Happy Tuesday! Welcome back to this blog! Factorial!
A quick word before we get started…I use Grammarly’s plagiarism checker online because I’m a deputy inspector in the Long Island Grammar Police. Well worth your time, assuming you enjoy proper use of the English language, which is a seriously wonderful thing to enjoy.
Now, to quote the great Noel Gallagher – music! music! music!
So now that I’ve given myself three weeks to digest all the music I listened to in 2013 (which, of course, is a mere fraction of the tremendous work released throughout the world of music in 2013), I’m ready to put together some sort of year-end list. I don’t feel enough of an arrogance to proclaim this list “THE BEST 48 SONGS OF 2013”, because of course these aren’t the best 48 songs of the past year. Hell, these aren’t even necessarily my 48 favorite songs of the past year – this same list might very well change if I posted it tomorrow. They’re just the 48 songs that, in putting together this list, stuck with me the most, and it felt wrong not to include any of them.
The next logical question, of course, is what magical significance does the number 48 hold? The answer is none – I simply went through the songs and albums and artists I liked this year, and picked the ones I felt deserved a spot on this list, and ended up at 48. I also don’t like arbitrary multiples of five and 10, even though those are the numbers our world runs on, and typically set alarm for times such as 7:26 and 8:18. This, however, is either a topic for another day or not a topic for any day.
Because ranking 48 songs would be slightly insane (as if that’s stopped me before, of course…), I’m lumping the first 32 songs into one giant “thanks-for-being-here” group, and ranking my 16 favorite songs of the year. Since I realized that 16 is exactly one-third of 48 (something I discovered after writing 15 blurbs), I’m going to separate this list into three different year-end posts. Without further adieu, half of my 17th-through-48th favorite songs of 2013, at least at this particular moment in my life, in no specific order at all:
The Joy Formidable, “This Ladder is Ours”
…OK, I intentionally led off with this one, but the rest of the list is in no specific order. The leadoff track from the year’s most exhilarating album, Wolf’s Law, explodes out of a pent-up beauty of an opening and soars through five epic minutes on the strength of a majestic wall of sound from this noisy Welsh trio, led by the adorably rocking Ritzy Bryan’s dreamy vocals and crunching guitars.
Queens of the Stone Age, “Fairweather Friends”
According to QOTSA frontman Josh Homme, Sir Elton John called him during the band’s recording sessions for …Like Clockwork and said “the only thing missing from your band is an actual queen!” Consider the void filled. Elton’s guest vocals and piano elevate the final stretch of Queens’ brilliant sixth album into rock-and-roll hyperspace, intertwining screaming guitar licks and banging piano notes into one glorious mashup. (Side note: Josh Homme’s last two albums have featured Elton John, John Paul Jones, Alan Turner, Trent Reznor and Dave Grohl. You may all now take a moment of silence for not being Josh Homme.)
Jay Z, “Picasso Baby”
The narrative on Magna Carta… Holy Grail seems to be set in stone as unspectacular, but the first half of the album features some inspired Timbaland beats and Jay at his playful best. There’s nothing better than the album’s second track, which might belong in Webster’s under the word “bounce”. It even made for a compelling video of a six-hour performance art film! (The less said about tracks eight to 16 on MCHG, however, the better.)
Nine Inch Nails, “Copy of a”
Talk about tension. I might have put “Copy of a” on this list if it was nothing more than the opening 15 seconds on a loop. Trent Reznor’s Social Network synthesizers are on full blast here as Hesitation Marks‘ opening track builds and builds to a dizzying crescendo. And, as I can gladly attest to, it’s one hell of a way to start a live show.
Quick side note: I’m arranging this tracks in the order in which they came up on Shuffle on my playlist. I did not intentionally put together three artists from the Made in America festival. This next artist will clearly stop that streak.
Ghost B.C., “Ghuleh / Zombie Queen”
Swedish heavy metal, IN YO FACE! Actually, there’s really nothing heavy metal about this track, which sounds for three-minutes like the Swedish Satanic version of an 80’s power ballad, mixing together lyrics about putrefaction and succubi with piano riffs that could have been lifted from Super Mario 64. That gives way to an inspiring second-half tale of a “zombie queen”, and truth be told, the whole thing’s rather…beautiful.
Savages, “She Will”
Four post-punk women from London have put together simply the most snarling, biting, in-your-face track of the past year, informing some man or men out there exactly what “she” will do, and frankly, it’s overpowering. Turn the volume up. Way, WAY up. Those crashing cymbals, those unstoppable guitars, that driving bass, the howling vocals…call it girl power if you want, but “She Will” kicks ass no matter the gender.
Bad Religion, “F*** You”
Let’s answer your first question first – no, this isn’t a cover of the Cee-Lo Green song. I know, I KNOW, I’m sad, too. Trust me, though, this tune from the über-veteran California punk-rockers in Bad Religion is every bit as enjoyable. It’s all about the Pavlovian response that we have to certain bad situations. “Sometimes”, Greg Graffin opines, we “have no sense at all. The easiest thing to do…is say”…well, you get the picture. They can’t afford a Ferrari, either. (Editor’s note: they probably can.)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Sacrilege”
“Sacrilege” is a terrific song for two minutes and 20 seconds. And then A FREAKING GOSPEL CHOIR comes out of nowhere at the 2:20 mark, and “Sacrilege” turns into an absolute monster, like that bug-eyed behemoth on the front of Mosquito. Between this, the “Immigrant Song” cover from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and “The Moon Song” from Her, Karen O can do no wrong. (This video, by the way, could be my favorite video of the year. In fairness to everything else, I don’t actually watch music videos anymore, so there’s really nothing to compare it to. This video is awesome. Let’s just put it that way.)
David Bowie, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”
This song is probably the closest one to the Top 16 that didn’t quite make the ranked section, and part of that’s because I’m not sure if I’m overrating on account of coming from David Freaking Bowie. (Editor’s note: not his actual name. Probably. Although, would anyone really be surprised?) The standout number of Bowie’s out-of-nowhere 2013 release, The Next Day, ruminates on the nature of celebrity (“stars are never sleeping/dead ones earn a living”), and it’s just vivid and gorgeous in the way that perhaps only Bowie can be. (“They burn you with their radiant smiles/Trap you with their beautiful eyes/They’re broke and shamed or drunk or scared/But I hope they live forever.”) Also, TILDA SWINTON.
Courtney Barnett, “Avant Gardener”
A rambling, deadpan Australian woman makes for perhaps the funniest track of the year, and it’s not just because of that goofy title. I’ll allow for the possibility that maybe it’s just me and maybe this track isn’t that funny, but there’s something about Barnett’s laissez-faire-to-the-max vocals that gets me every time. “The paramedic thinks I’m clever cos’ I play guitar/I think she’s clever cos’ she stops people dying” might not be that funny on paper, but man, it slays on this record. It plays like the female Australian answer to Kurt Vile. (Also, this is definitely the weirdest music video I’ve watched this year. Of the four music videos I’ve watched this year, that is.)
Vampire Weekend, “Obvious Bicycle”
This was the last song added to this group, which is fitting, because I nearly dismissed Modern Vampires of the City outright after two unimpressed listens. Upon a third spin, though, I was immediately drawn in by Ezra Koenig’s composed vocals and a few serene piano notes, and I finally fell in love with Everybody’s Favorite Band of 2013 (TM). The answer was obvious: I had to cycle back and fit this track in. (Editor’s note: WE ARE SO SORRY ABOUT THOSE PUNS AND WILL DO OUR BEST TO MAKE SURE NOTHING LIKE THIS EVER HAPPENS AGAIN.)
Queens of the Stone Age, “I Appear Missing”
Inspired by a near-death experience in an operating room, “I Appear Missing” is Josh Homme at his most emotionally raw and vulnerable. He’s loose in some alternate universe, stumbling through the afterlife with a “heart-shaped hole where the hope runs out”. …Like Clockwork‘s very best track matches wits with the best and darkest of QOTSA’s discography. Take it from Homme: “it’s only falling in love because you hit the ground.”
CHVRCHES, “The Mother We Share”
I have no idea why Lauren Mayberry’s Scottish synthpop group stylizes their name with a “V” and capital letters, but I enjoy the hell out of it for reasons equally unknown. In fact, I love this group so much, my old phone saved “CHVRCHES” as a preset word. (R.I.P. Droid X2: September 2011 – January 2014) It’s almost too easy to pick this song, which was one of the “it” tracks in music throughout the past year, but it’s too damn sweet to leave off, what with that catchy echo and Mayberry’s gorgeous voice leading the whole thing along.
Sky Ferreira, “Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay)”
Here’s a quick Sky Ferreira primer, in case you don’t know who she is. And in case you don’t care about any of that stuff, know this: Night Time, My Time is one of the best pop-rock albums that you’re likely to hear for a long long time, with track after track that reaches for the rafter and succeeds. The first of what will be a few Sky songs on this list is a beautifully grungy sing-a-long number that I don’t ever want to end – no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
Franz Ferdinand, “Treason! Animals”
The title of this song comes from the lyric “I’m the king of the trees and the animals”. Get it? “Trees and” sounds like “treason”. You may choose to think of this title is idiotic, but I choose to think of it as hilarious. Either way, this is easily the best song on Franz Ferdinand’s generally-just-OK fourth album Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, with a nasty hook of a guitar riff and a bouncy light-hearted lyric throughout (“I’m in love with a narcissist/I know for the mirror told me”). It’d fight right in to the band’s phenomenal debut album without missing a beat. Both absurd and superb.
Paul McCartney, “Early Days”
Sir Paul McCartney is 71 years old. He has released nearly 50 studio albums between The Beatles, Wings and his vast and varied solo work. There is absolutely no reason he should still be putting together albums as good as New, let alone songs as hauntingly beautiful as “Early Days”, and yet here we are. “Early Days” reminisces about just those, the beginnings of McCartney’s life with the Beatles, while seemingly calling out critics who over-credited the other band members for the band’s brilliance. Just listen to that third verse: “Now everybody seems to have their own opinion/Who did this and who did that/But as for me I don’t see how they can remember/When they weren’t where it was at”. This is McCartney at his most barren, stripped away of most instrumentation, with the weight of his words reminding us that he’ll always have something to say.