"Spanish Sahara"

by Foals

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(Transgressive)

Every time I think I have a handle on the musical year, the avalanche of year-end lists makes me feel inadequate—especially when they feature tracks at number one that I haven't heard (of) before. The venerable UK weekly NME's year-end track list features this Oxford band on top, which makes narrative sense: Moony epics by newish, homegrown bands aiming for the serious, the mature, the yearning, and the professional tend to win those British rock-mag polls. "Spanish Sahara" builds in rock-heroic fashion, reaching critical mass after four steadily rising minutes, then wringing out a big, splashy chorus, but this feels empty to me—a reheated soufflé.

"Kingdom"

by Spor

(Lifted Music)

This track placed first on the list from longtime UK drum 'n' bass magazine Knowledge. Latter-day drum 'n' bass usually doesn't do much for me, but this track is a genuine assault: bruising drums, bass that throws its weight behind every punch, and a guitar riff whose distorto snarl sounds as hard and nasty as the producers hope. Other recent tracks I've heard in this vein—Pendulum's "Watercolour," for example—seem more like macho posturing. But "Kingdom" has real menace. Its scrunching-­torque bass ripples are less like some brute getting rowdy than a really friendly guy cartoonishly demolishing a room while trying to buy everybody a drink.

"Wrinklecarver"

by Gobble Gobble

(National Archive of Records)

A selection on an MP3 comp (titled Eskimo Taco) given away on a blog (Get Off the Coast, a satellite of Pitchfork's Altered Zones site network) is chosen track of the year by another blog, Neon Musical Insight—what do you mean the internet isn't the real world? It even got a limited-edition-of-200 vinyl pressing last month! Kidding aside, it's not hard to hear how this might grab you by the collar: "Don't wanna live without it," Cecil Frena moans over spazzy shooting-shards synths and too-fast drums. He's better when he sings in his nervous natural voice than when he goes into falsetto on the chorus: Xiu Xiu comparisons have been made, and, unfortunately, they are accurate.

"Firework"

by Katy Perry

(Capitol)

This foul piece of self-help shtick just topped the Hot 100 and features an even worse video: Perry and some bullied, misunderstood, and cancer-ridden kids making like E.T. crossed with a flare gun, sparks shooting out of the middle of their chests as they transcend their circumstances and bound in slo-mo to an open-air nighttime rave. Softened image or no, she's as cynical and opportunistic as ever. No wonder she picked up four Grammy nominations.