The Top 25 Songs of 2013
25. Down Down the Deep River– Okkervil River
24. Normal Person– Arcade Fire
23. Via Dolorosa– Matthew Good
22. Somewhere– Yuck
21. Seabed– Vondelpark
20. Blackbeak– Youngblood Hawke
19. Lean– Jimmy Eat World
18. DNA– Empire of the Sun
17. My Misinformed “John Hughes” Teenage Youth– The Epilogues
16. Big TV– White Lies
15. Everybody Wants to Rule the World– Lorde
14. Harrison Ford– Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
13. When I Dream– Ra Ra Riot
12. Lovers’ Revolution– Iron & Wine
11. Same Mistakes– The Echo-Friendly
Cleaning house before a sophomore release in 2014, Aaron Bruno dropped a few B-sides this year and this was one of them. It starts off as baroque pop that almost veers into silly territory with the clipped vocal arpeggios, but halfway through Bruno literally says “wait a minute!” and returns to the punishing aggro-stomp of Sail, turning the volume knob of the song to a righteous 11.
Justin Vernon claimed he was semi-retiring Bon Iver after the touring cycle for the last album, but Repave was basically another Bon Iver album. It totally makes sense too. The first album was spindly, sparse folk, and the second invited subtle growth with the introduction of electronic textures. This picks up right where the self-titled effort left off, pumping up the rock and the melodrama while maintaining an experimental spirit. “Comrade” is equal parts weird and widescreen. A radio-ready chorus is balanced by a bizarre vocoder outro; the “in style” folk rock is tempered by clipped keyboards and a ramshackle bridge. Remarkably though it all fits together nicely and leaves us with the sense that either another Bon Iver OR Volcano Choir album would both be good choices for Vernon to release.
Two years back acclaimed French producer and artist M83 released the inescapable “Midnight City”, a love letter to a futuristic metropolis of some coming century. “Sleepwalking” is by another solo artist who goes by the Chain Gang moniker, and it’s the 1985 cousin to the French anthem. It’s got the same cinematic highs and soaring synths, but this is a song firmly rooted in neon lit Californian streets; it’s the perfect soundtrack to a showdown on the desert outskirts with helicopters and slow-motion explosions.
If you were to ask me at the start of each year what sort of artists I would not expect to be on my year-end lists, the answer would not be “PEOPLE I HATE SO MUCH”. By now I’ve become somewhat accustomed to being pleasantly surprised by bands whose previous work I’ve loathed. It’s the mediocre filler artists who have trudged along for years that I usually write off completely. That’s the case with Cold War Kids, who were blog rock champions in 2007 and haven’t really done anything memorable up until this year. Then January rolls around and they drop this song and it’s a hook-filled indie pop instant classic. Makes me wonder if 2014’s countdown will include Ted Leo & The Pharmacists and Tapes N’ Tapes.
6. Recover– CHVRCHES —
Despite pop dominating the airwaves, there’s not a lot in terms of catchy choruses. So when a band comes along and throws out two in one song, it’s a treat. The whole debut album is filled to the brim with tracks like these, but it’s arguable that Recover does it the best out of all of them. Particularly because the synth line sounds vaguely like the Terminator theme. It’s a punchy, generous over-achiever of a song and it makes you wish that more bands would put this sort of songwriting effort into their work.
In the two years since MC Rut hit the scene the radio landscape has changed drastically. Now, there are very few guitars, and very little angst. So naturally this band amped up both for their sophomore release. They are now more miserable than ever and take their Jane’s Addiction via Rage against the Machine template to an even darker, heavier place than their debut ever went. The scorched earth atmospherics are still there, but the band has beefed up. It’s most noticeable during the bridge, when the Perry Farrell-esque vocals meet the crashing cymbals like waves in an ocean of civil unrest. There’s still a lot of injustice out in the world, and MC Rut don’t want you to forget that.
There’s no denying that this is a song written within the past year. As much as Gibbard wants to pretend that it’s a long lost track from the original Give Up sessions, it’s clear that this was written from the perspective of someone on this side of the decade. As influential and groundbreaking as that sole record was, it was decidedly lachrymose, which this track isn’t. It’s got a faster tempo, with sharper guitars and a more confident frontman. The chiming tones are different from anything on the original record, and drive the song, and the band, to a triumphant finish.
Imagine if the disco revival aesthetic in Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” or Bruno Mars’ “Treasure” weren’t reductive and mindlessly repetitive and you have a good idea of what Hellogoodbye have done with the title track from their 2013 album. While the jangling guitar flourishes and four-to-the-floor drumbeat are straight from 1976, the existential lyrics, squiggly keyboard solo and pulsating synths slathered over the whole song are strictly 2013. This is how modern artists should borrow from the past but remain rooted firmly in the present.
In a year filled with many, many media disappointments, it’s good to know that there are still artists, music and otherwise, that still know what their fans want and cater to those fans, without turning stagnant. Arcade Fire have always known what their strengths are and have channeled all of them into the penultimate track from Reflektor. It’s pensive without being preachy, upbeat without being cloying, and nostalgic without being regressive. It’s the best of Springsteen and New Order in one endlessly melodic and satisfying package.
And my favorite song of 2013 is….
There are basically two key components that a song must have to deserve a coveted on these year-end lists: innovation and memorability. Northern Lights has both in spades. It’s a capital S Single that inverts pop music tropes while staying a pop song. Here are three things I could describe this song as: No Doubt if they had been an electronic band in this decade. The xx if they weren’t always depressed. Icona Pop’s “I Love It” if it weren’t a lame millennial empowerment anthem. It’s dark dance music, and it feels like it could be played at a party where everything is subtly sinister. Sure it’s got the big chorus, but it’s also got a spiky, cold outro, where synths jut out like shards of glass. It’s a song that simultaneously party and non-party at the same time, a Schrodinger’s Party sort of conundrum. Hopefully it heralds a collection of more of its ilk in the near future; Kate Boy are too good to remain in the shadows, even if they like it there.
The 10 Best Albums of 2013 –
Here are the most well-rounded efforts taken into consideration as a whole piece of work:
10. [Specter at the Feast]- Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (Choice Cuts: “Sell It”, “Funny Games”, “Sometimes the Light”)
9. [Native]- OneRepublic (Choice Cuts: “If I Lose Myself”, “Can’t Stop”, “Counting Stars”)
8. [Perils from the Sea]- Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle (Choice Cuts: “What Happened to My Brother”, “Gustavo”, “You Missed My Heart”)
7. [Comedown Machine]- The Strokes (Choice Cuts: “Chances”, “Tap Out”, “80’s Comedown Machine”)
6. [The Bones of What You Believe]- CHVRCHES– (Choice Cuts: “Recover”, “Night Sky”, “By the Throat”)
5. [Ghost on Ghost]- Iron & Wine (Choice Cuts: “Lovers’ Revolution”, “Winter Prayers”, “Low Light Buddy of Mine”)
4. [Dear Miss Lonelyhearts]- Cold War Kids (Choice Cuts: “Miracle Mile”, “Bottled Affection”, “Lost That Easy”)
3. [AM]- Arctic Monkeys (Choice Cuts: “Do I Wanna Know?”, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”, “Arabella”)
2. [Pick Up Your Head]- Middle Class Rut (Choice Cuts: “Aunt Betty”, “Born Too Late”, “Dead Eye”)
1. ALBUM OF THE YEAR: [Reflektor]- Arcade Fire (Choice Cuts: “Afterlife”, “Normal Person”, “Joan of Arc”)
THE WORST OF 2013
Ok, now it’s PONTIFICATION TIME. As with last year, instead of a top (bottom?) 10 list of the worst songs, I’m just going to write about a few irritating trends in the music world of 2013.
* Mainstream Indie Bottomed Out: Last year I was singing high hallelujahs about the “sound of 2012” and how rock had finally found a niche in the new millennium. Unfortunately within the span of one year that sound has been completely mined and exhausted. That’s crazy! Looking back at past rock upswings, it took grunge 4 years to fizzle out (1991- 1995), and garage rock roughly three (2001- 2004). Because of the accelerated pace of pop culture consumption, the whole sound has been picked apart before any of the progenitors even released a second album! The worst part about it is that a lot of the second and third tier imitators didn’t even bother listening to what made the sound unique. Instead of taking the maximalist choruses, the all-electronic approach, the dubstep rhythms, most bands just settled for “arcade fire + passion pit”. ENOUGH WITH THE ANTHEMIC WHOA-WHOAS.
Another trend popped up in the mainstream as well….
* Organic Electro/ Disco Revival: Justin Timberlake, Daft Punk, Bruno Mars, and Robin Thicke all jumped aboard this train in 2013 and it was obnoxious. Disco inherently cheesy, but none of these artists did something new or interesting with the sound, they just aped it as if we were back in the 70’s. This was particularly disappointing coming from JT and Daft Punk, as they were both innovators within the electronic pop world. They squandered the opportunity to take MODERN trends and put their own spin on them, and went fully reductive. (To be fair though, JT’s “Tunnel Vision” and Daft Punk’s “Doin’ it Right” are pretty sweet choons.)
Speaking of electronic music, here’s a super-annoying trend…
* The Lack of the Drop: This trend’s not so common in mainstream pop, although it did rear its head a few years back when it was popularized by will.i.am. There’s a snare buildup, the instrumental starts to get louder, then it all stops and you’re ready for a huge chorus….and IT’S NOT THERE. It’s just some annoying keyboard. There’s no payoff.
The most recognizable offender of this awful trend is….
* The Harlem Shake: Of all the novelty dance crazes that have come and gone throughout the years (Gangnam style, macarena, soulja boy), this was by far the most annoying. The song itself is a monotonous barrage of noise, and the utter goofiness of the videos was too haphazard to enjoy. It was mostly just dumb teenagers being ~like, totally random!~
It’s easy to say “well if you don’t like all this stuff just don’t listen to it like omg”. But hey, what if there’s nothing to listen to??
* We’re Running Out Of Stars: I predicted this years and years ago, as every year I noticed that there were fewer and fewer big “Event Albums” being released by major bands. In terms of mainstream breakthrough albums for rock artists, there really wasn’t a single one in 2013. As great as Reflektor was, even its massive rollout campaign didn’t score it airplay on Top 40 stations. The only big rock hits (The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey”, Imagine Dragons’ “Demons”) were leftovers from 2012, and barely qualify as rock anyway. But this problem extends pasts my personal taste- pop didn’t fare too well either. How many bona fide hits were there this year? I’d say “Get Lucky”, “Blurred Lines”, “Mirrors”, “Wrecking Ball”, “Roar”, and of course the token novelty “The Fox”. But nothing else really sank into the cultural zeitgeist. Is music dying? Just becoming a background commodity?
I don’t know how to segue into this final point…so…. also this:
* Pink (or P!nk, for the purists): I don’t really have a beef with Pink, cuz to be honest I find it pretty impressive that she’s been able to keep her “rebel empowerment” schtick financially viable for over ten years. What I do have issue with is the image above. The fact that she’s hired a veritable army of staff to create what is essentially middle-of-the-road, B-list pop. Do you really need that many people to write “truuuuuuue love. truuuuuUUuuuuue love. Truuuuuue love”? There are so many other artists that do everything themselves and write much better music. To be fair though, 99.9% of pop acts have even bigger staff than this. It’s just strange considering Pink’s tough girl attitude- you’d think she’d grab the reigns herself.
Also she is always making this face:
If you want to defend Pink, or tell me about your favorite musics, or want to say something else, or want to say “whoa i made it to the end of this long beast of a rant”, you can do so now.
Thanks for reading!