2013 saw music shared like never before. Whether through advances in music streaming or the nostalgia of vinyl collecting, we fell in love with a new song every day. Each year carries its own one-hit-wonders. And each year has its own irresistible heart-wrenchers, epic anthems and guilty pleasures. But which tunes rose above the din to earn a place in our hearts and on our annual compilation?
40. Upset – “You and I”
“You and I” is everything Upset stands to be: the spunk of Vivian Girls and the carefree beach vibes of La Sera and Best Coast. Upset mixes them with ease against the snarls of Hole in their heyday.
39. SISU – “Cut Me Off”
Putting her Dum Dum drums aside, Sandra Vu whines and pleads her way through this infectious piece of post punk.
38. Girls Against Boys – “It’s a Diamond Life”
The song has a great heavy rhythm section, with a very prominent baseline. The song has that perfect rough around the edge feel, that is typical in a punk song.
37. The Joy Formidable – “A Minute’s Silence”
For such a stripped down arrangement, The Joy Formidable gives an uncannily full sound. Like a cabaret turning point in a Chekhov play, “A Minute’s Silence” marries Ryuichi Sakamoto-inspired ivory tickling with Kate Bush-esque songcrafting, and it works beautifully.
36. Kate Nash – “OHMYGOD”
“OHMYGOD” sounds like what the Pixies would have sounded like if Kim was a wee bit more cynical and English. Kate Nash could make a Chinese menu sound like a hit.
35. Ghost B.C. – “Year Zero”
Unlike so many others with similar symbolic lyrics and undertones, Ghost’s “Year Zero” is a melodic delivery of an old and cherished ceremony. An antichrist’s Sunday stroll, “Year Zero” is meant to summon and amaze.
34. Boards of Canada – “Reach for the Dead”
If the weird indie film Rubber taught us anything, it’s that inanimate objects are people too. Boards of Canada’s first IDM single in forever suggests a harmonium cheating death—manufactured life-support breathing, heaving and moaning recovery, and ultimately a staccato feel-good montage.
33. Daft Punk – “Lose Yourself to Dance”
The other summer single from Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, “Lose Yourself to Dance,” is just as catchy, yet more of a Sunday afternoon jam, compared to the up-all-night party of “Get Lucky.”
32. Pharrell Williams – “Happy”
Pharrell William’s funky pop song, “Happy” off of Universal Pictures’ Despicable Me 2: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, caught more than just your niece’s attention. Williams accomplished, yet again, another catchy, fun and upbeat track that could get anyone dancing. Don’t feel like dancing? Check out 24hoursofhappy.com and witness a 24 hour music video for the single.
Marisa Rose Ficara
31. The Avett Brothers – “Morning Song”
“Morning Song” is exceptional because it contains zero flash, and solidly maintains the beauty of raw and simple folk music. Acoustic wins again.
30. Savages – “Shut Up”
Women stormed through punk this year. The UK post-punk group awakened our spirits this year with “Shut Up” leading the attack. It’s impossible not to feel empowered with a bassline like this.
29. M83 – “Oblivion”
It isn’t hard imagining some Tom Cruise hijinks taking place behind this one. “Oblivion” is M83’s soaring score for the titular movie. It’s a huge, epic, start-and-stop production featuring the considerable vocal talents of Norwegian singer/songwriter Susanne Sundfør. A potent drum line and an orchestral tone cement “Oblivion” as the year’s best background song for cinematic explosions.
28. How to destroy angels_ – “Ice Age”
The first LP from Trent Reznor’s side project with wife Mariqueen Maandig expands and pushes forward the efforts of their previous two EPs. “Ice Age” is an almost entirely organic-sounding track from the digital auteur. Muted guitar and piano notes are plucked and woven together as a sweetly off-kilter basis for Maandig’s breathy close-whispered lyrics about the end of a love. Soon the peace is shattered by the drones in a destructive dissolve. But it was so pretty while it lasted.
27. HAIM – “Falling”
“Falling” kicks off one of the best albums of 2013, Haim’s Days Are Gone. What makes “Falling” great is the dextrous but delicate combination of the greasy yacht rock of Hall and Oates and the flowery guitar-driven pop of Buckingham and Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac. Basically, the song rocks as much as it grooves.
26. Maximum Hedrum – “Keep in Touch”
With the help of a remarkably touching music video-– and the one, the only George Clinton-– Maximum Hedrum’s “Keep In Touch” became a song spilling with positive, funkified energy. Electro touches sharpened it into a relentlessly awesome track that never leaves you.
25.Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Despair”
“Despair” opens on an empty sonic room filled by Karen O’s haunting vocals. Snappy percussion work picks up the track as electronic ambience and electric guitars are added, bolstering the increasingly apparent confidence in Karen’s vocals which eventually layer into something approaching happiness. This progression in moods is as natural feeling as it is gorgeous.
24. Pixies – “Bagboy”
“Bagboy” is a revamped throwback of a track packing in the essentials of the Pixies. Frontman Black Francis sounds just as confident as he did throwing down for Doolittle. Add to that a video rolling at a breakneck speed and you’ve got the Pixies full speed ahead.
23. Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood – “Black Pudding”
This collaborative song appeared on a 12-track album of the same name. “Black Pudding” is an instrumental masterpiece that is no less than what fans of Lanegan and Garwood might have expected of the collaboration. Throughout the track, the guitar parts are played at different paces but never clash chaotically.
22. Arctic Monkeys – “Arabella”
An ode to a cosmic woman who’s a slinkier sonic cousin to Ram Jam’s “Black Betty,” “Arabella” is just one after-midnight track from Arctic Monkey’s excellent album AM. Alex Turner delivers a teasing vocal while the band plays with careful restraint on the verses to make the cutting chorus burst with a dance-rock hip-swing.
21. Vampire Weekend – “Diane Young”
Infectious, upbeat staccato synths and driving, jouncy percussion punctuated with jaunty hand-claps characterize Vampire Weekend’s punny single “Diane Young.” With a retro flair, raw, surfy guitars and funky pulsing bass, this is easily one of the band’s catchiest, most fun songs to date, despite its laissez-faire, James Dean-attitude towards mortality.
20. Dillinger Escape Plan – “One of Us is the Killer”
“One of Us is the Killer” is a song that is true to Dillinger’s Mathcore style. Mathcore is a genre with strong dissonant sound, which is incredibly predominant in this particular song. The title is also fitting as the song is dark and speaks a lot about death, and murder.
19. Corrections House – “Run Through the Night”
Whatever you might expect from a contemporary heavy metal supergroup is the opposite of what you get from Corrections House. Curtains open on a wall of sound with “Pinball Wizard” guitars and heavy fuzz with spaghetti western horns bringing up the rear. Vocals emerge halfway between a croon and a growl. The whole scene burns up into white noise, and you haven’t heard a single drum kick all the while. Epic isn’t the right word. What would happen if The Who crashed their tour-bus into Ennio Morricone’s orchestra in the middle of the desert with John Cale’s flaming corpse strapped to the windshield? “Run Through the Night.”
18. Arcade Fire – “Reflektor”
After The Suburbs came out in 2010, everyone wondered how Arcade Fire would follow up such a mature, stately record. This year they surprised us with Reflektor and its eponymous single, eschewing the ultra-serious for a groovy, danceable beat with sultry bass, subtle sax flourishes, the band’s signature bilingual vocals, courtesy of Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, and a guest appearance from David Bowie. “Reflektor” shows Arcade Fire have come a long way since the folk-stomping days of Funeral—delving into electronica and even letting themselves get goofy, inventing a fake band and wearing giant bobble-heads—and that’s not a bad thing.
17. The Uncluded – “Delicate Cycle”
The Uncluded, brainchild of Aesop Rock and singer-songwriter Kimya Dawson, created the song “Delicate Cycle,” a fusion of jangly guitar and folk vocals, tied together with a steady beat. Aesop Rock’s flow through the song intertwines with Kimya’s folk-style voice to narrate a story about growing up. The song will grow on you and in no time you too will be singing “My whole life is a delicate cycle… delicate cycle…”
16. Nine Inch Nails – “Find My Way”
Trent Reznor is in an interesting position with Nine Inch Nails. He could likely tour the “hits” for the remainder of his days and have a career of it. But rather than phone it in, he continues putting out work that may not get the radio play of older tunes but arguably surpasses them. After the puzzling fun of “Everything,” “Find My Way” is stronger, touching on uplifting, but with a perfect sinister element that is unmistakably NIN. The beat is infectious, and the build is perfect. Besides, who can’t relate to “I’m just trying to find my way”?
15. Chelsea Wolfe – “The Warden”
Chelsea Wolfe might be the best face of discordant, droning music the genre has seen yet. While Swans and Jarboe (who Wolfe bears an obvious comparison in vocal and lyrical style) were unappreciated trailblazers, Wolfe cements the connection between forward-thinking, abrasive songcraft with the a strong knack for mysterious intrigue. There’s just enough serene beauty to keep fans coming back for the pain. Here on “The Warden” Wolfe is all ghostly sighs, while a pitter patter of synths and syncopated percussion flutter about. While spooky and uncompromising, there is an unexpected undercurrent of optimism to the track’s delivery. One such that leaves you wondering where she stands: in love with the pain, or unafraid of it.
14. The Bronx – “Youth Wasted”
Few things are as satisfying as a kickass punk song with a pop melody. That’s what The Bronx accomplish on “Youth Wasted”—no— they knock it out of the park. Besides some classic power chords, the topic is one to which anyone can relate. Whether you’re still going through it or you think you’ve already crossed the finish line, the process of maturing (or trying to) is one without any clear guidelines. As frontman Matt Caughthran sings, “Repetition makes us colder / Death creeps a little bit closer / Sometimes the best laid plans / Still end with blood on your hands.”
13. Arctic Monkeys – “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”
Lucky number 13 on our list goes to Arctic Monkeys’ “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High.” Their entire new album AM feeds into the heart of what is relevant and needed in rock and roll today, without fail– but “Why’d…” can hold a special place in every fan’s heart because it tells a story that most singles often experience. With mild psychedelic elements, the best part of the song is the blunt lyrics explaining the frustration of unrequited romances. It is a short, sweet, and catchy track that the album absolutely needs to keep the mood light, yet pertinent.
12. Queens of the Stone Age – “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”
The sludgy standout from their sixth album …Like Clockwork, “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” continues the legacy of Queens in a big way. Josh Homme and company confidently trudge and stomp through this eerie and tensed piece of rock. The guitars switch between concerted thunks and blasts of psychedelic distortion, while the soon to depart drums of Joey Castillo keep things steady underneath. A lot of turmoil and personal uncertainty went into making the album, and in more ways than one this track seems to provide a most excellent artistic catharsis for the carnival emotions that went into making the record.
11. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Sacrilege”
Ready for a bit of gospel? “Sacrilege” starts off gently, with only some shouted, distorted snippets to hint at what it eventually builds to. But, like many other songs from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the song builds, eventually turning into an a capella colossus, featuring Karen O and a full cast of background singers. A devastatingly intense accompanying video further explores the themes of persecution and hypocrisy that the song hints at – it’s well done, but certainly not for the faint of heart. As is often the case with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, reading a lyrics sheet won’t get you very far, but the subtle build of tone and emotion makes for a rewarding listen.
10. Ólafur Arnalds – “This Place Was A Shelter”
When one hears word that multi-instrumentalist, Olafur Arnalds first began as a drummer in a metal band, disbelief most likely follows. Arnalds’ song “This Place Was A Shelter” off his album For Now I am Winter, ranks in as number 10 on MXDWN’s Top Songs from 2013 and for good reason. It creates a powerful connection between Arnalds’ song “This Place Is A Shelter” off the album Living Room Songs which in turn is in fact a response to the song itself. The song’s chilling composition merges delicately with the soaring strings and ominous beats of the luminous pianos. It touches on the idea of how a home that was once a safe place, one’s comfort zone can easily become the complete opposite. Arnalds’ use of neo-classism and subtle use of sampling from modern dubstep influences creates a song that will open your mind apart from one’s ears.
Marisa Rose Ficara
9. Laura Marling – “Master Hunter”
“Master Hunter” is one of the high points of Marling’s Once I Was an Eagle. Completely at home amongst songs that depict a significant transitional period, this one is a strong declaration of what she does and does not want out of her relationships. It’s impressive that she performed all of her vocals and guitar work in one take, nowhere does she sound unintentional or insincere. This particular song features some really beefy, open-tuned acoustic riffing and frugal drumming to carry Marling’s calm, steady drawl. The power in this song lies in the lyrics where she reaffirms to herself and the world her ability to accept only what she wants and to change in the ways to which the future compels her.
8. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “Jubilee Street”
“Jubilee Street,” the second single from Nick Cave’s Push the Sky Away, is an intense alternative rock song, both instrumentally and lyrically. It has a haunting quality, with Nick Cave singing lyrics like “She had a history, but no past” and “I got a fetus on a leash” in his deep voice. The complementary guitar and strings, though in the background, stand out in their own right as an important part of the tune. It is somewhat reminiscent of a Velvet Underground song with strong violin parts. “Jubilee Street” is a narrative, slow but steady, of contrasting ideas and feelings, which is part of what makes it so powerful. The Bad Seeds may have been making music for over three decades – Push the Sky Away is their 15th studio album – but they have no problem finding new sources of inspiration and progressive sounds.
7. Junip – “Line of Fire”
6. Jack White – “Coal Miner’s Daughter”
Just in case Jack White hadn’t earned enough roots respect in the past ten years, he recorded a cover of Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter” in a tiny booth in his Third Man Records shop in Nashville. The booth was created in honor of Record Store Day 2013—anyone can now walk in to the shop and record herself straight to vinyl.
Needless to say, White’s intimate twangy track went viral. Lo-fi, rough and soulful, the barely-two-minute gem is what White would sound like if Alan Lomax found him in the Appalachian mountains in 1945. Thankfully, he’s done nothing but thrive since The White Stripes. As Record Store Ambassador, White continues to support the historical, narrative and personal nature of American roots music and shows no signs of stopping.
The fact that a classic tune like this is being shared all over the world is a testament to the vitality of country music and gives audiences a fresh look at what they may consider a lost genre.
5. The Uncluded – “The Aquarium”
Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson make an interesting pair and with “Aquarium,” these two demonstrate how well their differences can be incorporated together to make a phenomenal song. “Aquarium” showcases both artists’ penchants for unusual lyrics. “Brand name spawn slaughter Este Lauder college funds” and “Exploding in a chip and soda coma” are just two of the gems plucked from this wordy lyric sheet.
Instrumentally, the title song has several elements, one of which is a muted guitar that at times can be mistaken for a chugging train. The mix of hip hop/folk may seem like unlikely bedfellows, but Dawson and Aesop have been known to do weirder things. By the end, the two genres are seamlessly morphed into a truly unique experience. As the pair’s first go around together, there leaves a lot to wonder what this duo could create after having an even longer bond.
“Please don’t tap on the glass”– these six simple words in the chorus will be stuck in your head for days to come. Interpretations are always hard to come by when it pertains to this duo, but one thing you are left knowing is that tapping on the glass is something you really should not do.
4. How to destroy angels_ – “We Fade Away”
While it’s common for new husbands and wives to share long-dormant secrets and turn each other on to mutual interests, despite their public images we rarely get a glimpse into how famous artist couples manage the same feats, especially those who work together. On this track from Welcome Oblivion—a dangerous grower of an album, The Blob sampled and remixed—we’re fortunate enough to find Trent Reznor imparting to his spouse/frontwoman Mariqueen Maandig one of his go-to Nine Inch Nails lyrical strategies: the two or three words that slowly, slyly shift from line to line for maximum angst. “Big time, hard line, bad luck, fist fuck,” “Find you, taste you, fuck you,” “Bleeding and breeding and feeding,” “I am just a copy… just a shadow… just a finger on a trigger”—anger isn’t just an energy, it’s gold, Jerry!
In the hands of HTDA, by default an outfit with softer focus than NIN, this work looks at lost identity rather than anything outwardly violent or morbid. The Maandig-Reznor mantra is buttressed by a slowly shifting, expertly handled palette of sounds obviously influenced by Reznor and Atticus Ross’ soundtrack work, reinforcing the internal mysteries. A beep like a radio beacon morphs into faint piano. Bridge lyrics feel like secret messages, muffled to sound as though they were being sung two rooms away. The song ultimately propels forward with a minute left, but only to leave behind digitized ghosts and elephantine guitar for claustrophobic, swirling clouds of melody. It’s a song with messages fitting not just for inquisitive listeners but for the band itself, in light of other listeners who throw shade at HTDA as NIN-lite: Who are we, and where are we really headed?
3. Daft Punk – “Get Lucky”
Daft Punk deserve a round of applause and the kind of high fives reserved only for the flyest of robots. Coming back with their first album in eight years, the French duo showed zero reluctance to just go ahead and supply us with the song that would keep us dancing all year. “Get Lucky” matched the retro strums of Chic’s Niles Rodgers with the modern falsetto groove of Pharrell, then dazzled itself up even further with a fine selection of futurized synth beats. And so it only felt right that this combination of decades past, present and future opened with the lyrics “Like the legend of the phoenix / All ends with beginnings.” Such a time-spanning masterpiece also managed to appeal to just about anyone, despite it’s other, slightly more risque lyrical encouragement to stay out all night and hook up. So thank you for coming back to us, Daft Punk, and crafting yet another quintessential tune to accentuate our good times.
2. Queens of the Stone Age – “I Sat by the Ocean”
“I Sat by the Ocean,” which is the second track off the Queens of the Stone Age’s 2013 album, …Like Clockwork. The song comes in at 3:55, and follows a very standard rock-song form with a rhythm focused intro, verse, chorus, solo, repeat, and an outro. Although the rhythm section remains prominent throughout the song, it is mostly the drums and rhythm guitar, rather than the bass. The lead guitar line shines in the intro and solo, but during the verses falls into the rhythm line as well. The song is simple to the ear, which leads to a very catchy tune. Plus, with the addition of melodic and understandable lyrics, the tune is also quite easy to sing along with.
“I Sat by the Ocean” can easily be recognized as a Queens of the Stone Age tune, due to Joshua Homme’s vocals and strong use of guitar slides. The slider is only used in the intro and solo, but gives the sound a more fluid tone than the defined strum of the verses and choruses. Homme also manages to reach the top of his vocal range, although the majority of the song stays within his vocal sweet spot.
1. Nine Inch Nails – “Copy of a”
Hesitation Marks was Trent Reznor’s somewhat unexpected return to his Nine Inch Nails moniker after spending some time away working as a justifiably lauded soundtrack composer (The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and with How to destroy angels_. In some ways, the record served as a return to form. “Copy of a” doesn’t sound all that different than many of the tracks on Pretty Hate Machine. The differences that do exist, however, highlight how Reznor has matured as an artist. His vocals are less rooted in the snarling misanthropy that marked so much of his earlier oeuvre and have settled into resonant yet somewhat heady baritone. The production is also more subtle, Reznor’s soundtrack work clearly having honed his sense of controlling dynamics, layering electronic instrumentation, and using effects and processing.
The soundscape is no less ambitious than his work on Pretty Hate Machine, but if The Downward Spiral signaled growth by embracing the grating abrasive potential of circuit bending, dying transistors and distortion, then “Copy of a” signals growth. It demonstrates Reznor’s ability to tone those elements down and place them within the mix as evocative hints, nuanced sonic clues that barely hint at the pathos beneath the surface. The glitchy hitches in the melody, the compressed high frequency drones, and solid-state buzz no longer punch the listener in the mouth but wash in and out of the mix, anchored to the Trans Europe Express-era Kraftwerk drums and percussion and the harmonic anchor of processed synthesizer lines and filtered synth pads.
“Copy of a” is the sound of an artist that no longer needs the bombastic or provocative to push boundaries and has instead learned that in pushing himself to grow, learn and mature as an artist; his music has the capability to push itself to new places even in familiar terrain.