By Will Vann
I’ve taken the following approach:
I have been captured by a sadistic but incredibly specific axe murder who has informed me that I can listen to between one and 25 songs before he murders me, provided that all the songs came were released in 2013. He has yet to decide how many I will get to listen to before he grows weary of my taste and finishes me off so has asked me to create a list of top 25 which he will play in order.
So each song is not the song that was the most groundbreaking, important, popular or anything like that. I have attempted to import no concept of objectivity- these are just the 25 songs I would choose to listen to for whatever reason I feel.
I must apologies for my myopic music taste. It has occurred to me that most of the songs on this list are form artists I have either seen or will see live this year. This is partially coincidence, partially because artists tour following releases but partially because I don’t listen widely enough so I am sorry and will endeavor for a better list next year.
25) ‘Where Are We Now’ – David Bowie
Although apparently no song on The Next Day is actually about Bowie (or so his manager said), part of ‘Where Are We Now’ must be. The song moves along slowly, with the gentle stumble of a genius approaching the end of his years and asking where he is now and reflecting on what is still important to him.
24) ‘Cooking Up Something Good’ – Mac Demarco
Fantastic slacker rock. Too lazy to even light a cigarette, Mac Demarco sings about being up all night chewing Nicorette. Thankfully he puts much more time into his fantastic guitar work.
23) ‘Pursuit’ – Gesaffelstein
Industrial electronic straight out of a warehouse party where people are fighting each other for kicks. Completely mental.
22) ‘Egypt’ – Doldrums
Unlike anything else on this list, or indeed any list, ‘Egypt’ can only be described as indescribable. So many unexpected turns you’re better off expecting nothing.
21) ‘Open’ – Rhye
Just a beautiful song. Gorgeous strings, gentle clicked percussion, subtle horns and the wonderful, wonderful angelic voice of Milosh. Be careful of enjoying the vocals too much, lest you get bamboozled- Milosh is a man.
20) ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
An excellent contrast to ‘Jubilee Street’ and the other epic from Push the Sky Away, Nick Cave sings about everything and nothing to a rambling guitar. Definitely wins the award for line of the year “Well here comes Lucifer with his Canon law and a hundred black babies running from his genocidal jaw”. Only Nick could even consider attempting to get away with that.
19) ‘ Don’t Save Me’ – Haim
Days Are Gone is an excellent album and “Don’t Save Me” is one of several songs that could contend for a much higher position on any end of year list. Classic rock pop fare, but so excellent when it’s done so right.
18) ‘Riptide’ – Vance Joy
Although ‘Riptide’ is a song filled with silly little lyrics which no-one understands, that seems to be the point. For four minutes James Keogh lets us into the private world he shares with his lover. Although we might not get the in-jokes between them, we certainly can feel the love in Keogh’s beautiful vocals.
17) ‘Open Eye Signal’ – Jon Hopkins
On an album full of belters and ballads, Open Eye Signal is the pick of the club classics. An absolute journey of a dance song with a beat so driving it gives the song a real sense of momentum and purpose. The synth sounds are no less interesting than any other sounds on Immunity and the way the song transforms at the end so effortlessly is remarkable.
16) ‘Reflektor’ – Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire, James Murphy and Bowie? I’m down.
15) ‘ Calendar Days’ – Dick Diver
Dick Diver are hardly even musicians, they sing about things as mundane as what you find in your house and the album sounds like it was recorded over a payphone. But from their modesty comes charm and their simple Australiana backyard rock is as endearing as it is catchy, as best exemplified by the titular ‘Calendar Days’.
14) ‘Milk’ – Moderat
Simple beyond simple, a one-note baseline that moves about with minimal variance and a couple of synth pads which come and go as they please. It may be simple, but it’s the sort of simple that hypnotic and takes over.
13) ‘Don’t Lie’ – Vampire Weekend
On ‘Don’t Lie’ Ezra Koenig simply wants to know if your mortality bothers you. As lyrically foreboding as it is musically uplifting, “Don’t Lie” has less restraint then ‘Ya Hey’ but is no weaker for it. Closer to their old music stylistically, ‘Don’t Lie’ is the unsung gem of Modern Vampires.
12) ‘The Next Day’ – David Bowie
From the other great album about death in 2013 (Modern Vampires of the City being the first), ‘The Next Day’ is a bleak song about a puritanical priest rallying a mob to hang the protagonist for reasons unapparent to anyone except Sir Bowie set to a cracking classic rock beat. Probably the only way a music god could begin his unexpected first album in nine years.
11) Whorehouse – ceo
A pop song like no other. If it had been released more than a week ago it might have been my number one. A bizarre propulsive offbeat is accompanied by glistening synths and eclectic sound effect. Couple this with a pop melody put against bizarre, almost obscene lyrics and you’ve got a truly unexpected delight.
10) ‘Monomania’ – Deerhunter
Deerhunter always excel at albums with epic centerpieces- think ‘Nothing Ever Happened’ or ‘Desire Lines’. But whereas those were tightly composed rhythmic masterpieces, ‘Monomania’ is an exercise in chaos.
The song builds effortlessly from section to section (no verse chorus here) before exploding into unbridled chaos, held together only by Bradford Cox shrieking “monomania” -if he is even capable of holding himself together. The term “monomania” apparently means being endlessly obsessed with one thing, which is how Bradford describes his approach to music.
The way that “Monomania” draws on this concept to the extent that Cox distills his focus down to one word almost takes his condition from mania to outright psychosis.
9) ‘Hanging Gardens’ – Classixx
Incredibly poppy and so overproduced it almost sparkles, it is difficult to see what separates Classixx from being a far lesser outfit. They are just a step away from being a paint-by-numbers summery house music hit machine dominating the playlist at Schoolies.
But the difference is in the execution. For although ‘Hanging Gardens’ is undeniably pop house, Classixx exercise the sort of restraint and ingenuity which lesser artists don’t.
The beat doesn’t come in until the song is half over. The drops arrive more holistically than through just simple filter sweeps, EQ cuts or snare rolls. But above all ‘Hanging Gardens’ just has some incredibly lush sounds and melodic synths that make it a joy to listen to.
8) ‘Dance Apocalyptic’ – Janelle Monae
Janelle Monae is clearly not someone who is about to stop throwing as many ideas into a song as possible. The fact that she made a concept RnB/pop album about an android protagonist in a post-apocalyptic world shows she clearly is not afraid to mix concepts.
‘Dance Apocalyptic’ throws everything into it. A ukulele? Vinyl scratch effects? Quasi-Motown Singers? Sure, throw them all in- because let’s face it- anything goes with Janelle’s voice.
The song is a lyrical treat as well, with lines that only service the narrative concept of the album (‘Zombie in the front yard’) but others that hint at a wider application (“You asking why/The pain is always equal/But the joy just never spreads around”). But above everything else that makes ‘Dance Apocalyptic’ great is that it is just so much damn fun.
7) ‘Is this How You Feel?’ – The Preatures
The song reminds me a lot of Fleetwood Mac circa Rumours. But as much as I like Stevie Nicks’s voice, in my opinion the best Fleetwood Mac songs were always those penned by Lindsey Buckingham.
Whether or not they were trying to, it seems as if The Preatures combined the two. A song that swings with the simple grooves of a Buckingham but backed by the tantalizing vocals of Nicks.
A song built on simple competing and complementing rhythms, sparingly used guitars and a driving drum beat all framing a simple verse before we launch into probably the best choral melody of the year.
We’ve even got the nice boy girl call response dynamic, furthering the Fleetwood Mac comparisons. A worthy winner of several Australian awards, The Preatures stumbled on pure pop rock perfection with ‘Is This How You Feel’.
6) ‘Jubilee Street’ – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
On Push the Sky Away, Nick Cave left his trademark narrative based lyrics for far more expressionistic and impressionistic alternatives, ‘Jubilee Street’ was somewhat of a collision between old and new worlds.
The simple tale of the mysterious Bee has hints of discernible narrative, but it is one that is told mostly through metaphors were the emotions are clear even when the image isn’t.
Musically, ‘Jubilee Street’ it is also blissful. What starts out as a simple drumbeat, bass and guitar part slowly builds with the eerie spacious wail of Warren Ellis’ violin, before exploding into a lush crescendo of full strings and choir. The deft tempo speed up midway through the song may well be the best ten seconds of music released this year.
5) ‘The Red Wing’ – Fuck Buttons
A song every bit as inaccessible as their name. Though there is undoubtedly no easy song to introduce people to the world of Fuck Buttons, ‘The Red Wing’ is definitely not it.
The song begins innocuously enough, with a simple off-kilter hip-hop beat, but this is quickly surrounded by saw upon saw as Fuck Buttons manage to find more and more little microseconds that aren’t completely saturated with sound already that they can throw bizarre synth off-cuts into.
‘The Red Wing’ has the distinction of best musical drop for 2013, but in classic Fuck Buttons fashion it happens at a time when you think the song has already dropped about eight times.
Turn your speakers up and listen to ‘The Red Wing’ around the 4:36 mark. Here the final saw drops and blows all the other sound out of the water. But once it’s there, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.
4) ‘Ya Hey’ – Vampire Weekend
Possibly the cheeriest song every written about living in a godless world where death awaits us all.
But the complexity of the ideas is wistfully offset by the simplicity of the music- usually the song only consists of a simple beat and walking bass, with the odd interspersion of a church choir or smattering of an auto-tuned infantile voice.
‘Ya Hey’ seems like it is always building to a climax that it never quite gets to. The final chorus might have the backing of the full choir but it’s still hollow and spacious.
Our expectations for the song are never fulfilled, much like our expectations for god and life. But as ‘Ya Hey’ shows us, that might not be such a bad thing.
3) ‘Sea of Love’ – The National
The National at their anthemic best.
Nothing particularly new for The National here, but they have such a niche carved they could produce music like this forever and I’ll keep listening.
Like all their songs it seems to be classic rock fare until you dig a little deeper and it turns out that most of the usual rock tropes aren’t there. The snare occurs twice every beat instead of every second; there may be two verses but there’s only one chorus, or just a whole bunch of middle eights depending on your perspective.
But The National sure know their way around a hook, and the outro has the best of the year, even if Matt Berninger does seem largely indifferent about hurting poor Joe.
2) Afterlife – Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire doing what they do best.
Combining metaphysical concerns about the afterlife with the personal concerns of a failing relationship – I doubt there’s been a better lyrical sleight of hand ever then Win Butler naming his song afterlife but then only singing about after love (“When love is gone/Where does it go?”).
It was also the best that Arcade Fire managed to combine their old disco indie rock vibe with the new Haitian groove on Reflektor. If only this song had featured David Bowie as well, there would have been no point doing a top 25.
1) ‘We Disappear’ – Jon Hopkins
The song of the year from one of the best albums of the year.
Sounds like nothing before it. Never have percussive sounds been so melodic, synths seemed to speak so much and listener’s expectations been so twisted.
Starts out with real world sounds (apparently of Jon Hopkins entering the studio), quickly descends into an absolute club belter and then evaporates as viciously and abruptly as it arrived. Extremely creative, almost inaccessible, but addictive when you get ensnared in its world.