1. Frank Ocean — “Pyramids

Don’t listen to Frank Ocean’s grandiose epic “Pyramids” unless you’re prepared to eat, breathe and sleep it for months. This patchwork quilt of influences lasts for 10 brilliant minutes, but contains an entire album’s worth of creativity. Frank Ocean was bound to hit that No. 1 spot. His effortless cool made him Odd Future’s sole mom-approved member, and the Jay-Z co-sign didn’t hurt. But when “Pyramids” came out, the world finally found Frank.

His dynamism is evident in every second of “Pyramids.” Combining R&B and dance music in a tale of two Cleopatras, Ocean croons about unrequited love, betrayal and prostitution. The deliberate combination of warped electro-beats and John Mayer guitar will please patient listeners and throw them down the very rabbit holes where the two queens reside.

“Pyramids” is a once-in-a-career triumph for most artists, but here’s hoping that Frank Ocean has a lifetime of classics ahead of him.


2. Kendrick Lamar — “Swimming Pools (Drank)

“Swimming Pools” begins like any other pop-rap hit. As looming synths build upon a steadily clapping snare, a reverberating voice beckons its audience to “pour up” and “drank.” What distances the track from any other “party” rap hit, however, is the evolution the song takes as it builds upon the dark synths of its beginning.

On the surface, the song is pure fun — it rides like a Drake track and encourages binge drinking — but as it lyrically morphs, a deeper thematic presence settles in. Kendrick goes from the scenes of a party to memories of his alcoholic grandfather, from shot-taking to sorrow-drowning, from diving in swimming pools of liquor to concerns of the poison he’s consuming.

If it’s even possible, Kendrick crafts a perennial party playlist song with deep conscience, one that forces its possibly intoxicated listeners to think about the decisions they make and even their lives as a whole. It seems that only Kendrick could beckon such a response, and he does so with great success — turn on any pop station and you’ll probably hear it sometime soon.


3. Miguel — “Adorn

2012’s most unlikely radio hit was also one of its finest records. The Grammy-nominated song, “Adorn,” was the defining track of Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream, an album that acted as the exclamation point at the end of a year filled with progressive R&B music.

The song, which was previously released as a demo on the free 2012 EP, Art Dealer Chic, begins with the sound of syrupy synths and murmured background vocals. Unlike the demo, the album version features a beautiful, atmospheric breakdown for the third verse that adds to the song’s unique sound.

With a blend of Marvin Gaye-like vocals, a new school, electro-funk beat and amorous lyrics (“These lips can’t wait to taste your skin”), Miguel’s “Adorn” dominated the airwaves and (surely) the bedrooms of anyone seducing anyone anywhere in the year 2012.


4. Grimes — “Oblivion”

Claire Boucher, the Canadian artist better known as Grimes, is a tiny, banged fairy-like creature. Her voice is cartoonishly angelic, and she has an adorable lisp. Some people think she’s a witch. She sells pussy rings. Her music is confident in its weirdness. And if there is any one song that would best represent the fierce femininity of Grimes, it is “Oblivion.”

The single is dark and hypnotic, unable to ignore. Beneath her bizarre concoction of out-of-this-world sounds, Grimes explores the all-too-real topic of sexual assault in “Oblivion.” “I never walk about after dark,” she sings airily, a deep robotic thumping backing the song. There’s something ominous to “Oblivion,” but Grimes seems to dismiss fear, responding to “Girl, you know you’ve got to watch your health” with cutesy successions of la la las.

Grimes isn’t exactly listening to what anyone else thinks she should do, but she’s far from oblivious.


5. Lower Dens — “Brains

Singles give musicians the opportunity to smack listeners in the face. WHAM. Wasn’t that song amazing? But Baltimore band Lower Dens took a slightly different approach with its single “Brains.” This is a song that caresses then constricts, beginning slowly then tightening its grip just as you start to relax.

“Brains” kicks off with a drum/bass combination ticking along like a bomb, Jana Hunter’s voice light and confident as she tells us, “Everything will change while you’re asleep.” The song seems to cloud over as Hunter mutters along in a lull — poetic but incomprehensible unless a lyric search is performed. “Brains” is a song that performs under the surface, almost subconsciously “while you’re asleep,” until, amid the hushed mumbling, Hunter shouts clear as day “feel the teeth of the machine” and the song overflows in a flurry of noise.


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