Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Top 10 Songs of 2013

Previously on our Favorite Song Adventures:

Alas...The Top 10. 
You'd think it would be difficult narrowing down the 10 most essential tracks in such a year, but it was surprisingly cut and dry for me, for the most part. There were many tracks that were "Top 10 worthy," but these ten tracks were the absolutes. The ones that blew me away on first listen, and still deliver after the hundredth time. I was a little surprised how poptimistic my tastes were this year. But it was a good year for mainstream pop, after all.

Most truly great songs have at least one "goosebumps" inducing moment. The singer nails an impossible note, the guitars soar into space or melt your face, or maybe the chorus just knocks your brains down the drain. You find yourself rewinding it just to make sure you really did hear what you think you did. Each of these posses such moments, and they shall be made known.
And here we go...

10. TO THE LAST | James Blake
Mr. Blake does more with very little than most artists do with a lot. He's a genius minimalist of soul and "dub-step" (whatever that means these days). "To The Last" is a representation of everything James Blake does right, the perfect antithesis to the horror vacui of mainstream pop and R&B. And he tops it off with one of the most breathtaking vocal performances of the year. 
Moment of Glory: 34 second mark. Just after Blake opens up with his falsetto to the skies, he brings it back down and the bass drops right with him. Make sure you have proper listening accommodations, kids.

9. TAP OUT | The Strokes
When are people going to stop writing off this band? Sure, their recent albums haven't quite lived up to the early classics. But every time they release an album, I get at least one top ten song out of it. This year, we get the perfect soundtrack to cruisin' in your Ferrari convertible. Every element of this tune is clicking together in perfect harmony. And for the first time in a couple albums, they sound confident in their sound again. Swagger means a lot to this band, after all.
Moment of Glory: 56 second mark. The groove itself was chilling enough, on first listen, but specifically that moment when the guitars roll up and down in unison with surgical precision. Badass.

8. NEW YOU | my bloody valentine
Buddy Greg and I had our own little online listening party to mbv the moment we got a hold of the download (it was pretty late at night). I was a song or two ahead of him, and when I hit track 6, I about wet myself with delight and waited anxiously for Greg to catch up. A hypnotic loop with Belinda Butcher's classically understated voice sounding just like it did 2o years ago. Like the rest of the album, it fits just as perfectly in 2013 as it would have in 1993. Amazing how something so simple is so perfect.  

Moment of Glory: 1:53 mark.  Belinda's angelic sighs fuse into a perfect harmony, then reunite again around the 3:00 minute mark to ride it to the end. I could listen to that last two minutes for an entire album.

7. STRAWBERRY BUBBLEGUM | Justin Timberlake
I usually detest songs with food symbolism. Especially when it leads to awkward innuendo. But something about JT's beeeeauuutifully constructed 8 minutes of "Strawberry Bubblegum" makes complete sense. Perhaps the sensual melody and flawless production  makes up for it. And remembering JT on all those SNL episodes gives it a sly tongue-in-cheek humor. A little bit of all of that. But most of all, it's that second half. I'm a sucker for phenomenal vocal arrangements, and the last few minutes of this one is nothing but. Which reminds me... 

Moment of Glory: 6:16 mark. And all the way to the end. The first time I heard that bit I was pulling in from a drive, and I couldn't help but sit in my car those final few minutes, reveling in the complete bliss that is JT's voice multiplied. (I also thought, "Blueberry lollipop...?)

6. ROYALS | Lorde
One night, my wife leans over and says, "Wanna hear a cool song?" She played this video for me, and I was floored. She claimed she heard it on the radio and my response was "Since when does the radio play something this good?" I was stunned that such a minimal beat, incredible melody, and sharp lyrics could exist in one song and still be a mainstream hit. A few months later, she exploded. I know you've all heard it, and many of you are probably sick of it (which means you listen to the radio too much). But I still think this is one of the best vocal melodies and arrangements I've heard in a long time. I'm interested to see where this kid goes.  

Moment of Glory: around the 1:25 mark (1:46 in linked video). I was already taken by the chorus, but those harmonies in the second verse solidified it for me. Tis magical.
I usually hate ties, but I decided this spot needs to also include mention of her song from the EP of the same name. I was almost as enamored by this one's swirl of harmonies when I first heard it, and think it's better than any other song on her full length debut. So there's that.

5. THE WIRE | Haim
It was almost hard to decide which Haim song I liked the most. Them chicas know how to bust a tune. It came down to "The Wire" because, in the end, this was the one I just could not get out of my head.  I also think it is the quintessential Haim song. All three take turns on lead vocal, it's got the most independently powerful lyrics in an album full of them, and it just rocks all sorts of socks. They make so much better use of that beat than the Eagles did. 

Moment of Glory: about the 21 second mark. The first riff of "Well I know, I know I know, that you're gonna be ok anyway" without any backing instrumentation, and the moment that bass rolls right back in with the damn. That's when I knew this was the sheeyit. 

4. STILL INTO YOU | Paramore
I've tried to hide my respect for Paramore over the years. I secretly loved the hell out of nearly every radio single I've ever heard of theirs, but sometimes felt like maybe that's not something to necessarily be proud of. But the moment I heard this thing I said, "Ah, screw it." Hayley Williams has an amazing set of pipes, and she works them for all they're worth on "Still Into You." The lyrics are simple, sure, but not stupid. And that chorus, sweet sassy molassy, that chorus.
This is a flawless (and harmless) pop masterpiece. It's useless pretending this isn't incredible. So I won't. Just one thing though, Hayley - please grow your bangs back out.
Moment of Glory: 1:53 mark. I love when that second chorus starts up, this time with some great back up harmonies to go along with that insanely epic melody. That's what I'm talkin' about.

3. WHITE NOISE | Disclosure
(feat. AlunaGeorge) 
I was caught off guard when Disclosure dropped on the scene. Somehow I hadn't even noticed the hype surrounding them. When I finally did a little research, I came upon "White Noise." What...the...hell??? It's been awhile since a song by an artist I knew nothing about before hand knocked me on my ass quite like that. I've been craving that early 90's house sound for a few years, and artists like Hercules and Love Affair offered a taste of the old days. But this song is Grade A 100% certified nostalgic beef. Obviously it's contemporary enough to stay fresh, but let's just be honest with ourselves: This sounds an awful lot like 1992. And at the moment, that is a very good thing in my book. 
Moment of Glory: 1:36 mark. That electro-riff carries you along nicely through the first bit, but once that bass drops for the chorus (and the dude starts busting moves in the video), that's when Aluna Francis takes off. Suddenly you're dancing in space.

2. ONLY TOMORROW | my bloody valentine
Let me just mention how hard it is to find a good, modern picture of these guys. I swear they haven't taken a photo in 20 years either (hard to find good youtube clips of their songs too, incidentally). Anyway...

After the soothing opener "She Found Now" fades out, "Only Tomorrow" introduces you to some overdue face melting. It chugs along without a break, looping chords and melodies in typical MBV fashion, while Belinda Butcher tames the beast from within. What Kevin Shields does with these guitars is mesmerizing. The grinding screech of the rhythm sounds like it could take paint off of a wall. In fact, I don't doubt that it probably could if you played it loud enough. And loud is the only way to go, of course. Shield's purposely mixes his songs at a lower volume to give the listener room to raise the roof. So, if you are listening to this song for the first time, just know you probably aren't doing it right unless it hurts a tad. 
Moment of Glory: 1:28 mark. After Belinda finishes her first round at the mic, it sounds like take-off is initiated, and suddenly it all DROPS. The guitars fall, the drums pound and for a full minute (almost exactly), the listener is assaulted by a barrage of distortion and audio sandpaper. And it sounds wonderful.

1. GET LUCKY | Daft Punk
We've all heard this one by now. No need to hash out the details. You know it's amazing. And if you say otherwise, you're lying. Remember where you were the first time you heard those bits shared during SNL? I must've played this one hundreds of times. I was like a kid at Christmas hearing the Bots lay out their return, bit by bit. The marketing was fantastic. Not enough of that these days. The excitement was palpable. When the radio edit finally dropped, I downloaded it around midnight and listened to it on repeat for about an hour or so. I couldn't get enough of it. The album version is even tastier, a little more build, a little more reward. It has never gotten old to me, and is one of the best tunes in a stellar catalog. It is a perfect pop juggernaut, and deserves every bit of it's success this year in conquering the world. And it is my favorite song from one of the best musical years in recent memory. 

Moment of Glory: 2:20 mark (linked radio edit) or 3:26 (album cut). You probably know exactly what this is without tracking to it. The first time I heard those Robots stutter to life on this track, I kept playing it back over and over. It was DAFT PUNK! They were back! I still hear those electric harmonies and get goosebumps.

Well, that's it, kids. I'll be posting my favorite albums over at along with those hooligans. So stay tuned. 

Happy 2014