Top ten tracks of 2013

Lorde, Visionist, FKA Twigs and Big Sean make the list – and a swelling, staggering number one

Music Top Ten
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10. Jon Hopkins – “Open Eye Signal”

Jon Hopkins's Immunity has been one of this year's best albums (even though it was Grammy snubbed). And while it's a solid record as a whole, one track stands out. "Open Eye Signal" comes in at a Timberlake-portioned eight minutes, but it takes about three to really start. If you've ever seen the rave scene in Matrix: Reloaded, you'll have a faint idea of what to expect before pressing play – sweaty bodies sans footwear writhing to an intense, four-on-the-floor, Zion-shaking bass line that only crescendoes as time goes on. The other tracks on Immunity are soporific for the most part, but "Open Eye Signal" prompts exactly what it intends: open eyes. (Trey Taylor)

9. Lorde – “Tennis Court”

On the flip side of Lorde's Tennis Court 10", a lyric from the title track is reprinted: "It's a new art form, showing people how little we care." It's a hubristic impulse that beats through her subsequent breakthrough "Royals" and excellent album Pure Heroine, even considering that the 17-year-old (aka Ella Yelich-O'Connor) was signed to Universal at the age of 13. In the "Tennis Court" video she doesn't lip-sync most of the lyrics, with only the slightly-menacing pitched-down hook "yeah" comes from her stained lips. The best popstars are always arresting as well as enticing. Among the ticking hip hop beats and orchestration she delivers charged images of class clown, beauty queen in tears – but the song's screw-you payoffs – "Pretty soon I'll be getting on my first plane/ I'll see the veins of my city like they do in space" – are strong and deft footsteps, packing a world into a twitter-status-ready declaration. (Owen Myers)

8. Big Sean – “Control” (feat. Jay Electronica & Kendrick Lamar)

He’s important like the Pope, he’s a Muslim on pork, he’s Makaveli’s offspring, and, in mid August, Kendrick Lamar also crowned himself the King of New York. When Compton’s golden boy used his cameo on Big Sean’s “Control” to boast about being the lyrical ruler of a city 3000 miles away from his hometown, the internet erupted. Not since Canibus roped in Mike Tyson for his feud with Mr Smith had a rap song provoked so much frenzied shit stirring. I loved it. Joell Ortiz, J Cole, Joe Budden and Papoose, not so much. By putting “the rap game on a crutch”, Lamar woke hip hop up from its molly-induced hangover and reminded the world what a real MC does – aim for the jugular and obliterate the competition. (Tim Noakes)

7. Autre Ne Veut – “Play By Play”

Arthur Ashin’s Anxiety LP is all about the feels, and its intensity peaks on epic opener “Play by Play’’.  Glitzed-out trills glide across dissonant chords, drum samples race and palpitate under bubbling gospel harmonies; all exacerbating the longing in Ashin’s pathos-churning lyrics.  Deft manipulation of forcefully-delivered vocal lines further underscores the longing that fuels Ashin’s cocktail of contemporary R&B, soul and pop. Your heart rate soars with his as “Play By Play” mounts its crescendo, gasping under its burden before the climatic gut-punch of release at 2:48.  A blazing, rallying call to scream out all the feels you have ever felt at once. (Suze Olbrich)

6. Mariah Carey – “#Beautiful” (feat. Miguel)

In a year where mainstream R&B tried to wriggle out of its sweaty, bug-eyed love affair with dance music, “#Beautiful” – Mariah Carey's most effortless-sounding single since “Honey” – sashayed slowly out of the speakers, as silky-smooth as a leopard sporting a cashmere jumper. For a singer whose voice could pierce glass, part of the song’s mystique is that she barely sings a note until the ninety second mark, allowing Miguel – who co-wrote and co-produced the song – to take the first verse and chorus. The delayed gratification works wonders as the music – a sort of languorous melting pot of blues guitar, fuzz bass and a beat that feels instantly timeless – drops out to leave an ecstatic Mariah to croon, “I like when you run red lights, don't stop 'til you thrill me”. Once unleashed Mariah makes up for lost time, those higher octaves dripping down like honey. (Michael Cragg)

5. Visionist – “Pain”

Totally did not see this coming, but it seemed like 2013, was the year that the avant-garde, vital flexes of the post-grime underground took over the underground – and even sections of the overground – I’m thinking Kelela’s use of Night Slugs' day-glo emo futurism to Kanye’s energetic sampling of TNGHT, even down to the insanely strange sonic spaces of The Haxan Cloak. One track, a two-and-a-half-minute B-side, released on terrific dance label Lit City Trax, was the next stage. Fatima Al Qadiri collaborator Visionist’s micro-opus was a subtle, banging vision of where these unearthly energies can go. (Charlie Robin Jones)

4. Ciara – “Body Party”

One enduring sample slowed down to syrup, Mike Will Made It on the beat and Ci Ci's pitch-shifted coos made this perhaps Ciara's best track since "Promise", and the R&B slow jam of the year. After the slightly lackluster "Sorry" and "Got Me Good" in late 2012, she emerged this year with confidence, nerve and slow-burning, loin-heating, "That's The Way Love Goes"-esque precision. Like the best bit of an actual body party, the high isn't in the payoff, but in its slow, breathy, super-charged pace. "I'm having so much fun with you", Ci Ci simpered, and, in this track, it felt like she let loose. (Owen Myers)

3. Glasser – “Design”

A looping cry and clipped panting glimpsed through a dazzling stream of vivid pixels, Glasser’s “Design” is constructed around a private dialogue made public, the material world made emotional. Fever Ray producer Van Rivers gives loose, mutable form to the architecture of Cameron Mesirow’s mercurial pop – fluid, intricate patterns woven through, in and around the chaotic body. An awry and exquisite bass line swells and expands beneath a fountain of chiming synth presets, each element moving in a single, vital mass and orbiting around Mesirow’s extraordinary, spectral voice. This is a track that gives brilliant expression to the power of physical structures in shaping your very consciousness.  (Steph Kretowicz)

2. FKA Twigs – “Water Me”

If there’s any justice in the world, FKA Twigs will walk away with the BBC Sound of 2014 in January. This fantastically out-of-body track should just about do the trick. As Arca unwinds the track over a bed of robotic coos and rickety clatters, the London singer sighs: “He won’t make love to me now / Not now I’ve set the fee”. Like its video, the track is uncompromisingly weird, sensuous and hyper-emotional its own oddly detached way. The strangest, strongest anti-love song of ‘13. (Zing Tsjeng)

1. Kingdom – “Bank Head” (feat. Kelela)

From those first gentle sonic swells and clipped bass claps, Kelela and Kingdom have you. The duality of these two is the theme of "Bank Head", and together they combine the light and dark, exploring the rich and sparse elements at work here – the richness of her vocal against the spacious backdrop. Here is a producer and vocalist who both understand the importance of restraint. When Kelela finally, tentatively, delivers that she needs to “let it out”, we’re at the precipice of a cliff waiting for her to jump into a burst of powerful vocal runs. Instead, she employs control to draws us in, keeping us on the edge of tension. She offers a tantalising amount of herself which reveals more on each listen and pinpoints the exquisite tension of internal conflict. She captures that yearning for something out of reach, right before you deiode to go for it, and in that moment, time slows, we take a breath…and we experience it with her. (Kieran Yates)

Read our interview with Kingdom on the genesis of "Bank Head" here.

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