Top 50 Songs of 2013

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Record spinning one of the top 50 songs of 2013

James Blake - Retrograde40. James Blake
from Overgrown (Republic)
Buy at iTunes

“Retrograde” starts off typically spare, but it’s clear even from the onset that this is decidedly more of a traditional pop song than we had previously heard from James Blake. He’s has always had a way with arrangements, however; in the past songs were as much about what was left out as they were what was included. Here, on the other hand, we simply have a patient build to a gorgeous climax, complete with soaring synths. It’s one of the most moving songs in Blake’s quickly growing catalog. In the end, the song feels inevitable, as though this was where Blake has been heading all along; but that doesn’t make it any less extraordinary. – Chris Karman

Chelsea Wolfe - Pain Is Beauty39. Chelsea Wolfe
Feral Love
from Pain Is Beauty (Sargent House)
Buy at iTunes

“Feral Love” feels more like a dirge than a rock song or dance jam. And while that’s not too surprising for Chelsea Wolfe, it gives the track a surge of urgency and doom that few artists of a similar aesthetic can truly deliver. Beginning with a gloomy, extended verse that’s driving in its own right, the true momentum comes with the song’s loud and epic refrain, which boasts epic toms, a killer bassline and and ethereal noises that drive Wolfe’s closing lines, repeating, “We press for the water/ press for the river/ press for the pain.”  It’s fitting that “Feral Love” opens Wolfe’s ambitiously eerie Pain is Beauty. With this, she uses her many talents to propel the listener into a world of doom, opening a tunnel that only grows darker the deeper one goes, yet only amplifies the compulsion to keep going further. – A.T. Bossenger

Darkside - Psychic38. Darkside
Golden Arrow
from Psychic (Other People/Matador)
Buy at iTunes

It’s a bold statement to open an electronic album by teasing the listener with several minutes of reverberant sounds. It takes about five minutes for “Golden Arrow” to finally strike a distinguishable beat, the mere anticipation of hearing something with substance making it all the more grandiose. Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington’s debut album as Darkside is a pulsing, unorthodox record, with slick guitar licks and zero-gravity lyrics merging with a mystifying darkness complied into one of the standout electronic releases this year. And it’s not as if it wasn’t already a great year for electronic music; Disclosure, Boards of Canada and Fuck Buttons certainly held their own. But there’s something special about what Darkside conjures up on this Psychic highlight. Their atmospheric funk meets interstellar blues uses ease to build anticipation by luring listeners into the unknown. – Dan Pritchett

Death Grips - Government Plates37. Death Grips
You might think he loves you for your money but I know what he really loves you for it’s your brand new leopard skin pillbox hat
from Government Plates (Third Worlds)

While “Birds,” the first track released from this year’s Government Plates, was a departure from the typical Death Grips sound, “You might think…” along with it’s ridiculously long-ass, Dylan-referencing title, features piercing screeches, chaotic drums, abrasive yelling, and production that sounds like it was made on the broken, melted guts of a computer. This opening track on Government Plates serves as another entry into their bizarre and nightmarish world filled with hackers, violence and destruction. Ride isn’t fooling anyone here with how he feels (“Mademoiselle/Here’s to your destiny/Hysterics scream help”), and backed with Zach Hill’s raw drumming and Flatlander’s distorted beats, this is essential Death Grips. Ride’s embodiment of death and the destruction of society, is only a part of his personality. It’s expanded to the point at which the beast has been unleashed and isn’t going back into its cage. Death Grips only aim to make the most aggressive music possible, and “You might think…” matches up to Zach Hill’s description of the group as biting into a bowl or slamming your head against a bunch of cinder blocks. – Giovanni Martinez

Foxygen - No Destruction36. Foxygen
No Destruction
from We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic (Jagjaguwar)
Buy at iTunes

With its Stonesy swagger and Dylan-esque wit, “No Destruction” feels like it could be a lost artifact from 1967. Then again, Foxygen have a knack for crafting memorable melodies over the best parts of that era. But with classic lines like “There’s no need to be an asshole, you’re not in Brooklyn anymore” and “Oh you think it’s over with me/Someone who smokes pot in the subway/Pot in the subway with me,” the band has a way of consistently reminding you they’re not merely relics. And so what if Foxygen doesn’t have much in the way of originality? No amount of pilfering could deter me from enjoying a song this infectious. – Chris Karman

Lorde - Royals35. Lorde
from Pure Heroine (Universal)
Buy at iTunes

Respect must be paid to the teenagers among us not whipped into a frenzy by so many entertainers’ tempting images of bling and bitches, of disaffected consumerism and greed. In Lorde we find the perfect spokeswoman for this movement, an anti-Rick Ross on so many levels. She flips the global focus from America’s green in wallets and dime bags down [under] to New Zealand’s sedate yet majestic green fields. She flips off the amps: instead of the over-the-top rhymes, hyperdramatic wailing, and superbassbassbass we find in much of today’s rap and pop, here’s an honest attempt at a sparse chanteuse act. “Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room / We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams“—the 17-year-old (!) ultimately flips the script, saying it’s OK for people to scrape by and hope for success rather than face a possibly dangerous, demanding alternative of immediate satisfaction. – Adam Blyweiss

David Bowie - Where Are We Now?34. David Bowie
Where Are We Now?
from The Next Day (ISO/Columbia)
Buy at iTunes

Whether or not Bowie intended The Next Day as a filtered self-critique of his past work – that seems logical, yet almost too simple an answer – there’s no chance of separating “Where Are We Now?” from his most poignant, universal song “Heroes,” or the last remnants of the Berlin Wall he dreamed of scaling. Specific references to landmarks and structures in Berlin make that impossible. They also keep Bowie from over-sentimentalizing in this broken, wrenchingly slow mood piece that casts a weary, resolute eye on the quarter-century since the wall that kept the lovers in “Heroes” apart was dismantled. The glacial pace of “Where Are We Now?” hints that freedom’s been equal parts exhausting and cathartic, and the united lovers only ever had themselves to depend on in the first place. Bowie’s own relationship to Berlin plays a part in both songs, and in terms of mood, pathos and emotion they’re both standouts in his long discography. The fragility of Bowie’s voice in the closing lyrics is a bracing, bittersweet sensation for his followers. It’s far too early to call this his epitaph, but it’s hard to imagine a better one. – Paul Pearson

KEN Mode - Entrench33. KEN Mode
The Terror Pulse
from Entrench (Season of Mist)
Buy at iTunes

For a hardcore song, “Terror Pulse” creeps forward just a little too slowly — and that’s not an accident. Most punk or metal — the two worlds KEN Mode occupy — are aggressive in a way that makes the listener want to move. The pounding drums and sludgy guitar work KEN Mode use here make one hesitant to even budge, striking a very real fear that there could be a trap around the corner. It’s fierce, it’s alienating and it’s a hell of a good romp as Jesse Mathewson documents a descent into moral or ethical darkness, eventually shouting, “this is goodbye to the man you once knew.” This song is gut-wrenching and terrifying in the exact way one has grown to expect from this band. After all, The KEN in KEN Mode, does stand for Kill Everybody Now. – A.T. Bossenger

Vampire Weekend- Unbelievers32. Vampire Weekend
from Modern Vampires of the City (XL)
Buy at iTunes

Got a little soul…” sings Ezra Koenig a few seconds in to Vampire Weekend’s “Unbelievers.” The pounding bass drum and acoustic strumming misdirect the fact that this is indeed a soul song — soul searching, soul finding, soul keeping. On an album that has its share of twists and silly moments, this second track from Modern Vampires of the City is refreshingly straightforward and irresistibly hummable. The melody allows the lyrics the space to garner consideration and respect. This is a song that could have easily been on an iPhone commercial if only it was spruced up with some bells and whistles. To VW’s credit, they didn’t go there and allowed “Unbelievers” to remain what it is: a repeatable, fun, simple song on an outstanding album. – Chad Gorn

Savages - Silence Yourself31. Savages
Shut Up
from Silence Yourself (Matador)
Buy at iTunes

Savages aren’t telling you to shut up. They don’t have to; their laser-focused post-punk anthems have a way of holding the listener captive whether voluntarily or not. But on Silence Yourself opener “Shut Up,” the London group first opts for disorientation, layering sampled dialogue against a droning miasma. It’s an effective device; when the background drops out, Ayse Hassan’s bassline hits the listener in the gut like — as Jehnny Beth describes later in the song — a “bullet to the sun.” And that fucker just keeps on stinging and throbbing as the song progresses, vibrating with wiry abrasion and alluring menace. You’ll feel every single twist, turn and jerk, and without so much as a polite warning. Ironic, then, that Beth’s lyric is a lament on the futility of trying to beam out a message through an increasingly deafening noise. As she howls “If you tell me to shut it/ I’ll shut it now,” it sounds suspiciously like a threat, and one I wouldn’t test. Message received, loud and clear.  – Jeff Terich

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