This list was once a big deal around here at BDWPS. Back in 2010, it was comprised of a top 100 list with an audio clip for each. Not only was this a lot of work, it also never got nearly the attention that our Top Albums list always receives. I’ve also found that since starting the BDWPS Podcast that majority of the songs listed have been played and discussed at some point during the year. By the time this list arrives, my discussion of the track seems a bit stale. Below you’ll find 20 of my favorite songs of 2013. Although it’s not much in comparison to what it once was, it’s still a solid playlist of memorable hooks that may have went under radar this past year.
20. Action Bronson
I found much of Action Bronson’s Blue Chips 2 to be a bit sloppy. The songs tended to meander and the lyrics didn’t seem as focused as on his last Blue Chips album. “Contemporary Man” is just as shoddily produced as any other track on the album, but the tune’s movement from one 80s classic to another makes for a pretty fun listen, regardless of its poor transitioning. With samples from Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, and John Cougar Mellenkamp, this is a rap song even Patrick Bateman could approve of.
“I Think We’re Alone Now”
“I Think We’re Alone Now” sounds totally 80s, yet it doesn’t sound anything like Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now.” Talk about a paradox.
“When a Fire Starts to Burn”
Despite being critically acclaimed, I never warmed up to Disclosure’s Settle. I probably wouldn’t have even checked the album out if it weren’t for the memorable, upbeat opening song “When a Fire Starts to Burn.” Unfortunately, that fire extinguished too quickly as the album progressed.
Foxygen’s We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors is an album of nostalgia, and it doesn’t get much more nostalgic than “San Francisco,” a 60s-flower-power romp through the streets of San Francisco. The song hearkens back to Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Wear a Flower in Your Hair),” except instead of going to San Fran, the narrator in Foxygen’s song has left his love behind (thankfully, she was “bored in L.A.”).
What is one to do when there are no waves to guide them back to the shore? Give up? Get drunk? Do coke? These are all viable options offered up by the wise beyond their years FIDLAR.
15. Black Sabbath
“God is Dead?”
I’ve been proud of Black Sabbath this past year. With their new album 13 they’ve seen resurgence, selling out arenas worldwide and receiving multiple Grammy nominations (if that means anything). I may have found 13 to be a bit formulaic (every track is pretty much a backwards version of one of their classics), but I appreciated the effort to bring back their old school sound. Despite my lukewarm feelings about the album, “God is Dead?” is a pretty memorable track with all the elements that made 70s era Sabbath so great. My only complaint would be that 1970s Sabbath would have dropped the question mark and made it a declarative sentence.
14. No Age
“C’mon, Stimmung” always leaves me asking, “What is that damn noise, and how does it sound so amazing?!”
If you don’t listen to their lyrics, most Low songs resemble loving serenades. “Plastic Cup,” for example, is Low harmonizing at its finest, but one listen to the lyrics and you realize the joke is on you. The song takes you from a drug test (where you piss in a plastic cup) to a thousand years from now when someone digs up said piss cup and views it as a valuable relic. What can I say? I’m a sucker for the band’s mix of sweet melodies and piss-imistic lyrics.
For anyone lamenting the fact that The Strokes haven’t had a good album in over 10 years, “T.H.M.” is here to fill that void. Also, who needs a guitar solo when you can have a cough solo?
11. Eleanor Friedberger
“I’ll Never Be Happy Again”
On “I’ll Never Be Happy Again,” Eleanor Friedberger explores the inevitable downhill slide that comes with relationships and more commonly marriages. She pulls back the curtain on the fact that the person who was once your everything eventually turns into everything you resent. She boldly states, “And oh since I met you / I’ll never be happy again.” Isn’t love grand?
10. Vampire Weekend
Atheism has never sounded so fun.
9. Arcade Fire
At the beginning of “Normal Person” Win Butler muses, “Do you like rock n’ roll music? I don’t know if I do.” Well I do Winn, hence why “Normal Person” (the only rock song on the album) is also my favorite. Synths and disco beats are fun and all, but that tomfoolery will never compare to the dissonant madness that arrives with the chorus in “Normal Person.”
8. Kanye West
“Blood On the Leaves”
It takes some guts to sample Nina Simone’s jarring cover of “Strange Fruit,” the same song that was named Time Magazine’s “Song of the Century” over ten years ago. It takes even bigger balls to use the sample in a song that has nothing to do with segregation or racial inequality. Instead, Kanye raps about his sexual prowess and about how whipped his friend Jay-Z has become. It’s exploitive, distasteful, and fucking fantastic.
7. Speedy Ortiz
Middle School can be a bitch. On “No Below,” singer Sadie Dupuis revisits those horrific memories most of us have buried into the recesses of our mind, telling of her adolescence as an insecure outsider. She may boldly sing of how she once said, “I was better off just being dead,” but the song is one of celebrating survival and the shared experience of teenage isolation.
6. Jason Isbell
Remember when country songs were less about pick-up trucks, red solo cups, and tight jeans and more about real heartbreak? Someone hasn’t sent Jason Isbell the memo that tragedies are no longer selling in Nashville. “Elephant” is a story told from the perspective of a narrator who is at the bar with his friend, trying to avoid talk about her fatal cancer. While mainstream country artists try to sugarcoat cancer into some inspiring tale, Isbell tells it like it is saying lines like “Surrounded by her family, I saw that she was dying alone” and “No one dies with dignity.”
5. Danny Brown
In a song reminiscent of the 60s classic “They’re Coming to Take Me Away!” Danny Brown tells a childhood memory of going to the store to get some bread and a soda. On his way he passes a crack head, hears gunshots, and avoids a junkie prostitute. While the song sounds like a silly romp through the hood, the lyrics twist the song into a horrifying journey to the store.
4. Marnie Stern
“Year of the Glad”
Need some inspiration going into 2014? Make it your “Year of the Glad” with Marnie Stern’s words of encouragement: “Got to make it great/ On a mission, the beginning/ New finds and old dreams/ And everything’s starting now.” This song, with its abrupt time changes, finger-tapping guitar solos, and gleeful singing will have you up and at ‘em before you know it! Forget Pharrell’s Oscar nominated song “Happy”; “Year of the Glad” is hands-down the happiest song in 2013.
3. Bill Callahan
I’ve never cared much for romantic movies because they usually give an unrealistic portrayal of love. I hate to burst your bubble, but not all relationships are built around a man running through an airport to stop the one he loves. Bill Callahan provides the perfect antithesis to this fantasy in “Small Plane,” a song that captures how true love is found in the simple moments. Moral of the story – take it slow in that small plane with the one you love (no running through an airport necessary).
2. Chance the Rapper
I enjoyed Acid Rap due to its ability to mix darker themes with Chance’s boyish charm, but I think what really made it such an addictive listen was the amount of love within the songs. “Everybody’s Something” is Chance doing his best Tony Robbins, insisting in the chorus that “everybody’s somebody’s everything/ Nobody’s nothing.” Chance’s success in 2013 is in his ability to rap about what may seem like schmaltzy subject matter in a way that is authentic and real; “Everybody’s Somebody” is as real as it gets.
“Song For Zula”
Earlier this year, Phosphorescent’s Facebook page posted a link to my review of the album Muchacho with the tagline “ ‘Song For Zula’ is the ‘Jokerman’ of the 21st Century?” Although my comparisons between Muchacho and Bob Dylan’s Infidels may seem like a bit of a reach, listen to the two albums side by side and tell me you don’t see the similarities. I would actually argue that “Song for Zula” is an even better song than “Jokerman” (I know, sacrilege!). Despite the song’s lush production, Matthew Houck’s voice in combination with the lyrics can hit you right at your very core. In his harsh whisper, the voice of the heartbroken soul takes shape, singing lines like “love is just as fickle as a feather in a stream” and “I saw love disfigure me.” “Song For Zula” is the musical equivalent of waving the white flag in the face of the brutal onslaught that is love.