By Jacob Robinson
Listening to music is an inherently subjective experience.
But for some reason I feel an insatiable joy in poring over lists of publications ‘Best of’ lists. Partly this is through a genuine interest in finding music which I’ve overlooked throughout the year but partly it’s also because there’s a guilty joy in being able to sneer at the relative failings of each endeavor.
But there’s also a bloody minded senselessness in choosing a pointless subjective list that everyone is probably going to violently disagree with.
It’s the ultimate exercise in subjectivity; and for anyone who has ever pored over their Hottest 100 selections for hours into days, you may feel sympathetic.
These lists make you critically evaluate every shred of audible diameter of each song, looking for that one element that lifts it that single place up or down.
It’s a painstaking exercise that is nonetheless an incredibly rewarding one.
Beware, what you are about to read comes with a few caveats:
A man needs to know his limitations.
You can never know everything; never have seen every movie; heard every album; know every obscure German DJ that knocked the Bergheim off its socks.
Answer the question.
This isn’t the best music, best album, best band that I heard walking past a pub on Brunswick Street while eating a kebab, this is the best songs.
What you will read may challenge your assumptions; make you want to burn you record player; or equally may lead you to a life of contemplative reflection.
I hope you enjoy.
25) ‘Ice on the Dune’ – Empire of the Sun
Ice on the Dune never quite has the highpoints of their initial offering, but what it lacked in killer electro hooks it made up for in sun-drenched synth pop glory. The eponymous ‘Ice on the Dune’ has the contemplative melancholia of their earlier hits with a glorious fragile chorus.
24) ‘So Good at Being in Trouble’ – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
A song all about being lost, sad and lonely haze of memory while accompanied by the catchiest hook these guys have put together yet. Could have sufficed as an offcut from Tame Impala’s Lonerism.
23) ‘Supersoaker’ – Kings of Leon
They’re certainly not cool anymore but they sure can still rock. This is certainly the best song they’ve produced since about 2007’s Because of the Times, at least. The chiming guitar line during the chorus is golden.
22) ‘Damage Done’ – Moderat
Audio not available
The strange situation where I don’t think that this is necessarily the best music, or even track on this album, but I think is the best ‘song’. A beautiful vocal cut and understated production makes this a truly affecting piece of music and, tacked near the close of the album, a somber ending to the earlier highs of Modeselektor and Apparat’s second LP collaboration.
21) ‘Blurred Lines’ – Robin Thicke ft. Pharrel Williams and T.I.
This may be where I lose you, if you got past Kings of Leon that is, but hear me out.
‘Blurred Lines’ is the best pure pop song of the year. Every single part of this song is a monumental hook from one of best pop minds in the business.
Its shameless cribbing of Marvin Gaye also harkens back to a more simplistic music production time when EDM was not the de fatco lingo of pop music.
I should say though, it’s very misogynistic…
20) ‘Bound 2’ – Kanye West
Did I say misogynist?
I don’t think that Yeezus is the act of incomparable genius that many critics seem intent on proclaiming, but ‘Bound 2’ brings everything which is amazing about Kanye’s productions skills together.
19) ‘Only Tomorrow’ – My Bloody Valentine
I remember very distinctly when I learnt the new MBV album has been posted online. It was snowing outside. It sounded like MBV. It was beautiful.
18) ‘Dropla’ – Youth Lagoon
An exquisitely composed piece. Somehow the refrain of “you’re going to die” is lifted to a holy epoch.
17) ‘Sail to the Sun’ – Wavves
The chiming intro is a completely misleading intro a raucous fuzzed filled jam. The youthful nihilism of the lyrics, the extended outro of “in a grave”, is both eternal and joyfully cathartic.
16) ‘Instant Crush’ – Daft Punk ft. Julian Casablancas
Random Access Memories has suffered the inevitable backlash of the immeasurable hype surrounding its release and ‘Instant Crush’ is right in the epicenter. On my behalf, this sounds like nothing I thought Daft Punk would ever sound like. Soulful, funky, rocky all on a slightly lower tempo.
And the video is heartbreaking.
15) ‘Free Your Mind’ – Cut Copy
Cut Copy will likely never make another album as in tune with the musical zeitgeist as In Ghost Colours, and it feels as though they’ve realized it.
‘Free Your Mind’ does everything that a great Cut Copy song should do: make you sing, make you dance, make you love.
14) ‘I Appear Missing’ – Queens of the Stone Age
A glorious meandering rock track that is never stops growing. The last two minutes are as epic as anything QOTSA have ever done.
13) ‘Retrograde’ – James Blake
For some reason James Blake’s sophomore effort never really kicked off as much as everyone predicted when this track landed way back in January. It shouldn’t detract from what is a soulful melding of pop sensibilities and dub-step.
12) ‘Monomania’ – Deerhunter
A whall; fuzz; “mono, mono-mania” for over three minutes straight.
Beautiful; ridiculous; bleeding ears.
11) Graceless – The National
There’s a strong critique circling of The National that all their songs sound more or less the same. That’s fairly true, but I think the problem is that the larger populace only starting paying attention from High Violet on.
What The National has is a very interesting approach to songwriting which elevates them beyond the constraints of their musical limits. Their songs are as much focused on the harmonious symphony of the rhythm sections as it is the gentle strains of the leads.
Like ‘Sorrow’ from High Violet, ‘Graceless’ is musically simple, yet its sum is exponentially more than its parts.
10) ‘Help Me Lose My Mind’ – Disclosure ft. London Grammar
Sometimes when you’re out dancing, whatever you’re feeling, whatever you doing, whoever you’re around, can sometimes be eclipsed in a transcendent moment where you realize that all there is is the music and you dancing.
For me this is the epitome of that feeling.
9) ‘Reflektor’ – Arcade Fire
The most ambitious moment of the most ambitious album of the year. And it works. Full marks to James Murphy, of LCD Soundsystem fame, for somehow making a seven and a half minute indie rock jam never feel too long.
8) ‘One Way Trigger’ – The Strokes
What a Strokes song should sound like seemed to become a major topic of conversation, with ‘One Way Trigger’ listed as the main witness against.
In a musicscape where The Strokes no longer hold the undiluted sway of nostalgic opinion this track seemed to rip-roar them back into the present mainframe.
A glorious riff, gorgeous vocals and hooks to die for.
7) ‘Made to Stray’ – Mount Kimbie
The interplay between beats and synths makes is stunning. By the time the vocals kick-in and this promptly disappear you wonder what’s just hit you.
A feeling that doesn’t dissipate no matter how many times I’ve listened to it.
6) ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ – Arctic Monkeys
The Artcic Monkeys feel like they’ve always been hamstrung by the weight placed upon them after their first album. Each offering since has felt like a contortion against the expectations leveled at them.
Finally they appear to have settled into an understanding of what they want to do for themselves.
The one-two kick of ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ and ‘R U Mine’ is a belting start to their latest album and the former’s stomping glory has rightfully led them back to the forefront of alternative rock.
5) ‘Step’ – Vampire Weekend
I really didn’t know what to think of this when it came out.
It felt deliberately obtuse.
As it has grown on me, each little section has unveiled its beauty until what originally felt like a foreign tune now seems like a whispered hidden secret,
4) It All Feels Right – Washed Out
I heard this and immediately wrote a friend: “This is the sounds of late summer.”
3) ‘Get Lucky’ – Daft Punk ft. Pharrel Williams and Nile Rodgers
Yep it’s been overplayed, but only because it’s incredible.
2) ‘Wakin on a Pretty Day’ – Kurt Vile
You get to the end of a list like this and you realize that the best of songs need no justification.
1) ‘Afterlife’ – Arcade Fire
The accepted wisdom of creating track listing usually referred to the mantra of put your best songs up front.
Arcade Fire has an interesting habit of putting their most cathartic song towards the back end of their albums; ‘Rebellion (Lies)’, ‘No Cars Go’ and ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’ all hold a similar honour in their canon.
I had previously harboured doubts as to whether Arcade Fire’s musical variety and ambition could ever meld with their evolving ability as songwriters.
‘Afterlife’ is the definite proof of their abilities. And the stumbling metrics of the chorus are genius. Win Butler’s vocal performance has never been as subtle, affecting, an ever-rising expression of desperation. The musical accompaniment is layered, flawless. The lyrics: poignant yet never overstated.