20. The xx, “I Dare You”
For a band that worships at the altar of Everything But The Girl, I’ve always admired them from a distance since they overtly favor mood and texture over hooks. Third album I See You suggests maybe they’re not so afraid of hooks—their best is this song’s almost laughably simple, but simultaneously transcendent chorus; it also doesn’t hurt that it has a steady but not overwhelming pulse.
19. Jessie Ware, “Your Domino”
No longer the neo-Sade, she’s reached that perilous Adult Contemporary Tipping Point on her third LP, Glasshouse. Fortunately, she made room for this breezy banger. Breathlessly skipping through staccato electro-beats, it has a refreshingly cool melody that’s also thrilling and urgent. Ware pulls it all off with her usual effortless aplomb.
18. Perfume Genius, “Wreath”
In which Mike Hadreas discovers his inner Peter Gabriel and liberally quotes Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”. If that sounds like a bit much, well, “a bit much” is what Hadreas does so well. As powerful as his earlier songs “Queen” and “Fool” and far more accessible (while not at all diluted) to boot.
17. Sylvan Esso, “Die Young”
“I was gonna die young / now I gotta wait for you, hon,” is one of the year’s most enticing lyrical couplets, deflating the “live fast, etc.” sentiment of thousands of pop songs while also lending a new slant to it. Along with last year’s “Radio”, it helped put this deliberately mismatched synth pop duo on a much higher plane than previous.
16. Tennis, “My Emotions Are Blinding”
I’ve always meant to give this pleasant husband-and-wife duo more than a casual listen, but none of their songs have remotely stuck with me like this one: imagine if The Bird and The Bee were more of a guitar band, or if Carole King was still writing Tapestry-level hooks, or if Sheryl Crow wanted to recreate the sound and vibe of The Globe Sessions.