Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Top 20 Songs of 2013

Before I get going with this one, take note that I've decided to include only one song per artist on this list. This is so the top 10 will not contain 8 Waxahatchee tracks.

20. "Higgs Boson Blues" - Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds:
The nearly eight minute-long epic from Cave and company's "Push the Sky Away". The pop culture references and condemnations work well (Hannah Montana lying face down in a swimming pool is one of the more grim and fascinating images of the year). Might be just a bit too long though.

19. "Dream Captain" - Deerhunter:
The most T. Rex-ish song of "Monomania" also happens to be the best. Bradford Cox's voice is at its most glam here and the bright, lo-fi guitars sound awesome. The only negative is the strange off-beat clicking that reverberates in the background of the song.

18. "White Noise" - Disclosure feat. AlunaGeorge
I'm not a particularly huge fan of electronic house music, but the brilliant chorus from Aluna Francis and the interesting soundscape created by the brothers of Disclosure elevate this to the level of pop brilliance.

17. "Chrome Country" - Oneohtrix Point Never
With an electronically-manipulated children's choir, bizarre sweeps, elevator muzak piano, and a closing cadence provided by a church-ready pipe organ, "Chrome Country" wins the award for the most awkward beautiful song ever written. I love it.

16. "Black Skinhead" - Kanye West
A whole lot of "Yeezus" is lyrically embarrassing, and this track is no exception ("I keep it 300, like the Romans" He means the Spartans, of course), but the brilliant backbeat with Gary Glitter-style drums and the sheer fury of his rapping made this the standout from an album full of ego and dumb one-liners.

15. "Wonderbread" - Danny Brown
I apologize to anyone and everyone who walked into my dorm room while I was blasting this track, the best from Danny Brown's "Old". Besides the cool beat, you just have to love Brown's story of going to a grocery store to buy bread with food stamps only to have it stolen by gangbangers in the end.

14. "Fireproof" - The National
Easily one of the best tracks I've ever heard from the normally drab Brooklyn band, The National. While "Trouble Will Find Me" didn't quite get the job done for me as an album, this song is gorgeous and sad and redemptive and memorable. Major props to Matt Berninger on this one.

13. "Yonder Is Closer to the Heart" - Parquet Courts
A lot of "Light Up Gold" sounded like a barely-contained mess (a mess which I adored), but the album's best moments came when the trio pulled together and sounded like a true and proper band. This track is the best example with a driving bass and a Strokes-esque guitar tone propelling this thing forward at 100 mph.

12. "Same Love" by Macklemore feat. Mary Lambert
One of the most important tracks of the year with a wonderful rap running through it as well. still, the highlight is Lambert's emotional and poignant chorus. As a gay Christian, she's definitely got the ethos for this tune; fortunately, she has the pipes for it too.

11. "I Sat By the Ocean" - Queens of the Stone Age
This track didn't need Grohl's drumming to be the best on "Like Clockwork". It takes the best parts of classic QOTSA (mid-tone guitar riffs, cool slides, a tight groove) and then adds in the mystique that was inherent to the whole album. While there might have been more original songs on "Like Clockwork", this one did QOTSA better than any others.

10. "Caught In the Briars" - Iron & Wine
The opening track from the impressive "Ghost on Ghost", the only weakness of the super-catchy jam is that it sets unrealistic expectations for the other eleven songs on the album. "Get Lucky" can step aside; this was my summer song of 2013.

9. "Notebook" - Majical Cloudz
This closing track on "Impersonator" is as U2 as this duo gets. The voice is vintage era Bono and the mild, textured background that swirls underneath the vocal in such a gorgeous way recalls the Irish band's classic elegies in the vain of "40" and "MLK". Easily the best closing track of the year for me.

8. "World" - Julia Holter
Her voice is gold. Her lyrics are evocative. The mood is all-encompassing. Not many songs tihs year managed to reach this level of hypnotic. A lovely song through and through.

7. "Ohm" - Yo La Tengo
At first I thought "Ohm" was kind of boring, then I saw Yo La Tengo live a couple weeks after "Fade" dropped, and it all made sense. That pounding, persistent guitar riff from Ira Kaplan which devolves into a feedback freakout is arguably the most "Guitar Hero" worthy moment of the year.

6. "Byegone" - Volcano Choir
Justin Vernon must've taken some lessons from Kanye on how to make a truly epic song. "Byegone" starts with just the same note being struck on two separate guitars back to back, but it turns into a sweeping landscape of ascending guitar lines, gut-punching drum hits, and shouted vocals. For sheer scope, nothing came close to "Byegone" this year.

5. "Hannah Hunt" - Vampire Weekend
For the first few months after the release of "Modern Vampires of the City", I would have sworn up and down that "Unbelievers" was its best track. However, this calm little song about two weary lovers on a road trip has since taken that throne. Koenig's imagery is spot on, and the gorgeous piano part that kicks in near the song's end is to die for.

4. "Cocoa Butter Kisses" - Chance the Rapper feat. Vic Mensa & Twista
The best rap track of the year from the best new rapper of the year. This is a song that, at its core, is about the effect fitting in with your peers has on your family life. When Twista raps "I wanna get a hug, but I can't 'cause I'm stankin'", it suddenly doesn't matter how tough he is or how cool he may seem. What matters is the price he's paid in his relationship with his grandmother. Why can't all rap lyrics be this good?

3. "The Mother We Share" - Chvrches
The catchiest chorus of the year goes to this Scottish trio's debut single. I may not have any clue what it's about (though I have a few wild guesses), but "The Mother We Share" makes up for its incoherent themes by providing a stunning vocal, bright synths, and the most ear-tickling sequence of notes I heard throughout all of 2013 come chorus time.

2. "Swan Dive" - Waxahatchee
Katie Crutchfield knows how to write a song. In fact, she proved this thirteen times on "Cerulean Salt", and this track is the standout. The lightly strummed guitar blends perfectly with the toms cascading beneath Crutchfield's pained, delicate, and beautiful voice. Add to that lyrical zingers like "We will find a way to be lonely any chance we get" and you've got not just a great song but one of 2013's greatest musical and poetic moments.

1. "Elephant" - Jason Isbell
This is what songwriting is all about. This heart-wrenching tale of a man and the woman he loves who is dying of cancer strikes an emotional chord that barely any song I've ever heard has managed to reach. Isbell's pitch perfect, pleasantly twangy voice lends a realism to the lyrics, and the subdued chord strumming highlights the utter depravity of this dehumanizing situation. This song is evocative, honest, heartbreaking, and somehow beautiful, and that is why it is my favorite song of 2013.

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