The 75 Best Songs of 2013

by PopMatters Staff

3 January 2014


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Neko Case

On a largely staid and pensive album, “Man” is where Neko Case is able to just fucking let loose. Thrust forward by drums that gallop like a mustang herd and M. Ward’s caffeine-jittering guitar licks, Case projects a character fueled by righteous ire and a declaration of self that bursts from being stifled for so long. Whether the narrator is a transgender woman or a male who doesn’t live up to macho stereotypes is up to the listener, but either way, in the vehicle of Case’s inimitable voice and scathing lyrics, the figure is a confrontational badass, shedding his or her identity crisis amid this middle-finger waving anthem.  Cole Waterman



Kanye West
“Black Skinhead”

The opening 20 seconds of “Black Skinhead”—the wolves-are-coming riff, drums and Marilyn Manson quote—might be the aural representation of Yeezus’ ethos. The sounds are indelible, but Kanye West‘s breathless, unhinged, slightly deranged rhymes steal their thunder. Emulating and commenting on the idea of black man, and black superstar, and Kanye the egoist, as “menace”, he’s “getting his scream on”, as he puts it, but also introducing the God/King/Demon persona that drives the album. (Even in this setting he can’t keep from throwing in bad puns/jokes, keeping alive the idea of Kanye as stand-up comedian.) Musically, the song well-represents the build-up/rip down approach he took to the album. There are nearly 20 names credited with writing or producing the song, but there’s just one name on the marquee, and he likes it that way. Dave Heaton




Call me the chest-beating, hair-rending, existential angst-ridden type, but news headlines can bring me to tears. Tales of suffering, past and present, creep up to my bed in shadowy form at 2.30AM and sit heavily beside me. Surely such tales haunt Bastille’s Dan Smith, as well. Eros and Thanatos, libido and mortido serve as the sonic flames and shadows in “Pompeii”, the moving song that has propelled this talented band to fame. Indeed, with its gorgeous, primal chorus, “Pompeii” could be an anthem for the regenerative spirit of humankind, albeit an anthem sung amidst the rubble of our sins. In a mere three and a half minutes, “Pompeii” gives us much-needed, heart-pumping optimism. Karen Zarker


cover art

John Newman


John Newman
“Love Me Again”

On an album full of stadium-sized stunners, “Love Me Again” was the song that broke massive in the UK and also the tune that says “John Newman” better than any other. Full of passion, wicked beats and sublime vocals, it’s the best dance and R&B song of the year. Imploring his former girlfriend to “Love Me Again”, Newman draws deep from his inner Otis Redding to illustrate his heartbreak. It draws from classic Stax-style southern soul married to contemporary British dance music. The story is timeless, everyone can relate, and you dance yourself up to a full sweat in the four-minute run-time. If you doubt that British dance/R&B is the greatest flowering of new music in 2013, then “Love Me Again” will convince you otherwise. Sarah Zupko



Daft Punk
“Get Lucky”

It became one of the most indelible images of 2013: four silhouettes backed by a blazing sunrise. The corresponding soundtrack, however, is what set the music universe on fire. A hybrid of classic and contemporary dance music sensibilities, “Get Lucky” kept the world “up all night” for the better part of 2013. The question wasn’t “who’s heard the new Daft Punk single” but “who hasn’t?” In the second decade of the 21st century, only a few songs reach the level of ubiquity that “Get Lucky” achieved this year. The reason for that is more than luck. It’s the individuals behind those four shadows: Daft Punk members Thomas Bangalter (guitar) and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (drums), Pharrell Williams, and Nile Rodgers. Pharrell might ask “What is this I’m feeling?” but we all know. It’s the most infectious groove of the year. Christian John Wikane

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