7. London Grammar -- Strong
When London Grammar's debut album was first released back in September they drew a lot of comparisons to their British counterparts, the xx. One reviewer even referred to them as "a sexless version of the xx." That's a clever little thing to say, but it's off-base. True, both bands explore the same sensually minimalistic sonic territory, but where the xx is all post-coital chill, London Grammar and their frontwoman, Hannah Reid, wear their hearts decidedly on their sleeves, and the result is something undeniably warm and often achingly beautiful. The second single from If You Wait -- Strong -- was both of these things and more. It was a song of almost spiritual power and devastating loveliness, and it was easily the best ballad of the year.
6. The 1975 -- Sex
In an age where alternative music either tries to take itself too seriously or finds its effervescence through synth tones and dance beats, it's kind of awesome to see a band barrel out of the gate with a giant helping of fiery pop-rock passion. The 1975, out of Manchester, did exactly that. Sex was the band's debut single and it had so much going for it: power, swagger, sensuality, pure fucking desperate young lust, and so much more. It was the authoritative cornerstone of what was truly one of the best pop-rock albums of the year. When those first guitars chords scream and singer Matthew Healy belts out like his life is hanging in the balance, "And this is how it starts. Take your shoes off in the back of my van. Yeah, my shirt looks so good -- when it's just hanging off your back," you have a pretty good idea what you're in for. This song was reminiscent of some of the better tracks of the emo era -- and there were a few -- only with something those bands never had: balls.
5. Arcade Fire -- Reflektor
Arcade Fire traveled to Haiti for inspiration for their 2013 record and came back with two albums worth of thrilling, daring, chaotic, indeed Caribbean-influenced art rock, co-produced by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. Leading off the album with a seven-and-a-half-minute dance track took guts, but it paid off in spades. Reflektor was a reinvention of everything we knew about Arcade Fire -- it sounded like an insane amalgam of a hundred bands you’re familiar with and yet it sounded completely new and it kicked off what was without a doubt the most startling and imaginative record we’d heard from a top-prize Grammy-winning band maybe since U2 won for The Joshua Tree in 1988 and came back a couple of years later with the thoroughly alien-sounding Achtung Baby. And when Bowie's voice came in toward the end -- just perfect.