Presenting our Top 100 Tracks of 2013, as voted by our writers and editors. Any track that was released in 2013 or had its greatest impact in the U.S. this year was eligible.
5. Ciara -- Body Party
Ciara Princess Harris was just 10 years old when Ghost Town DJ's' "My Boo" was released on Jermaine Dupri's Atlanta-based So So Def Recordings in 1995. A mid-level radio hit, it received a low-slung "Quiet Storm Mix" courtesy of Jonathan Smith, who was still a few years away from ripping a "YEAAAHHHHH!"-sized hole through the fabric of mainstream pop as Lil Jon. Nine years later, Ciara scored her first #1 hit with the title track to her 2004 debut LP, Goodies, an intoxicating party anthem with production touches from Smith. Nearly a decade after that, a full-circle moment's arrived in the form of "Body Party", Ciara's own slowed-down reconfiguring of the enduring R&Bass classic that is "My Boo".
So while it's fair to refer to this song as 90s nostalgia—the video's overt True Lies striptease homage as well as its nods to "My Boo"'s original pool-house clip, certainly add fuel to that fire—there's something deeper going on here: "Body Party" is a tribute not only to the city of Atlanta but also a chunk of its considerable musical legacy. The track's major players—Ciara, her co-writer and boyfriend Future, and current hot-streak producer Mike WiLL Made It—all rep the A, and the song is the greatest achievement of the year for all three of them.
It doesn't take regional genuflection, though, to appreciate a track that brings together two of pop music's sometimes-sold-separately Big Issues—love and sex—with such ease. "Body Party"'s sonic layout is spare and ingeniously simple, but there's myriad details: the aqueous squish on every downbeat, Ciara's soft mimicking of Mike WiLL's signature drop, and Future's gorgeous coo that trickles down the chorus, an aviary call that gives a new meaning to the phrase "put a bird on it." Ciara concludes each verse with a wordless exclamation that conveys total, overwhelming ecstasy. She can't lie. —Larry Fitzmaurice
4. Arcade Fire - Reflektor
In 2007, music critic Sasha Frere-Jones famously declared Arcade Fire guilty of being white, by using the Montreal sextet as the exemplar of contemporary indie rock’s disavowal of syncopation, groove, and the sort of cross-cultural miscegenation that has traditionally fueled pop music’s greatest evolutions. His piece certainly got the band's attention: member Will Butler even sent Frere-Jones an mp3 containing bits of Arcade Fire songs that betray the direct influence of black music. But with the sultry bottom-end bump of “Reflektor”, Arcade Fire turn in the best possible retort—even if it's six years late.
As the first teaser of their powerhouse match-up with producer James Murphy, “Reflektor” feels no less momentous for sounding exactly like the LCD 12" remix of “Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)” that never happened. It’s hardly the first Arcade Fire song to rail against the sedentary, disassociative effects of computer-age technological dependency, but the critique is heard in the 4/4 funk as much as Win Butler’s lyrics: this band has gone disco not as an escapist antidote to modern malaise—and not just because their heroes in the Clash did the same thing on their fourth album—but to embrace dance music’s communal, connective, IRL qualities.
Like many of Murphy’s signature productions, the pulse builds and builds and builds—mixing in everything from piano-house rolls, to Colin Stetson’s sensuous sax lines, to Owen Pallett’s string arrangements, to a blink-and-miss-it David Bowie cameo—until it’s on the verge of collapse. Even Win’s repeated incantation of “reflectors,” “resurrectors,” and various other “-ectors” transform his words into a rhythmic device of their own, like a verbal cowbell. But then, chaos and ecstasy are not mutually exclusive ideals. You can’t build a disco ball without a thousand little pieces of broken glass—all the better if they're bits of your computer screen after you kick it in.—Stuart Berman
3. Vampire Weekend -- Hannah Hunt
In a parallel universe, Ezra Koenig might produce a great American novel, or at least the type of short stories to land him on The New Yorker's 20-Under-40 list. Consider the genesis of "Hannah Hunt": The flesh-and-blood woman behind the name of Modern Vampires of the City’s centerpiece was a college classmate. “We were in the same Buddhism class and we sat next to each other and stuff,” he explained to me nonchalantly. “I loved her name so much and thought it would be a great name for a song.” From those humble beginnings, Koenig crafted a devastating character that won’t leave you. Hannah Hunt is sharp but impulsive, destructively short-sighted in spite of her freakish perceptiveness. She’s nerve-wracking and slippery and large-hearted. She’s the one you want in the passenger’s seat on cross-country road trip, even if she’ll end up in tears at the beach. She won’t stop testing your limits, even when she means better; “If I can’t trust you, then dammit, Hannah!,” Koenig cries, his voice piercing the ballad’s meticulous baby’s-breath arrangement like an outburst at a pristine, Upper West Side dinner table. Hannah Hunt hasn’t won your trust yet, but you’ll give her another chance. —Carrie Battan
2. Kanye West -- New Slaves
It's tough to remember now, but in the moments before Kanye West performed "Black Skinhead" and "New Slaves" on "Saturday Night Live", it seemed possible that the walls might finally be closing in around him, that the most inspiring pop culture run of the millennium might actually be tapering off. He was palling around with Big Sean on rap radio, picking through Kim's closet on reality television. His most recent project, the cluttered and uncooked label compilation Cruel Summer, was uncharacteristically careless. Maybe Kanye would recede slowly; it happened to everyone eventually. He'd had an inspiring run, after all.
From the first moments of those "SNL" performances, however, it became clear that we might not even be at the halfway point. The two songs he debuted felt alien, inchoate, possibly tuneless, and gave the immediate sense that a sleeper cell had been activated somewhere soft and vulnerable. "New Slaves" was the purest and most direct expression of Kanye's latest all-consuming message: You are going to let me in, and the further in you let me in, the more shit I am going to break.
"New Slaves" is the hardened cartilage of Yeezus, the leanest and grisliest piece of music on an album without a single yielding surface. There isn't a wasted breath or unnecessary word; every single thought cleaves through meat. "My mama was raised in the era when/ Clean water was only served to the fairer skin," he begins. Can you get closer to the point than that? You can: "I know that we the new slaves/ I see the blood on the leaves/ I see the blood on the leaves/ I see the blood on the leaves," he seethes, the hate and shame of systemic racism coming through more vividly with each repetition.
Yes, Kanye is a wealthy man, and yes, the particulars of his rage might be convoluted, involving his lack of access to the upper reaches of the fashion industry. But its source comes from an acute, unwavering awareness of a central fact: Even in the elite corridors of power where he now walks, some doors are still locked. On "New Slaves", he transforms into the hordes demanding entry. To paraphrase the words of his one-time mentor: The whole industry could hate him; he'll flail his way through. —Jayson Greene
1. Drake -- Hold On, We're Going Home (feat. Majid Jordan)
It’s had a rough century, but things were looking up for the institution of marriage this year. Six more states legalized same-sex unions and beyond that, wedding DJs got an infusion of surefire new material—“Blurred Lines”, “Suit & Tie”, “Get Lucky”, amongst others—ubiquitous, charming songs by well-groomed, well-meaning men whose subject matter and rhythms won’t put anyone on the spot. “Hold On, We’re Going Home” also cracked those playlists, but while your grandfather can sing along to it without embarrassing himself and the light-stepping groove allows people to move without necessarily “dancing,” Drake expresses the kind of personal, ceremonial vows you hear at the altar rather than the after-party.
See, Drake’s never had a problem with intimacy, just commitment. Elsewhere on Nothing Was the Same, he makes life very difficult for Courtney from Hooters on Peachtree, Porscha from Treasures, and other women in his past that he hoped would be “the one.” Not the best he ever had, not the girl who can do better. "Hold On, We're Going Home" has him eyeing someone in the present with whom he can envision a future and let go of the past. What happens when they get home is left unsaid. They might make love, they might fall asleep on the couch. But either way, being together means they can be themselves.
That’s a feeling you can’t micromanage or overthink, and “Hold On” is delivered with necessary immediacy, its handful of crucial lyrics latching onto a cyclical melody. It’s a deceptively simple song that drew out instant covers from artists of all stripes—out of love, respect, and surely envy. They won’t be the last, because “Hold On” promises all we can ask for from a pop song (or another person): hot love and emotion, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, in sickness and in health. Endlessly.—Ian Cohen
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