In some respects, making an end-of-the-year (henceforth abbreviated as EOTY) song list is much easier than an album list. With albums, one clearly has to make their way through the entirety of the record, which can take anywhere from half an hour to 80 minutes for particularly lengthy efforts. Not all albums are particularly easy listening. And an album can let the listener down towards the end if the conclusion isn’t as strong as the front half.
And yet, making a song list is also harder in some respects. Yes, songs are a mere morsel compared to a full record. But it’s always much harder to get the scope of a song on singular listens. Context can do a lot to enhance a song, making album favorites seem relatively weak when they stand on their own. And if a song depends on contextual content, does it deserve a spot on EOTY lists? Most songs are relatively easy to make it through, especially when they’re songs the listener enjoys. But how can critical minds decipher between a song that they truly appreciate and one that is simply catchy?
My point in saying these things is that EOTY song lists are often more of a personal preference situation. It’s not ideal, but it has to be understood that as hard as it is to get to every great album in one calender year, it’s much, much more difficult to find every great song in said year. It’s a thin line that’s drawn and one that listeners and bloggers and writers must skate.
In light of this “disclaimer” of sorts, these are tracks that I would personally call the 50 best songs of 2013…that I’ve heard, of course. They weren’t all necessarily my favorites or the ones that I appreciated the most, but a healthy mixture of the two, or the very best I could do in that area. One final note about all of these tracks: they all struck me in some way. I’ve often felt that the best songs are the ones that can stop a listener in their tracks and force them to ponder the following: how beautiful the music is; the message of the song; how the track makes them feel; etc. I’ve tried to reflect that in my choices. Enjoy. (Two other notes: I’ve got a thing for openers, I promise I listen to whole albums. I also didn’t take any of these pictures. Proper credit should be in the description.)
50. “Save Us”: Paul McCartney
Paul has no doubt enjoyed his career as the most successful soloist of the Liverpool Legends, but in the opener to his latest record New, McCartney finds himself throwing back to a “Revolution”-style rock track, a number that shows he is as engaging and authentic as ever. His music is timeless while still unquestionably his own.
49. “New Lover”: Josh Ritter
The Beast In Its Tracks found Ritter focusing mostly on the recovery path from heartbreak and divorce. “New Lover” is the culmination of longingly tender, yet still bitingly bitter feelings that Ritter undoubtedly experienced during that period of his life.
48. “The Next Day”: David Bowie
In another story of old artists continuing to make great contriubtions, David Bowie returns with an opening track that is as bold and unyielding as anything released in a long while. You have to wonder if the chorus is a shot at those who believed he couldn’t still create outstanding music, but if you were in that contingency, I wouldn’t admit it.
47. “Don’t Love Me Too Much”: Escondido
Escondido is still breaking onto the independent/country-rock scene, but the commitment to old Western influences on The Ghost of Escondido is appealing to say the least. The attempt to bring back the word “desperado” and the charmingly imperfect harmonies are the least of this song’s great qualities.
46. “A Tattered Line of String”: The Postal Service
The Postal Service may be dead, but at least they went out proving they can still make great music. It’s not quite as melancholy as anything from Give Up, which is a nice change. The mastery of the electronic and pop blend will always make us wonder what could have been.
45. “My Song 5”: HAIM
HAIM was one of a few young groups to take the world by storm this year, but what set them apart in their debut record was the unshakeable feel of experience. Days Are Gone is riddled with great pop tracks, but this particular track displays the sisters’ ability to take risks that don’t really feel like risks.
44. “Love Illumination”: Franz Ferdinand
Franz Ferdinand’s glory days may or may not be behind them, but they’re still a major player when it comes to early 21st century rock (take that as you will). The hook may be the most underrated of the year.
43. “Triumph of Disintegration”: of Montreal
Kevin Barnes must have been exhausted making music that was increasingly harder and harder to listen to. lousy with sylvianbriar is of Montreal’s most enthusiastic and energetic listen since False Priest, and “Triumph…” shows they’re at their best when mixing the baroque-pop of olden days with Dylan-inspired rock.
42. “Back to Black”: Andre 3000 & Beyonce
It’s not an original, but this take on the Amy Winehouse track represented the dynamic collision that took place on the Jay-Z produced soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. While maligned critically, the fusion of R&B, jazz and seedy undertones was never more evident than when Queen B was on the microphone.
41. “Started From the Bottom”: Drake
Drake is naturally talented at doing two things, the first of which is creating songs that turn into pop culture mantras. Regardless of how you feel about overexposure, “Started From the Bottom” is the picture of any successful rapper, Drake just isn’t afraid to talk about it in a way that he knows people will listen.
40. “You & I”: Local Natives
Local Natives live and die on the strength of their multiple vocalists. And when they’re living on that (aka: always), they’re creating spacious, sunny indie rock music that’s impossible to dislike. “You & I” sets the stage for Hummingbird by creating an ambitious, wildly imaginative atmosphere.
39. “Put a Light On”: Generationals
Dance pop is easy to come by these days. Catchy dance pop is also easy to come by these days. Good, catchy dance pop is less easy to come by these days. “Put a Light On” is one of the most fun songs of the year, riding an infectious hook that never seems to get old.
38. “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)”: Unknown Mortal Orchestra
II was a delightfully spacey and airy album spear-headed by strong trio of tracks at the front end of the record. So it says something that the shortest track of said trio is the easiest to listen to and seemingly the fullest of the three.
37. “Caught In the Briars”: Iron & Wine
Sam Beam fans that were dismayed by the electronic musings of Kiss Each Other Clean were undoubtedly anxious for Ghost On Ghost. “Caught In the Briars” masterful opening guitar solo showed a return to form for Iron & Wine. It also foreshadowed bigger, better music to come.
36. “Overdose”: Little Daylight
Imagine Dragons stole the spotlight last year for their shockingly bold and unique style of arena rock. This track plays almost as ‘Imagine Dragons-Lite’, but in no way is that a bad thing. In fact, Little Daylight shows how the big style approach to pop-rock can be tweaked and played with in a way that plays to the beautiful contrasts and striking rhythms that “Overdose” highlights and flaunts.
35. “Belong to the World”: The Weeknd
Abel Tesfaye has had plenty of underground success in the past few years. So when Kiss Land was dropped, the expectations were high. While an overall disappointment, it did manage to produce The Weeknd’s haunting picture of love and emptiness that is “Belong to the World”. The scope of the song is strikingly orchestral and acts as the biggest possible way to say, “my brain says no, but my heart says yes.”
34. “Everlasting Arms”: Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend has always played to a certain level of sophistication and Modern Vampires of the City was no exception. What it did provide that its predecessors didn’t, however, was the level of lyrical intelligence to match the musical elegance. Despite being only the second most-forward question of religion on the album, “Everlasting Arms” paints beautiful word pictures with electronic landscapes like only Vampire Weekend could do.
33. “Go Kindergarten”: The Lonely Island feat. Robyn
The Lonely Island will always be the silly sketch group that produced “I’m On a Boat” with a top-hat wearing T-Pain, but they proved in The Wack Album that they sure do know hip-hop culture and they’re definitely willing and ready to mock it. “Go Kindergarten” parodies the typical club style jam, adding killer vocals from Robyn to boot.
32. “New Slaves”: Kanye West
If there is one word that cannot be separated from Kanye West and musical career, it would have to be innovation. Not only was “New Slaves” the central piece to an aggressive and wildly successful guerilla campaign for West’s latest album, but it was the first look into the off-putting aggression and noticeable minimalism that would make Yeezus one of the most polarizing releases of the year. Another positive? Any amount of Frank Ocean is a good amount.
31. “Zen and the Art of Xenophobia”: Five Iron Frenzy
Fresh off a record-setting Kickstarter campaign, the ridiculously humorous, but always-poignant ska band from Denver returned to release their first album in 10 years. “Zen and the Art of Xenophobia” marries the group’s new, heavier style with a biting satire of misplaced Christian nationalism that’s sure to strike a nerve and make listeners think.
30. “Wakin On a Pretty Day”: Kurt Vile
Kurt Vile’s epic was one of the year’s first contenders for SOTY and it held through. For a song that spans nearly 10 minutes, it’s a surprisingly easy listen with its simple melody and laid-back vibe. For whatever the song lacks in complexity, Vile makes up for with his cool, indifferent charisma.
29. “Acrylics”: TNGHT
TNGHT was one of the unsung heroes of 2012 with their stellar self-titled EP and they followed it up with a 2013 in which they contributed to one of the year’s most talked about tracks (more on that later) and released another banger of their own. “Acrylics” is decidedly heavier and more broken than anything on their EP, but Lunice and Hudson Mohawke prove that they’ve mastered the art of trap music.
28. “Where Did I Leave That Fire”: Neko Case
Neko Case’s latest record was easily one of the most underrated of the year, a beautifully executed emotional effort that uses her trademark humorous lyricism and sharp wit to great lengths. However, the album’s best track is a barren, chilling number that digs deep into Case’s introspective nature and ends on a powerful cliff-hanger.
27. “From This Valley”: The Civil Wars
The Civil Wars have mostly made headlines this calender year through their internal struggles, but surprised fans with an August sophomore release to follow up the excellent Barton Hollow. The self-titled record LP beat the emotional depths of love into the dirt, but “From This Valley” became the album’s saving grace when it rose to positivity and capitalized on the strength of the obvious chemistry between the White and Williams. The acapella section could carry the song by itself.
26. “I. The Party”: Childish Gambino
After a much-maligned debut in which many accused him of trying to emulate My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy too closely, Donald Glover’s Because The Internet was set on a path to prove that Childish Gambino can exist as an original entity. “I. The Party” may be one of the shorter tracks on the album, but it’s clearly a bright spot. With a rhythm raging over his voice, Glover steps up and delivers a quick sucker-punch that displays not only his immense talent, but also his commitment to emotional story-telling. (Note: this song isn’t on the playlist below because it hasn’t been released as of yet. I will add it as soon as it’s available.)
To be continued…