Now, just a little over a day away from the end of 2013, I present to you my Top 100 Songs of 2013. I tried to limit myself to one song per artist (though I did not do so in every case) so that more artists could be represented. I also have a Spotify playlist that contains my list. The links will be presented below this introduction. Do note, though, that the Spotify playlist is only able to include 87 of the 100 songs on this list, so I encourage you to check out the other 13 as well.
Spotify player link: spoti.fi/1cDCaAU
In-browser Spotify link: https://play.spotify.com/user/thisisabattleground/playlist/0GlZvrGWEvCWaHUexNfILG
100. Wavves – “Demon to Lean On”
99. Sky Ferreira – “Night Time, My Time”
98. Cut Copy – “Meet Me in a House of Love”
97. Banks – “Waiting Game”
96. Dead Gaze – “Stay, Don’t Say”
95. Frightened Rabbit – “The Woodpile”
94. TNGHT – “Acrylics”
93. Local Natives – “Heavy Feet”
92. The Field – “Black Sea”
91. Classixx – “All You’re Waiting For (feat. Nancy Whang)”
90. Pharmakon – “Crawling on Bruised Knees”
89. Toro y Moi – “Say That”
88. Justin Timberlake – “Tunnel Vision”
87. Gesaffelstein – “Hate or Glory”
86. Foxygen – “No Destruction”
85. 2 Chainz – “Feds Watching (feat. Pharrell)
84. Blue Hawaii – “Try to Be”
83. Touché Amoré – “Just Exist”
82. Ghostpoet – “Dorsel Morsel (feat. Gwilym Gold)”
81. Los Campesinos! – “Cemetery Gaits”
80. A$AP Ferg – “Shabba (feat. A$AP Rocky)”
79. David Bowie – “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”
78. Hookworms – “Form & Function”
77. Glass Candy – “Warm in the Winter”
76. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Sacrilege”
75. Holy Ghost! – “Dumb Disco Ideas”
74. Todd Terje – “Spiral”
73. Thundercat – “Heartbreaks + Setbacks”
72. Death Grips – “Birds”
71. No Joy – “Hare Tarot Lies”
70. Youth Lagoon – “Dropla”
69. Roosevelt – “Elliot”
68. Savages – “Shut Up”
67. Run the Jewels – “Get It”
66. John Wizards – “Lusaka By Night”
65. James Blake – “Life Round Here (Remix) [feat. Chance the Rapper]“
64. Earl Sweatshirt – “Whoa (feat. Tyler, the Creator)”
63. Ellery James Roberts – “Kerou’s Lament”
62. Future of the Left – “Bread, Cheese, Bow and Arrow”
61. DJ Koze – “Nices Wölkchen (feat. Apparat)”
60. Young Galaxy – “Pretty Boy (Peaking Lights Remix)”
59. Poliça – “Smug”
58. Speedy Ortiz – “Tiger Tank”
57. Fuck Buttons – “The Red Wing”
56. Pusha T – “Nosetolgia (feat. Kendrick Lamar)”
55. Forrest Swords – “Thor’s Stone”
54. Daughn Gibson – “You Don’t Fade”
53. King Krule – “Easy Easy”
52. Big Black Delta – “Side of the Road”
51. Danny Brown – “Smokin’ and Drinkin'”
50. Queens of the Stone Age – “I Appear Missing”
49. AlunaGeorge – “Attracting Flies”
48. Haim – “Days Are Gone”
47. Moderat – “Bad Kingdom”
46. Mikal Cronin – “Weight”
45. A$AP Rocky – “1Train (feat. Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson & Big K.R.I.T.)
44. Sophie – “Bipp”
43. James Blake – Retrograde
42. MONEY – “Hold Me Forever”
41. Rhye – Open
40. Vampire Weekend – “Diane Young”
39. These New Puritans – “Fragment Two”
38. Blondes – “Bora Bora”
37. The National – “Sea of Love”
36. Disclosure – “White Noise (feat. AlunaGeorge)”
35. FKA twigs – “Water Me”
34. Ben Khan – “Eden”
33. Janelle Monáe – “Primetime (feat. Miguel)”
32. Haim – “The Wire”
31. Foals – “My Number”
30. Yo La Tengo – “Ohm”
29. Big Sean – “Control (HOF) [feat. Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica]“
28. Arctic Monkeys – “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”
27. Darkside – “Paper Trails”
26. San Fermin – “Sonsick”
25. My Bloody Valentine – “new you”
24. Autre Ne Veut – “Play By Play”
23. Colin Stetson – “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today? (feat. Justin Vernon)”
22. Factory Floor – “Two Different Ways”
21. Drake – “Hold On, We’re Going Home”
20. CHVRCHES – “The Mother We Share”
CHVRCHES accomplished two very important things with “The Mother We Share,” the insanely catchy opener to their debut The Bones of What You Believe. Firstly, it grounds them in their most obvious influence, The Knife, whose icy synthpop classic “We Share Our Mother’s Health” is the obvious referent. Secondly, as soon as Lauren Mayberry’s vocals come in, it shatters the expectations of a Knife-influenced pop group. Where the Swedish duo’s takes on synthpop (especially on this year’s Shaking the Habitual) are unabashedly left-field and heavily distorted, CHVRCHES go for a more universal appeal, and are better for it. Sleek, surgical and larynx-strainingly anthemic, pop music hasn’t packed this much punch in a long time.
19. Majical Cloudz – “Childhood’s End”
No one practiced minimalism more stringently than Majical Cloudz this year, whose phenomenal debut Impersonator was filled with ten sparsely arranged electronic songs that served as the perfect backdrop for frontman Devon Welsh’s powerful baritone. “Childhood’s End” is perhaps the most gut-wrenchingly universal of the bunch for its wonderful vagueness (“Someone died,” “Best friend crucified”) that allows listeners to project their own meanings onto the song. It also boasts one of the year’s most cathartic choruses, as its almost impossible not to belt along with Welsh as he proclaims “It’s weighing down, weighing down, weighing down on me, me, me.” Childhood ends, and we may all be left home alone, but it’s hard to get too bummed about it when Majical Cloudz are here to pick us up and dust us off.
18. Disclosure – “Latch (feat. Sam Smith)”
Disclosure’s Settle is jam-packed with proof of the house duo’s production talents; each and every song has a powerhouse, four-on-the-floor beat and a slithering bassline that’s impossible not to boogie to. For the most part, the guest vocalists just add a catchy vocal melody over which these talents can be demonstrated, a feat that ensures that Settle is Disclosure’s album and no one else’s. There’s one song, though, that stands out for not following this formula: “Latch.” Featuring a career making performance by guest vocalist Sam Smith, “Latch” is the perfect blend of house and pop. This song may be the only spot on Settle in which Disclosure is mildly overshadowed, but it’s also unflinching evidence of the power of collaboration when both artists are going full throttle.
17. Lorde – “Royals”
I’m fairly sure I’m not the only one who was a little surprised when a song like “Royals” ascended to the top of the charts worldwide shortly after its release. Sure, it’s quite catchy, but there are a number of factors that would have seemingly prevented it from breaking beyond the blogosphere; a minimalist, R&B-inspired beat, lyrics that are critical of mainstream music culture and an almost total lack of sex appeal, just to name a few. Now, though, with just one day left before the start of 2014, it makes more sense to me. Tastes are changing. People are tiring of hearing songs about a glamorous lifestyle they are increasingly unable to achieve in their own right. Honesty is finally starting to be valued over showmanship. And who better than a 16 year old iconoclast from New Zealand to usher in this era? Long live the new royalty.
16. Daft Punk – “Doin’ It Right (feat. Panda Bear)”
“Doin’ It Right” is a dream collaboration, the type of song that only exists in the minds of music nerds passing a bowl around while listening to Discovery and Merriweather Post Pavilion. So, of course I was incredibly excited when I heard that Panda Bear would be contributing to Daft Punk’s comeback album. I also have to admit, though, that I was a bit worried. What type of role could Panda Bear possibly have in a Daft Punk song? His warm humanness would seem entirely out of place on one of the French duo’s typical electro-bangers. The result, thankfully, was better than I could ever have dreamed, and is a highlight on an album full of them. “Doin’ It Right” is the perfect melding of two very disparate styles, a bouncy psych-inspired electropop gem that exists outside of time.
15. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “So Good At Being in Trouble”
Unknown Mortal Orchestra really branched out on their sophomore record, and it was a savvy move on their part to prepare their fans with the release of “So Good At Being in Trouble” a few weeks before the album. Leaving behind the fuzzy psych rock of their debut, “Trouble” is a lo-fi soul tribute to troublemakers anywhere. Singer Ruban Nielson’s falsetto is enough to make anybody weak in the knees, while the band provides a warm yet stark background for the melody to progress. Released in late January, “Trouble” was a beautiful way to bring in 2013, and I can only hope that we are graced with such beauty as the first few months of 2014 roll by.
14. Phosphorescent – “Song for Zula”
It may be only the second song on the record, but “Song for Zula” is Muchacho’s bloody, thumping heart. A break-up song in the truest sense, “Zula” sees frontman Matthew Houck using gracefully poetic language to discuss the savagery of the game of love, describing how love “mangled” him into something unrecognizable. The musical backdrop is progressive yet simple, an electronic drum kit and a wonderfully melodious violin sample that allow enough space for Houck to air all of his grievances. With “Zula,” Houck pulls off the rare feat of turning devastation into shambled, creaky-voiced beauty.
13. Jai Paul – “Str8 Outta Mumbai”
Well, another year has passed and we still have not yet received the debut from uber-mysterious London musician (group? collective?) Jai Paul. What we did receive in 2013, though, was almost as good: a series of (maybe) unfinished demos that demonstrate him to be one of the greatest pop songwriters around. The best of the new materials on this collection was “Str8 Outta Mumbai” a funky, sunny diamond in the rough that features one of the catchiest uses of the “ooo” syllable in years. The production may be murky and Jai’s voice might be muffled (either by reverb or poor recording quaity–again, I don’t know), but the song still comes across, and damn if it isn’t fantastic.
12. Mutual Benefit – “Advanced Falconry”
A genuinely heartfelt love song is an increasingly rare commodity to come across. While they will always be produced by teen-baiting mainstream pop machines like Katy Perry, the alternative scene has become increasingly jaded to the idea of true love over the past few years. Even The Flaming Lips, one of love’s greatest champions in the indie community, released an album this year in which Wayne Coyne proclaimed that love is something “you should fear.” Mutual Benefit, my favorite new artist of 2013, seems heaven sent to correct this disparity, and he did so with just one song. “Advanced Falconry” is not just a love song in its lyrics, though. Love permeates its entire 5+ minutes, from the lush instrumentation to Jordan Lee’s delicate coo’s, “Advanced Falconry” is love manifested aurally, the sonic equivalent to a 5 minute 6 second marriage proposal.
11. Kurt Vile – “Wakin’ On a Pretty Day”
“Wakin’ On a Pretty Day” is one of my favorite album openers ever. Though I was a bit on the edge about Vile’s previous work, all of my doubts were assuaged for a luxurious 9 minutes and 31 seconds when I first put on his new and best record, Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze. The song sonically embodies its lyrics with ease, which follow a lackadaisical Vile as he awakes on a particularly lazy morning. What’s amazing is that the song doesn’t even seem to take up half of its length, the virtuosic guitar tricks and sleepy vocals all embedded in a psychedelic fog. It may be a song about waking up, but it floats by as blissfully and quickly as a dream.
10. Arcade Fire – “Here Comes the Night Time”
Most critics’ top song lists for 2013 have Arcade Fire in their top 10, though usually not for this song. “Reflektor,” which is usually honored, is also wonderful, and was a graceful introduction to the 2013 Carnival-by-way-of-Haiti incarnation of Arcade Fire, but, for me, it’s “Here Come the Night Time” that sees the Montreal group fulfill their vision to the fullest. Featuring a dub beat and lyrics revolving around appropriation and religious conversion, it’s an expectedly ambitious track both sonically and thematically. What makes it succeed where many other like songs don’t, though, is in its universal melodic appeal, exemplified best by what, for me, is one of the best piano lines AND one of the best hooks of the year. Arcade Fire have certainly tackled big themes with their music before, but they have never before sounded like they were having such fun doing it.
9. Chance the Rapper – “Pusha Man / Paranoid”
Ah, the two part track. Ever since it was popularized by Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City last year, it has essentially become a staple in the rap game, as rappers from Drake to Kanye to Childish Gambino have all made attempts at the form. It’s only Chicago’s finest, though, that has been able to rival Kendrick at his own game with the show-stopping “Pusha Man / Paranoid,” a two-sides-of-the-coin take on the crime troubles that have overtaken his city. While “Pusha Man” is buoyant and braggadocious, following the life of a drug dealer on Chicago’s south side, “Paranoid” is the come down, a deeply sympathetic look at the real life consequences on the life of the City. It also features one of the year’s best rap verses in the second verse of “Paranoid,” in which an exasperated Chance breaks meter and frantically asks, “Where the fuck is Matt Lauer at? Somebody get Katie Couric in here.” A desperate plea from an artist slowly becoming the face of his city.
8. Deafheaven – “Dream House”
Really, any of the four long-form songs on Sunbather could have made this list, as they are all amazing in their own ways, but “Dream House” was the first to be released, and, I suppose, it also serves as a proper introduction to the band. It’s the track that deals most directly with broken dreams, one of the album’s major themes, as the lyrics revolve around a protagonist’s looking out into the penthouses of Manhattan and attempting to soothe his emptiness with alcohol. It is also probably Sunbather‘s most direct song musically, slowly crescendoing about 2/3rds of the way through, segueing into a Godspeed You! Black Emporer-esque post-rock interlude before exploding into a final push. More than any release this year, Sunbather broke down genre conventions and expectations in favor of creating something that transcends the rigidity of stylistic boundaries. “Dream House,” as the album’s first track and its only single, is the perfect entry point to a band that is doing what no other is right now.
7. Jagwar Ma – “The Throw”
Did you ever wonder what Primal Scream would have sounded like in 2013 had they not morphed into a hit-and-miss protest rock group? How about the Happy Mondays if they hadn’t broken up in 1993 (let’s just forget about their reunion album in 2007)? Jagwar Ma are your answer, who this year provided an an exuberantly updated form of the Manchester (and elsewhere) blend of psychedelic rock and electronic dance music that can move dancefloors and festivals alike. While their debut Howlin’ tries out a few different styles, this trippy dance-rock hybrid is certainly the most potent. “The Throw” provides a perfect blend of catchy vocal melodies, ear candy sound effects and extended dance breaks. It may not be enough to start a stylistic revival, but Jagwar Ma proved without a doubt with “The Throw” that there’s still plenty of room for progression and reinterpretation in the experimental sounds of the late 80s and early 90s.
6. Daft Punk – “Get Lucky (feat. Pharrell)”
Yes, the song of the summer and perhaps the most revered pop tune of the 2010s so far, “Get Lucky” really is a triumph. Not only does it feature what is, in my mind, Pharrell’s best vocal performance ever, guitar licks from one of disco’s original innovators and a groove only veterans like Daft Punk can provide, it’s also a really, really, REALLY catchy song. Additionally, it’s one that’s easy to dance to. In fact, it’s grooviness was so infectious (and novel in the EDM era) that it undoubtedly contributed to the success of similar hits like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and even Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” More than any other song this year, “Get Lucky” renewed my faith in the public’s ability to select and buy good music.
5. Blood Orange – “Chamakay”
As much as I think about it, it’s difficult for me to articulate exactly why I love this song as much as I do. I could point to the wounded smoothness of Dev Hynes’ voice as he sings melody, or the bravura harmony performance by Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek over top. I could also point to the simple, muted marimba-esque melody that makes up the majority of the track, which, as brilliantly illustrated by the single artwork, brings to mind the beach at sundown, or maybe even the gender-confused, devotional lyrics that insist upon their object’s trust before moving forward. It’s not a particularly progressive song, nor is it one that changes the game for its genre. What it is, to me, is an outstanding example of the pure, deep, seductive power of R&B when written by someone with a true enough understanding of it.
4. Burial – “Come Down to Us”
I’ll try to keep this one brief, as I have already written extensively on Burial’s Rival Dealer, which appears at #1 on my Best EPs of 2013 List. In the first place, it’s remarkable for its stylistic break with Burial’s old material. Whereas his entire output since the mid-2000’s has consisted of cold, dusty UK garage, “Come Down to Us” is 13 minutes of straight instrumental hip hop. The harpsichord-sounding sample that makes up the melody is the most beautiful, but there are plenty of other gems in the mix if you listen deep enough. It’s also great for its overt political message, the first of its kind in a Burial song, which, like many recent electronic classics, seeks to bring awareness to the transgender community. With “Come Down to Us” Burial transformed from a great musician to a great artist, and I, for one, can’t wait to see where he goes next.
3. Vampire Weekend – “Hannah Hunt”
It may be a tad baffling to some as to why I would include “Hannah Hunt,” a non-single cut from Vampire Weekend’s blow-away third album Modern Vampires of the City over singles like “Diane Young,” “Ya Hey,” and “Step,” which are also all great in their own right. My reasoning is simple; it has nothing to do with rockabilly revivalism, cooky experimental effects, or even conversations with God. The one thing that sets “Hannah Hunt” apart from most songs this year–and ever–happens at the 2 minute 40 second mark, when the track cathartically transforms from a downtrodden ballad about trust between lovers to a rollicking, stomping, piano-driven anthem. Genuine suspense and payoff are so rare in today’s musical landscape that it seems a near-miracle that a band formally so associated with instant gratification could be one of the few acts to deliver such a song. To anyone who believes that indie rock has run out of ideas: listen up, because you’re missing out if you’re not listening to Vampire Weekend right now.
2. Kanye West – “New Slaves”
The one complaint about Yeezus that rings somewhat true is its lack of lyrical content when compared to Kanye’s other releases. While its beats may be game-changing, it doesn’t have a “Gorgeous,” a “Jesus Walks” or even a “Hey Mama” to lend some lyrical weight. To people who have doubts about Yeezus because of this not-inconsequential complaint, I ask you to relisten to “New Slaves.” If you’re missing cuts like the old one mentioned above, my answer would b that the apocalyptic, supervillain landscape of Yeezie’s sixth album doesn’t really allow for the good-natured politicizing present in those songs. What it does allow for is something Kanye has been perfecting for years: a rant. And I don’t mean rant in the pejorative sense, as the ramblings of a lunatic, but rather as an impassioned speech that can no longer be suppressed. “New Slaves,” with its perfectly minimal yet maximally catchy backdrop, sees Ye at his most enraged yet, railing against corporations, the media and, most presciently, the U.S.’ corrupt prison system. While it, and the rest of Yeezus, may not provide the easiest listening of Kanye’s career, it may prove to have be the most important for its righteous anger. “He gives us what we need. It may not be what we want.”
1. The Knife – “Full of Fire”
Well, here it is, my number 1. I’ve always had a soft spot for The Knife, whose 2006 album Silent Shout is one of my favorite albums of all time, but nothing, and I mean nothing could have prepared me for “Full of Fire,” the first single from their bonkers 2013 album (and my #3 album of the year) Shaking the Habitual. Pushing far beyond the band’s usual song lengths at almost 10 minutes long, “Full of Fire” is half banger, half epic. Providing the political background of Habitual, it’s a feminist rallying cry, demanding that the “story” (see: life) of each and every human being is told and respected to the fullest extent. It’s a far cry from motivational fodder, though, as the heavily distorted dance track proves through its twisted sonics. Each passing drum hit seems to increase singer Karin Dreijer Andersson’s rage, as her vocals shift from whispered to howling to crushed by vocoders and compressors. It’s fist pumping, it’s danceable, it’s political, it’s fun, it’s everything I could ever want from an electronic song wrapped into one.