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sean michaels

Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Sean Michaels is photographed in Toronto, Ontario, Tuesday, November 11, 2014.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Denroy Morgan – I'll Do Anything for You (1981)

There's a special joy to a song discovered on the radio. Vinny and I were headed north on the New Jersey Turnpike when Morgan's burnished splendour came sailing into our car. It opens with an old-school rap; immediately the two of us were exchanging happy looks. Next: glossy horns, googly-eyed synths, and Morgan's voice, dented lightly by love. As with so much disco, the backing singers' swooping lines mostly steal the show. But there's also the treasure of Morgan's late-breaking scat sequence, doot doot doo-doot doot doot doo, and a clapping solo that consists of a single drum-machine button pressed, pressed and pressed again.

Dawn Richard – Tide: The Paradox Effect (2015)

In late 2010, before he had been conscripted into One Direction, before the sale of their first (let alone 15 millionth) album, Zayn Malik confessed to X Factor UK that he "hates dancing." Simon Cowell wasn't having it: Five years later, Malik was a cavorting, crooning pop star, and probably the biggest Muslim pop star in the Western world. This week, Malik announced that he is quitting the boy band "to be a normal 22-year-old." A normal 22-year-old with 14 million Twitter followers, but Malik never quite seemed comfortable in his role. He was the James Dean of the group, from the downcast eyes to the upturned hair, and I'd be surprised to see him go the superstar solo route of Justin Timberlake. More fun to imagine Malik modelling himself on Danity Kane's Dawn Richard, who used the launch pad of a girl group to forge her own vivid, uncompromising career. Richard's dark, Kate Bush-influenced R&B is a lesson in what can happen when you give up trying to please the whole world and focus instead on what you and no one else could say.

Eric Chenaux – Spring Has Been a Long Time Coming (2015)

What Eric Chenaux said (fearlessly, hypnotically, like a tiny fiddlehead unfurling).

Teen – Better (2012)

Once we've hauled our bikes out of sheds and basements and storage lockers, let's go cycling to the shining, spinning wheel of this song. Let's go running to it. Let's drive and drive and drive while the noon sun turns silver. This season let's let bygones be bygones and let yards be gardens and teach our kids the names of springtime constellations. The Herdsman, the Crow, the Little Bear, all these linked lines while Teen play their gorgeous groove, while they call out and answer, women's voices and tumbling drums, everlasting synths, on and on until, depending on the version of the song you get, either the fade-out or the end.

Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.