Icona Pop - "Good For You"
The whole "OMG Swedes are so good at pop music" thing is the lazy-journalist way to write about bands from the Scandinavian country. ABBA is not Lykke Li is not Robyn. But I'm going to bring it up anyway, because there's no way to talk about Icona Pop and not mention the fact that they totally nail the catchy-song thing. The electro-pop duo, comprised of Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt, have a way with icy hooks and bouncy beats about heartbreak--and it's all on display on their latest track, "Good For You." Somehow lines like "You hate my love because you're dead without it," sounds a little less harsh when it's cooed. While you wait for their tour with Marina and the Diamonds to kick off this winter, blast this track to pretend like everything is great--even if you're closing out the worst week of your life.
REBECCA WILLA DAVIS
King Krule - "Octopus" (Ratking remix)
The mind-blowingly talented King Krule was only 17 years-old when his first tracks became popular last year. I happened to be at Ratking's first live show (he was signed to XL that same week) at Santos Party House in New York City when he told a record label exec that had to go "call his mom." Maybe we should stop being so surprised when such young talent emerges, because so many of the year's best songs have been from artists that haven't yet graduated from high school. Ratking's not-very-upbeat remix of King Krule's hit adds heavy drums along with lyrics that touch on something important: being young and bored, and what that combination leads to for kids living in a big city like New York. King Krule grew up in London, but what the two seem to have in common is that they're probably way too smart for their age and all of that teenage angst makes for really good music.
Benjamin Gibbard - "Teardrop Windows"
I've always had a soft spot for Ben Gibbard, aka Mr. Death Cab For Cutie (and Mr. Ex-Deschanel). By soft spot I mean my soul is literally null and void without the reassurance of his voice. Everything he touches turns to pure, poetic, indie gold. Through the years I've followed his stand-out performances with various collaborations and side projects, but never before have I been given a true solo effort. Former Lives is written 100-percent by Ben and I'm 100-percent into it. Seriously, if I had a Trapper Keeper, cut-outs of his face would be glued all over it in between lyric doodles. The album's first single, folksy acoustic gem "Teardrop Windows", gently reminds me why I'm so loyal. While this record is a bit more experimental and, dare I say, "up-beat" than his previous work, his melodic and lyrical genius are just as undeniabley intact.
Brandy - "Scared Of Beautiful"
Okay, so it's been almost 10 years since my girl B (no, not Beyonce) graced the top 10 of the Billboard charts--and almost 18 years since her platinum selling debut. But get ready, she's about to make a sharp comeback with her new album Two Eleven, which literally reads like a who's-who of today's top recording artists including Chris Brown, Rico Love, Sean Garrett, and more. For me, though, it's the slick Frank Ocean-penned "Scared Of Beautiful" that really marks her comeback. Cliched track title aside, it feels like Brandz (I rotate through nicknames for her) and Frank were made to work together. And while her vocals previously tended to get lost amongst the clutter of weird, over-produced, early-2000s arrangements, this time her raspy tones soar against a backdrop of drowned-out beats. Hi Brandy, it's been a while. Welcome back.
ROB DENIS O'RIORDAN
Local Natives - "Breakers"
If you were worried about a sophomore slump with Local Natives, don't be--the Los Angeles band released their first single off their upcoming album, Hummingbird, and it's both hazy and grand (and in the best ways possible). It starts off with a high-pitched guitar riff and a rolling drum beat before breaking into a full sonic assault, with soft-edged oohs and a cacophony of sound. This back-and-forth continues the whole track, with highs and lows at a steady pace as lyrics like, "Waiting for / My own words to catch like I'm trying / To strike a match that's soaking wet" are uttered, smooth as butter. It's maybe the biggest song we've heard from Local Natives--and it just might be their best.