Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Playlist: 100 Most Excellent Songs of 2013, 81-100

Welcome to 2014, I guess. 2013 came to close pretty damn quietly, it seemed to me. This is the first year the week prior to the holiday hasn't been marked with everyone and anyone asking the "what are you doing for NYE?" question, and many, according to Twitter and Facebook, spent the evening curled into a ball of sickness on various couches.  We're getting old, I guess, but no matter, I've always loathed NYE celebrations.  I do like year end lists, though, and I'm ready to wrap up the song list. Will your favorites make the cut?  Don't be so sure. Read on...



81. Big Sean ft. Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica / "Control"  Though things pick up a bit after a slow-going intro, the true star of "Control" is Kendrick Lamar and his epic, extended verse.  He rips apart a slew of artists, including the two he appears with here. The track, naturally, didn't make it onto Big Sean's album.

82. Chvrches / "The Mother We Share"  I'll be honest, I like the idea of Chvrches more than I like their musical output. Lauren Mayberry's voice is a little too "kiddie talent show" for me, but here her sound works to the group's advantage. Far from the newest synth sound, but rather a sweet one.

83. Sky Ferreira / "You're Not the One"  Ferreira's track comes on like an 80's high school anthem with New Wave instrumentals that call to mind Talk Talk and Duran Duran before Ferreira even appears.

84. Arcade Fire / "Normal Person" There was only going to be one Arcade Fire track on this list, but in thinking about it harder, this song just kinda rocks in a neurotic, meandering way that really suits the band even as it so clearly displays James Murphy's fingerprints.  There's a tentative, reluctant swagger here, and each step forward is followed by a kind of shoulder shrug retreat even as the guitars build.

85. Parquet Courts / "Stoned and Starving"  The dream of the 90's is alive in Parquet Courts. Also, possibly the dream of the 80's underground. Throw it on the Reality Bites or Singles soundtrack and no one would be the wiser.

86. Arctic Monkeys / "Do I Wanna Know?" I'm always surprised that the Arctic Monkeys still actually make music.  I know they were a thing (not so much in America, really), but always figured with a name like that they couldn't possibly survive beyond a couple albums.  Somehow they have, though, and "Do I Wanna Know?" is cocky stadium rock at a moment when few can pull the sound off.

87. Factory Floor / "Fall Back"  What can I say? When electroclash was a thing, I was into that, too.  Factory Floor manages to take a semi-industrial dance sound and brush it up just enough to hack back into the cool kids club.  They don't sound a hell of a lot different from some of the post-disco that has been coming out of France for years (Miss Kittin, Black Devil Disco Club, etc), but the sound is smoothed out, just enough.

88. M83 ft. Susanne Sundfor/ "Oblivion" Many were disappointed with the score Anthony Gonzalez concocted for Tom Cruise's Oblivion, but I found myself sitting through the credits to listen to the title track.  It's a lovely, soaring piece of work, and one that any sci-fi movie would be lucky to have as a theme song.

89. (TIE) Kanye West / "I'm In It" and "Bound 2"  I put these together because 1. I love them both, and 2. I feel like they're sort of a package deal. Though the tracks are separated on Yeezus, each is kinda a messed-up, megalomaniacal love song. The first is this completely raw, utterly vulgar detailing of sexual acts, the second a, um, slightly less vulgar song that seems to consider...maybe...settling down.  "Bound 2" has the benefit of a killer sample, "I'm In It" ends on what may be my favorite verse of the year (opening with "Time to take it too far now / Michael Douglas out the car now).

90. Austra / "Painful Like" Austra can be vaguely operatic and almost too ethereal in their presentation, but on "Painful Like" they get a real bassline. Welcome to earth, Austra.

91. The Preatures / "Is This How You Feel?"  The Preatures sound a bit like a co-ed version of Haim, and though the song came out this past summer, it's bound to resurface in a big way sometimes soon. Next summer maybe?

92. Charli XCX / "Superlove"  We're clear on how I totally loved the stuff Charli XCX released this year, yes?  Three times is enough?  You've got the message?  Regardless, "Superlove" is the poppiest, most upbeat offering our Tumblr princess has dropped.  Even the misery chicks can make a slumber party anthem.

93. Sky Ferreira / "I Blame Myself"  It's kind of like every emotionally bare P!nk song, but, like, actually good and not completely abrasive (yeah, I'm really not a P!nk fan). Or, you know, like a Katy Perry reassurance, but again, not cloying and shouted and patronizing. Ferreira doesn't pander or seem to aim for a message, she just makes honest music.

94. Sophie / "Bipp"  It takes a few listens for "Bipp" to grow on you. Its pieces are so broken that the first go feels like a discordant mess of jagged edges chipped from a half dozen 80s dance pop singles.  It's completely deconstructed, an art object more than a song.  If you give it time, though, it may grow on you.

95. 2 Chainz ft. Pharrell Williams / "Feds Watching"  Man, Pharrell Williams is the man with the golden vocal cords this year. Here, he adds serious finesse to an otherwise sort of stupid, sloppy 2 Chainz track. Really, though, I think we all want to be fresh as hell if the feds are watching...

96. A$AP Rocky ft. Drake, 2 Chainz, and Kendrick Lamar / "Fuckin' Problems"  A$AP Rocky's "Goldie" snuck in under the wire on last year's list, and consequently I almost forgot this album came out this year.  A$AP seems to have established himself quite rapidly, and "Fuckin' Problems" is kind of irresistible, particularly if you enjoy a big, dumb rap hook.  This one is a forced pun (all the better), and for my money, certainly beats the hell out of "Versace."

97. Janelle Monae ft. Miguel / "Primetime" Everything Monae does is conceptual, and in the open, 'sapiosexual' world of her android character, Cindi Mayweather, "Primetime" is a love song not sung by Monae and Miguel, but meant to be read as a love story between Mayweather and a character named Joey Vice. Really, though, it's just good r&b.

 98. FKA Twigs / "Papi Pacify"  "Water Me" got all the internet attention, perhaps because of its arresting video, but "Papi Pacify" is a seriously sinister bit of sensuality with sonics that bend, throb, and threaten to pull the listener under a dangerous, anesthetic blanket.

99. Vampire Weekend / "Step"  Everyone keeps telling me that Vampire Weekend really grew this year. That they somehow matured and advanced like five levels in their musical growth. Honestly, I'm not convinced. Most of the album sounds like a wholly natural, not unreasonable progression, but not one I haven't heard from them before.  So, there's no "Hannah Hunt" here, no "Ya Hey," no "Unbelievers."  Just "Step."  Why "Step"?  Because it sounds like a storybook. That's why. It's damn endearing. That's it.

100. Robin Thicke ft. T.I. and Pharrell Williams / "Blurred Lines"  If you know me in real life, you will likely be shocked that I allowed this song to find a place on the list because you already know that I have very mixed feelings on this bullshit. As I've mentioned, I think Robin Thicke is totally gross, and I'm in the camp that finds this song a bit on the rapey side of things. I hate the video, I hate the line "big enough to tear your ass in two," I hate that it sounds just like a rip-off of a far better Marvin Gaye song.  But, when a track is as omnipresent as "Blurred Lines" was in 2013, even I start to develop Stockholm Syndrome.  So, fuck it: "Blurred Lines," you make the cut.

Honorable Mention (and best damn music video of the year):
David Bowie / "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)"  
As the sole honorable mention, I figured I'd throw down the music video version of one of the stronger tracks on Bowie's album.  The original song is decent, but when you add two minutes of sluggish guitar to the beginning and Tilda Swinton?  You have one of the best things 2013 had to offer. ONE OF THE BEST THINGS. PERIOD.

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