Top Eleven Songs of 2013:
Listen to Best of 2013 on Spotify
Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
"We know the fire awaits unbelievers / All of the sinners the same / Girl you and I will die unbelievers bound to the tracks of the train."
There are not many years where there has been a clear runaway favorite for album of the year, but 2013 was definitely one of them. Back-to-back number one debuts on the Billboard 200 probably was not much of a surprise. But what was a surprise is how quickly Ezra Koenig, nominated by many as the heir to Paul Simon's throne, has evolved as a songwriter. Every track has it's own identity, with expansion well beyond their familiar afro beat. When I was sorting out the Best Songs of 2013, I realized that four tracks could easily have made it on the list. Which is why it's no surprise Vampire Weekend is the first act to top both the Best Albums and Best Songs list. When this decade is over, many will look back at this album and consider it one of the best.
Deerhunter - Monomania
"I use my golden light to find a way / Your bones, they were always, they were always in my way."
Five years and three albums since Microcastle (number five on the 2008 list), this Atlanta-based group released an album described by themselves as "Nocturnal Garage". Debuting their album on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon made me realize that perhaps Fallon is better suited for The Tonight Show more so than Conan. We'll see.
Kanye West - Yeezus
"Soon as I pull up and park the Benz / We get this bitch shaking like Parkinson's."
It pains me to rank an album so highly by someone who calls himself "The New Steve Jobs" [Spoiler Alert: he's not]. His lyrics are no less bombastic on this album, and his interviews remove doubt that he raps with irony as he anoints himself God-like status, barks for croissants, etc. But I have to admit that his production skills are second-to-none. First he wears Axl's kilt, then he makes Axl's Industrial album. There are moments (like the lyric above), where West dabbles in lyrics closer to The Beastie Boys, tongue-in-cheek and playing the fool. And in those moments, I wonder how far he can possibly go.
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
"Let the music in tonight / Just turn on the music / Let the music of your life / Give life back to music."
An album which everyone knows, by an act also known by everyone. I won't pretend to be able to describe the differences between French House, Chicago House, and Garage House, but this is the album which convinces me that electronica deserves more credit for songwriting and production. The duo of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (i.e., the gold helmet) and Thomas Bangalter (i.e., the silver helmet) weave through genres with the likes of Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers. This is a fantastic album.
Lorde - Pure Heroine
"I'm kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air / So there / I'm kind of older than I was when I reveled without a care / So there."
This two-time Grammy winner may be the S.E. Hinton of New Zealand, of Pop music, or both. Universal lyrics with a creative spin on the get-me-out-of-this-town attitude that the seventeen year-old in all of us still feels sometimes.
Arctic Monkeys - AM
"How many secrets can you keep? / 'Cause there's this tune that I found / that makes me think of you somehow / and I play it on repeat."
After performing "Come Together" at the Closing Ceremonies in 2012, I was hoping for big news from this band. Missing the mark on their past two albums, they've returned to their sharp, witty lyrics with an edgy sound reminiscent of The Black Keys.
Foxygen - We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic
"I left my heart in San Francisco / That's okay, I was bored anyway / I left my heart in San Francisco / That's okay, I was born in L.A."
In retrospect, their last album Take The Kids Off Broadway sounds like a promising artist test. To that end, their junior effort is a well-rounded, more developed effort. It sounds like an organic collaboration between The Velvet Underground and Mick Jagger.
Arcade Fire - Reflektor
"When love is gone / Where does it go? / And where do we go?"
It's funny how so many people criticize this band for losing direction and/or leaning on their reputation of critics' darlings. But the same was said for Achtung Baby, and people need to get over it. Regine Chassagne just needs to dance, OK?
Junip - Junip
"What would you say / If you had to leave today / Leave everything behind / Even though, for once, you're shining."
I came across this Swedish act via All Songs Considered. Then I learned that their song "Line of Fire" was used in the series finale for Breaking Bad. I'm only five episodes in on the series, and it feels like no other song could embody Walter White's arc. Then I learned that the song was part of a two-act video which seems a little too close to The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. There are weird things associated with this band, but I really like the album.
CHVRCHES - The Bones of What You Believe
"The slowest spark is a breather."
I may be getting soft in my old age, or I could be reconsidering genres my daughter may someday like. This duet writes good pop music. I'm in.
Jon Hopkins - Immunity
Electronica producer/musician who undoubtedly must get a lot of love from college radio Baltimore. Invited by Brian Eno to collaborate for a day with Coldplay on Viva La Vida, he was invited to co-produce a number of tracks for the album. The album is based on a loose theme of a full night out. Great sound overall.
Ty Segall - Sleeper
"Your man, belle, he's gone, he said: 'Bye-bye, baby, so long' / He went to the, waterslide, and, stuck his foot in and, crawled inside."
What? Only one album from Ty Segall or Ty Segall Band this year, but it's well worth it. Written and recorded after losing his father, this hearkens back to Beck's Sea Change days.
Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold
"I was debating Swedish Fish / Roasted peanuts, or Licorice / I was so stoned and starving."
Garage Punk Stoner Rock. That is all, and that is enough.
Savages - Silence Yourself
"Your serious eyes dehumanize / What you wanted was never sad / Who blew the flames out of your eyes / Why do you treat yourself so bad?"
An all-girl post-punk revival band? Okay, I'm in. Edgier version of Best Coast and Wild Flag.
The National - Trouble Will Find Me
"I have only two emotions / Careful fear and dead devotion."
Another act that's made it on the list in year's past. The band was supposed to take a breather after a long tour, but instead found themselves releasing new content in 2013. Self-produced and a great continuation from High Violet.
My Bloody Valentine - m b v
"Into the night we all come back to / Into the heart it's getting hard."
Rumors about Kevin Shields being "3/4 done" with a follow-up to the 1991 smash hit Loveless had been appearing for years until this album was released on the band's website, crashing the site within minutes. Enough of a tie-back to Loveless, enough new sounds. Worth a listen.
Guilty Pleasure of the Year
Miley Cyrus - Wrecking Ball
"It slowly turned, you let me burn / And now, we're ashes on the ground / Don't you ever say I just walked away / I will always want you."
Alright, let's get a few things out of the way so that I don't come across like a dirty old man. I think everyone has either has seen or heard about the video. It broke a record for fastest Vevo video to reach 100 million views. Further attention was generated when Sinead O'Connor wrote a series of open letters to Cyrus. The artist formerly known as Hannah Montana took the low road ("I don't have time to write you an open letter cause I'm hosting & performing on SNL this week"). Truth is, to some degree Cyrus is right. If it is her prerogative to go the route taken by Spears, Simpson, Aguilera, et al, that is her right. That said, O'Connor hits the nail on the head - her choices undermine her talent. They are not a statement of feminism, as some may be able to string an argument for Madonna. These are simply ploys to sell records. For now, Cyrus is content with just that. But there's more to be said.