Friday, January 10, 2014

2013 Songs: The Top Twenty

20. "Weight" by Mikal Cronin (from MCII)
"Take me from myself"

This is probably the most we've ever liked a song for which we can never seem to remember the lyrics or melody. Seriously, in 10 minutes we will not be able to hum a bar. 
19. "Grace for Saints and Ramblers" by Iron & Wine (from Ghost on Ghost)
"There were misled misfits / teething biscuits / fountains full of penny wishes / parties full of pretty fishes"

Ghost on Ghost is probably the weakest Iron & Wine album to date, and its still pretty good. 
18. "Varsity" by Smith Westerns (from Soft Will)
"Thought I always had to win / or I wasn't anything / guess it's a point of view"

There is a thin line between gorgeous folk rock and boring folk rock. For our money, Fleet Foxes' and Grizzly Bear's second albums crossed over to the wrong side of the line. Smith Westerns' did not. 
17. "Oh Sailor" by Mr. Little Jeans (single)
When you feel like you're out there on your own / know there is someone watching over you"

Child choirs in pop music, awesomely creepy or creepily awesome? 

16. "Afterlife" by Arcade Fire (from Reflektor)
I've gotta know / can we work it out?"

Funeral was our #4 album of the 2000s.  Neon Bible and The Suburbs, meanwhile, were critically beloved (and placed songs on this list) but felt impaired by Win Butler's gloomy seriousness. So the lighter feel of Reflektor is a welcome change. As is the very present
Talking Heads and Sandinista-era Clash influence. But the double album, sub 75-minute runtime thing is weird. 
15. "Crying My Heart Out (radio edit)" by Young Galaxy (from Ultramarine Deluxe Edition)
And it's hard / when I'm playing 'Love Tear Us Apart'"

Strange year for Young Galaxy.  They released a pretty OK album in Ultramarine.  Then they released a deluxe edition of Ultramarine that added five new songs, all of which were (somewhat objectively) as good or better than the best song on the original version.  

14. "Sonsick" by San Fermin (from San Fermin)
"Sell lies like they're only drugs / it'll pick me up"
An excellent debut album from San Fermin, even if very little of it sounds remotely like "Sonsick", starting with the fact that most tracks have a male singer.   
13. "Black Skinhead" by Kanye West (from Yeezus)
You n*****s ain't breathing / you're gasping"

Yeezus is fine as a showcase to appreciate Kanye's ridiculous production skills, but outside of a few tracks it feels like a significant step backwards in songcraft and features half an album's worth of lazy sexual prowess boasting.  Maybe we all just love loving Kanye a bit too much. (Pretty negative for our #13 track, huh?)

12. "Oh Yeah" by Foxygen (from We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic)
"I'm feelin' groovy on another one's dime"
One of the hardest albums to pick a single track off of. "No Destruction" or "San Francisco" could have easily taken a comparable spot. This may be a better Jagger-esque falsetto than Jagger ever had ("Fool to Cry" kind of sucks, "Sweet Thing" is awesome, though). 
11. "Blurred Line" by Robin Thicke (from Blurred Lines)
"hey hey hey"

Inescapable, but deserving. Robin Thicke (co-worker's brother-in-law) is the first zero or one degree of separation artist to make the list. Others in play include Capital Cities (went to high school with one of the guys) and John Legend (shared an office with Mrs. Hummed of Mystery at Boston Consulting Group, because John Legend was once John Stephens and a consultant)
10. "Creep in a T-Shirt" by Portugal. The Man (from Evil Friends)
"Just because I lost it doesn't mean I want it back"

Danger Mouse quickly debunks the theory we put forth last year that hiring him as a producer is a sure fire way to create one of your better albums, but never your best. Evil Friends is a career high point for P.TM. 
9. "Ragtime" by Neko Case (from The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You)
"I'll reveal myself invincible soon"

Including her work on the New Pornographers, this is the 5th top 25 appearance for Neko Case.  
8. "Play by Play" by Autre Ne Veut (from Anxiety)
"I don't wanna be there tonight / you make me low / you make me crawl"

This song has a great chorus, but it's the 1:40 - 2:05 section that is one of our favorite vocal snippets of the year
7. "Hopeful" by Josh Ritter (from The Beast in its Tracks)
"But I know the look in his eyes and I know all the old signs / just a couple more curves before his own road unwinds "

The most positive track on an album of heartbreak.  Is the "she" that is hopeful the old girl, the new girl, or both?
6. "Young Fathers" by Typhoon (from White Lighter)
"I was born in September / and like everything else I can't remember / I'll replace it with scenes from the film / that I / will never make"

If the album cover is a Rorschach test, we see Tanzania. Which validates the whole theory of the test. Also, Tanzania looks a lot like Wisconsin. Also, only five of these damned things left. 
5. "Chain Smoker" by Chance the Rapper (from Acid Rap)
"This part / right here right now right here / this part my shit"

The best rap album of 2013 was a debut mixtape (available here). Stream the track here
4. "Hit Me" by Mystikal (single)
"Whether they diamonds / Madonna / designers / iguanas / Rihanna / vaginas / piranhas / hit it!"

What the fuck was that? This insane tribute to James Brown brings the funk, but is also ridiculously quotable. Runners up for the quote:
5. "That n***a is sicker and slicker than oil on a pelican"
4. "We go together like stanky & smelly / tummy & belly / peanut butter jelly"
3. "Say it proud / I'm black and I'm loud"
2. "I’m the maestro / I’m the n***a with the stick in this bitch" 
(you tube link)

3. "Gustavo" by Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle (from Perils from the Sea)
"And I looked down and my hands were trembling"

We are big fans of Sun Kil Moon, but have found his recent albums a bit dull musically. We are big fans of The Album Leaf but don't love the addition of vocals to his instrumentals. So combining the best of both artists in Perils from the Sea is a perfect match.  
2. "November 2011" by Moonface (from Julie With Blue Jeans On)
"Let me take you up these stairs / let me take you to my life / let me take you like a lamb leading the slaughterer to the knife"

Spencer Krug does an Alphas tracks, but with slightly more hopefulness than the doomed Mountain Goats couple.  Someone is going to use this as a first dance song at their wedding and the couple in question will be awesome. Spencer just misses out on a #1 with a fourth band (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Swan Lake) and makes an 11th top 10 appearance on this list. Stud. 

1. "Step" by Vampire Weekend (from Modern Vampires of the City)
"Maybe she's gone, and I can't resurrect her / the truth is she doesn't need me to protect her / we know the true death /  the true way of all flesh / everyone's dying, but girl you're not old yet"

MVotC is such an incredibly strong album that it may have been the deathblow to the Vampire Weekend backlash.  It should be, at least. If "Step" didn't exist, "Hannah Hunt" may still hold this spot and "Ya Hey", "Diane Young" and "Unbelievers" wouldn't have been far behind. But "Step" does exist and it is just about the perfect pop song. Even our favorite songs usually have a moment that we look forward to or miss once it is passed (see #8 above), which can't help diminish the rest of the song. "Step" is all highlights. Great verses, great chorus, great build, great lyrics that are just obtuse enough to resonate, great odd little "every time I see you in the world..." bit that is neither a chorus nor verse, great way all but the drums drop out at the penultimate chorus, great video that recalls the great album cover. It's not a song that changes the music landscape or the world in any way, its just an undeniably great song in all respects, making it the easiest #1 decision we've had to make in a while. Thanks for reading and listening. 

1 comment:

  1. 1-20
    Vampire Weekend - Step
    * agree with HoM, such a clear-cut #1. These guys could basically do no wrong in 2013-2014 between Modern Vampires of the City and crushing every cover or cameo that Ezra made. Was fortunate enough to catch them for the bday at Barclays Center and also to hear Rostam's score in This is Our Youth. At a minimum, they make being a Columbia alumnus slightly better

    Josh Ritter - Hopeful
    * this guy has the worst name. It is so forgettable. I like a bunch of his stuff, but I usually end up confused because I don't know if it's by Josh Groban and should be buried as a guilty pleasure. That said, another great track from John Doe

    Typhoon - Young Fathers
    * less orchestral, but has some of the qualities of the best Sufjan Stevens tracks: wandering, punctuated at the right points, lyrics that are slightly ethereal at times

    San Fermin - Sonsick
    * lyrically, like some sort of long-lost, alternate-universe foil to Hello Saferide's "Anna". Musically, I could listen to the refrain all day

    Neko Case - Ragtime
    * tucks in with that Velvet Underground-esque bass riff, which is right at home on this list with Cass McCombs' multiple Lou Reed homages (more below). Just Neko Case doing her thing, crushing another track

    Robin Thicke - Blurred Lines
    * Vampire Weekend's cover was good, though not quite as good as the original

    Foxygen - Oh Yeah
    * would have gone with San Francisco, partially just to hedge the fact that I no longer live there

    Kanye West - Black Skinhead
    * liked it more than I would have thought. I disagree a little with HoM here; my biggest beef with Kanye is that he's all production and weaker on flow. Here I actually thought he had better flow and was less dependent on production. That said, I've never fully gotten on board with Kanye's work

    Smith Westerns - Varsity
    * A little less shaggy as compared to their earlier efforts, to my ear. For some reason, I hear vestiges of The Killers

    STRFKR - Atlantis
    * the ride home down the FDR drive and over the bridge on summer nights listening to this is hard to top

    * Cass McCombs sneaked in as both an Honorable Mention and at #35

    * Step was a real gem. Lots of bi-coastal references which hit home, plus the music video is about as New York as you can get. Pair it with shots from BK Heights and some personal experience with "but actually Oakland, and not Alamdea" from an overzealous early exit off of 80 on the way to the GMAT, and you've got a winner in the personal relevance category

    Thanks, HoM. Onto 2014...