The first question we found ourselves faced with when compiling this list of the week’s five best songs was pretty simple: Should we just pick our five favorite songs from BEYONCÉ? Would any other list be honest? As Tom wrote in his great Premature Evaluation, “There’s some chance that Beyoncé’s new self-titled album is the best album that anyone has released in 2013.” Billboard Magazine didn’t even hedge that much: They went out and named BEYONCÉ their album of the year. It would have been easy to fill this thing with BEYONCÉ tracks — it would have been harder to decide on only five. But in the end we decided it would be unfair to some other great tracks that also surfaced this week, and which also deserved some attention. But — SPOILER ALERT — Bey is at the top of this thing; we’ll leave you to find out for yourself which track we went with, and argue in the comments whether that was the right call.
Emo! It’s been carrying on all this time in obscurity, but it’s back in the critical spotlight thanks to a critical mass of guitar-slinging howlers. It’s a great time to be alive for those of us finally reclaiming the adolescent years we spent seeking out bands like You Blew It!, the bleeding-heart Floridians behind the breathy-then-bombastic “House Arrest.” The song has all the attendant features of top-shelf (and Topshelf) emo — rising action, dramatic chord changes, mathy guitar figures, an all-too-human shout-along climax — and while there’s nothing particularly original happening here, they’ve obviously mastered the art. (Keep Doing What You’re Doing, bros!) “I’ve always felt fine singing in the basement,” sings Tanner Jones, but it’s easy to envision You Blew It! in significantly larger rooms by the time 2014 is said and done. –Chris
Right when it seemed like we couldn’t get luckier in terms of spontaneous last-minute releases, Clams Casino dropped this mixtape of instrumentals that nicely reminds us how much good he did this year. In the midst of the major hip-hop tracks is the gentle little gem “Melthru.” Just under 90 seconds, this unreleased track bursts into an ethereal looping melody, full of smoggy, smeared drums and crystalline synth lines. It taps into this perfect space and rides it out for too short of a time before cutting into the sole DOOM cut on the album. It’s not a groundbreaking move for Clams, but it captures that early wonder of his production, finding the perfectly hazy groove and just jamming on it. –Miles
He’s rightfully regarded as the king of precise, diamond-hard scritchety-scratch boom-bap, but the legendary DJ Premier does some of his best work when he abandons his own durable blueprint and gets weird. On relatively recent tracks (in the context of a career this long, anyway) like Devin The Dude’s “Doobie Ashtray” and Cee-Lo’s “Evening News,” Preemo opens his sound up, finding a jazzy, sensual haze. That’s the Preemo that Disclosure found when the recruited him to remix their lovelorn breakthrough: Panting as percussion, airy wafts of piano, Sam Smith made to sound even softer than he did before. If this is what a DJ Premier R&B-house remix sounds like, I want a whole lot more DJ Premier R&B-house remixes. –Tom
Against Me!’s new album Transgender Dysphoria Blues deals with heavy and complicated shit; this is, after all the band’s first album since frontwoman Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender. But Against Me! have always dealt with heavy and complicated shit — late capitalism, rootlessness, sectionalism — and they’ve done it with a pure, righteous, direct fervor that’s marked them as one of the world’s finest straight-ahead punk bands. And so it is with “Black Me Out,” a primal pounding wail of indignation and wounded dignity, a promise to piss on the walls of your house, a rock chorus as catchy as any I’ve heard this year. Like an idiot, I once publicly wondered if the gender change would mess with Grace’s inimitable bleat. As if as if as if. –Tom
Almost any song from BEYONCÉ could have topped this list, and I feel like we could have reasonably expanded it into a 17 Best Songs feature to honor them all if they were all out there on the internet right now. But “XO” is one of the few that’s been officially released so far, and it’s absolutely deserving of top honors. Lots of songs on this album convey the experience of fully giving over your mind, body, and spirit to a romantic partner. But whereas other BEYONCÉ highlights such as “Partition” and “Rocket” present carnal passion in the heat of the moment, “XO” conjures a slightly different but no less overwhelming kind of evening, when sentimentality and desire swirl into the dumbstruck love of permanent smiles, giddy side glances, and holding hands without letting go. This is the sound of hormones simmering to a boil: As that initial shimmering keyboard expands into an all-consuming swell, our endorphins mirror the buildup, topping out in a full-body tingle. In hindsight, a rollercoaster in the video might have been the only way to adequately communicate such an anxious build and breathless rush. –Chris