Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Playlist: 100 Most Excellent Songs of 2013, 1-20


2013 was the year of epic returns and surprise album releases. From David Bowie to My Bloody Valentine to last week's Beyonce pop-up, there may be only a handful of days left to go, but it still seems possible that there may be one surprise left, that I may be kicking off this list too early.  Only time will tell, but for now, we have arrived.  We have reached the end.  Nearly every musical artist I have ever gone through periods of fanatical admiration/obsession/love with has released new music.  While not all of it was memorable, it did seem like there was as surplus of good songs, of good albums, and that this year it's all the harder to pick and choose the great ones.

Still, I will try. Of course, this is not a music site. This is a film site, primarily, and just a one-person operation.  I'm doing this mostly for the benefit of my own future self, though I do like making playlists and sharing sounds I have enjoyed.  As this list unfolds, it's important to note that it is a mix that leans generally more towards subjective favorites than out and out "BEST POSSIBLE SONGS EVER."  It's also, as always, in not particular order, and not -- in any way-- a countdown.  That said, the absolute favorites are more likely to jump onto the list in the first 10 or so. They're the definites though, naturally, tastes change with the weather and Number 100 may have just as much merit as number 15.

Presented with minimal commentary.

Read on...





1. Daft Punk ft. Pharrell Williams / "Get Lucky"  Song of the summer, basically song of the year. Everything old is new again, everything old is like a breath of fresh air. We've learned precisely what we've known all along: it takes sharp suits and robot helmets to make disco cool.


2. Kanye West / "Black Skinhead"  On the first listen, I wasn't thrilled with Yeezus. Its clash of industrial elements with West's signature squawks (what else can you call them?) and hyperbole felt like an indulgent, tough sell. But I listened again. And again. And again. Yeezus is my favorite album this year, bar none, and "Black Skinhead" is an infectiously abrasive gateway drug to the sonic bombast it offers.
3. David Bowie / "Love is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix by James Murphy for the DFA)"  I was thrilled when Bowie decided to shock the world with the release of his first new material in nearly a decade. He's still releasing solid work, but it's the extended, 10-minute hand-clap remix of "Love is Lost" with Steve Reich (and cues from Bowie's past, "Ashes to Ashes") that I really fell for.

4. Drake / "Hold On, We're Going Home"  Pitchfork made Drake's radio-friendly jam their number one this year, and I have no complaints.  It's a song for nearly every occasion, a smooth as glass feel-good number that works as well for a night out with friends as it could, likely, at a wedding.

5. Jon Hopkins / "Open Eye Signal"  In case you weren't sure about the number of sustained, mellow electronic rhythms there would be on this list, let me reassure you: several. A good number. This is the first of many. Listen to it. It's like driving through a snow storm. Crystalline, distorted chorus in the distance, constant, slushy beats building and falling in the foreground.

6. Young Galaxy / "Pretty Boy"  While the music video plays as nearly the exact opposite, "Pretty Boy" is a sublimely effervescent bit of pop.  It's a sort of 21st century "Age of Consent" that ebbs in peaks of pure joy and slips, just as often, into something bittersweet.

7. Disclosure / "Latch"  Disclosure is made up of two British brothers barely out of their teen years, but I'll be damned if they don't make some of the slickest, most mature EDM around.  Settle is a fantastic dance album, and "Latch" (featuring vocals from the equally young Sam Smith) is a cure-all for anyone who thinks UK pop has gone a bit too much in One Direction.

8. Charli XCX / "What I Like"  I've raved about Charli XCX in the past, but I'm still quite certain not enough people have checked her out. The 21-year old Brit is synthpop's goth queen, and her album True Romance was in heavy rotation around these parts for much of the early 2013. She's the dark, too-cool bubble gum pop you'll find smoking in the bathroom.

9. Pusha T / "Numbers on the Boards"  G.O.O.D. Music produced, beats that are colder than cold. This is sustained, bleary menace, a track that tells you it's better than you without, possibly, even having to move.

10. Arcade Fire / "Reflektor"  Back in the day, I'd liked Arcade Fire's Funeral quite a bit. But I grew weary of it, and the sound that followed through the next couple hours did little to truly grab my attention.  Anyone who follows me on Twitter, though, knows that when "Reflektor" dropped I got a little carried away.  I fell hard for this song. It's a theatrical, glittery thing that shirks off some of the band's past seriousness and surrenders to LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, who produced it with just enough danceyness to drag me under.


11. Austra / "What We Done?"  Vice, which, let's face it, can be pretty tough to muster any respect for, recently listed Austra's latest album as among the worst of the year, on grounds that the idea of liking the band is more appealing than the music.  Whatever, Vice. Fuck you. "What We Done?" is a bizarrely compelling, deconstructed club track.  It's the inside out of a house banger, trapped in the slow motion come-down of a night out.

12. Savages / "She Will"  If Haim could blend into one station on the classic rock dial, Savages is their college radio counterpart. They sound like an established band, like old pros releasing something just ahead of the Manchester curve.

13. Autre Ne Veut / "Play By Play"  Autre Ne Veut's Arthur Ashin warbles and meanders through cloudy, cluttered beats and euphoric sandtraps until something kind of magical happens: the discordant sounds seem to smooth themselves out, to merge in unexpected ways that form a glittering, synth-laden r&b track.

14. Beyonce ft. Jay-Z / "Drunk in Love"  I love Beyonce, but I can't lie: I've never really liked a whole Beyonce album...until now.  In the past, Beyonce has sought a balance of upbeat tracks with these slower, respectable, flat-out boring love songs.  Her new album, though, marks a change. She's moved away from standard diva material and seems to have truly found her own voice: a little hubristic but nice, a little dirty but with class, and willing to move the love songs into chilly, cool-as-hell jams.

15. Courtney Barnett / "Avant Gardener" Oh dear god I love this song. It's like this anxiety-laden ode to slackerdom weighed down with this lung-fluid of needless complaints and half-comic observations.  It's what you're thinking, but don't say out loud. Barnett says it. It's great.

16. Justin Timberlake ft. Jay-Z / "Suit & Tie"  We're all probably suffering from a little bit of Timberlake overexposure this year, and, you know what? I hate "Mirrors" kind of a lot.  But, "Suit & Tie" is the classiest pop song this year.  This is that Sinatra shit, friends.  This is that anti-gravity bounce, friends.

17. Capital Cities ft. Andre 3000 / "Farrah Fawcett Hair"  A song I somehow doubt will be found on most other year end wrap-ups, but with I adore with a compulsive, violent fervor. There's nothing to it but exactly what it is: a list of good things, a voyage through happy-making, pleasant objects...and with a delightful, random appearance from Andre 3000, who, it should be noted, makes a lot of people happy.

18. Duke Dumont ft. A*M*E / "Need U (100%)" House music. Pure and simple. Good house music. 90s style house music. House music I listened to one day on repeat for way too long. It just kept going. Endlessly cycling in a way that was, I must say, deeply satisfying.

19. Schoolboy Q ft. Kendrick Lamar / "Collard Greens"  The lyrics, really, could be just about anything. The star here is the beat, pure and simple. The question is: can you dance to it? The answer is: oh yes, forever. In a myriad of ways.

20. M.I.A. / "Bring the Noize"  Much of M.I.A.'s Matangi is, true to form, a sort of fun trick noisemaker.  "Bring the Noize" is a track that's almost wall-to-wall attitude, and you can bet that when M.I.A. shows up to claim her place, she does so with a sound that's like she's dragging around a gigantic, tribal trance marching band.

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