20. Genghis Khan by Miike Snow
For all their combined pop power (associates of Britney Spears, Maroon 5 and Mark Ronson for starters), Miike Snow have managed three albums without doing the obvious and hiring headliners. Instead, they've spent the greater portion of a decade sharpening their credibility to now slip comfortably alongside fellow distinguished indie pop acts like Hot Chip, Passion Pit and Empire of the Sun. Genghis Khan saw them edge a little closer to their familiar Top 40 fringes, but the trio's predilection for ragged charm over shimmer and shine was further proof of their belief in storytelling, boosted by a sinister protagonist but in magnificent contrast to its infectious groove.
19. Stranger Things Theme by Luke Million
In the limited genre of TV themes, a narrow subcategory is diminished even further by probing for signature tunes that can actually stand on their own as compositions (Six Feet Under, The Practice and Cheers rank as personal all-time favourites). Kyle Dixon and Mark Stein's stunningly haunting theme to Netflix's Stranger Things was every bit as '80s-embedded as the series and almost fit the brief, thwarted only by its paltry running time of just over a minute. Adelaide producer Luke Million could've simply padded the theme out, but his love of synths saw him furnish it into four minutes of spaced out bliss, tinkering with the original soundscape just enough so that it fit snugly over his pulsing groundwork. A real treat.
18. One Dance by Drake feat. Wizkid & Kyla
Clearly having studied the way in which frequent collaborator Rihanna has drawn dancehall into her index of styles, Drake set about exploring elements of the genre himself on Views, eventuating in a scattering of potent hits, namely, Controlla, Too Good and One Dance. Remarkably, the latter became the rapper's first No. 1 on the Hot 100 as lead artist, having reached the summit twice already as a feature with the aforesaid Rihanna. It was also remarkable in the sense that this was probably the first time that Drake's music matched his vivid personality. While the brooding sounds of his trap hits haven't crept out of the public sphere yet, it was rejuvenating in a sense to experience a more sweet-sounding aspect of his work, thanks in no small part to Wizkid's writing and production.
17. Go! by M83
Of all the sources of inspiration Anthony Gonzales could have cited upon the release of his band's terrific album, Junk, cringe-inducing '80s TV like Who's the Boss? would surely seem one of the more unlikely, but you truly can hear it. Creative, self-contained and inspiring, it's the logical next step following 2011's double-album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, responsible for the earth-shattering Midnight City. Go! drew a parallel to that track, matching it both in tune and intensity, rising to a magnificent crescendo of electric guitar, crashing drums and the ardent chants of Mai Lan, the French-Vietnamese vocalist featured here as well as on a handful of other album highlights. As well as pleasing the senses, Go! saw M83 join the class of synthpop heavyweights occupied by Hot Chip, Röyksopp and Goldfrapp, each of whom have become a byword for superiority in their field.
16. Black Beatles by Rae Sremmurd feat. Gucci Mane
There can't be many people lucky enough to have avoided the Mannequin Challenge, be it through participating or enduring its clutch on our timelines. Such was the madness of the fad that its soundtrack, Black Beatles, helped Rae Sremmurd land their first number 1 and broke the duo internationally. It's hardly the type of song one would imagine accompanying a lighthearted social trend, with its hushed intensity and inky tone inviting comparisons to Drake and The Weeknd at their most afflicted. Amid the slew of superior PBR&B and trap artists commanding the airwaves right now, a highlight from the year has proven a challenge to endorse, but this was terrifically engaging stuff.
15. Love On the Brain by Rihanna
From here on out, Love On the Brain will serve as a towering confirmation for anyone who still claims Rihanna isn't a "real artist." Regrettably, too few of her legitimately expressive moments are given the single treatment, so to see them languish when they do can be a real kick in the teeth. It's certainly a curious time in her career, feeling like possibly the midpoint between garish superstar and contemplative singer/songwriter. Clearly autobiographical, the pared-down approach proved again to be one of her greatest strengths, conveying animosity, despair and confusion in a style that validated every Amy Winehouse comparison it attracted.
14. Dark Necessities by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Held against their own credentials, 2011's I'm With You was something of a misstep for the Chili Peppers. It was their first album since the departure of John Frusciante, and this year's The Getaway is their first without Rick Rubin, the band's core producer since 1991's classic, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. They certainly handled change better this time, and it has to be said that Danger Mouse added a welcome twist on the band's signature stamp of funk rock. Lead single Dark Necessities spun a tale of depression and the need for us to embrace it, arguing that "darkness helps us all to shine." It was a particularly odd move for the group, known to leave their more downcast tunes as album tracks rather than release them as singles, despite Under the Bridge, one of the best rock ballads of the '90s, being their biggest hit. Most will remember Frusciante for his way with a guitar, but what I miss most are the harmonies he and Anthony Keidis would share. Mercifully, Dark Necessities went some way to emulate them.
13. Good Grief by Bastille
Having initially made their name as indie rock status seekers ahead of worldwide hit Pompeii catapulting them into the majors, Bastille returned for album number two with nice guy labels still intact, both living up to and, in a sense, defying Noel Gallagher's summation of the band, claiming that if it were the '90s, he'd have wiped them out in just one interview, never to be heard from again. The genuine big time might still be a little way off, but as they proved on Good Grief, their choruses have the goods to summon stadium status. Another consistent trick is the quaint flourishes exhibited in ther production, combining xylophone strolls and fragmented harmonies as examples, as well as their ability to employ nostalgia as a core ingredient - in this case, dialogue from '80s classic Weird Science.
12. Symmetry of Two Hearts by Bright Light Bright Light
For some, electropop is less about hitting the club and more about tucking themselves away with a great set of headphones. As one of these people, such reclusiveness has always guided me towards the more sensitive side of dance, songs with an emotional sting in their tail. Bright Light Bright Light's understanding and appreciation of the core values of '80s and '90s music has enabled him to merge the essence of Roxette and Elton John with such sincere enthusiasm that it never crosses the line into satire (even with the latter actually guest-starring on the track). But for all the nostalgia it evokes, the song is equally representative of today's pop arena, his determined vocals and poignant lyrics blending to put his own stamp on the tried and tested subject of love and confusion, all with impeccable production and luminous visuals.
11. 24K Magic by Bruno Mars
Seemingly, Bruno Mars is not a man who has to try too hard. Over three well favoured albums and a handful of cracking featured appearances, he's crafted an assortment of modern pop gold and performed it with the fervour of an elite entertainer, a classic illustration of the superstars who reigned over the '80s and '90s. 24K Magic, his first offering since the blistering Uptown Funk! and a second round of Super Bowl halftime glory, was a dazzling and concise exercise in post-disco R&B. But it's influences ranged far and wide, culminating in a brew that invoked the assurance of Prince and The Time, the warmth of Zapp & Roger and the spirit of West Coast hip-hop in its prime.