What a year it's been! So many great songs, so many new artists. Trying to do any kind of recap or year-end list feels near impossible, but we did our best to do just that.
As with our Top 25 Albums of 2013, our Top 50 Songs are the result of staff selections combined with reader picks. Ultimately, our editors culled the final list. We cannot stress enough how incredibly difficult it was to narrow down a year's worth of tunes into one "tiny" list of 50.
Variance's Top 25 Albums of 2013
In the end, the Top 50 includes some of the year's biggest tunes: Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball," Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," Lorde's "Royals" and Drake's "Holding On We're Going Home." Contrary to what some people think, a song's omnipresence on the radio doesn't necessarily mean the song isn't good.
While radio hits certainly made the cut, from our perspective, it was the indie-pop and alternative worlds that really stood out this year. The likes of Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend, The National and Arcade Fire shined brightly in 2013, but this was a big year for newcomers—and those on the rise.
Some of the best material out this year came from rising stars such as BANKS, X Ambassadors, CHVRCHES, Ghost Loft, Disclosure, The Neighbourhood, St. Lucia, The Chainsmokers, Phantogram, Rudimental and River Tiber. And at the pinnacle was HAIM, the sister trio that keeps blowing us away and will only rise to new heights in 2014.
The full list can be seen below along with a streaming playlist on Spotify.
- HAIM - “The Wire”
It was rock. It was pop. It was everything we needed this year. And let's be real, it was hard to pick just one top song from this band.
- The Killers - “Shot at the Night”
The M83-produced track is magic. How can you not listen to this song over and over? Now can Anthony Gonzalez produce The Killers' next album?
- James Blake - “Retrograde”
This track was the anchor for our Album of the Year pick. A splendid cut driven by the Blake's soulful crooning.
- Drake - “Hold On, We’re Going Home” (featuring Majid Jordan)
This is Drake doing Drake. Amidst all the rapping, he slows it down for this winner. Major props to Majid Jordan, though; his vocals pushed this track over the top.
- Lorde - “Royals”
Yes, this song exploded all over the radio. And every time a song becomes a hit, the detractors suddenly come out in droves. But that doesn't change the fact that this was one of the best songs out all year, by a 16-year-old (now 17), no less.
- Arctic Monkeys - “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”
The Brit rockers latest album is stocked with incredible jams, but this oddly humorous track about brisk, under-the-influence encounters was one of the best.
- Vampire Weekend - “Ya Hey”
On this track, we got the Vampire Weekend we know and love, while frontman Ezra Koenig delved deep into his gut and confronted some intense spiritual questions. On the surface, it's pop, but a closer look reveals it's so much more.
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs - “Sacrilege”
While the Karen O-led outfit raised some eyebrows with the lead-up to its latest album, Mosquito, there was no denying this song was pure fire. Full of hot riffs and wavy synths, the track hits a Gospel-flared climax that only this band can pull off.
- BANKS - “This is What It Feels Like”
You may not know the name, but that'll soon change. One of the year's rising stars, BANKS released this sultry cut as part of her London EP, an appetizer for her 2014 full-length. Smoky and seductive, this song was honestly one the year's best.
- Daft Punk - “Get Lucky” (featuring Pharrell Williams)
The addictive track has the perfect formula: fuse the mind-blowing production of Daft Punk with the equally stunning vocals of Pharrell Williams. It was brilliant.
- Arcade Fire - “Afterlife”
While Reflektor's title track was all dance-dance-dance, this song was more of a struggle. It was vigorous and bold, but it was underlined by a fear of losing everything.
- X Ambassadors - “Unconsolable"
The Alex Da Kid-produced single was earnest and powerful, with a music video that shined a light on just how deep the lyrics really go. It was truly one of our 2013 favorites.
- Broken Bells - “Holding on for Life”
With a new album on the way, James Mercer and Danger Mouse got us fired up with this disco-infused jam.
- Justin Timberlake - “Blue Ocean Floor”
JT went all Radiohead on us with this experimental album closer, the best song on 20/20's first disc.
- J. Cole - “Crooked Smile” (featuring TLC)
From the first listen, it was clear this wasn't just another rap song. J. Cole sent a positive message about self-image and overcoming personal flaws, emphasized by his own "crooked smile."
- Kanye West - “Hold My Liquor” (featuring Chief Keef & Justin Vernon)
This house ballad was heartbreaking and brilliant, highlighted by West's lone verse, but layered in synths and honest lyrics about substance abuse and battered relationships.
- Phoenix - “Trying to Be Cool”
The mid-tempo cut was vintage Phoenix with immensely peppy energy and ironic lyrics. Who are these guys kidding? They're already so cool.
- Eminem - “So Far...”
There wasn't the heartfelt confessional of "Headlights" or the radio-ready beat of "The Monster," but this song allowed Eminem to completely unleash himself on the listener. With over-the-top lyrics, the rapper was in the pocket on this one: spitting verses about Hamburger Helper and shopping at Costco, it was superb.
- CHVRCHES - “Recover”
If we're being honest, the Scottish outfit had many winners this year, but several of our favorites were actually released in 2012. The delightfully pleasant "Recover," however, was one of their best cuts this year.
- Ellie Goulding - “Tessellate” (Alt-J Cover)
As if the original wasn't already amazing, Ellie Goulding offered this stunning cover and blew listeners away. This is when she's at her best, with those sincere, sweeping vocal highs.
- Ghost Loft - “So High”
Danny Choi (aka Ghost Loft) demanded our attention with this haunting, beautiful track about intoxicating love.
- Janelle Monáe - “Q.U.E.E.N.” (featuring Erykah Badu)
Ms. Monáe soared in her evolution as an artist with this cut that boldly proclaims it's OK to do what you want and love who you want.
- Mayer Hawthorne - “Crime” (featuring Kendrick Lamar)
The hazy, Kendrick-assisted sees the pair mourning the downfall of a party gone wrong. It was smooth enough to hit "repeat" but raw enough to show a different side of Hawthorne.
- The National - “Sea of Love”
Absolutely one of the finest rock moments of 2013, this somber tune was the highlight of the band's latest album, Trouble Will Find Me.
- Volcano Choir - “Comrade”
Justin Vernon in any form is still Justin Vernon, and this was a key example of why he continues to amaze.
- St. Lucia - “Elevate”
Phil Collins meets M83? This was one of the most underrated tracks of 2013.
- Phantogram - “Black Out Days”
The return of Phantogram was highlighted by this throbbing new cut which teases the band's forthcoming Voices.
- NONONO - “Pumpin Blood”
This offering from the Swedish three-piece had all the makings of a hit with its blazing melody, and it will likely continue climbing in the new year.
- Robin Thicke - “Blurred Lines” (featuring T.I. & Pharrell)
There's just no way around it. Despite a controversy for every copy downloaded, this song was great. Of course, Pharrell was a key selling point here. But Thicke drove it home.
- Disclosure - “White Noise” (featuring AlunaGeorge)
The producer brother duo created some magic with the fellow Brit duo, and it was one of the best dance floor jams of 2013.
- Earl Sweatshirt - “Sunday” (featuring Frank Ocean)
The pair reunited and created an amazing ode to past relationships. And a slam against Chris Brown certainly helped its rankings in our opinion.
- Phosphorescent - “Song for Zula”
This marked a notable switch in directions for Matthew Houck (aka Phosphorescent). Bigger and brighter, it was a change for the better.
- Savages - “She Will”
The female four-piece offered this scathing, straight-to-the-point rock tune that begged for multiple listens.
- Cage the Elephant - “Come a Little Closer”
The gritty, spacey track was one of several solid tracks the band released this year, as they set out to blend polar opposite sounds and turn them into blissfully amazing work.
- Cut Copy - “We Are Explorers”
This electric, synthy blend was one of the year's best club jams.
- TV on the Radio - “Mercy"
Oh, it felt so good to have new music from these guys! And "Mercy" was just perfect.
- The Civil Wars - “From This Valley”
While we missed the haunting melodies of Barton Hollow, this was still an amazing cut that reminded us how perfect Joy Williams and John Paul White's voices mesh together—when they're allowed to.
- Childish Gambino - “Telegraph Ave” (“Oakland” by Lloyd)
This electro hip-hop piece was only one of the repeat-worthy tracks on Because the Internet, which we unapologetically named one of our Top 25 Albums of 2013.
- Local Natives - “Colombia”
It was simple yet beautiful, soaked in heartfelt emotion that pulls you in.
- Daughter - “Landfill”
This addictive track took us to the mountaintop, with majestic vocals so flawless you can't help but be amazed.
- Sir Sly - “Gold”
This suspenseful tune was an earworm that only has us begging for more in the new year.
- Danny Brown - “Dip”
The high-adrenaline track was just as good live as it was recorded; a standout offering.
- Rudimental - “Waiting All Night” (featuring Ella Eyre)
This sexy recording bridged newcomer Ella Eyre's luscious vocals with Rudimental's mind-blowing production, as one of the latter's defining cuts off debut album, Home.
- Josh Ritter - “New Lover”
Recently divorced, Ritter openly discussed his sour relationship(s) of the past on his latest album, with this track clearly proclaiming his ability to overcome.
- Rhye - “Open”
Vocalist Milosh drew us in with this mysterious, sensual track. And how could you want to leave once you heard the full album, Woman?
- Icona Pop - “Girlfriend” (The Chainsmokers Remix)
This track was a gem perhaps overshadowed by the duo's 2012 single "I Love It," but our friends The Chainsmokers took it to another level, turning it into a straight-up club anthem.
- Kasey Musgraves - “Follow Your Arrow”
The new-ish singer pushed the envelope for country music this year with this track advocating same-sex love and smoking a joint. While it's nothing groundbreaking for music in general, it was a splash of cold water on a genre that is in many ways still driven by old school, Southern politics.
- The Neighbourhood - “Afraid”
This fresh track was one of the California band's greatest releases this year, further positioning the Jesse Rutherford-led outfit to dominate in 2014.
- River Tiber - “The Star Falls"
This warm, wavy track from Tommy Paxton-Beesley (aka River Tiber) was one of many bright lights in indie music this year, a tease for what's to come.
- Miley Cyrus - “Wrecking Ball”
Isolated from the polarizing singer's antics, this was a beautiful track. Sure, Miley's behavior distracted many of us, but it didn't take away from the fact that she's a good singer.