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The 100 Best Songs of 2022

Featuring the 1975, Kendrick, Steve Lacy, Alvvays, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Glorilla, and more

In a year so bizarre that a Kate Bush single from three decades ago somehow topped the charts, it’s fitting that some of the year’s best tracks felt like wildcards. Rising rappers (Glorilla, Ice Spice, and Flo Milli) took over hip-hop, indie comeback kids (Alvvays, Alex G) wrote genre hits, electronic experimentalists (Alan Braxe, Rachika Nayar, Two Shell) kept us on our toes, R&B singers (Amber Mark, Yaya Bey) dug deep into explorations of self, and the biggest pop stars (Harry Styles, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift) couldn’t help but lean into nostalgia. Here are the best songs of the year. (And no, “Running Up That Hill,” released in 1985, was not eligible.)

Listen to selections from this list on our Spotify playlist and Apple Music playlist.

Check out all of Pitchfork’s 2022 wrap-up coverage here.



Harry Styles: “As It Was”

“As It Was” is the kind of twinkly little confection that would easily get the indie kids pogoing at any local DIY dance night at any point in the last two decades. It just happens to have been recorded by one of the biggest pop stars in the world in 2022 instead of, say, the Strokes twenty years earlier. “You know it’s not the same as it was,” Harry Styles sighs, giving a nod to the easy bait of nostalgia. A pointillist synth line tap dances through the song, and all over that nagging pandemic-era malaise we’re all desperately trying to shake. Resistance is futile. –Amy Phillips

Listen: Harry Styles, “As It Was”

Rough Trade


Black Midi: “Welcome to Hell”

Many songs have contended that war is hell; few have ever depicted that hell as crazed as this. Black Midi’s “Welcome to Hell” is four minutes of disorientation, a trillion-BPM assault on the senses that plays like Saving Private Ryan’s Normandy scene as a fast-forwarded Bugs Bunny cartoon. Somewhere amid all the Les Claypool riffage and incalculable time signatures, the band squeezes in a bizzaro homage to Shirley Bassey’s James Bond themes. The ridiculousness of the pastiche doesn’t dull its intensity one bit. –Evan Rytlewski

Listen: Black Midi, “Welcome to Hell”

Loyauté / Glassnote


Phoenix: “Tonight” [ft. Ezra Koenig]

More than 25 years into their career, Phoenix are still finding new ways to sound brilliantly, effortlessly cool. Case in point: “Tonight,” a smooth collaboration with Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. Drunk on the promise of a great night out, frontman Thomas Mars charms his way through dinner and the course of an entire relationship in the span of one magical encounter. A sobering, early-morning apology inspires a fleeting moment of self-reflection as the vocalists pause, muse existentially about their endless partying, and ultimately resolve to do it all again, just one verse later. It’s an endearing defense of the pleasure principle from two guys who have seen their share of debauchery—but goddamn if it doesn’t sound fun. –Rob Arcand

Listen: Phoenix, “Tonight” [ft. Ezra Koenig]

Saddle Creek


Tomberlin: “happy accident”

Tomberlin got to know her new home of New York by walking it. “happy accident,” from her sophomore album I Don’t Know Who Needs to Hear This…, unravels like an aimless meander through the city with unruly thoughts spiraling out along the path. Set to Cass McCombs’ elliptical guitar loop and thumps of percussion that land like leaden footsteps, the singer-songwriter interrogates a relationship that has been ambiguous for too long, her voice seething and weary. A relationship, just like a walk, isn’t always in need of a destination, and “happy accident” lingers brutally in the uncertainty of what might come next. –Carrie Courogen

Listen: Tomberlin, “happy accident”

Smugglers Way


Ela Minus / DJ Python: “Pájaros en Verano”

What’s there to be grateful for in a hopeless world? According to Ela Minus, clouds, crickets, and sleep, to name a few. “Pájaros en Verano” is an ode to the quotidian pleasures we often ignore. Her praise for the small stuff pairs perfectly with DJ Python’s bubbly production, led by a bright, sweet mallet-like synth that meanders through minimal percussion. It’s a subtle anthem that invites you to slow down and linger on life’s simple delights. –Arjun Srivatsa

Listen: Ela Minus / DJ Python, “Pájaros en Verano”

Rvng Intl.


Horse Lords: “May Brigade”

Horse Lords has spent the past 12 years on a quest for utopia, seeking freedom and euphoria within the structures of their experimental rock music. On “May Brigade,” a clashing, raucous pattern born out of microtonal crunch and minimalist repetition morphs into free jazz freneticism, and distant saxophone trills get swallowed by drones and shimmering static. The song’s effortless abandon shows us the bliss that lies beneath Horse Lords’ heady ideas; within its sharp twists and turns there lies a motivating joy—a reminder to always keep on keeping on. –Vanessa Ague

Listen: Horse Lords, “May Brigade”



Julia Jacklin: “Lydia Wears a Cross”

“Lydia Wears a Cross” is like driving rain, slapping you in the face, reminding you that you are both awake and alive. Julia Jacklin sings about religion and what it’s like to be a girl, sitting in the pews, whispering holy words without knowing what any of it means. She prays for Princess Diana; she listens to the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack. “I’d be a believer,” she sings, “If it was all just song and dance.” Around her, a fuzzed-out guitar crashes into a kick drum. It’s a look back at childhood, where real sorrow and brutal honesty outweigh nostalgia. –Sophie Kemp

Listen: Julia Jacklin, “Lydia Wears a Cross”

Victor Entertainment


4s4ki: “Punish”

“Punish” explores nihilistic self-loathing through a multi-genre electronic fantasia. The Saitama-based hyperpop artist 4s4ki alternates between clear and Auto-Tuned singing across the song’s quickly shifting sonics, which incorporate sounds from digicore and Japanese hip-hop. Her scream of the titular “punish!” flashes like a brief, electric glitch against the serrated drum‘n’bass chorus—a cry for help enmeshed in a suffocating, cybernetic pop landscape. –Zhenzhen Yu

Listen: 4s4ki, “Punish”

Dead Oceans


Wednesday: “Bull Believer”

Wednesday’s “Bull Believer” is a two-act grunge odyssey in which lead vocalist Karly Hartzman jumps from chronicling Spanish bullfighting to describing being ignored by the guy she loves at a party. The dizzying song alternates between abrasion and solace, cranking back up just as it reaches a point of melancholic calm; monstrously heavy guitars and lap steel squelch beneath Hartzman’s guttural screams. As her paramour is distracted playing Mortal Kombat, she echoes the video game’s calls to “finish him!,” crying torturously before coming back for one final whisper—a satisfying end to an emotional nine-minute-long journey. –Margeaux Labat

Listen: Wednesday, “Bull Believer”

Mainframe Audio


Two Shell: “Pods”

Anonymous UK bass and hyperpop pranksters Two Shell insist that they aren’t trolls, which rings true. What kind of troll only spreads joy? The opening tremolo of “Pods” flies like a shuttle over a laser-weaving loom, and its 15-second breakdown feels more like being in a video game than any point of Ready Player One. There’s a Sunset Strip guitar solo with baroque overtones; an opera-cloaked organ tone is stuffed with hyphy vocals and capped with an EDM riser. Too good to be untrue, Two Shell filigree the line between mystery and mischief. They’ll probably turn out to be AI. –Brian Howe

Listen: Two Shell, “Pods”



Joe Rainey: “bezhigo”

Joe Rainey’s music attests to the importance of community. A member of the Red Lake Nation of Ojibwe people, Rainey knows the value of surrounding yourself with others who inspire you, and this belief underlines every track on his debut Niineta, a deep collaboration with producer Andrew Broder that remembers loved ones who’ve passed and samples decades’ worth of pow wow recordings. Standout “bezhigo” weaves together three separate recordings of Indigenous vocalizing, and as the string arrangements surge, a steady beat arrives in the form of industrial clang, sounding like the repeated strikes of a blacksmith’s hammer. There’s beauty, “bezhigo” suggests, in forging one’s identity, purpose, and dreams alongside those who share your vision. –Joshua Minsoo Kim

Listen: Joe Rainey, “bezhigo”

G.O.O.D. Music / Def Jam


Pusha T: “Diet Coke”

You gotta hand it to Pusha T—it takes dedication to still strive toward drug-rap perfection 20 years after making a song as good as “Grindin.” On “Diet Coke,” he raps over an 88-Keys beat that’s old enough to be called up for jury duty—all vacuum-packed drums and scratched-in vocal samples—but King Push has always made his music outside of linear time, peddling rhymes as eternal as the drug trade itself. “Master recipes under stove lights” he explains on the hook, ostensibly a reference to crack, but he could also be talking about how he manages to pull off this one kind of track again and again. –Dean Van Nguyen

Listen: Pusha T, “Diet Coke”



Panda Bear / Sonic Boom: “Edge of the Edge”

Panda Bear and Sonic Boom began their joint album Reset with a simple premise: take the opening moments from great songs of the 1950s and ’60s, loop them, and shape their compositions out from there. “Edge of the Edge” uses Randy & the Rainbows’ “Denise” as its melodic germ, augmenting the 1963 doo-wop hit’s sweet and simple melody with sleigh bells, hand claps, and Panda Bear’s bittersweet croon before beaming in transmissions of dial tones and modem sounds from a less distant past. It’s an infectiously catchy tune that transcends time as it embodies these trusted collaborators’ experimental spirit. –Shy Thompson

Listen: Panda Bear / Sonic Boom, “Edge of the Edge”

Saddest Factory / Dead Oceans


MUNA: “What I Want”

Not since Jonathan Richman’s “I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar” has a pop song so perfectly captured the bubbly joy of taking sips, shaking hips, and regarding leather dykes with love. But “What I Want” is about self-love too. MUNA singer Katie Gavin doesn’t want to just date a girl, she wants a girl to want to date her. The song hits hard on a dancefloor and even harder in a graffiti-spattered bathroom; face the mirror, freshen your lipstick, and mouth the hook: “There’s nothing wrong with what I want.” –Peyton Thomas

Listen: MUNA, “What I Want”



Burial: “Strange Neighbourhood”

You could say that “Strange Neighbourhood” and the almost-album it comes from, Antidawn, are formulaic—but it’s a formula Burial patented. He owns this sound: the shivery shards of imploring vocals that flare up like embers aloft on the wind, the funeral-parlor organ swells, the moist reverberance and muffled found sounds, the disconcerting pauses and glitchy lapses where it feels like the track is giving up the ghost. Rather than seeming like déjà vu, this 11-minute audio-movie evocation of the hauntedness of urban space feels as fresh and original as the first time you heard Burial. You start to think he could carry on like this forever. –Simon Reynolds

Listen: Burial, “Strange Neighbourhood”

Iron Works


Ka: “Ascension”

In the first verse of “Ascension,” Ka describes his style as “measured efficiency.” Indeed, the veteran rapper and producer has cut away all excess from his music, be it programmed drums or nonessential syllables and details. And on this highlight from Languish Arts, one of two albums he dropped in September, the Brownsville, Brooklyn native pries into his childhood—a topic that has grown more central to his writing in recent years—to explain why he believes this cool remove is not only an aesthetic choice but a moral good. Sampled reminiscences about family bookend the song, while Ka bounces, as ever, between the material and metaphysical, the days “long as the solstice” and the uncles’ lives cut short. –Paul A. Thompson

Listen: Ka, “Ascension”



Sharon Van Etten: “Anything”

“Anything” is about an undefined anxiety so persistent, it numbs everything else, and keeps you up until dawn. At first, Sharon Van Etten’s admission of ambivalence in the face of war and climate collapse—“I didn’t feel anything”—seems like a self-soothing mantra. But this booming standout from her album We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong pivots at the bridge, when her lover comforts her, providing a moment of connection that nudges her away from the emptiness. As the song builds from spare, haunted strums to a surging crescendo, Van Etten’s tone flips, and by the end she’s belting out her unfeeling thoughts with palpable desperation. –Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Listen: Sharon Van Etten, “Anything”

Moon Glyph


Cole Pulice: “City in a City”

Normally, Oakland saxophonist Cole Pulice uses live-signal processing to stretch their loosely winding jazz into sinuous, squishy shapes. But “City in a City,” the centerpiece of their wonderfully amorphous album Scry, features no such electronic manipulation. The song glides around two tumbling piano chords, as Pulice lets their unadorned saxophone lead the way, dancing up and down its range with autumnal grace. As transporting as Pulice’s more overtly experimental work can be, they’ve never made anything quite so simple and stunning. –Sam Goldner

Lisen: Cole Pulice, “City in a City”



Bandmanrill: “Real Hips”

Bandmanrill never wastes a good sample. On “Real Hips” the kinetic Newark rapper comes through with the zeal of a personal trainer, transforming a Jersey club classic into a HIIT workout aimed at your abductors. DJ Bake and KilSoSouth ensure the beat is both vigorous and elastic—the right balance for Bandmanrill to rifle through talk of parents, success, and paranoia. He always comes back to that instructional, hands-on-hips hook, though, because this is a reminder that, for how frenzied life can be, having a good time should reign supreme. –Joshua Minsoo Kim

Listen: Bandmanrill, “Real Hips”



Animal Collective: “Royal and Desire”

Animal Collective have done all the woodsy jamborees and primeval oozing and childlike explorations one could ever ask for, but “Royal and Desire” is above all beautiful—hardly one of the first words used to describe most Animal Collective songs. Deakin takes a commanding lead on the closer of Time Skiffs, their best album in more than a decade, with the rest of the band rising behind him in gaseous harmony. The music is sweet and legato, the sound is psychedelic rock falling from a soft-serve machine. This is AnCo at their most imperial, slowly stepping down the aisle, climbing atop the dais, and solemnly placing a lava lamp on the altar. –Jeremy D. Larson

Listen: Animal Collective, “Royal and Desire”



Kelela: “Washed Away”

Over the course of three fully realized projects in the mid-2010s, Kelela wove together R&B’s tenderness with the ruggedness of club music, showing us that in allowing pain and pleasure to coexist, we might succeed in forging a path from the former to the latter. And then she disappeared. “Washed Away,” her first new song in five years, explores the aftermath of reconciliation and the eternal question of what happens next. While some might succumb to neurosis and anguish, Kelela chooses peaceful meditation. Devoid of both kick drums and confessional lyrics, the ambient track embraces the vast unknown of the future with a grace akin to ocean mist landing gently on bare skin. –Jessica Kariisa

Listen: Kelela, “Washed Away”

Rough Trade


Gilla Band: “Backwash”

Gilla Band wisely recognize that nearly all of the best ideas about how guitar bands can move on from punk come from hip-hop and electronic music. “Backwash” is the Irish band’s culminating proof-of-concept: As abrasive as it is propulsive, as direct as it is diffuse, the song runs post-punk’s basics through production tricks you can learn from modern-rap masterpieces like Playboi Carti’s Whole Lotta Red or Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs. The guitars are subjected to blown-out digital processing with no regard for how the sound might be replicated onstage; lyrics about the horror of binge-watching Big Brother cumulate into a deluge of consciousness. Even the title is an inversion of punk-rock cliché: “Backwash” isn’t an image of spitting into someone’s face, but choking on your own disgust. –Ian Cohen

Listen: Gilla Band, “Backwash”

Young Stoner Life


Yung Kayo: “hear you” [ft. Eartheater]

Yung Kayo’s glitchy warble makes for a natural fit within Young Thug’s YSL roster, but the Washington, D.C. native’s music feels closer in spirit to the glittery rave-pop of Drain Gang than to Atlanta trap. On “hear you,” Kayo leaves the material realm, ascending to a dimension of pure light and sound. The presence of Queens-based experimentalist Eartheater might seem leftfield for an album that also features Gunna and Yeat, but her almost-inhuman vocal range makes for a symbiotic duet with Kayo’s unpredictable crooning. –Nadine Smith

Listen: Yung Kayo / Eartheater, “hear you” [ft. Eartheater]

Secretly Canadian


Porridge Radio: “Back to the Radio”

“Back to the Radio,” the momentous opener that sets the table for Porridge Radio’s third album of vein-bulging post-punk, is essentially one big crescendo. Spartan melodies cut through drums that jitter with nervous energy, as the British band approximates the feeling of walls closing in. Meanwhile, frontwoman Dana Margolin fills in the scenes of a hollow relationship: a house on lockdown, mutters in a slow-moving car. Porridge Radio render this quotidian prison so evocatively, it’s hard to not want to stay a while. –Mehan Jayasuriya

Listen: Porridge Radio, “Back to the Radio”

Unheard of Hope


Mabe Fratti: “Cada Músculo”

At first, “Cada Músculo” is a thicket of riddles and warnings—a brawny cello rises and lunges, a sibilant violin snarls and lashes, an inquisitive synth taunts and vanishes. This is how the Mexico City-based composer and singer Mabe Fratti renders our vexing world. Her voice glides through the mess, disarming it through self-sovereignty: “Cada músculo tiene una voz,” or “Every muscle has a voice.” Those rough sounds soften when she opens her mouth, sorted into something like breezy chamber pop, the mysteries of this moment temporarily banished. The end’s howling strings are a stark reminder of the iterative effort that existence demands. –Grayson Haver Currin

Listen: Mabe Fratti, “Cada Músculo”

Tan Cressida / Warner


Earl Sweatshirt: “Tabula Rasa” [ft. Armand Hammer]

After a pair of laconic records whose goal seemed, at times, to obfuscate, Earl Sweatshirt returned this year with SICK!, an album dominated by songs that cut through the noise. Its centerpiece is “Tabula Rasa,” a patient piano number that pairs him with the unvarnished New York duo Armand Hammer. While Elucid and billy woods rap—vividly—about human connections made, broken, and fraying, Earl details the way a similar disintegration forced him to remake himself. “This game of telephone massive,” he raps during his loping verse. “I do what I have to with the fragments.” –Paul A. Thompson

Listen: Earl Sweatshirt, “Tabula Rasa” [ft. Armand Hammer]



Ibibio Sound Machine: “Protection From Evil”

Like a fog machine dosed with sage oil, the opening track of Ibibio Sound Machine’s Electricity brings a heady rush to the disco. Over a cauldron of stomp and shimmer, British-Nigerian frontwoman Eno Williams repeats her incantation: “Spiritual/Invisible/Protection/From evil.” Produced by Hot Chip, the song hovers at the crossroads of Afrobeat and electronic pop, mixing horns, synths, and robotic vocalizations. Each element amplifies Williams’ impassioned chant, a benediction delivered with the haunted force of an exorcism. –Judy Berman

Listen: Ibibio Sound Machine, “Protection From Evil”

Wavy Gang / Empire


Babyface Ray: “Sincerely Face”

Plenty of local scenes around the country tried to recapture the magic of Michigan rap this year, but none of them boasted a one-of-a-kind character like Detroit’s own Babyface Ray. “Sincerely Face” lays out what has made Ray such a pillar: Through his icy delivery, basic rap flexes about Rolexes, courtside seats, and steakhouse dinners sound revelatory. Over a chilly beat, he shrugs his way through a mix of life lessons with inimitable cool. It’s the type of song where the fly aura rubs off on you every time you play it. They only make ’em like this in Michigan. –Alphonse Pierre

Listen: Babyface Ray, “Sincerely Face”



Eliza Rose / Interplanetary Criminal: “B.O.T.A. (Baddest of Them All)”

Taking inspiration from an immaculate poster for the 1973 Pam Grier blaxploitation film Coffy, every flirty bar and bubbly riff of “B.O.T.A.” oozes cool. Sassy organ house has long lit up British dancefloors, but topping the charts was hardly a forgone conclusion for underground UK Garage producer-DJs Eliza Rose and Interplanetary Criminal. After meeting the accelerant of TikTok, though, the tune’s explosion felt inevitable; it began festival season as a limited pressing and ended it as the hottest record in the UK and Ireland. In a year that resurfaced important debates about the ownership and authenticity of dance music, two things about “B.O.T.A.” ring true: It belongs to the people, and it’s real as fuck. –Gabriel Szatan

Listen: Eliza Rose / Interplanetary Criminal, “B.O.T.A. (Baddest of Them All)”

Because Music


Shygirl: “Coochie (a bedtime story)”

“Coochie (a bedtime story)” is the sweetest X-rated lullaby imaginable. Shygirl starts things off on a direct line with, well, pussy, sounding like she’s cooing into an old Nokia phone: “Hello? Is anyone there? It’s the coochie calling.” What follows is a soft, funny testament to the UK artist’s unapologetic sexuality, its liquid beat gliding, stuttering, and zipping under her airy vocals. That Shygirl can proclaim her own horniness with such cuteness and levity is a coochie-attracting combination in and of itself. –Margeaux Labat

Listen: Shygirl, “Coochie (a bedtime story)”

Triple Crown


Oso Oso: “Computer Exploder”

Like a drunk staggering across the beach, “Computer Exploder” lurches toward its chorus in fits and starts. The sunny skies of the opening verse are soon clouded with references to heartbreak and addiction, collapsing in a screeching rush. The hook, when it finally arrives, flashes Oso Oso’s signature blend of surf-rock guitars and emo harmonies, the love and drugs complicated by frontman Jade Lilitri’s self-referential songwriting. “When nothing goes quite like you planned it/Write 12 songs, swing like you can’t miss,” he sings in a nod to his latest album’s tracklist. The go-for-broke candor captures Lilitri’s ambition, casting him as a heavy-hitting rocker in an era that’s all but dispensed with them. –Pete Tosiello

Listen: Oso Oso, “Computer Exploder”



Mavi: “Baking Soda”

On the sun-kissed “Baking Soda,” producers Monte Booker and Amarah break down the beat so radically that its melodic tendons barely attach to the rhythmic spine—when Mavi murmurs, “I been gave my soul away to the drum, I’mma live forever” on the chorus, the drum itself feels a hair’s breadth away from oblivion. It’s a complementary backdrop for the heady North Carolina rapper’s elusive insights; what does it mean, exactly, when he says, “And your tears is now trees”? The meaning blooms in the line’s lovely, lingering after-image, as the beat crumbles and rebuilds itself like the last dregs of a dream. –Jayson Greene

Listen: Mavi, “Baking Soda”

Fat Possum


Dehd: “Bad Love”

Dehd’s Emily Kempf is howling with her chest, sprinting at top speed towards a new dawn. The beatific “Bad Love” is more than a bold mea culpa for hurting people in the past, it’s a rapturous embrace of the dangerous task of loving again. Kempf stutters syllables in her quest for “re-re-redemption,” her hopscotching vocal rhythms echoed by machine-gun bursts of snare and sparse guitar licks. With the wind in her sails, her roars swell in size, pushing past the timidity of heartbreak to arrive at one of the most invigorating indie rock anthems of the year. –Jesse Locke

Listen: Dehd, “Bad Love”

Sony UK / RCA


Koffee: “Pull Up”

Koffee boasts about her new luxury lifestyle on “Pull Up,” but it’s never arrogant or sanctimonious. Over an aquatic beat from British-Ghanaian producer Jae5, the Jamaican singer’s orotund voice feels celebratory, a match for a track that bridges the sunny textures of dancehall and Afrobeats. If anyone else leaned out of the window of a drifting car and sang about pulling up to the party in an Audi, it’d probably feel boring and out-of-touch. But when Koffee does just that in the video, her mouth full of braces, you can’t help but grin along with her. –Isabelia Herrera

Listen: Koffee, “Pull Up”



Hagop Tchaparian: “Right to Riot”

The most immediate cut on British-Armenian producer Hagop Tchaparian’s startling debut album Bolts, “Right to Riot” merges worlds. Droning zurna melodies and tumbling dhol drums vie clamorously for our attention, but Tchaparian’s mastery of more traditional tactics—rising bass, cleansing releases, and a sample looped to sound like an alarm—make the track a gem of contemporary techno, whittling down the Four Tet collaborator’s sweeping vision into a sharp point. –Daniel Felsenthal 

Listen: Hagop Tchaparian, “Right to Riot”



Arctic Monkeys: “Body Paint”

Although the meta space-lounge of 2018’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino felt like a departure, this year’s The Car reinforced how elusive Arctic Monkeys’ debonair art-rock has always been. “Body Paint,” the album’s cinematic centerpiece, belongs in the revered UK band’s pantheon of slippery slow burners, alongside enigmatic 2000s ballads “505” and “Cornerstone.” Swapping orchestral swoon for glam-rock crunch midway through—right after Alex Turner croons, “And if you’re thinking of me/I’m probably thinking of you”—the song is an emotive puzzle, obsessed with artifice and lingering smudges you can’t wash away. –Marc Hogan

Listen: Arctic Monkeys, “Body Paint”



Perfume Genius: “Ugly Season”

On the LGBTQ+ anthem “Queen,” Mike Hadreas embraced the power in being viewed by homophobes as a “sea witch with penis tentacles.” Eight years later, over the skeletal reggae beat of “Ugly Season,” his exploration of queerness veers further left: He is a heathen outcast finding abject pleasure and autoerotic arousal in filth, rot, and hearty handfuls of Vaseline. Hadreas’ voice is high and pure amid guttural screams and mammalian lurches, offering hymnic bon mots that could have been written by Jean Genet: “Split, black, pit.” This year, as queer artists powerfully embraced monstrousness-as-dissent, “Ugly Season” burrows into outsider living to emerge as a swamp creature with carnal allure and a tender caress. –Owen Myers

Listen: Perfume Genius, “Ugly Season”



Azealia Banks: “New Bottega”

Azealia Banks considers the difference between fashion (what you wear) and style (what you possess) on “New Bottega,” which is to say, she is aware of how much she lays claim to. Some of the biggest albums this year drew on club sounds like a strategy, but the Harlem-bred Banks has always made a home inside house music. As she lists the names of designers she likes and doesn’t like in a bad Italian accent, “New Bottega” enters into the Banksian capsule collection—a staple in a malcontent designer’s oeuvre. –Mina Tavakoli 

Listen: Azealia Banks, “New Bottega”



Fever Ray: “What They Call Us”

This is the sound of crisis approaching from all sides: the escalating cruelties against its subjects (“did you hear what they call us?”) and the indifference of those watching it happen (“can you fix it, can you care?”). In a desperate plea for mercy, Karin Dreijer sings as if they’re grinding their teeth down to the nerve; the track shudders and startles at every turn, desolate synths circling the arrangement like vultures above wasteland. Despite this, “What They Call Us” is not the sound of defeat. It’s a defiant snarl in the face of circumstance: “I will stay if I dare.” –Katherine St. Asaph

Listen: Fever Ray, “What They Call Us”

PMR / Interscope


Amber Mark: “What It Is”

Uncertainty can gnaw at your psyche, boxing out every other thought. But Amber Mark imbues the troubling feeling with celestial wonder on “What It Is,” looking to a higher power to answer her questions following a failed love. The neat and simmering groove moves in lockstep underneath the R&B singer’s vocals, which mix her patient tone with agile vocal runs and gasping harmonies. Adrift in a stream of milky synths, she shows how powerful it is to be lost. –Brandon Callender

Listen: Amber Mark, “What It Is”



Plains: “Problem With It”

The charm of Katie Crutchfield and Jess Williamson’s album is how they seamlessly combine their simpatico strengths—the plainspoken emotiveness, the pretty melodies, the diaristic attention to experiences big and small—into easy-breezy country-pop that wouldn’t sound out of place on Nashville radio. “Problem With It” is the shining jewel from their debut LP as Plains, an airy travelogue of deep feelings about wanderlust and wack lovers that glides by like a fast car on an empty interstate. And the harmonies! There’s true joy in their vocal communion, most striking when the instruments drop out and it’s just the two of them singing, finding their peace and place in the world within each other’s presence. –Jeremy Gordon

Listen: Plains, “Problem With It”

International Anthem


Alabaster DePlume: “Don’t Forget You’re Precious”

The Mancunian saxophonist and spoken-word artist Alabaster DePlume meanders through the stuff stuck in his mind: an ex’s email address, a train transfer, assorted strings of identifying digits. Despite these thoughts—or even deeper, more abstracted aches—he delivers a serene reminder of what matters most. “They can’t use us on one another if we don’t forget we’re precious,” he offers. Against airy background vocals and fluttering strings, DePlume’s comforting reassurance feels like a secular blessing, a private rallying point away from life’s greedy clamor. –Allison Hussey

Listen: Alabaster DePlume, “Don’t Forget You’re Precious”



Kehlani: “melt”

Kehlani’s desire for intimacy is insatiable, even as they tangle with their lover in bed. Over Happy Perez and Pop Wansel’s blissful backbeat, Kehlani meticulously and melismatically details a fantasy where they share a physical form with their partner, with only Kehlani’s tattoos differentiating them. In an era flush with sapphic love songs, “melt” stands out for both its grandiose string arrangement and its specificity, finding the most happiness in quiet moments. –Hannah Jocelyn

Listen: Kehlani, “melt”

Run for Cover


Camp Cope: “Running With the Hurricane”

Fiona Apple spread like strawberries and climbed like peas and beans; Camp Cope run with the hurricane, setting aside the heavy balloon of depression and obsessive self-loathing to keep pace with the forces that might otherwise knock them flat. There’s some Springsteen-y heroism in their full-pelt charge towards daylight—“Look out boys/I’m on fire and I’m not going out,” Georgia Maq announces—but the Australian trio is mostly guided by their country-punk foremothers: the Chicks, Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, Neko Case. The song rattles along in a lovely cacophony of jangling piano, lunging bass, and a baton-swap of choruses, like some junker with sturdy suspension and everything else nailed down just barely enough to make your escape. –Laura Snapes

Listen: Camp Cope, “Running With the Hurricane”

Parkwood Entertainment / Columbia


Beyoncé: “Break My Soul”

“Break My Soul” demands its listeners leave all psychic weight at the door. “Release the stress!” a Big Freedia sample commands inside an Earth-shaking house pulse, as Beyoncé presides over the dancefloor like she just rode in on the back of a hologram horse. Bey gives a fully embodied performance that invites the rest of us to luxuriate inside our own bodies—to spit out the toxins and savor the pleasure that floods in once they’re gone. Unleashed at the height of summer, “Break My Soul” ushered in a sorely needed season of abandon and relief, serving as balm and catalyst at the same time. –Sasha Geffen

Listen: Beyoncé, “Break My Soul”

Ninja Tune


Black Country, New Road: “Basketball Shoes”

It’s impossible to know precisely how many songs have been written about Charli XCX wet dreams, but you could reasonably assume only one is a 12-minute chamber-rock requiem whose reference to Concord Air Jordans bore a concept record about the Concorde jet disaster. “Basketball Shoes” erupts with the essentials of Black Country, New Road: frenetic tempo changes, bright arpeggiation, violin, saxophone, glockenspiel, distortion, screaming, doorbell chimes. Concluding more than their album Ants From Up There, the finale bids adieu to singer Isaac Wood, who left the band days before its release. –Hannah Seidlitz

Listen: Black Country, New Road, “Basketball Shoes”



DJ Python: “Angel”

Reggaeton always seems to figure into discussions of DJ Python’s music—the New York-based producer did previously coin the term “deep reggaeton” to describe his sound—but while “Angel,” the lead track from his Club Sentimientos Vol. 2 EP, is built atop a loosely Caribbean shuffle, the sprawling tune is better suited to an afternoon of lounging by the pool than a sweaty night of perreo. Gliding across nearly 11 minutes of plush textures and dreamily plinking tones, the song has a hypnotic, almost womb-like allure, its patient pulse exuding a luxurious (but never ostentatious) sense of cool. –Shawn Reynaldo

Listen: DJ Python, “Angel”



FKA twigs: “honda” [ft. Pa Salieu]

Where FKA twigs’ 2019 album MAGDALENE peeled back the skin of a visceral pain, her 2022 mixtape CAPRISONGS rediscovered a sense of somatic joy. twigs leans all the way into that physicality on “honda,” a dubby duet with the English artist Pa Salieu. Over a bone-deep bassline, Salieu and twigs’ voices twist around one another, mirroring the tangled, dancing limbs they sing about. At first listen, “honda” is all sensual chemistry, felt across a dancefloor, or speeding down the highway. But Salieu’s breezy monologue about looking at himself in the mirror frames the song in a different light: It’s also about those moments you feel entirely in your own body, reclaiming your “one-of-a-kind” self. –Aimee Cliff

Listen: FKA twigs, “honda” [ft. Pa Salieu]



Fontaines D.C.: “Jackie Down the Line”

The lead single from Fontaines D.C.’s Skinty Fia is seductively dark, with a menacing bassline, gnarly ’90s post-punk guitar skeins, and a lyric that masquerades as a toxic-boyfriend confession. Like much of the album, “Jackie Down the Line” reveals itself with unpacking as a meditation on Irish identity: in this case, an examination of the way that cultural marginalization can breed self-hate and self-fulfilling prophecy. Grian Chatten’s Dublin brogue, flecked with the soulful British surliness of Mark E. Smith and Noel Gallagher, complicated things further. So did the song’s video premiere, brilliantly staged for the Tonight Show in a deserted theater for a roving camera that seemed unable to get a fix on the singer—much like the singer himself. –Will Hermes

Listen: Fontaines D.C., “Jackie Down the Line”

Text / Ministry of Sound


KH: “Looking at Your Pager”

Kieran Hebden’s flair for tunes that intersect credibility and popularity already put him in a lofty position, but “Looking at Your Pager” proved another beast entirely. With fangs added to 3LW’s kiss-off and those signature pearlescent Four Tet chimes dashed against a pair of impudent basslines—like fine snow gracing an enormous, stinking cement mixer in mid-churn—2021’s fervently sought track ID became 2022’s great dancefloor unifier: It runs with the current UK vogue for growling mechanical steppers while offering sanctuary to nomads wandering America’s post-EDM plains in search of a new thrill. Although “Pager” gifted countless DJs a get-out-of-jail card this summer, they should be on red alert. Hebden’s ear for a monster hit is only getting stronger. –Gabriel Szatan

Listen: KH, “Looking at Your Pager”



Danger Mouse / Black Thought: “Belize” [ft. MF DOOM]

MF DOOM’s appearance on Cheat Codes represents a bit of unfinished business: Danger Mouse, who originally produced DOOM’s long-vaulted verse, had long wanted the Roots’ Black Thought for the track. What could’ve been an autumnal team-up between two all-time rap technicians became, with DOOM’s passing in 2020, a melancholic meeting across the veil. The Villain’s sardonic epitaph (“They knew he was a negro/So no need to show faces”) draws as much blood as the world’s longest Erik Estrada joke, while Black Thought’s polished yet playful verse is a tribute to the sly anarchy DOOM could elicit, whether or not he was in the room. –Brad Shoup 

Listen: Danger Mouse / Black Thought, “Belize” [ft. MF DOOM]

PMR / Interscope


Jessie Ware: “Free Yourself”

The beloved British singer responsible for one of the pandemic’s premiere pop albums teamed up with studio whizz Stuart Price and returned this summer with another ode to love and dancing. “Free Yourself” takes Ware’s blend of ’70s disco and ’80s boogie and shimmies it ecstatically into the ’90s—jacking acid house drum fills, flamboyant male backup singers, gospel piano—without losing an ounce of charm. And when, this fall, she finally sang it live in front of a New York crowd pitched to Judy-at-Carnegie-Hall pandemonium? It became a new classic. –Jesse Dorris

Listen: Jessie Ware, “Free Yourself”



Ravyn Lenae: “Light Me Up”

“Light Me Up” is about the soft hope of a blossoming romance. The Steve Lacy-produced song begins with uncertainty, pacing in circles over tranquil bass guitar and kicks that pulse like a slowed heart. Lenae’s tender vocal runs descend like creek water as she describes the exhilaration of trying on someone new: “No coming down, I love the view.” The song’s private intensity makes it fit for a closed-doors affair in a candle-lit room, but Lenae’s weightless voice and quiet vulnerability makes it impossible not to want to listen in. –Jane Bua

Listen: Ravyn Lenae, “Light Me Up”

Columbia Nashville


Maren Morris: “Circles Around This Town”

Maren Morris does the impossible: She makes driving in Nashville sound fun. A sly bit of memoir set to music, the first single from Humble Quest recalls the singer’s earliest days as a Tennessee transplant, driving her “Montero with the AC busted” through traffic to look for a record deal and maybe find a little inspiration on the radio. It’s been a decade since she arrived in town, but she might as well be singing about what she did last weekend. She arrived in Nashville hungry. Several years and many miles later, she still is. –Stephen Deusner

Listen: Maren Morris, “Circles Around This Town”

OVO Sound / Republic


Drake: “Sticky”

On an album that often sounds like he’s searching for something (novelty, if you’re being generous; relevance if you’re not), “Sticky” is where Drake issues his demands: for more guests at the Met Gala, for police escorts, for a kiss, requested in curling French-Canadian. Like the best Drake songs, “Sticky” pressure-cooks his brashest impulses until they congeal into something tender. The club closes; the neon lights sputter out, and “it’s you alone with your regrets.” The stickiest situations are always the ones that trap you in your own thoughts. –Dani Blum

Listen: Drake, “Sticky”

Rvng Intl.


Lucrecia Dalt: “El Galatzó”

Lucrecia Dalt’s forceful whisper seems to lightly kiss the microphone, capturing the uncomfortable intimacy of another’s breath against your ear. A flute swirls in the stereo mix, and by the third minute of “El Galatzó,” the strings swell into a crescendo and her plaintive speech gives way to a soulful chorus of spirits. This is, of course, the alien Preta, the protagonist of her latest album ¡Ay!, who arrives flush with newly realized erotic power, rejecting the illusion of linear time. It’s a blast of sci-fi folklore, with an anti-colonial POV. The songs and stories of our ancestors aren’t relegated to the past; that kind of temporality, Dalt suggests, is merely a misconception of the unevolved. –Matthew Ismael Ruiz

Listen: Lucrecia Dalt, “El Galatzó”



Taylor Swift: “Anti-Hero”

Sometimes the world really does revolve around Taylor Swift: Is there any other artist who could force urgency into the federal investigation of a music industry monopoly just by going on tour? With “Anti-Hero,” Taylor mirrors an entire lifetime of being a coy main character—the bleacher seat-warmer, the “insane” jealous ex, the doomed princess—with one addictive, charming declaration of self-awareness. Her vocal theatrics are spiked with the very millennial instinct to disguise confidence with self-deprecation, using the tools of a generation obsessed with self-reflection to make one of the best pop songs of the year. –Puja Patel

Listen: Taylor Swift, “Anti-Hero”

604 / Schoolboy / Interscope


Carly Rae Jepsen: “Western Wind”

A “jubilation” conjures such a specific kind of party—maybe a little Catholic, maybe a little royal, something grand and elegant with streamers, champagne, castles. When Carly Rae Jepsen sings the word “jubilation” on “Western Wind”—a midtempo Live, Laugh, Love pop song produced by Rostam from Jepsen’s album *The Loneliest Time—*it’s about a memory of her clearing aside all the furniture in her living room to make a space to sing and dance with her family. It’s so simple, so delightful, so inviting. The sneakily well-built song bubbles along softly, like a sleepy little “Freedom! ’90,” a road trip jam that can silence everyone in the car as Jepsen sings this question: “Do you feel home from all directions?” Not sure what it means, but like the best songs, the answer when you’re listening is an unequivocal yes. –Jeremy D. Larson 

Listen: Carly Rae Jepsen, “Western Wind”

Dear Life


MJ Lenderman: “Tastes Just Like It Costs”

When MJ Lenderman’s guitar gently weeps, his songwriting keeps a stiff upper lip. Like everything on the indie rocker’s breakthrough album Boat Songs, “Tastes Just Like It Costs” contrasts the looseness of his playing—a saggy opening riff reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age, some curdled Dinosaur Jr. soloing—with the extreme economy of his lyrics. In a handful of four- and five-line verses, he sketches a scene appropriate for a Portlandia sketch, or maybe a horror film: an upscale butcher shop, a “dumb hat,” a sourceless scream. “Mm, honey/It tastes just like it costs,” he drawls over glowing charcoal fuzz, savoring the sweetness of the ambiguity. –Philip Sherburne

Listen: MJ Lenderman, “Tastes Just Like It Costs”



Charlotte Adigéry / Bolis Pupul: “It Hit Me”

On the Belgian electropop duo Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul’s debut LP, Topical Dancer, “It Hit Me” pierces through their theatrical scrim. Tackling the fraught subject of sexual spectacle—from the grimy discomfort of being leered at for the first time to the inane seduction techniques found in women’s magazines—“It Hit Me” guides us through the funhouse mirror of navigating one’s sexuality. The chorus underscores the weight of Adigéry and Pupul’s realizations, letting us feel the gut punch with them—and inviting us to dance through it all. –Sue Park

Listen: Charlotte Adigéry / Bolis Pupul, “It Hit Me”

Big Dada


Yaya Bey: “keisha”

“keisha” is a breakup anthem made for a specific type of bad bitch: an independent woman who puts up with annoying “Where my hug at?” dudes, but still just wants to be loved and madly desired. Yaya Bey knows her audience is foul-mouthed, slightly toxic, lovestruck, and aroused by good, flirty conversation, so she adopts a feathery guitar riff that floats through the song. But when she sings the indelible chorus—“Yeah the pussy so, so good/And you still don’t love me”—it’s comedy and tragedy all rolled into one. –Tarisai Ngangura

Listen: Yaya Bey, “keisha”

1501 Certified Entertainment / 300 Entertainment


Megan Thee Stallion: “Plan B”

The high road is unsatisfying and often boring. Mud-slinging reveals something closer to the truth, and on “Plan B,” the truth sets the Houston Hottie free: “Fuck you, still can’t believe I used to trust you/The only accolade you ever made is that I fucked you.” Bolstered by a Jodeci sample, Meg spits with equal parts force and charisma, confronting not just the anger of a bad relationship but also the pain. Just ’cause you’re a bad bitch doesn’t mean you can’t have your feelings hurt. –Jessica Kariisa

Listen: Megan Thee Stallion, “Plan B”



Angel Olsen: “Big Time”

Even the brightest-burning romances are made up of quiet moments. With “Big Time,” Angel Olsen gives listeners a glimpse into that kind of intimacy: She and her partner Beau Thibodeaux, who co-wrote the song, drink coffee, lay in the tall grass, and walk down to the lake, singing Chris de Burgh’s “The Lady in Red.” Olsen’s brassy, stuck-out-of-time voice and the breezy, country-inspired arrangement imbue those details with the gleam of universal truth. The sweetly delivered line “I’m loving you big time” is a beacon in Olsen’s hands. Its disarming simplicity cracks open her incandescent partnership, letting its light pour out all over everything. –Brad Sanders

Listen: Angel Olsen, “Big Time”

Stones Throw


Sudan Archives: “Home Maker”

With the world coming back outside again, “Home Maker” shows that staying in the crib can be just as worthwhile. Sudan Archives sidesteps the opaque nature of some of her previous work for a straight-ahead introvert’s anthem. “I cry when I’m alone,” she coos atop propulsive drums and looping handclaps. “All these people don’t know/That I deal with all of these doubts.” Yet the song doesn’t wallow in sadness; it is empowered, therapeutic, and honest. –Marcus J. Moore

Listen: Sudan Archives, “Home Maker”



yeule: “Bites on My Neck”

Part hyperpop cyborg, part suffering bedroom songwriter, yeule deals in emo-tinged laments that conceal deep, impossible desires: to be numb and euphoric at once; to be touched without a body. The Singaporean musician floats between dissociative sing-speak and lullaby coos on “Bites on My Neck,” corralling meteor-shower synths and pugilistic kick drums to offer a fresh perspective on pleasure-centric dance pop. Co-written and produced with Danny L Harle and Mura Masa, the track owes as much to M83’s starbound symphonies and Laurie Anderson’s deadpan alienation as to post-PC Music clubland. Yeule hijacks that garish pop paradigm in service of more vaporous emotions, funneling a post-breakup identity crisis into an immaterial rush. –Jazz Monroe

Listen: yeule, “Bites on My Neck”

Rough Trade


Special Interest: “Midnight Legend” [ft. Mykki Blanco]

When the drugs have run dry and you’re about to ditch the club, “Midnight Legend” will call you back. You hear those bouncing ’90s house keys, the synthetic snares that clack like costume jewelry on a cheap bartop. Special Interest vocalist Alli Logout pulls double duty: They are your disco deity, your rave therapist. “They all pine for you/Built you to destroy you,” Logout belts, before partner-in-crime Mykki Blanco slides in with a brassy verse. “Daddy pay the bill but I don’t fuck him,” Blanco snaps over a four-on-the-floor pulse. The divas have arrived—dancefloor salvation. –Madison Bloom

Listen: Special Interest: “Midnight Legend” [ft. Mykki Blanco]

True Panther / Harvest


Grace Ives: “Shelly”

Grace Ives’ Janky Star springs to life like a miniature jukebox of sputtering New York love songs, each delectable hook blaring through with a raggedy kind of charm. Where most of the album channels the raunchy electro-pop of the aughts, “Shelly” calls out the oldies: its power poppy, guitar-chugging strut feels more of a piece with Pulp or Rick Springfield. Ives cheekily lusts after a woman who reminds her of the titular Twin Peaks character, breathily proclaiming, “I wanna 1-2-3-4-5 her.” It’s as winking as it is sweetly sincere, like a parody of all those unrequited-love karaoke classics that’s so positively giddy it ends up becoming the real thing. –Sam Goldner

Listen: Grace Ives, “Shelly”



Big Thief: “Spud Infinity”

What exactly is the connection between potatoes and human existence? Who knows. But the absurd central metaphor in Big Thief’s “Spud Infinity” makes it both the band's homeliest song and possibly their most beautiful, escaping like a big, snorty laugh from their murmuring double album, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You. The mouth harp and see-sawing fiddle are the perfect accompaniment to Adrianne Lenker’s outrageously playful lyrics, rhyming “finish” with “potato knish” in a flourish that would make John Prine crack a mile-wide grin. –Jayson Greene

Listen: Big Thief, “Spud Infinity”

Glo Gang / RBC


Chief Keef: “Bitch Where”

Chief Keef is at an emotional crossroads. The Chicago native is still as wild and irreverent as ever (“At the gun range, sound checkin’, it sound clear”) but he’s also uncharacteristically grateful to still be alive and creating after a decade in the industry. “Bitch Where” plays these fantastical tonal leaps against a triumphant beat made for a king returning from war, but once the smoke clears, a message from Keef’s grandmother maintains the air of gratitude: “Keep going, baby. Keep going. Granny just love how you move and doing yourself.” –Dylan Green

Listen: Chief Keef, “Bitch Where”



Charli XCX: “Constant Repeat”

There are glimmers of Charli’s cyborg tendencies on Crash standout “Constant Repeat”—the high-pitched blips, the sliced-and-diced vocal outro—but it moves more lightly ​​than the revved-up pop for which she’s become known. Charli is at ease, luxuriating in Jacuzzi-jet synths while delivering a resolute assertion of her worth to someone who let her go. Ostensibly about a breakup, the song becomes all the more potent considering Crash’s meta-narrative about a fed-up pop star dipping out on her major-label overlords. Charli demands stardom on her own terms; the mainstream machine can take it or leave it. –Olivia Horn

Listen: Charli XCX, “Constant Repeat”



Ice Spice: “Munch (Feelin’ U)”

Merriam-Webster defines “munch” as a verb that means “to eat with a chewing action.” Which is wrong. Or, at least, incomplete. Because according to Ice Spice, the word is a noun that describes a particularly clueless kind of guy—a dummy, a sucker, a simp. “You thought I was feelin’ you?” the Bronx drill rapper eyerolls on one of the year’s most memorable hooks, “That nigga a munch/Nigga a eater he ate it for lunch/Bitch I’m a baddie I get what I want.” Ice Spice grew up idolizing both Cardi B and Erykah Badu, and she balances her brashness with a supremely unbothered delivery, as if she’s been swatting away munches for decades. Centuries, even. Merriam-Webster, it’s time to catch up. –Ryan Dombal

Listen: Ice Spice, “Munch (Feelin’ U)”

Rough Trade


Jockstrap: “Greatest Hits”

A song called “Greatest Hits” might seem like hubris, but subversive audacity is encoded into Jockstrap’s DNA. On this highlight of I Love You Jennifer B, the London duo takes the fundamentals of disco—sashaying glamor, sumptuous strings—and laces them with hyperpop mischief. “Imagine I’m Madonna/Imagine I’m the Madonna,” vogues Georgia Ellery, self-actualizing her stardom. In an alternate reality, “Greatest Hits” is soundtracking a scene of eyebrow-raising decadence in Studio 54 at this very moment. In our timeline it’s playing out on less opulent stages, but even the humblest trappings can’t tarnish its sense of unabashed rapture. –Louis Pattison

Listen: Jockstrap, “Greatest Hits”

Loma Vista


Soccer Mommy: “Shotgun”

Sophie Allison was put on God’s green Earth to write vivid, melancholy songs. On “Shotgun,” the undulating lead single from Sometimes, Forever, she masters the complicated rush of falling into an unsustainable love, painting a twisted picture of twentysomething romances. “You know I’ll take you as you are/As long as you do me,” she sings over muddy layers of grungy guitar chords produced expertly by Oneohtrix Point Never. “Shotgun” is about doing vulnerable and delusional things in love, knowing they’re just quick fixes, and not giving a damn anyway. –Gio Santiago

Listen: Soccer Mommy, “Shotgun”



Steve Lacy: “Bad Habit”

Steve Lacy is a lovelorn Eeyore on “Bad Habit,” his Gemini Rights anthem for the undecided. He dutifully trods around in his own head, assuaging the guilt of not pursuing a love interest. Still, he allows himself to daydream. In a year that’s felt directionless for many, it’s clear why a song about living in ambiguity would become a No. 1 hit and every TikTok introvert’s soundtrack. More than the wispy pangs of regret or plaintive falsetto, what propels the song is a steady pulse of uncertainty, relatable to anyone who’s ever talked themselves out of following their heart. –Clover Hope

Listen: Steve Lacy, “Bad Habit”

Mexican Summer


Cate Le Bon: “Moderation”

“Moderation,” a highlight of Cate Le Bon’s Pompeii, is a beguiling elegy to uncertainty. Atop a strutting new wave bassline and lonesome horns, the Welsh musician faces the habits she can’t quite knock, reckoning with guilt and her own good intentions. “Moderation/I can’t have it/I don’t want it/I want to touch it,” she sings, lingering on each word as if to briefly possess its essence. In this strange space between emotions, Le Bon stands transfixed by the unknown. –Quinn Moreland

Listen: Cate Le Bon, “Moderation”



Burna Boy: “Last Last”

Has heartbreak ever sounded so liberating? “Last Last” is Burna Boy’s paean to pain and things that, well, don’t last—his layered vocals soaring freely over lolloping kicks. But played against the charismatic defiance of his drink- and smoke-soaked performance is that shivering riff of Toni Braxton’s “He Wasn’t Man Enough”; it rings like eternal doubt—maybe it was me, not you, after all?—and delivers the tension that triggered the song’s explosion across street parties and beach stages all summer. –Will Pritchard

Listen: Burna Boy, “Last Last”



Daphni: “Cherry”

Daphni’s third album, Cherry, feels like it was bashed out in a few hours, in the best possible way. It’s rave music as garage rock, with a giddy sense of freedom that makes it feels like a breakthrough for the dance-music project of Caribou’s Dan Snaith. Standing astride the record is the title track, composed of a few eccentric but judiciously arranged elements—a frog-chorus of pitch-shifted hi-hats, a simple melody played on a pneumatic chord preset—threaded along a synth loop that sounds like a chain of exploding Pop Rocks. Simply yet counterintuitively constructed, “Cherry” is proof a rave anthem can be patched together out of anything. –Daniel Bromfield

Listen: Daphni, “Cherry”

Sub Pop


Weyes Blood: “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody”

Natalie Mering transforms a biting moment of interiority—feeling unseen at a party—into a plea for empathy and interconnectivity. She notices the increasing loneliness in herself, then the loneliness in everyone, everywhere: a testament to the fact that we’re all “a part of one big thing.” The song beams with ’70s sonic nostalgia, Mering’s languid voice soaring over soft piano and taut drums. But the sentiments in “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody” are hardly backwards-looking. Mering searches for a way forward, embracing mercy as a path to ourselves and each other. –Brady Brickner-Wood 

Listen: Weyes Blood, “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody”

Mainframe Audio


Two Shell: “home”

Two Shell could really piss you off if their music wasn’t so fantastic. Forget the duo’s inane first interview that self-destructed before you could read it, or their Boiler Room set where they twiddled knobs to a pre-recorded set in goat hats and sunglasses. Forget the passcode-protected hacker website that makes you feel like you have to steal the Declaration of Independence to get in. It all evaporates in the face of a big, phosphorescent floor-filler like “home,” in which pitched-up vocals from a 2016 alt-R&B song emit an irresistible rainbow sheen, texturized by whirring jungle beats and slobbery bubble-popping noises. It’s dippy, synthetic, and blindingly fun, a sure sign that even at closing time your night is on the up. –Cat Zhang 

Listen: Two Shell, “home”

Stomp Down


Monaleo: “We Not Humping (Remix)” [ft. Flo Milli]

When pop-culture feminism goes full-throttle on misandry, the Miami bass-inflected “We Not Humping (Remix)” will be the movement’s rallying song. Equally bratty and lacerating, Monaleo and Flo Milli take turns using the alpha-male ego like a punching bag. Sparing no feelings, these Southern women giggle at erectile dysfunction, berating those who can only last for the duration of a TikTok video, and shaming the ones who failed Eater 101 in a playground-taunt delivery. Don’t worry, they just might let you hang—just come with your jaw loose and most importantly keep your pants zipped. –Heven Haile

Listen: Monaleo, “We Not Humping (Remix)” [ft. Flo Milli]

Perpetual Novice


Caroline Polachek: “Billions”

Caroline Polachek dives headfirst into the twists and turns of a mutually obliterative infatuation. She breathily gasps about “sexting sonnets” and “working the angles,” before plunging down an octave to seethe “headless angel / body upgraded / but it's dead on arrival.” And then a sharp turn: She hands off the final chorus to a British children's choir, whose voices sound so weightless they could be simulated. “I never felt so close to you,” they sing, modeling what all the best pop music does: taking a specific situation between a particular I and a particular you and inviting everyone else in the world to fill it with their own dreams and nightmares. –Sasha Geffen

Listen: Caroline Polachek, “Billions”



Beth Orton: “Friday Night”

Beth Orton’s astonishing “Friday Night” captures the moment when a disarrayed consciousness finally arranges itself into a shape that makes sense. The haunted background vocals and vaporous synths suggest the time-travel of memory as much as the lyric about Proust’s madeleine, but Orton has no desire to live in the past. Though she’s a little unsteady, hobbling along to the tumbling beat of the drum, she’d rather move forward. As “Friday Night” unfolds, Orton sounds both weary and sneakily energized, ready to discover what’s next. –Mark Richardson

Listen: Beth Orton, “Friday Night”

One Little Independent


Björk: “Ancestress”

Björk wrote “Ancestress,” a long and stirring highlight from Fossora, in the wake of her mother’s death. She penned pages of words before whittling them down and enlisting her son, Sindri Eldon, to harmonize. In the moments they sing together, Björk and Eldon sketch out a lifecycle, each honoring their own matriarch. Björk pays tribute to her mother’s dyslexia—an “idiosyncratic sense of rhythm” and the “ultimate free form.” But she doesn’t just sing about it: She echos it with musical structure, shoving aside delicate chimes and dispatching atonal bells and jagged percussion. “Ancestress” is not only a song about Björk’s mother; it is her mother transposed into song. –Madison Bloom

Listen: Björk, “Ancestress”



Nilüfer Yanya: “Midnight Sun”

Play a round of Heardle with “Midnight Sun” and you might easily guess an In Rainbows song. Nilüfer Yanya translates Radiohead’s signature elements—minor-key trickery, layered guitar loops, cryptic lyrics punctuated with anxiety—into a heavily redacted diary entry. From the sharp intake of a drum roll that opens the song to the scuzzy, major-key blowout that offers a long-awaited catharsis, “Midnight Sun” uses rock’s ominous side to ward off an unidentified threat. Consider it a talisman for a new decade of misinformation, paranoia, and emotional spiraling. –Nina Corcoran

Listen: Nilüfer Yanya, “Midnight Sun”

pgLang / Top Dawg Entertainment / Aftermath / Interscope


Kendrick Lamar: “The Heart Part 5”

One of the worst strains of discourse in the field of Kendrickology is the idea that Kendrick Lamar never asked to be considered a spokesperson for the affairs of Black America, that he’s merely a savant that stumbled into a spotlight he’s not suited for, and never wanted. What an insult. “The Heart Part 5” is a three-hundred-and-thirty-two-second-long declaration of Kendrick’s unabashed desire for the pulpit, contending with whether the world no longer has use for his earnestness, and whether he should be ashamed to indulge his ambitions to moral superheroics. That’s actually exactly what the world wants, and it’s what Kendrick wants, too. –Adlan Jackson

Listen: Kendrick Lamar, “The Heart Part 5”

NNA Tapes


Rachika Nayar: “Heaven Come Crashing” [ft. Maria BC]

Though Rachika Nayar’s previous works of gossamer ambient play along a rich spectrum of feeling, they often expressed their intensity softly. The first half of the Brooklyn guitarist-composer’s “Heaven Come Crashing” glides along in a familiar quietude, with clusters of vocals from fellow guitarist Maria BC. When it abruptly drops into a motorway-paced drum’n’bass section, the catharsis is surprising but earned, like a natural discharge of energy. Amid all the noise and rhythm, the familiar sound of a processed guitar becomes something new and majestic. –Zhenzhen Yu

Listen: Rachika Nayar, “Heaven Come Crashing” [ft. Maria BC]



Pharrell: “Cash In Cash Out” [ft. 21 Savage and Tyler, the Creator]

“Cash In Cash Out” sounds like Pharrell heard a Gen-Zer refer to him as “the Minions song guy” and took it personally. Returning to a grittier sound after his work on Pusha-T’s It’s Almost Dry, he sought out two “ravenous wolves”—Tyler the Creator and 21 Savage—to attack extraterrestrial 808s and militant snares. Both rappers trade braggadocious bars, neither relegated to feature status—21 surfing the high-tempo beat while Tyler double-dutches with an increasingly frenetic flow culminating in his conclusive “Woof!” –Heven Haile

Listen: Pharrell, “Cash In Cash Out” [ft. 21 Savage and Tyler, the Creator]

Dirty Hit


The 1975: “Part of the Band”

“Part of the Band” is both the thesis and the outlier of the 1975’s Being Funny in a Foreign Language. Its patient orchestral folk and tongue-twisting one-liners about “vaccinista tote bag chic baristas” stand apart from the bittersweet synth-pop found elsewhere on the album. The song’s vulnerability feels distinct in its precision, too. As frontman Matty Healy sings of exactly how long it’s been since he last used heroin, down to the minute, toward the end of the track, the production swells to a crescendo, pushing him further ahead. –Matthew Strauss

Listen: The 1975, “Part of the Band”



Aldous Harding: “Fever”

Nobody darts around the edges of narrative and inscrutability quite like the folk-pop enigma Aldous Harding. On “Fever,” the New Zealand singer deals out impressionistic morsels of an 11-day love affair in a faraway city, shouting the first word of each measure like a schoolteacher calling roll. “Fever” may seem like a straightforward tale by Harding’s cryptic standards, but from the lopsided piano groove that anchors the tune to the dada wisdom that “one will fry if the other’s connected,” everything remains pleasantly askew. –Zach Schonfeld

Listen: Aldous Harding, “Fever”

Daughters of Cain


Ethel Cain: “American Teenager”

Ethel Cain approaches her music as a sound designer as much as a songwriter, eschewing conventional structure for marginal vibrations and layered sensations, which makes an arena-ready pop anthem like “American Teenager” something of a revelation. On a lost highway turnoff somewhere between Bruce Springsteen and Brandon Flowers, Ethel rides a sepia-tinged carousel of all-American imagery: tears under the bleachers, wasted nights gone wrong, and forlorn prayers to Jesus. While her songs are frequently extended epics, somewhere between slowcore and chopped & screwed choral music, “American Teenager” is immediate and succinct, but not any less careful in its construction. –Nadine Smith

Listen: Ethel Cain, “American Teenager”



Hikaru Utada: “Somewhere Near Marseilles”

Hikaru Utada reinvented themselves on their eighth album, BADモード, dialing from J-pop toward sleek, mellow dance music. Featuring co-production from Floating Points’ Sam Shepherd, the LP’s jet-setting, showstopping finale frames a Mediterranean tryst in finger snaps and rubbery synths. It’s a glamorous setup for breathless intimacy: “Maybe I’m afraid of love/Say I’m not the only one,” they murmur as the song builds toward a blissed-out dance breakdown. Spiked with unfettered yearning, “Somewhere Near Marseilles” makes falling hard and fast sound like its own euphoric form of escape. –Eric Torres

Listen: Hikaru Utada, “Somewhere Near Marseilles”



Bad Bunny: “Tití Me Preguntó”

Bad Bunny regards seductive mischief as inextricable from his sensitive disposition: This is how he lets us know he’s complex. The arrangement reflects Bunny’s amiable disregard for monogamy. Producer MAG treats Bunny’s first solo stab at dembow like a coming-out party, lavishing him with keyboard swirls, sampled camera effects, a beat switch-up in the outro, and, terrifyingly, his aunt to shake her finger at her nephew. But Tití doesn’t have to ask for details—Benito will tell her. He giggles at his own admissions, and of course, like cads before him, admits that what he really wants is… love. –Alfred Soto

Listen: Bad Bunny, “Tití Me Preguntó”

Smugglers Way


Alan Braxe / DJ Falcon: “Step by Step” [ft. Panda Bear]

French house kingpins Alan Braxe and DJ Falcon made their long-awaited return on “Step by Step,” rolling out gentle waves of modular synths that sound like they come from an old AM radio. Panda Bear gives the duo’s subtle glow a narrative framework, singing about the aftermath of an idyllic past. But “Step by Step” is really about moving forward: The synths suddenly come alive, acoustic drums breathe momentum into the song’s sails, and Panda Bear—multi-tracked into an elated choir, and delivering the crown jewel of his already laudable 2022 discography—becomes a chorus of trusted advisors whose collective force, and copious repetitions, transform an old self-help chestnut into a life-changing belief system. –Evan Minsker

Listen: Alan Braxe / DJ Falcon, “Step by Step” [ft. Panda Bear]



Rosalía: “SAOKO”

Pressing play on “SAOKO” feels like opening a matchbox to find a blaze already lit inside. It’s the crackling, compact powerhouse that realizes Rosalía’s stated desire to hear something she’s never heard before. In just over two minutes, she darts through a Wisin and Daddy Yankee interpolation, digital distortion, and organic, jazzy interludes while laying bars harder than the diamonds she affixed to her teeth this year. “Yo me transformo”—“I transform myself”—is her refrain throughout, and a mission statement for how she synthesizes cross-cultural influences into a totalizing, transcendent vision of pop. –Olivia Horn

Listen: Rosalía, “SAOKO”

Secretly Canadian


Yeah Yeah Yeahs: “Spitting Off the Edge of the World” [ft. Perfume Genius]

Time may have tamed their more volatile inclinations, but Yeah Yeah Yeahs is still for the kids: whether in the context of literal parenthood, the younger artists for whom their influence abounds, or the emerging generation at the heart of this quietly epic song. On the cinematic lead single from their first album in eight years, Yeah Yeah Yeahs obliquely trace the contours of our consequential historical moment, of what the young will inherit: “Cowards, here’s the sun/So bow your heads.” Its atmosphere conjures a world slowly turning, putting rage into a cool, cutting stare. –Jenn Pelly

Listen: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Spitting Off the Edge of the World” [ft. Perfume Genius]

Parkwood Entertainment / Columbia


Beyoncé: “Alien Superstar”

At least now we’ll be prepared if a UFO ever touches down in the club. “Alien Superstar” is a new-gen ballroom staple with a synth-drenched hook beamed down from a higher plane. Beyoncé has never lacked for confidence, but over Prince-ly funk paired with interstellar electronic flourishes, her assertions about being a “masterpiece, genius” with a “drip intravenous” feel particularly justified. Add to the audaciousness a grouping of samples that, were it not for the House of Yoncé’s copious resources, would surely never have been assembled under one roof: Dancefloor staples Foremost Poets and Peter Rauhofer meet a Right Said Fred interpolation that culminates in an outro by Barbara Ann Teer, founder of the National Black Theater. The result is 20-plus credits on a track that both soars and swaggers, a new bar set by a star always game to raise it. –Emma Carmichael

Listen: Beyoncé, “Alien Superstar”



Alex G: “Runner”

Alex G writes songs because, he says, he doesn’t have the “technical skill” for fiction. Probably you would not get a book deal on this premise: “Runner” might be a song about a dog, but it’s also a song about dog spelled backward. “I have done a couple bad things,” he howls, the tortured Judas cry of that most Easter bunnies-and-puppies of Alex G albums, God Save the Animals. “Judge me for what I do,” he reminds us, and as is true of many spiritual texts, the detail is kind of inscrutable while the story comes alive in sound: creeping-ivy melodies, spooky beatboxing, that primal scream. The scream leaves the human realm, meets the animal, approaches the perfect love to which we now aspire in the form of perfect two-and-a-half-minute pop songs. Alex G, like the dog who catches the car, keeps running. –Anna Gaca

Listen: Alex G, “Runner”

BLAC NOIZE! / Campsouth Records


Glorilla / Hitkidd: “F.N.F. (Let’s Go)”

Landing like a crunkafied version of Trina’s “Single Again” but with a rowdy Lil Phat on the chorus, Glorilla’s “F.N.F.” is a flashy relationship-status update that makes a breakup feel like a riot. Instead of solitary nights spent crying over a tub of ice cream, Glo goes looking for debauchery with her home girls, leading the charge into the streets with an invigorating “Let’s goooo!!!!” Flanked by her bad bitch army, she stomps over a thunderous HitKidd beat and has the last laugh over an ex who wasted her time: “Life's great, pussy still good/Still eating cake, wishing that a bitch would.” Don’t even try texting: Glorilla’s too busy twerking at intersections, hanging out car windows, and making the world know she’s free. –Heven Haile

Listen: Glorilla / Hitkidd, “F.N.F. (Let’s Go)”



Destroyer: “June”

“Speaking of lifelike, this is what life’s like,” Dan Bejar declares midway through “June,” a gloriously surreal destination following three decades of journeying into the heart of his subconscious. The Canadian songwriter’s spoken-word vocals are processed to sound like a montage of various Dan Bejars complimenting and contradicting one another, musing on art and existence or cracking an “I barely know her!” joke while pondering the meaning of love. The onslaught of non sequiturs is chopped and layered against wafting disco, like the soundtrack to a mirrorball head-trip sequence in the Hollywood adaptation of his life. If we’re to take him at his word, this really is what life is like—alternately gliding in ecstasy and waging war on each passing thought, all while still making time for the everyday absurdity that falls in between. A crown jewel of one of indie rock’s most ambitious songbooks, “June” found its home in a world that seems as absurd, doomed, and oddly romantic as Bejar has always seen it. –Sam Sodomsky 

Listen: Destroyer, “June”

Polyvinyl / Transgressive


Alvvays: “Belinda Says”

Alvvays frontwoman Molly Rankin recently cited the Canadian short story master Alice Munro as an influence, noting the way the writer’s work can “knock the wind out of you.” Rankin and her band offer their own bracing wallop with “Belinda Says,” a heartbreaking sketch of an unexpected pregnancy that’s also a modern power-pop classic. She only needs one line to render vivid scenes: a warm vodka cooler chugged behind a hockey rink, a tense phone call with a would-be father, a forlorn move to the countryside soundtracked by Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place on Earth.” Like a heroine in one of Munro’s timeless stories, the narrator’s life is altered forever by a single choice of impossible magnitude.

The song’s bittersweet, sighing melody, one that could easily be repurposed within an antique music box, is magnified by production that weaponizes shoegaze signifiers in service of the narrative. Guitars smother like wet wool and shrieking seagulls fly over the coast; there's an overwhelming heightening of stakes, like your heart is being squeezed by a trash compactor. As Rankin soars into a final high note, it might feel like you’re leaving with a whiff of hope—but the solo that takes you home is messy, discordant, a little confused. It’s an appropriate finale for a song about the moments in people’s lives that defy clear articulation, when your only choice is surrender to a swirling maelstrom of emotion. –Jamieson Cox

Listen: Alvvays, “Belinda Says”