10. “Shake Me Down” Cage the Elephant
Released January 11 on Thank You, Happy Birthday // The boys from Bowling Green, Kentucky didn’t hit the perfect note with their sophomore album, but this single is one of the best rock songs of the year. There is an aching in singer Matthew Shultz’ voice that is hard to pin down, giving an ominous tinge to this back-and-forth banger. While the rest of Thank You, Happy Birthday is a bit too experimental for my taste, this tune escapes to the “Repeat” playlist on iTunes.
9. “Lights” Ellie Goulding
Released March 13 as a single // This cut dropped in March, but it’s slowly picked up steam throughout the year, culminating in omnipresence in the past couple months. The dance floor antithesis to Adele, Goulding represents the U.K. well with this killer auto-tuned jam. There’s something refreshing about this pop number when you compare it with this year’s Top 40 radio hits.
8. “Pumped Up Kicks” Foster the People
Released May 23 on Torches // I originally placed this song at No. 1 on my list. It seemed like the biggest song of the year, but I just couldn’t do it. I don’t love it enough to give it the coveted top prize. I’ll admit, a seven-spot drop is a bit drastic, but there are some great tracks ahead. Foster the People went from no-names to pop radio in a few months, and the sad fact is that they will probably never make a song better than this. They did set the bar fairly high, after all.
7. “Afterlife Insurance” No Bird Sing
Released March 29 as a single // Relatively unknown out of St. Paul, Minnesota, No Bird Sing fuse the Black Keys and Aesop Rock into a raw hip-hop experience. Emcee Joe Horton is full of satirical venom, asserting, “When I get back from heaven, everything’s gonna be right where I left it,” while crushing the souls of those who love their flat-screen more than they love their neighbor. If you are looking for a hip-hop group with live instruments and above-the-cut lyrics, this is for you.
6. “Walk” Foo Fighters
Released June 6 as a single // Upon listening to the Foo Fighters’ latest release, Wasting Light, this spring, my favorite cut was “These Days,” a slow-rolling rocker that explodes with Dave Grohl’s trademark growl. After letting the record sink in for half a year, I’ve changed my mind; This single is my favorite, featuring a crooning Grohl and some dandy fills from drummer Taylor Hawkins. It’s a bummer if you missed this highlight from the Foo’s best album in more than a decade.
5. “Techno Fan” The Wombats
Released June 6 as a single // United Kingdom alt-pop stars The Wombats burst onto the American college rock scene with their new album This Modern Glitch in April. This song takes a simple synth intro and turns it into a throbbing club-thumper with a hook for the ages. I’m not sure what singer Matthew Murphy is talking about half the time, but it’s fun to say, “This is not a weird weekend / It’s an angry wormhole.”
4. “Wings” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Released January 21 as a single // Of all the white rappers in America these days, Macklemore takes on the most unique topics. This gem looks back at Mack’s days as an Air-Jordan starved teen. The first verse sounds like an ad for Nike before the beat drops and Phil Knight’s corporation gets torn a new one. “These sneakers helped me define me,” says the emcee, “but I’m trying to take mine off.” This song also gets the award for best video of the year; it’s definitely worth five minutes of your time to click play.
3. “Rolling In the Deep” Adele
Released January 19 on 21 // The award for most annoying song of the year goes to Adele’s lead single from her sophomore album. It’s not her fault; the song is great. It’s just that every radio station in the United States felt inclined to spin the track at least once every ten minutes. It’s to the point where I can’t even listen to it anymore, but I have to give it its due. It is easily one of the best songs of the year.
2. “A Little Bit of Everything” Dawes
Released June 7 on Nothing Is Wrong // Although they toe the line between corny and compelling, frontman Taylor Goldsmith’s lyrics leave a great aftertaste. Dawes songs all seem to blend together after a while, what with the painfully simple drum beats and Goldsmith’s reverberating twang, but its part of the band’s allure. With verses that focus on multiple subplots—the first one being the best—this track makes it tough to fight off the goose bumps.
1. “Colours” Grouplove
Released September 13 on Never Trust a Happy Song // Grouplove sounds like a terribly-titled San Fernando Valley film, but don’t let this turn you away (or turn you on?). It’s actually the title of one of the hottest new indie groups in the country, and this song is five minutes of pure energy. Lead vocalists Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper are a spritely pair, with Zucconi displaying an impressive range at various points in the track. If this song doesn’t make you feel something, then I don’t believe you can be saved.