This is a continuation of yesterday’s post, which should be obvious, because this one is labeled “Part 2”. Here is yesterday’s post. Moving on…
Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”
Justin – let’s talk. Yes, you had another amazing year in 2013. You released two #1 albums and got nominated for seven Grammys. You rocked stadiums with Jay Z and launched your own world tour. You crushed Saturday Night Live once again, in two separate appearances. You delivered a strong supporting role in Inside Llewyn Davis. You remained married to Jessica Biel. I get it – you’re probably feeling on top of the world. This is probably why you decided not to use the “edit” tool while attempting to parse down The 20/20 Experience, because the average song on these albums ran for a full SEVEN MINUTES. I admire the ambition, my friend, but none of these songs truly justified their running time. Well, except “Mirrors”. “Mirrors” was awesome. That song totally could have gone on for 18 minutes and I would have been cool with it. Anyway, good talk. You’re still the best. Tell Jessica I say hi.
A$AP Rocky feat. 2 Chainz, Drake & Kendrick Lamar, “F***in’ Problems”
I kind of can’t believe this song is on this list. I feel a little guilty that a song that has 27 words bleeped in A$AP Rocky’s first verse alone (that’s 20% of the verse!) makes my Top Anything of the Year. I feel more than a little guilty that a song with perhaps the single most ridiculous hook in the history of pop music (you know it, I’m not gonna print any of it here) makes my Top Anything of of the Year. But this song is just silly fun. Lay an excessively catchy hook over an undeniably hypnotic night, put together a who’s who of hip-hop in 2013 and top it off with some ridiculous wordplay, and voila! – the year’s most glorious guilty f***in’ pleasure.
Vampire Weekend, “Diane Young”
I mentioned my initial disdain for Modern Vampires of the City in Part One, but even before my love for the Vamps surfaced, I couldn’t find a way to push “Diane Young” out of my mind. This doubly impressed me, as I had absolutely no idea what Ezra Koenig was yelling about besides something about a Kennedy and some government agents until reading the lyrics. And those lyrics show that “Diane Young” riffs on the perils of a reckless lifestyle behind the wheel, juxtaposed with by far the album’s most musically upbeat sound. That late-track Surfaris-style-guitar-work remains an album highlight. (Bonus points: Sky Ferreira in the music video!)
The Joy Formidable, “Little Blimp”
Like “Diane Young”, sometimes the best songs of the year are the shortest ones. Get in, rock the house, get out. TJF‘s “Little Blimp” fits snugly into that category, a sub-three-minute whirlwind of Rhydian Dafydd’s melodically bouncing bass, Ritzy Bryan’s swirling waves of guitar and Matthew Thomas’ crashing drums. It’s not the most sophisticated song on Wolf’s Law by a wide margin, but it moves with the best of ’em.
Pearl Jam, “Mind Your Manners”
More short songs! (Thanks, Spotify Shuffle mode, for tying together a constant theme here.) “Mind Your Manners” wins my personal 2013 award for Most Played On Spotify When I Needed One More Song To Fill Out My Drive Home. With room for only one more tune, why not crank the volume sky-high and listen to Eddie Vedder’s best Dead Kennedys impression? “Mind Your Manners” is polished, driving punk rock from a band shifting gears in high-powered fashion, marked by the best catchy/wordy chorus of the year. (“Self-realized and metaphysically redeemed/May not live another life, may not solve a mystery”)
HAIM, “The Wire”
My first introduction to Haim came on SNL late last year, when the band performed with this track and “Don’t Save Me” – the latter of which I actually preferred in the live setting. But on Days Are Gone, one of the year’s brightest records, it’s the former that shines bright, with its crisp, tight production and layered vocals from the most talented trio of sisters this side of the Kardashians. (Or that side of the Kardashians. Either side. You know what? Go ahead, you pick a side.) Friend of the blog Alex Brewer compared the way the group uses their background vocals as an extra instrument of sorts – the various “yeahs” and echos and such prove that friend of the blog Alex Brewer is a very smart man.
Sky Ferreira, “24 Hours”
Take the simplicity and catchiness of your everyday, run-of-the-mill Top 40 pop song, add a little extra brooding both lyrically and musically and cobble together a singer that delivers real vocal weight into her words, and voila! – you’ll come out with Sky Ferreira, who makes her second appearance on this countdown with another irresistible number from Night Time, My Time. “24 Hours” explores a long-distance relationship, but it’s not necessarily about the words themselves – it’s about the delivery of the words, with Ferreira holding on to the pre-chorus (“it’s slipping away/there’s nothing we can do”) for as long as she can, before pleading her case in an emotionally searing chorus (“Oh, in these 24 hours/wish the clock had no hand”). A great song’s not always about what you say – sometimes it’s about how you say it.
Robin Thicke feat. T.I. & Pharrell Williams, “Blurred Lines”
Consider this a compromise slot. As a piece of musical production, “Blurred Lines” belongs in my Top 16 – probably in the Top 10, or even Top 5, if not higher. As a song whose chorus makes me feel a little queasy and lends itself to charges of misogyny, it doesn’t belong anywhere near this list. I don’t feel great about any option, so let’s say this – only one other song this year consistently captured my attention the way “Blurred Lines” did, and I can’t self-justify leaving it off my list. If nothing else, 2013 proved that this is Pharrell Williams‘ world, and we’re all honored to just be living in it.
Lee Ving, Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, Alain Johannes & Pat Smear, “Your Wife Is Calling”
I have no idea why the Sound City: Real to Reel soundtrack owns a mere 65 score on Metacritic, as it could – and probably will – feature in my Top 10 Albums of the Year. It’s a blast from start to finish, teaming up Sound City doc director Dave Grohl with an All-Star lineup of his rock ‘n’ roll buddies, with a surprise standout – “Your Wife Is Calling”, from guttural 63-year-old Fear lead singer Lee Ving. Ving, who I believe is contractually obligated to sing about beer on every track he’s ever written, takes center stage for the fastest three minutes and 19 seconds ever recorded to tape, complete with multiple guitar breakdowns, lyrics about generic man-cave stuff and an awesomely long harmonica solo. I love every second of it.
Foxygen, “No Destruction”
From the awesomely titled We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic comes the year’s best Rolling Stones impression, courtesy of a pair of mid-2os Californians, Sam France and Jonathan Rado. France’s certifiably creepy Mick Jagger-esque vocals lead this sprawling track that borrows some lazy vocal tricks from Bob Dylan, swimming right along with a jangling piano groove and a jab at hipster culture. (“There’s no need to be an asshole, you’re not in Brooklyn anymore.”) There’s a bizarre surrealism to Foxygen, evident not only in that album title but in lyrics like “I’m talking to my grandma who lost her arms in the war/The aliens and armory that bombed her cigar store”. The influences aren’t hard to find, but that doesn’t negate the power of the album – and this, its standout track.
Kings of Leon, “Temple”
Four years after claiming Grammy gold with “Use Somebody”, Kings of Leon are back with an even better song, “Temple”, whose dreamy chorus and easily hooky instrumentation has the track soaring through the U.S. at…#21 on the Alternative Songs chart? Huh? I truly don’t understand this country’s musical taste sometimes. The only reason I could see for disliking this song: Caleb Followill sounds like he’s singing “ah tay won in the temple” in the chorus, which does not English. (Much like “does not English” also does not English, some might say.)
Kanye West, “New Slaves”
For better or worse (better, in my book), 2013 was the Year of The ‘Ye. Between his audacious live shows, high-profile romantic life, overflowing stream of consciousness and the year’s most sonically berserk album, West dominated pop culture over the past year in so thorough a manner that it’s not even worth considering who finished in second. The musical conversation started with “New Slaves”, our first taste of the brash, bold and brazen Yeezus, which arrived in the form of large-screen video projections of Kanye’s faces on buildings around the nation such as Wrigley Field. It strips away all but the most necessary instrumentation, spiraling through West’s mind as he rails against the government, corporations, materialism and, in a vicious four-line stanza, Hamptonites. And does it end with a sample of a random 1969 Hungarian rock song? Of course it does.
Disclosure feat. AlunaGeorge, “White Noise”
If you didn’t swivel back and forth in your chair or tap your feet while listening to Disclosure at some point during this past year, you didn’t live. The British duo – both of whom are significantly younger than me, which makes me tremendously sad – took the electronic world by storm before moving on to the rest of music. On sensational debut album Settle, the group puts forth several memorable team-ups, but none dig in your brain as much as the AlunaGeorge-starring “White Noise”. It’s the perfect mix of sweet and sultry vocals over a hollowed-out humdinger of electronica. Warning: this song may haunt your dreams.
Arcade Fire, “Normal Person”
Arcade Fire’s Reflektor unravels a bit in its second half under a mix of every instrument under the Sun – but good grief, that first half! The Canadian alt-rockers ace their marks through seven songs, surging forward here with the album’s fifth track, which bemoans the banality of human conformism (or something like that). Throughout, lead singer Win Butler seems to question his own sanity, before surrendering in the outro – “I’ve never really ever met a normal person”, he repeats over and over, scoring one for individuality.
Mikal Cronin, “Am I Wrong”
Mikal Cronin may be the most evocative artist on this year’s list. Just three seconds or so from “Am I Wrong”, and you’ll be mentally driving down a sun-soaked California highway, top down and surfboard in trunk with your long blonde hair swaying in the light breeze. And to no surprise, this is pretty much exactly what Mikal Cronin (and every member of his band) looks like. “Am I Wrong” represents MCII, one of the year’s most gorgeously imagined albums, stomping forward with Cronin’s signature fuzzy, crunchy mix of guitars that sound like they’re having a good time. And even if they’re inanimate objects, we sure are. (Having a good time, that is. We are not inanimate objects. Although… [NSFW due to brief, but loud language])
Janelle Monáe, “Dance Apocalyptic”
It only takes one listen to realize that Janelle Monáe’s The Electric Lady shines bright as one of the most diverse, imaginative and altogether joyful records of the year. “Dance Apocalyptic”, the album’s second single, works in zombies, Grease-inspired nonsense and even a Juicy J reference into a breackneck, bubbly tune that practically commands you to get up and boogie. It moves so fast, you’re afraid Monáe might faint if the song ran any longer.
Tomorrow, the songs I cared enough to rank, from #16 to my #1 song of 2013. (Spoiler alert: Daft Punk is involved.)