A continuation of yesterday’s Top 50 Songs of 2013 List. Again, none of these pictures are mine. Full playlist of the Top 50 songs is below:
25. “I Am Sold”: James Blake
Electronic music, especially dubstep, could learn a lesson or two (or ten) from Blake. His knack for using electronica to a gorgeous degree of minimalism is now being coupled with his bone-chilling falsetto which only means good things. “I Am Sold” acts perfectly as a distortion of voice while layering in beautiful piano.
24. “Get Lucky”: Daft Punk feat. Pharrell
Whether or not you enjoyed RAM, “Get Lucky” was a defining song of 2013. From the bass line, to the hook, to the smooth vocals, to the obvious disco appreciation, Daft Punk reintroduced themselves as EDM’s biggest players with a track that perfectly echoes the mindset of the typical fun-loving young person in the year 2013: “we’re up all night to the sun, we’re up all night to get some, we’re up all night for good fun, we’re up all night to get lucky.”
23. “Graceless”: The National
The National’s infectious melancholy has long been a staple of indie rock lovers and their 2013 release Trouble Will Find Me did nothing to change that. Fronted by Matt Berninger’s smooth, deep voice, “Graceless” leads fans into a sweeping, beautiful song littered with beautiful word pictures and the sweet, sweet sadness that makes them so appealing.
22. “Wu-Tang Forever”: Drake
As mentioned above, Drake is immensely talented at two things, the second being being unflinchingly raw and honest in a way that catches you off guard even if you’ve listened to him from the start. Christening this song after one of hip-hop’s most beloved outfits and then making it sound absolutely nothing like them is an odd tribute, but Drake makes it work. The stuttered piano plays the role of internal conflict while Drake displays why he’s one of the most successful and talented rappers in the industry. He always seems to be hung up on a woman from his past and it seems like he’d find happiness at some point. But fans can’t complain if he keeps pumping out tracks like this.
21. “Tiderays”: Volcano Choir
Justin Vernon broke the hearts of music-lovers everywhere when he hinted that his beloved project Bon Iver may have seen its last day in the sun. But if ever there were a constellation prize to make up for the loss of a great group, it would be Volcano Choir. “Tiderays” draws in listeners with its deceptively Bon Iver feel and then shows (with a beautiful crescendo) why it stands on its own as larger and more picturesque than anything Vernon ever released with Bon Iver. That’s not to say that it’s necessarily better, but it certainly isn’t a letdown of any sort. It is, however, a tad more accessible than Vernon’s previous projects, which bodes well for the future of this particular group.
20. “Black Skinhead”: Kanye West
Talk about a power couple. While Daft Punk and Yeezy both did enough by themselves this year, they chose to come together on the darkest and most aggressive song of Kanye’s career. The booming rhythms, the panicked breathes and tribal chants are all supremely confident pieces. Those elements, coupled with Kanye’s larger-than-life ego, make “Black Skinhead” come across as possibly the year’s most confidently produced track.
19. “San Francisco”: Foxygen
We’d all like to think that because California has Hollywood, Disneyland and Brad Pitt that it’s a magical land where dreams come true. But Foxygen’s charmingly simple “San Francisco” makes the sunshine state seem like a much more down to earth place. Sam France’s soft-toned vocals march along to a steady rhythm and catchy guitar line while he toasts his home state in a way more genuine than most.
18. “Ya Hey”: Vampire Weekend
Modern Vampires of the City was so good because of its commitment to the human condition and was at its best when addressing the questions that we, as humans, struggle with every day. “Ya Hey” courageously questions religion in a way that never comes off as disrespectful, but instead as heart-felt and genuine. It takes a lot of gumption to chant “ya hey, ya hey” and not want to come off as mocking, but instead, it feels as if the chants are of desperation. It’s telling that he chooses to be so forward with the name, but didn’t take the extra step and just use “Yahweh”. Maybe it says something about his personal spiritual journey. Either way, it’s powerful.
17. “Entertainment”: Phoenix
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix vaulted Phoenix and their powerful European dance-pop into the limelight and on their stellar follow-up Bankrupt!, they seemed determined to keep the status quo. “Entertainment” is a dazzling, ear-catching opener that seems grander in scale than anything Phoenix released on Wolfgang. It feels less like a song and more like an introduction into a world of flashing lights, bright colors and limitless possibilities. Credit a veteran band like Phoenix for knowing how to play to their strengths, because Thomas Mars sometimes whiny vocals complement the track perfectly.
16. “When A Fire Starts To Burn”: Disclosure
If you’ll allow me to jump on my soapbox for a second: house music needs help. It’s a fascinating genre with endless opportunities for mind-numbingly good music, but it seems like no one can come up with anything but club songs. Hopefully Disclosure can inject some life into a tired genre. And if their debut, Settle, is any indication, things are looking up. The duo takes to the popular practice of sampling speech, but they go the extra mile by not only using the vocals as an overlay, but cut the sample to work with fragmented words and speech sounds. Layered with a perfectly arcing dance beat, the result is a house song that anyone can get on board with.
15. “Electric Lady”: Janelle Monae feat. Solange
Janelle Monae has always benefited on her ability to fuse older Motown R&B with pop and hip-hop elements, but “Electric Lady” shows how important she really is to music today. Monae provides an overwhelming amount of class that is sorely missed among the wealth of shock artists (Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, etc.) that pop music produces today. While the brass blares over bass-heavy downbeats, Monae really goes to town with her stunning voice, backed by a heavenly chorus. Throw in Solange, maybe one of the most under appreciated pop artists alive today, providing a killer guest verse (did you know she can rap?) and you’ve got a song that’s two parts nostalgia, one part modern and 100% electric.
14. “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)”: Marcus Mumford & Oscar Isaac
Marcus Mumford has all but crowned himself as the ruler of commercial folk music, so it makes sense that while he’s on hiatus from Mumford & Sons, he would work with the famed Coen Brothers on the soundtrack to the film Inside Llewyn Davis, the story of a struggling folk musician in the 1960’s. Mumford hasn’t seemed this vulnerable since the days of Sigh No More and the addition of Oscar Isaac’s raspy harmonies perfectly complement Mumford’s smooth, yet distinct tone. It’s an interesting dynamic, covering a classic American folk song with modern folk’s biggest name, but Mumford has rightly earned his title. For those disappointed by Babel, you’ll be reminded why you enjoyed Sigh No More so immensely.
13. “Song For Zula”: Phosphorescent
It takes a lot of guts to challenge the great Johnny Cash word for word, but Matthew Houck, better known as Phosphorescent, does just that in his touching and poignant “Song For Zula”. We as people always get a certain idea of love shoved down our throats, but how often do we stop to think for ourselves how big of a choice it is? That’s why “Song For Zula” is so wondrous. Houck presents his own personal view of love as something that cages him in while he longs to roam free in this crazy world in which we live. But he’s not shoving his views in our faces. He’s simply painting a sad, yet hopeful picture of a wild heart longing to be free. And we can’t help but root for him.
12. “Numbers On the Boards”: Pusha-T
Pusha-T has always lived in the shadow of his G.O.O.D. Music member, the founder Kanye West. What few people know is that Pusha might actually be a more talented rapper than West. In February, Pusha teamed with Kanye for a track that foreshadowed the minimalistic year that the two would be having. The rhythm never seems tired and feels fresh with each listen, which isn’t surprising when you consider who did the production. But the real star of the show is Pusha, who fills out the short track with two verses that would strike envy into the hearts of any rapper alive. Pusha’s strength is in his aggressive delivery and coupled with production that complements his style, he delivered one of the strongest rap tracks of the year.
11. “Collapsible Lung”: Relient K
Relient K put its fan base into a frenzy this past summer when they released an album that was…let’s say “different” than the classic that was Forget and Now Slow Down. The release split fans down the middle, but there’s no doubt that the album’s closer will sooner or later go down as one of Relient K’s greatest efforts. The namesake of the album itself, “Collapsible Lung” didn’t seem to fit the care-free nature of the rest of the record, but upon closer listen, it’s as if Matt Thiessen is coming out on the other end of a very dark, very strenuous journey. And that theory fits with an album that seemed oddly superficial and stuffed with filler material. “Collapsible Lung” takes on a life of its own among a sea of mediocrity and finally gives fans a glimpse of the witty, sharp and honest mind of Thiessen, who seemed to be writing this song more for himself than for his fans.
10. “Jamba”: Tyler, the Creator feat. Hodgy Beats
The creator Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All has been raked over the coals for the dark, bigoted and sometimes sadistic nature of his past efforts and he’s still far from completely shedding that image. But in his third album Wolf, Tyler began to show signs of growing up. “Jamba” especially hints at these signs of maturity while he slyly and shortly hints at the influence that his missing father has had on him, quickly covering himself with a boast. It’s interesting that he chose to include a line like that when he’s known for the explicit and hard-to-redeem quality of his lyrics. But it presents an interesting question, one that Tyler indirectly addresses as he goes through Wolf: beneath the hardened exterior, is there simply a lost kid trying to find his place in the world? There’s no way to know for sure, but Tyler’s music, sonically better than ever, has never been this thought-provoking.
9. “Royals”: Lorde
As I mentioned in the synopsis for “Electric Lady”, pop is suffering from an overdose of shock. In the same way, hip-hop has been suffering from an obsession with the pursuits of the wealthy for a long, long time. “Royals” addresses both at the same time. Lorde is noticeably more mature than her years as she acknowledges the small likelihood of living an exuberant lifestyle, yet chooses to indulge herself regardless. At the same time, as a pop artist, Lorde is the next step in pop music as she styles herself as a type of up-tempo, female James Blake with a hauntingly beautiful voice. She’s about as low-key as you can get for a major pop star, but her voice rings louder than anyone. In a time when everyone in pop is mostly saying the same thing, Lorde is quick to point out that she doesn’t mean to change anything, she just wants to be honest with herself. And that’s pretty darn refreshing.
8. “Doin’ It Right”: Daft Punk feat. Panda Bear
Random Access Memories was about Daft Punk getting back to their roots and sending a tribute to techno music of the past. No song portrayed this better than the soulful “Doin’ It Right”. While “Get Lucky” showed that Daft Punk could still get people dancing, “Doin’ It Right” is first and foremost a reminder of where the mysterious duo trace themselves. “Doin’ It Right” isn’t the catchiest or most complex track of the year, but it very well might be the easiest to listen to. It’s about as spacey and futuristic as the masks that the two are always wearing, a perfectly 80’s throwback that seems like it would sound just as nice in an Electric Light Orchestra track as it does in 2013. It’s a tribute thoughtfully made and well done, one that will stand the test of time just as its predecessors have.
7. “Good A** Intro”: Chance the Rapper
Chance the Rapper, a nasally 20-year old from the town of Chicago has been getting a ton of critical love for his mixtape Acid Rap and it’s all rightfully deserved. His modus operandi seems to be to prove how irreverent he can be when it comes to the structure of traditional hip-hop. The opening track of his mixtape comes off as braggadocios by the name alone, and it’s about as unstructured as a house party. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a whole lot of fun. Amidst a hodgepodge of choruses, horns, snaps, jazzy piano and layered sound effects, Chance never loses the attention of the listener due to the fact that he’s supremely talented and unavoidably magnetic. Part of it is tied to the fact that his voice is about as unique as they come. It doesn’t seem intimidating (as most rappers try to be), but its almost inviting in a way, a voice that invites you to enjoy his music just as much as he does.
6. “Making Money”: Ben Rector
Ben Rector is quickly becoming the hottest thing in terms of easy-going, handsome, charismatic artists. His first two albums were fun, light albums that addressed his fascination with love, marriage and heartbreak. His fourth full-length album, The Walking In Between, doesn’t divert too far from this formula, but it does contain some of Rector’s most heartfelt, contemplative music to date. Namely, “Making Money” addresses in the touchy subject of greed and money with a quiet confidence. And yet, Ben doesn’t seem to have all of the answers. He invites his listeners into a conversation of sorts, offering his advice on the subject. He’s still the fun-loving guy he always has been; “I make my living singing love songs that I made up ’cause I love songs” is one of the corniest, yet funniest lines of the year. And yet, there’s wisdom to be had in abundance. Not only is Rector all the things listed above: he’s smart and willing to talk about the sensitive subjects in a way that isn’t confrontational, but loving.
5. “Blood on the Leaves”: Kanye West
There’s no use in saying that Kanye West is no stranger to controversy, but he always seems to find a way to incite it. Sampling an old classic about the horrors of African-American lynchings to use in a song about a messy divorce is just another bold move to add to his portfolio. But, just as always, West seems to do it justice. Just as “Strange Fruit” is a stark picture of reality, “Blood on the Leaves” is a horrifying song, full of angry energy. West goes through the stages of grief quickly and viciously, drawing blood and wrath from every corner of every wrong he feels has been committed. And then comes the kicker: loneliness. The end of the song is about as telling as the anger that precedes it. The reliance of auto-tuned cries of despair is a throwback to the days of 808’s & Heartbreak when Kanye was more open with his audience than he ever had been. Only this time, he doesn’t need to use any words. His moans tell the story. And finally, we understand why “Strange Fruit” was a fitting choice.
4. “Reflektor”: Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire has long been a stronghold of award-winning, artistic rock music. They’re about as solid of a group as there is today, but in 2013, they tried change for once. “Reflektor” was the ‘Ta-da!’ at the end of a long line of mysterious hints and guerrilla advertising tactics and it showed just how much Arcade Fire had been tinkering with their sound. It’s undeniably more poppy than efforts of the past, but it’s still as masterfully executed as anything Arcade Fire has done in the past. The lyrics, while hard to decipher, act as self-justification for such a great change in the style that Arcade Fire has chosen. And at the end of the day, Arcade Fire has earned the right to experiment. “Reflektor” reminds us why.
3. “Hive”: Earl Sweatshirt feat. Casey Veggies & Vince Staples
The hype surrounding the return of Earl Sweatshirt, Odd Future’s youngest, most talented member, was so high that some wondered if his debut studio album would have the same kind of impact on hip-hop as Nas’s Illmatic. It hasn’t (yet), but tracks like “Hive” show why Earl carries this sentiment with him everywhere he goes. Earl was a lean, mean, obscene mix-tape, one that left doubters wondering if Earl would be confined to the vitriol that Odd Future seemed to be stuck in. “Hive” answers these questions by digging deeper and darker in Earl’s sonic musings. The rhythm is thick, rich and terrifying. But Earl’s greatest strength has always been his delivery, lazy but calmly calculated. He’s the best wordsmith alive today and could turn a phrase with Shakespeare if it came down to it. His talent is poetic and the more he realizes it, the better he gets. It doesn’t hurt that Vince Staples drops the best guest verse of the year.
2. “Unbelievers”: Vampire Weekend
2013 was a year of soul-searching for Vampire Weekend and it wasn’t more uniquely expressed than in “Unbelievers”, the second track on Modern Vampires of the City. Musically, it’s more reminiscent of the days of their self-titled debut, but lyrically its in another place entirely. Exploring the depths of religion through a lens of romantic relationship, Ezra Koenig peruses the issues he has with the concepts of eternal grace and punishment. Most fascinating, however, is the idea that punishment and forgiveness are inbred ideas that we all have (“I’m not excited, but should I be? Is this the fate that half of the world has for me?”). Koenig isn’t afraid to ask these types as questions, all while wondering which religion can offer him something in return for his loyalty. And as always, Vampire Weekend does it with the ambiance and grace of true scholars and gentlemen.
1. “Pusher Love Girl”: Justin Timberlake
No artist had a bigger return to stardom than Justin Timberlake, the man who brought sexy back. A lot has changed for Timberlake since his last record, including his marriage and rise to fame as a very gifted actor and entertainer. But of course, music is what started his rise to fame, so it was always inevitable that he would return to his first love. His return reflects these changes, especially in his lovely opener “Pusher Love Girl”. Timberlake is always at his most comfortable singing about love. But in the past he focused on the heavy, lustful yearnings of his heart. Now he’s dressed to the nines and looking to woo his woman with style. The orchestral accompaniment from The Tennessee Kids acts as a announcement to the world that Timberlake has returned and is ready to continue his reign as the king of pop, post-Michael Jackson. From there Timberlake uses his soulful, rangy voice to assert himself, attacking listeners with suave grandeur until the only thing to do is step back and accept that Timberlake is back, reborn as a new man with new goals. “Pusher Love Girl” makes them all seem possible.