Sunday, December 29, 2013

Gary's Top 50 Songs of 2013

So, this exists, lest I unceremoniously continue onto the next year without an overly meticulous ordering of the closing year’s tunes that happened to hit my earhole (fairly certain that is the medically accepted term).

Self-deprecation aside, 2013 proved to be a staggering juggernaut in the music realm. From triple-A-listers to unassuming newcomers and the plethora in between, it seemed like everyone dropped at least an EP this year. Personally, I can’t remember such a stacked year in music releases. That might be due to the alcohol abuse, but I digress.

Due to increasing time constraints and all that, it felt overwhelming to attempt to keep pace with all of the releases this year. Alas, music was still enjoyed, dammit, and that admittedly microscopic sample of tunes was the pool of songs run through rigorous testing in order to qualify for this highly prestigious honor.

In my best Casey Kasem impression, let's count 'em down, shall we?

Listen along with this nifty Spotify playlist, too!

50. "Purple Yellow Red and Blue" by Portugal. The Man
49. "Bitter Rivals" by Sleigh Bells
48. "Rap God" by Eminem
47. "A Tooth for an Eye" by The Knife
46. "Say That" by Toro y Moi
45. "Tom Ford" by Jay Z
44. "Ya Hey" by Vampire Weekend
43. "By and Down" by A Perfect Circle
42. "Love Sick" by Sleigh Bells
41. "Sacrilege" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

40. "Proper Spirit" by Small Black
39. "Right Action" by Franz Ferdinand
38. "Pumpin' Blood" by NONONO
37. "The Walker" by Fitz and The Tantrums
36. "Tennis Court" by Lorde
35. "Came Back Haunted" by Nine Inch Nails
34. "One of Us is the Killer" by The Dillinger Escape Plan
33. "24 Hours" by Sky Ferreira
32. "Howl" by Beware of Darkness
31. "Pompeii" by Bastille

30. "The Mother We Share" by CHVRCHES
29. "IFHY" by Tyler, the Creator ft. Pharrell
28. "You're Not Good Enough" by Blood Orange
27. "Safe and Sound" by Capital Cities
26. "Hurricane" by MS MR
25. "Biggie Bounce" by Diplo ft. Angger Dimas & Travis Porter
24. "Bound 2" by Kanye West
23. "Do I Wanna Know?" by Arctic Monkeys
22. "If You Got It At Five, You Got It At Fifty" by Norma Jean
21. "Doin' It Right" by Daft Punk ft. Panda Bear

20. "Trying To Be Cool" by Phoenix
19. "Tunnel Vision" by Justin Timberlake
18. "Blurred Vision" by Robin Thicke ft. T.I. & Pharrell
17. "Black Skinhead" by Kanye West
16. "Wild For The Night" by A$AP Rocky ft. Skrillex & Birdy Nam Nam
15. "Bubble Butt" by Major Lazer ft. Bruno Mars, Tyga & Mystic
14. "Black Out Days" by Phantogram
13. "Inhaler" by Foals
12. "Alive" by Empire of the Sun
11. "Stranger" by The Limousines

10. "Hold On, We're Going Home" by Drake ft. Majid Jordan
Two years ago, Drake released a stellar, minimalistic R&B single about a drunk dial. This year, Drake released a stellar, minimalistic R&B single about a good girl who could be The One. It is a rather simple love song littered with mushy lines like “I want your hot love and emotion endlessly”, but when contrasted with The Weeknd-aping backbeat, “Hold On” delivers as a pro-commitment ballad, which is almost shocking in today’s musical and real-world landscape, but certainly so for the seducing singer himself. Love songs are a dime a dozen; Drake’s love song effortlessly separates from the pack as a standout this year.

09. "Sex" by The 1975
“And this is how it starts”, frontman Matthew Healy sighs at the beginning of “Sex”, before detailing the carnal desires and foreplay of two would-be lovers fuckers. It is an undoubtedly and predictably sexy song, but there is one problem: “She’s got a boyfriend, anyway.” The listener is able to feel the palpable tension as it plays out over the evocative ‘80s pop backdrop. On paper, it teeters on cheesy, but the song always overcomes this with its sense of genuineness and emotion. Plus, who can’t relate to a song about fucking?

08. "Blood On The Leaves" by Kanye West
How does a narcissistic creative genius top a release that many lauded as near-perfection three years ago? With Yeezus, of course, which is nearly perfect in its own right despite being entirely distinct from MBDTF. ‘Ye is no stranger to unorthodoxy, and Yeezus oozes it, pushing the boundaries of what hip-hop sounds like yet again. It is an album so good that one’s favorite track can change on the daily (truth be told, I had a difficult time ranking the three that cracked the Top 50, as well as limiting it to just three entries). “Blood on the Leaves” masterfully works in a Nina Simone sample and some 808s­-y Autotune verses before the bombast hits, all the while simultaneously evoking lyrics about a breakup and racial injustice. All told, “Blood” and Yeezus are incredible and powerful accomplishments, yet seemingly par for the course for West.

07. "Royals" by Lorde
Unexpected ubiquity should not detract from the impressiveness of Lorde’s year. She released an unusually catchy single destined for endless replay that ended up topping the Hot 100 for weeks and earning her countless live performances and multiple Grammy nominations. Oh yeah, and she was sixteen, making her the youngest artist to top the Hot 100 in over a quarter-century. “Royals” is immediately etched into the listener’s mind once the chorus rolls around, with its singsong-y name-dropping that even your grandmother could rattle off by now. The laughably minimal finger-snap beat works to great success, and shifts the focus to Lorde’s lyrics deriding the “opulence” and “bullshit” of today’s mainstream music. Needless to say, “Royals” was a refreshing standout amidst the rest of the radio schlock this year and established Lorde as one of the year’s most exciting new artists.

06. "Latch" by Disclosure ft. Sam Smith
It’s pretty telling when a song I first heard this month can have enough of impact to land this high on a year-end retrospective. There is no overcompensation or short-term memory effect at play, either: Disclosure put out an outstanding debut this year, and “Latch” is the perfect entry point for any newcomer. The British duo do everything right by laying down a retro-tinged electropop beat that submerses the listener, and guest vocalist Sam Smith nails it with a dichotomous combination of a sexy, crooning verse and a dynamic, evocative (and falsetto-as-fuck) chorus. Throw in some words about digging someone so much that you want to latch onto them and never let them go, and it becomes easy to see why the song stands out as one of the year’s best. The one thing I wish about this song is that I discovered it sooner.

05. "Step" by Vampire Weekend
Despite two excellent records to their name, Vampire Weekend somehow out did themselves on Modern Vampires of the City, a more subdued, exceptionally written, and generally beautiful work when compared to its predecessors. “Step”, the B-side to the upbeat and more textbook single “Diane Young”, exemplifies such praise, with a brilliantly executed less-is-more approach. The end result is four-plus minutes of gorgeously minimalistic instrumentation, placing emphasis on the lovelorn lyrics of a lost lover and admission that “I can’t do it alone”.

04. "I Appear Missing" by Queens of the Stone Age
At this point, I am clueless as to what Queens of the Stone Age have to do to get the recognition that they deserve. To be fair, they are playing massive arenas and were just nominated for three Grammys, and perhaps I’m biased and overselling them (nah). But, dammit, …Like Clockwork may end up being the band’s best and most complete album. In an album filled with legitimate highlights, “I Appear Missing” stands above the rest as a six-minute opus that transforms into an all-out, immersive rock epic in its latter half. If you still think QOTSA is a “stoner rock” band for some reason, you’re selling them considerably short of where their true talent lies.

03. "Reflektor" by Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire have yet to make a bad record. A potentially controversial statement for most bands, Arcade Fire’s track record has been so superb that it would be controversial to say otherwise. Reflektor keeps their winning streak alive and well, and the lead single and title track exemplifies what they do best: ­­­Larger-than-life, arena-filling anthems. Believe it or not, the song is seven minutes long, but its persistent vitality and urgency has listeners suddenly yearning for a replay. The song distinguishes itself from their past works while still remaining very representative. And to think, all of this musical greatness was because of a trip to Haiti.

02. "Prancer" by The Dillinger Escape Plan
Six seconds. That’s all of a warning shot you get before Greg & Co. bludgeon you over the head for the remaining 3:45 of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s lead single off of One of Us Is The Killer, the mathcore forefathers’ fifth full-length. “Prancer” is a contradictory combination of refreshing yet strangely familiar. One might consider it a “greatest hits” song, as it compiles all of the motifs, ploys, and elements of many of their prior works. Mathcore neophytes might be intimidated, even frightened, by such an intense song. Their unrelenting intensity is a staple, famously at their live shows, but somehow it faithfully translates to record. The song is a trip of near-constant brutality, off-the-wall time signatures and composition, and just enough of time in the middle for repose. No song this year could top the adrenaline rush that “Prancer” so effortlessly provided.

01. "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk ft. Pharrell
It was that rare love at first sound, really. When Nile Rodgers strums away on that simple-yet-elegant guitar intro of Daft Punk’s first legitimately new single in seven years, it was justified thinking to believe that they were onto something glorious. Countless plays and a summer’s worth of inundation later, and the song still holds as strong as that unforgettable first spin. EDM has become steeped in household ubiquity lately, and until “Get Lucky”, Daft Punk had essentially been on the sidelines watching DJs and artists popularize a genre that they had so carefully crafted and mastered over the past decade-plus. Rather than one-up their contemporaries, they did a 180 and decided to make an entire album as homage to the music that influenced and shaped their distinct sound. Although, as far as homages go, they one-upped everyone else by actually getting the dude in the band for whom they had such reverence.
And then there’s Pharrell, who single-handedly takes the song from “catchy” to “catchy-as-fuck” with his textbook sing-along lyrics about trying to get laid and, erm, phoenixes. The end result was a genre-blurring classic with mass appeal that dominated the summer (and this countdown) for good reason.

I suppose you couldn't get a much more striking contrast between those Top 2 songs, which I had flipped back-and-forth almost daily before settling on the final 1-2.
Some last minute entries (Sky Ferreira, Disclosure) sneaked onto the countdown, but a bunch did not. I vow to give Deafheaven and Jon Hopkins some early 2014 lovin'.
That's about it. Here's to hoping 2014 provides as bountiful a selection of quality tunes as this year.

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