by fixing her gaze on a universal idea: the way so many of us view our youthful indiscretions with a mix of embarrassment, regret, forgiveness and the occasional reminder that screwing up can be an absolute blast. — Stephen Thompson

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Davido (feat. Musa Keys)

“Unavailable”

Besides an infectious dance, the key to this Nigerian Afro-pop superstar’s worldwide phenomenon is that it’s a reminder of a simple truth: Not everyone’s worthy of your energy. — Sidney Madden

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Indigo de Souza

“Parking Lot”

A less inventive songwriter would have turned this compact account of a panic attack into one long scream, but De Souza captures the lurching momentum of that experience with a jaunty backbeat, a blast of synthesized horns and her own wobbly, willful vocals as as the lyrics evoke the banality of such battles. — Ann Powers

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Lana Del Rey

“A&W”

Best of the Best — What does it mean to be an “American whore”? Let one of our most polarizing, eclectic pop stars explain in this winding, 7-plus-minute song that begins like a lost folk epic and ends like a cheeky rap track. — Hazel Cills

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Doja Cat

“Agora Hills”

With its fuzzy sample of Troop’s 2006 version of the Jacksons slow-jam “All I Do is Think of You” and a vocal hook that has Doja pleading in her most yandere anime voice, this expression of desire for some X-rated PDA with a secret squeeze shows the rapper and high-conceptualist perfecting her pink-goth hip-hop game. — Ann Powers

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Jeremy Dutcher

“Ancestors Too Young”

Best of the Best — Cloaked in rock angst and powered by the radiant voice of the two-spirit songwriter from the Tobique First Nation, this song confronts youth suicide, a crushing health crisis for Indigenous communities across North America. — Tom Huizenga

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Billie Eilish

“What Was I Made For?”

How many songs would fit naturally on both OK Computer and the Barbie soundtrack? Don’t let the preponderance of sappy Instagram reels diminish the power of (hyperbole alert) Billie Eilish’s greatest feat yet. — Otis Hart

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Arvo Pärt

Littlemore Tractus

Best of the Best — With its abrupt opening, low droning strings and gentle, consoling chorus, Littlemore Tractus sounds as if someone pushed the play button on heavenly music that’s been on a loop since the beginning of time. — Tom Huizenga

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Silvana Estrada

“Milagro y Desastre”

Best of the Best — Estrada’s vocals are at their most incandescent, enchanting and inventive. A melody deployed by a simple loop pedal layered with transfixing strings progressively reveals ancestral wisdom. Both miracle and disaster are tucked away in the crevices of this track. — Anamaria Sayre

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Fall Out Boy

“Fake Out”

​​Patrick Stump’s most vulnerable singing and Pete Wentz’s most Pete Wentz lyrics in a decade, gorgeously united in tribute to finding one’s contentment in life through a steady lowering of expectations. Mid-age sadness hits different, man — Daoud Tyler-Ameen

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FendiDa Rappa (feat. Cardi B)

“Point Me 2”

Chicago’s native sounds — juke and drill — get tossed into one on the pulsating joint that shot from TikTok virality to the Billboard Hot 100 once Cardi jumped on this remix. A dynamic duo, Fendi and Cardi’s sexual exploits ain’t for the faint-hearted. — Rodney Carmichael

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John Francis Flynn

“Dirty Old Town”

The Dublin-based folk singer didn’t intend for his cover of the Irish folk standard to coincide with the death of The Pogues’ Shane MacGowan when he released it in early November, but now it’s hard to hear it as anything but elegy. — Otis Hart

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Ben Folds

“Kristine From The 7th Grade”

Folds considers our grimly polarized nation through the lens of lost youth. Heartbreaking and hilarious, “Kristine” reminds us that life is short, sad and beautiful, with Folds’ one simple question at its heart: Do you ever see it that way? — Robin Hilton

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Peter Gabriel

“Road to Joy”

For an egghead who reinvented rock for the age of synthesizer and collapsing borders, Gabriel has an uncanny way of expressing what being in a body feels like. This collaboration with fellow earthy mage Brian Eno communicates the elation of someone just waking up: from a coma, Gabriel has said, but anyone who’s fallen in love will hear that rush brought to life here. — Ann Powers

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Moondog

“All is Loneliness”

The enigmatic, Viking-helmeted, mid-century street denizen of Manhattan likely knew a lot about loneliness. This haunting arrangement, with its persistent drumbeat and sighing strings, raises one of Moondog’s darker compositions to a manifesto level. — Tom Huizenga

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Gorillaz (feat. Stevie Nicks)

“Oil”

Most of Gorillaz’ grabbiest guests mark their turf with a rap verse, so it’s a rare thrill to hear Nicks’ dry-aged rasp seize this song at halftime, matching Damon Albarn’s words but eclipsing his voice, gifting his dark fable a little bit of sun. — Daoud Tyler-Ameen

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Peggy Gou

“(It Goes Like) Nanana”

Only the South Korean DJ can take a placeholder of a word, “nanana,” throw in a splash of house piano and a truly dopey synth line to make one of the biggest and most addictive dance tracks of the year. — Hazel Cills

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Gunna

“fukumean”

As the breakout hit of the post-lockup statement record, a Gift & a Curse, and the cornerstone of the rapper’s tumultuous year sustaining success in the shadow of the American judicial system, it is hard not to hear this song as dissenting and triumphant. But even without that context, it makes a case for most unmistakable earworm. — Sheldon Pearce

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Hiromi

“Sonicwonderland”

Fun and ultra funky, this wondrous song is nothing but a high energy, uptempo groove. Bumping at 151 BPM, its adventurous musical form is punctuated by superb musicianship and a driving, virtuosic precision that feels both free and spontaneous. — Suraya Mohamed

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Horrendous

“Chrysopoeia (The Archeology of Dawn)”

Best of the Best — Death metal is rarely this sophisticated and joyous. From the jump, ludicrous riffing speed and frenzied revelation hurtle us toward oblivion. But Philly’s filthiest temper aggression with playfully proggy virtuosity and jubilant melody. — Lars Gotrich

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Sam Hunt

“Walmart”

Sam Hunt doesn’t play by the same rules, or write the same songs, as his bro country brethren. “Walmart” is a tear-jerking vignette about the passage of time and coming to terms with how we’ve spent it. — Otis Hart

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Ice Spice

“Princess Diana”

Best of the Best — Fast, quiet, lethal — the rap style Ice Spice wields like a laser gun on this classic bit of braggadocio earns her the royal comparison she accepts with a gently raised eyebrow. Over a minimal video game bass line, Ice Spice unfurls her bona fides in trademark genteel fashion, cracking jokes and taking no backtalk. She’ll steal your boo and make you think you gave her that gift. — Ann Powers

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IDK (feat. Saucy Santana & Jucee Froot)

“Pinot Noir”

Put this song on at the cookout and you’ll have folks from every generation on their feet. Sampling and interpolating Michael Jackson and Smokey Robinson classics along with Khia’s infamous “My Neck, My Back,” this song has a laid-back vibe with a sprinkle of ratchet that you can two step or twerk to. — Ashley Pointer

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Irreversible Entanglements

“Our Land Back”

“Who knows what happened,” prods Moor Mother during the prowling midsection of this riveting provocation, leaving it unclear whether the refrain is really a question. Invoking colonial histories at home and abroad, the track is meant to unsettle, leaving no one secure in their stance. — Nate Chinen, WRTI

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Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

“King of Oklahoma”

Has it become too easy to take Isbell for granted as a storyteller? Weathervanes is another album of vivid tales, none more affecting than the addiction arc of “King of Oklahoma,” which makes the before times feel like a true paradise lost. — Nate Chinen, WRTI

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J Noa

“Autodidacta”

J Noa was born to rap. There’s nothing subtle about the “self-taught” 17-year-old Dominican artist whose hard-hitting bars and cutting delivery buzz with mastery and fresh energy. Her words are as chilling as her talent, and the jaw-dropping vocal sprints she lets loose on this track feel built for permanence. — Anamaria Sayre

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Jam City (feat. Empress Of)

“Wild n Sweet”

A vaporous twin of “Padam Padam” that should have been at least as popular. “Show me love,” Empress Of sings to a dancefloor paramour across a space so intimate you can feel the body-to-body transfer of electricity. “Comfort me … can you keep a promise?” If no one else can, the music will keep it. — Jacob Ganz

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Carly Rae Jepsen

“Anything to Be With You”

Whether it’s a twisted confessional on obsession or playful ode to innocent devotion, “Anything To Be With You” is one of the year’s most infectious bops, wild and woozy with a slightly off-kilter backbeat. — Robin Hilton

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Durand Jones

“Wait Til I Get Over”

Best of the Best — With soul-stirring wails, heavy foot percussion and stacked vocals creating a one-person jubilee choir, Jones transports you to a wood-floored country church. When the song opens up in its revelatory and expansive ending, you’re no longer glory-bound; you have arrived. — Mitra I. Arthur

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Jungle

“Back on 74”

You’ve likely seen the smooth choreography that accompanies this viral phenomenon, perhaps even in your home or mirror. But none of that works without the grooving ‘70s swing and ethereal vocals that implant in your brain. — Mitra I. Arthur

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Noah Kahan (feat. Lizzy McAlpine)

“Call Your Mom”

The Vermont balladeer found his lane this year with prickly anthemic duets like this, in which he and the gossamer-voiced McAlpine exchange a vow that couldn’t be more relevant in 2023: to be there for a friend when the meds don’t work, when the only place to land is an emergency room, when the family needs to be notified and love is all about just being there. — Ann Powers

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KAYTRAMINÉ (feat. Amaarae)

“Sossaup”

“She want me to treat her like a slut, so I’m finna go and sauce her up.” A standout on KAYTRAMINÉ’s first collaborative project, Aminé and Amaarae’s vocals are an unexpected yet brilliant pair, creating the perfect contrast on top of that signature Kaytranada bounce. — Ashley Pointer

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Kesha

“Eat The Acid”

Constructed around a cautionary tale passed down from the singer’s mother, “Eat the Acid” reflects on bad trips as an avatar for greater and even more destructive traumas — and builds to a moment of genuine, hair-raising euphoria a little more than three minutes in. — Stephen Thompson

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Killer Mike (feat. Mozzy & Lena Byrd Miles)

“Shed Tears”

Best of the Best — Forget his fiery sermons. Michael trades the pulpit for the pews on this cathartic confessional, while No I.D.’s organ-laced production and Lena Byrd Miles’ soaring solos strip him down to his bare-naked soul. — Rodney Carmichael

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Sofia Kourtesis

“Madres”

The Peruvian, Berlin-based DJ is known for building colorful electronic compositions that loop her soft vocals, samples and synthesizers into whispers of beauty. On “Madres,” she honors motherhood as a genderless role, from bloodline to queer community. — Hazel Cills

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L’Rain

“Pet Rock”

We find Taja Cheek again straying from conventional wisdom on this magic single from I Killed Your Dog. Fuzzy and hallucinatory, what begins bearing hallmarks of 2000s indie rock reveals itself to be something stranger and more wonderful halfway through: Its restless, withdrawn fantasia burns as if feverishly suffering from delirium. — Sheldon Pearce

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Latto (feat. Cardi B)

“Put It On Da Floor Again”

Best of the Best — Rip her out the plastic, Latto’s the one and not the two! The Queen of the South hasn’t let up all year and, at this point, Cardi is the most coveted guest verse in hip-hop. Put the two together and the result is a comedic, confident team-up that’ll be added to party playlists for years to come. — Sidney Madden

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Logan Ledger

“Golden State”

With an opening line that invoked the glory days of ornate pop-folk (is that The Kingston Trio’s “Turn Around” in there?) and a ruling metaphor that’s both cosmic and site-specific, this gorgeous nostalgia trip shows off Ledger’s voice, a time machine that can travel anywhere. — Ann Powers

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Gabe Lee

“Drink the River”

On the title track from his gorgeous new album, Gabe Lee’s reedy voice sounds relaxed but purposeful, worn from living or maybe from telling stories over and over again until they’re smooth as river stones. — Jacob Ganz

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Lil Durk (feat. J. Cole)

“All My Life”

Durkio’s redemption anthem is the balm in rap’s Gilead — from the children’s choir singing the hook to J. Cole in beast mode, issuing a decree to click-thirsty media: “If you ain’t never posted a rapper when he was alive / You can’t post about him after he get hit.” — Rodney Carmichael

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Fenne Lily

“Lights Light Up”

There’s something so inquisitive and conversational, deeply ambivalent and wonderfully shimmery about “Lights Light Up.” Throughout the song, Lily dispenses vague-yet-illuminating data points about a relationship that provides a lifeline, yet still succumbs to the mundanities of incompatibility. — Stephen Thompson

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Lil Yachty

“TESLA”

This much-maligned viral teenage sensation has gradually evolved into one of hip-hop’s most fearless and curious artists, and after recently making a psych-rock pit stop, producing for Drake and sparring with J. Cole, here he returns to his own oddball auto-tune realm of trilled vocals and tessellated synths, defiant about his emergence. — Sheldon Pearce

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Lydia Loveless

“Sex and Money”

Best of the Best — The roots rocker always cuts to the chase with a dextrous set of hooks. On a rare road song from Loveless, the arrangement here ratchets up her devastating self-deprecation and hopeless romanticism as organ swells, stabbing ascendent guitar and an oh-gosh vocal delivery that turns into snarl. — Lars Gotrich

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Ashley McBryde

“Single At The Same Time”

Oh, you know, just another gimmick-free, beautifully detailed portrait of adult intimacy, hesitation, longing and regret that burrows deeper into your mind every time its perfect chorus unwinds. Pray Ashley McBryde never stops singing songs like this. — Jacob Ganz

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Madison McFerrin

“God Herself”

McFerrin crafts a bold declaration of innate and unquestionable greatness with just three voices in harmony and the occasional finger snap. And if proclaiming that her presence makes a believer of doubters, maybe you too can believe in your own worth. — Mitra I. Arthur

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mclusky

“unpopular parts of a pig”

After 18 years, the surly court jesters of noise rock are back. And, once again, the louder and grosser the riff, the more bludgeoned the hook. God, I forgot what it was like to snort-laugh at music. — Lars Gotrich

Megan Thee Stallion

“Cobra”

Even when it’s necessary, metamorphosis can be scary. Like a snake sheds its skin, Megan is intentionally shedding the drama and trauma that’s no longer hers to hold. Her bars mark a shift into a new season, and she’s not afraid to be seen growing. — Sidney Madden

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Melenas

“Bang”

This Spanish indie-rock band combines the motorik beat of Krautrock legends Neu! and the sophisticated pop of Stereolab to create a song that rivals those groups’ best. If that reads like heresy to you, then you haven’t listened yet. — Otis Hart

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Middle Kids

“Highlands”

For anyone who has ever felt penned-in by the limits of their hometown, this Sydney trio offers a motivational jump-start that rushes like air coming through the rolled-down windows of a speeding car pointed anywhere else. — Jacob Ganz

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Mitski

“My Love Mine All Mine”

Short and bittersweet, the purest love song of 2023 is an ode not to a romantic partner but to an idea: that no one — not even our most incisive chroniclers of emotional truth — can convey the feeling of a soul in a state of rapture. — Jacob Ganz

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Victoria Monét

“On My Mama”

Best of the Best — Monet’s star finally ascended this year, thanks to this series of affirmations (she’s “done being the humble type”) centered around a sample of Chalie Boy’s “I Look Good” and complemented by ‘70s-inspired guitar wah, thick bass and a powerful horn arrangement reminiscent of an HBCU marching band going to war. — Ashley Pointer

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Megan Moroney

“I’m Not Pretty”

The classic country scenario of new-love-faces-down-old-flame gets a system update in this droll, defiant account of love’s aftermath. Its gently weeping guitar line evokes the crocodile tears shed by Moroney’s hapless replacement as she’s “zoomin’ in, zoomin’ out” on her Instagram feed. — Ann Powers

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Myke Towers

“LALA”

The legend strikes again with reliable, straight-ahead, danceable reggaeton beats that transport to warm summer nights and salty ocean spray. In a year of wild innovation, it was refreshing to come back to a vitalizing, retro-dotted listen. — Anamaria Sayre

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NewJeans

“Super Shy”

Drum and bass gets a bubblegum spin in this K-pop song that couldn’t sound less like most K-pop dominating the field. Co-written by indie darling Erika de Casier, this lightning fast, skittering track is actually club-worthy. — Hazel Cills

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Jessye Norman

“Träume”

From an album of previously unreleased recordings, the late soprano gives a masterclass in absolute beauty, breath control and creating a work of art with each word. Hear her sing “verglühen” (fading), near the end, and you will melt. — Tom Huizenga

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Obongjayar

“Who Let Him In”

This is a perseverance anthem that triumphs, transcending genres and expectations. “They say who let him inside / I’m the boy from the under / Me I started from nowhere / now the boy taking over,” the U.K.-based singer sings over hard-hitting layers of percussion and bouncy synth bass. — Ashley Pointer

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Kassa Overall (feat. Nick Hakim & Theo Croker)

“Make My Way Back Home”

The “backpack jazz” approach of this drummer-producer-rapper reaches its ultimate form on ANIMALS, a sleek, soulful album jam-packed with features. This ruminative jam takes full advantage of Hakim’s vocals and TCroker’s multi-tracked horn. — Nate Chinen, WRTI

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Paris Texas (feat. Kenny Mason)

“DnD”

Kenny Mason breaks all convention when he spits “they gon’ try to say a n**** rock-rap / like it’s not rap” on one of the hardest verses you’ll hear over guitar licks this year. Bump this when the world tries to put you in a box and you need some theme music to pop out. — Rodney Carmichael

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Hayden Pedigo

“The Happiest Times I Ever Ignored”

If you’ve seen this song performed live — perhaps on Tiny Desk — then you know the unassuming guitar soli heft it offers. But the studio version, illuminated by acoustic and electric guitars, plus piano flourish, is an exquisitely considered mixture of bittersweet memory. — Lars Gotrich

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Peso Pluma (feat. Eladio Carrión)

“77”

Regional Mexican music exacted unprecedented influence in the pop space this year. Yet nothing proved the dynamism and staying power of the centuries-old rhythms quite like the sound of a Puerto Rican hip-hop artist slicing bars over brass and slap bass. — Anamaria Sayre

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PinkPantheress (feat. Ice Spice)

“Boy’s a liar Pt. 2”

Best of the Best — What happens when two beloved, internet-viral pop underdogs team up to make a song calling out lying, loser boys? This explosively popular, minimalist gem, which sticks in your head like taffy. You’ll never say “liar” the same way again. — Hazel Cills

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Pote Baby

“it is what it is”

Stuck between the struggle and Strivers’ Row, everybody needs a come-up anthem. The Savannah, Ga., native slides in with a slow dirge before spitting over triumphant horns and 808s: “B**** I’m from the bottom / that don’t mean I’m scared of heights.” We hear you, Baby. — Rodney Carmichael

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Ratboys

“The Window”

Best of the Best — There’s no true closure with grief, least so when fate keeps you from your beloved in their last moments. On the same-named album’s aching centerpiece, the power of love manages to close the gap, carrying a goodbye across something other than air. — Daoud Tyler-Ameen

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Olivia Rodrigo

“bad idea right?”

Best of the Best — Bad ideas were thick on the ground in 2023, but few were captured more succinctly or hilariously than Olivia Rodrigo does here. Her retro-pop-punk anthem wickedly distills the psyche of someone tilting hard into an obvious mistake — a moment when rational thought is reduced to blah-blah-blahs. — Nate Chinen, WRTI

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Allison Russell

“Eve Was Black”

A cry of power and pride carried on rhythms that bring gospel back to its diasporic beginnings, “Eve Was Black” casts its soulful songwriter as a futuristic oracle who destroys illusions while remaking a myth. — Ann Powers

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Cécile McLorin Salvant

“Mélusine”

The pensive, poetical title track of Salvant’s latest album is a mystery nestled within a bedtime story — infused with desire that slow-burns beneath Renaissance decorum. “I always know where to find you,” she sings. “When I close my eyes / I find you.” — Nate Chinen, WRTI

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Sampha

“Spirit 2.0”

Best of the Best — Written over the course of a year on solitary walks through parks, this weightless marvel navigates jittery drums toward a more clearheaded appreciation of self. Its considerations of time, its memory-stained imagery, its gorgeous horizon of Rhodes keys and strings — all reveal a reflective artist steeling himself to embrace the unknown. — Sheldon Pearce

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ShooterGang Kony (feat. DaBoii & Lil Bean)

“Better Run”

Three strains of buoyant Bay Area rap burst out of this breathless, baton-passing fun run: whirling, smirking browbeating from Sacramento’s Kony, amped-up, elastic chest-thumping from Vallejo’s DaBoii, and shrugging, even-keeled ribbing from San Fran’s Lil Bean. Each loops around a skipping beat eager to take a turn flexing. — Sheldon Pearce

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Maria Elena Silva

“Love, If It Is So”

An asymmetrical love song that captures the unexpected twists and turns of romance, spun up in rapturous abandon by guest guitarist Marc Ribot and a vocal performance that coos and bewilders. — Lars Gotrich

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Troye Sivan

“Rush”

Best of the Best — A late song of the summer contender that deserves all of the hype, this house-y pop banger bottles the feeling of being surrounded by hundreds of sweaty bodies on a dancefloor, every heartbeat racing. — Hazel Cills

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Jorja Smith

“GO GO GO”

Here’s more powerful evidence of the ongoing dissolution of genre borders: a sweeping, urgent song with little regard for rigid ideas of form. It’s indie-meets-R&B transfiguration, punkish soul that nods to the singer’s idol, Amy Winehouse, and like the choicest Winehouse stuff, it lets the contours of her voice dictate the shape of her sound. — Sheldon Pearce

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Esperanza Spalding

“Não Ao Marco Temporal”

Best of the Best — After a decisive win for Indigenous land rights in the Brazilian rainforest, the bassist and singer-songwriter gathered some friends and made this samba — a buoyant celebration, but also a call to continuing vigilance, in the spirit of the best topical songs. — Nate Chinen, WRTI

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Spyro (feat. Tiwa Savage)

“Who Is Your Guy? (Remix)”

Warm, flirty and anthemic. Whether you’re going up with your crew or someone special, the magic and chemistry of this remix blend together perfectly: “See as we dey like beans and rice.” — Sidney Madden

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Sufjan Stevens

“Will Anybody Ever Love Me?”

There’s this idea that the tender-hearted confessor who made Carrie & Lowell and the maxi-minimalist behind Convocations are different people. This song blends lyrics that hit like a saint’s cry from a closed room with glorious waves of voice and electronica to prove that an integrated Sufjan is the best Sufjan. — Ann Powers

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Susanne Sundfør

“leikara ljóð”

Inspired by an old Norse tale of men calling for booty as they ride into battle, this ecstatic centerpiece of the Norwegian art-rock star’s blómi is so expansive it can signal any human desire that grows bigger than its acceptable boundary. — Ann Powers

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Sunny War

“Whole”

This might be the only time anarcho-punks Crass appear in a song built around a fingerpicked guitar part. But that’s Sunny War. The values expressed here are the ones that the English band espoused in 1980: Work for your own happiness, grab joy because this day might be your last. — Ann Powers

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Teddy Swims

“Lose Control”

R&B/soul with a country twang is not what you expect from this face-tatted singer. He serves blues anguish with panache, so be prepared to clutch your chest while your knees buckle when you sing this at the top of your lungs. — Nikki Birch

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Jonathan Tetelman

“Parigi! È la città dei desideri”

With the warmth of Italian sunshine in his burnished voice, the rising opera star evocatively conjures a snapshot of a young man — ardent in heart, buoyant in spirit — as he falls in love with the city of Paris on first sight. — Tom Huizenga

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Thank You, I’m Sorry

“Autonomy Shop”

A spindly, shreddy riff girds this fuzzy pop-punk kiss-off as the band makes good on its barreling momentum with bursts of chiptune. But it’s an 8-bit power-up halfway through — not to mention a winking Scott Pilgrim reference — that turns the two-minute ripper triumphant. — Lars Gotrich

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Anna Thorvaldsdottir

ARCHORA

The energy that inspires the Icelandic composer’s colossus doesn’t feel of this Earth, but rather an internal combustion — we are the sublime composite of everything. Low, bellowing brass and woodwinds drone as flutes carry our light forward. Monumental music that feels rigorously intimate. — Lars Gotrich

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Tomb Mold

“Will of Whispers”

Death metal poetry is its own breed — convoluted wordplay that twists the thesaurus into gordian knots. But it can also contend with humanity in unexpected ways: “Our tattered beauty held close to a corpse / All that provokes awe is sublime.” Now bang your head in existential wonder. — Lars Gotrich

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Turnstile & BADBADNOTGOOD (feat. Blood Orange)

“Alien Love Call”

The urgency of a doubtful heart’s ruminations are bolstered in this reimagined version. True to form, BADBADNOTGOOD accentuates the haunting vocals with driving grooves, while still leaving enough space to lose yourself. Replay value: extremely high. — Nikki Birch

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Tyla

“Water”

Tyla introduces her spark of youthful, pop stardom with the added layer of bass knocking amapiano, bringing her South African roots to the world. — Sidney Madden

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Kali Uchis

“Moonlight”

The slow-bubbling funk of this unassuming gem conjures moments of refuge that feel like worlds in miniature, the same escapism the singer pursues in her lyrics — getting dolled up to ride around with someone you’re obsessed with, getting higher and higher, closer and closer, until our blue marble feels like a distant planet. — Sheldon Pearce

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Vagabon

“Autobahn”

Laetitia Tamko urges us to “forget enough to love what you remember,” a poignant battlecry to discard trauma and/or embrace nostalgia. In other words, a song for basically everyone. (And, wow, that organ riff.) — Otis Hart

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Jessie Ware

“Freak Me Now”

Stardust memories draped in vintage Halston get busy on the floor with pop-rap party hollering as Ware’s all-inclusive disco revival rocketship locates the wormhole that collapses the mid-1970s into mid-1990s into the mid-2000s. — Jacob Ganz

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Mimi Webb

“Freezing”

This bona fide breakup anthem finds the British pop singer telling her ex to get lost in a dozen different ways. “Freezing” won’t win any awards for empathy, but when a chorus hits this hard, it’s easy to convince yourself he had it coming. — Otis Hart

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Wednesday

“Chosen to Deserve”

Best of the Best — A fist-pumping, beer-spilling country-rock anthem for the moment in a relationship when devotion eclipses desperation, a confession of bad behavior (“Just so you know what you signed up for”) that can’t hide its good intentions. — Jacob Ganz

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Bella White

“Dishes”

This meditation on love’s passionate but tentative beginnings comes on gently, with White’s pensive, yearning vocal held aloft by a country arrangement that bathes it in hope, like sunlight filtered through a kitchen curtain on an autumn afternoon. — Ann Powers

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Jess Williamson

“Topanga Two Step”

Is there anything more tender and mournful than the way Williamson sings “Take me for a ride”? She lets the phrase unfold like a stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, curving and a little blind, a risky route. Synthesizers sparkle in the distance, like moonlight on the waves. — Ann Powers

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Yeat

“No morë talk”

His demons won’t let up and hellhounds stay fresh on his trail, but Portland’s rage-rap bluesman keeps a fistful of dollars and enough psychedelic vocal inflections to convert all the nonbelievers. — Rodney Carmichael

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Yebba

“Waterfall (I Adore You)”

Yebba’s vocals are nothing short of mesmerizing and acrobatic: effortlessly flipping between registers and using her tone like a paint brush to a canvas, creating a lush and ethereal soundscape as she ruminates on love and adoration. — Ashley Pointer

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Young Nudy (feat. 21 Savage)

“Peaches & Eggplants”

“Boaw, boaw, boaw, boaw, boaw!” Young Nudy and his cousin 21 Savage reunite for a jam that pays homage to beloved, raunchy ATL classics of the past, with a satisfying salute to D4L’s “Bubblegum” in 21 Savage’s verse. This song is proof that ATL’s influence will always find itself in the mainstream. — Ashley Pointer

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The Young’uns

“Jack Merritt’s Boots”

Three voices in stark harmony pay tribute to one of the victims of the London Bridge terrorist attack in 2019, a young man who had dedicated his life to criminal justice and prison rehabilitation. Trad-folk of the highest ilk. — Otis Hart

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Mohamad Zatari Trio

“Black Tea”

Tar, tabla and oud players from Iran, India and Syria, respectively, steep an exhilarating brew that awakens tradition through innovation. Come for the tea ceremony, stay for the dabke dance party. — Lars Gotrich

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Zulu

“Where I’m From”

An absolute carnage of crunch-wrap riffs accompanies a bold sense of Black pride: “We’ve been here and we ain’t going nowhere!” Soul Glo’s Pierce Jordan and Playytime’s Obioma Ugonna tag team the guest spots, elevating the LA hardcore crew’s rumble. — Lars Gotrich

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