The 75 Best Songs of 2013

From the electro-dance of Daft Punk, Disclosure and Rudimental and the boundary-pushing R&B of Janelle Monae and John Newman to the warm sounds of Americana blossoming into the hippest sounds in American music and the always-compelling Kanye West, PopMatters counts down 2013's 75 best songs.

Artist: Courtney Barnett

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/c/courtney_barnett_avant_gardener.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 75

Display Width: 200Courtney Barnett
“Avant Gardener”

On the breathless, stream-of-consciousness psych-folk number “Avant Gardener”, Courtney Barnett lets you more into the world of a 20-something Aussie slacker than you ever thought you’d want to be. Yet you never feel it’s a case of TMI with someone who’s as natural and witty a songwriter as Barnett is, as you follow her on a surreal chain of events that makes up her day-to-day. Establishing herself as a sympathetic protagonist, Barnett endears herself by confiding her guilt about her lazy ways, especially waking up late and letting her yard grow into a state of disrepair that makes it look like “we run a meth lab”. Yet her efforts to clean up her garden — and her life — culminate with Barnett in anaphylactic shock, worrying about hospital debt and comparing asthma inhalers to bongs as her mind wanders in the back of an ambulance. In the end, though, what stands out about “Avant Gardener” is that its narrative is as engaging as it is off the beaten path, that Barnett is able to make a connection even when she’s lost in her head. img-1064 Arnold Pan


Artist: Bibio

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/b/bibio.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 74

Display Width: 200

“A Tout a L’heure”

I don’t know much about Bibio‘s work with Boards of Canada, nor his solo work. In fact before “A Tout a L’heure”, I didn’t know much at all about Bibio. A true testament to musical craftsmanship is the ability to pull in audiences from all directions and have them feel the every being of your prowess in an unbelievably addictive song. With it’s looped arpeggio acoustic guitars, hypnotic vocal treatments, and overlaying synthesizers, “A Tout a l’heure” could literally play on a continuous loop for hours and you would never mind and never want it to end. img-1064 Enio Chiola


Artist: Mikal Cronin

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/m/mikal-cronin-mcii-608×608.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 73

Display Width: 200

Mikal Cronin

From the piano intro to the hushed finish and all the climactic moments in between, there were few songs from 2013 that resonated as strongly as “Weight”. Creating genuinely emotive pop isn’t an easy task and several artists have failed miserably in their attempts at it. Mikal Cronin released a record full of them using “Weight” as the introduction. “Weight” itself boasts a soaring vocal recalling power-pop’s heyday and utilizes a vast array of other pop influences spanning back several decades. MCII‘s most thrilling moment will soundtrack a lot more summers than just the one it helped define. img-1064 Steven Spoerl


Artist: J. Cole

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/j/j-cole-crooked-smile.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 72

Display Width: 200

J. Cole feat. TLC
“Crooked Smile”

That TLC are featured on the hook should be a news headline, but they’re not why this song was a hit. J. Cole takes the same quality he’s criticized for — an unshowy style — and sneaks his way into something deeper. He starts riffing on his own crooked teeth and pressure to cover them up with gold, before realizing his audience members are women who are under worse pressure from the beauty industry to fit an unrealistic mold. So he apologizes to them and proclaims his understanding That leads him thinking more broadly, though, so in the last verse he glides into another thesis: America’s got a crooked smile that’s unfixable. It’s stunning, how carefully constructed the song is, while seeming like casual thoughts. img-1064 Dave Heaton


Artist: Butterclock

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/b/butterclock.png

Display as: List

List number: 71

Display Width: 200


In the endearingly kitschy video for “Holograms” — the highlight of Butterclock’s promising début EP –- singer Laura Clock carries the appearance of a hoody ‘n’ bubblegum, doe-eyed but knuckle tough Mariah Carey relocated to the backstreets. A Pariah Carey if you like. But scratch beneath the knowing, ‘VHS and Adidas’ pouting ‘n’ posturing and there lurks a potentially brilliant, perverse pop star waiting to crack some skulls and bring da ruckus. The haunting “Holograms” is divine, ‘orbiting-genius’ pop. A melting pot of ’60s girl group melodies, atmospheric electronics and B-girl beats. It’s sassy, cool and you can dance to it but it’s the melancholic ache that cuts deep into your soul. One suspects Butterclock may prove too contrarily elusive to fully embrace her pop destiny but on the evidence of “Holograms” she should really storm the palace. img-1064 Matt James


Artist: Young Jeezy

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/j/jeezy-rip.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 70

Display Width: 200

Young Jeezy ft. 2 Chainz

DJ Mustard opened his second big year with this mixtape beat, a minimal masterpiece. There’s barely any drums! Just a synth handclap, three glockenspiel notes, a squelchy bassline, and some fist pumping shouts of “HEY!” Sounding like the lowest common denominator of crunk and hyphy, this beat convinced a bunch of people to hop aboard remixes and harness its sinister Rorschach powers. And voila! E-40 sounded even more hilarious, Chris Brown sounded even more like a gay-baiting asshole, and the Yard Down Muzik crew sounded worth knowing. But the stars of the beat remain good old reliable Jeezy and 2 Chainz, the latter of whom warns, “You might need a giraffe when you was counting this cash.” I’m guessing the giraffe would just start eating the cash, but WHATEVER. img-1064 Josh Langhoff


Artist: Rhye

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/r/rhye_open.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 69

Display Width: 200


Rhye‘s vocalist, Mike Milosh, is impressively soft. In any other case, this would be an insult to someone’s masculinity, but here, I mean it as the upmost compliment. I am, of course, referring to his voice, often getting compared to Sade (Robin Hannibal’s arrangements further this). In comparison to say Roxy Music’s crooner Bryan Ferry, who also made sexy music for people to have sex to (see: “More Than This”), Milosh isn’t decadent. Sure, “Open” starts with “I’m a fool for the shake in your thighs”, but the chorus features pleading lines like “I know your faded / But stay, don’t close your eyes” set to his incredibly vulnerable voice. It’s as sensual as it is sexual; a song that celebrates love as much as it celebrates making love, and frankly, the world needs more of those. img-1064 Marshall Gu


Artist: The Knife

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/k/knife-full-of-fire.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 68

Display Width: 200

The Knife
“Full of Fire”

Shaking the Habitual didn’t make its length work for it the way, say, Swans’ The Seer did, but it was probably the album the Knife needed to make, and really only a few tracks felt aimless. Luckily they didn’t release those ones as singles. “Full of Fire” is the Swedish duo operating at full strength. There are few nine-minute abrasive, abstract synth jams that are this catchy and few songs this catchy of any length that so convincingly grapple with sonic and political abstraction. The Knife want to talk about gender, narratives, agency, permission, morals, desire, and much more besides. But as long as you’re participating, you might as well dance while you’re doing it. img-1064 Ian Mathers


Artist: ÁLI

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/a/alicocoon.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 67

Display Width: 200


In May of this year, Danish-Canadian electropop artist ÁLI released one of the most stylistically-inventive dance songs I’ve encountered in ages. I’ve been waiting a long time for a musician to successfully bridge the worlds of opera and pop music, and do so in a manner that isn’t cringeworthy. “Cocoon” is that glorious exception, and one of the first recorded instances I can recall, where a vocalist was able to switch between their classical technique and a legit pop voice, and make it sound effortlessly seamless. The song deserves a wider audience and that stunning voice begs to be heard. Download it, give it to your local DJ, crank it up on the dance floor and bathe in the euphoric brilliance of one of the year’s most infectious choruses. img-1064 Ryan Lathan


Artist: Phoenix

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/p/phoenix-bankrupt-entertainment.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 66

Display Width: 200


Phoenix have never been a band to shy away from big sounds. And in 2013, it didn’t get much bigger than the first single off Bankrupt, “Entertainment” The standout track on a mediocre (for Phoenix standards) album, “Entertainment” twisted an Eastern riff and meshed it with the deafening bass and drum combo the popped bigger than a Chinese firework display. Singer/showman Thomas Mars adds the needed exclamation mark to punch up the band’s message, in case the roar of the keyboards didn’t transmit it well enough: we are here for you, the fans, and we have no problems inhabiting the roles of life-size popstars. If only the rest of the album had followed suit. img-1064 Scott Elingburg

65 – 56

Artist: Johnnyswim

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/j/johnnyswim-heart_beats.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 65

Display Width: 200Johnnyswim
“Heart Beats”

In less than 12 months, Johnnyswim duo Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano Ramirez traveled a swift but circuitous path from Prairie Home Companion to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Even more remarkable, they navigated the journey without compromising the uniqueness of their talent. “Heart Beats” is the duo’s breakthrough single, a perfect fusion of words and music. The song’s galloping pulse generates a genuine excitement as Sudano unveils the melody. Ramirez leads a spellbinding sequence in the bridge, imbuing the lyrics with a mighty ardor. On “Heart Beats”, or whenever they take the stage, Johnnyswim reset the bar in songs that seize the heart and feed the soul. img-1065 Christian John Wikane


Artist: Nico Vega

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/n/nico_vega_beast.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 64

Display Width: 200

Nico Vega

A lot of people heard this Nico Vega song on ads for Bioshock: Infinite, one of the most anticipated video games of the year. While the ads were indeed effective, they were helped exponentially by this firecracker of a rock song, all raging id and pummeling guitar chords as singer Aja Volkman unleashes volatile tirades in her full-throttle roar. Make no mistake: this is the best song on their EP by a wide margin, but really, when you write a rock song this perfect, what else could one ask for from a band? img-1065 Evan Sawdey


Artist: The Icarus Line

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/t/the_icarus_line_-_slave_vows_.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 63

Display Width: 200

The Icarus Line
“Don’t Let Me Save Your Soul”

To put it succinctly, the Icarus Line‘s “Don’t Let Me Save Your Soul” is the sound of deep-seated fears erupting into fruition. The opening chug of the guitar mimics the dread-laden footfalls down a basement staircase. The higher-end squalls simulate the paranoia of the descent. Joe Cardamone’s whispery vocals seduce you down the hole, offering an attempt to conquer that of which you’re afraid. When the affair detonates with distorted riffing, clamorous drums, electric-sparking keys and rabid caterwauling, it dawns on you that you’re in over your head. By the end, you realize whatever understanding you thought you had of your trepidation was merely skimming the surface. img-1065 Cole Waterman


Artist: Thee Oh Sees

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/t/thee-oh-sees.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 62

Display Width: 200

Thee Oh Sees
“Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster”

John Dwyer helmed San Francisco outfit Thee Oh Sees have been the darlings of the international garage-psych scene for years now, and their reign remained undisputed with “Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster” from Floating Coffin. With Dwyer’s falsetto incomprehensibly buried under reverb, the breezy vocal sound ends up playing the counterpart to a raunchy strut of a riff and shaker beat. There is a playfulness in the little squiggles Dwyer plucks from his guitar, frolicking with the sweet vocals, contrasted by the brooding lead and snarl of distortion that bookends the track. Dwyer’s guitar tone is so warm and fuzzy, you could knit it into a sweater and give it to grandma. This is a perfect example of how to maintain intensity, even as you slow down the tempo. img-1065 Alan Ranta


Artist: The White Mandingos

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/t/the_white_mandingos_my_first_white_girl.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 61

Display Width: 200

The White Mandingos
“My First White Girl”

The White Mandingos put their cards face up on the table when they made “My First White Girl”, an unflinching song about an interracial relationship, the lead single of their debut album. Full of carefully constructed couplets and set against a backdrop of droning bass and guitar fuzz, “My First White Girl” is a pot that bubbles and simmers but never boils over. In less expert hands, the music would have overwhelmed the lyrics, or worse, the whole track would have become one-dimensional, trading on stereotypes for a quick laugh. Luckily, the Mandingos do neither. They play it serious with just a touch of wryness and, in doing so, capture the fraught intersection of race and sex relations in America. img-1065 Adam Finley


Artist: Suede

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/s/suedebloodsports.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 60

Display Width: 200

“It Starts and Ends with You”

Suede‘s first single in 10 years made up for lost time by sounding like a great misplaced outtake from 1996’s Coming Up sessions. While throwback moves can sometimes scream of audience servicing “just play the hits”, behaviour, “It Starts and Ends with You” is so effervescent that all reservations dissolve with the first utterances of Brett Anderson’s eternally fey voice. The song’s wealth of glam pizazz, its monumental chorus that gets bigger with every repetition, and keyboardist and guitarist Neil Codling’s soul-slaying stare in the accompanying video all result in a sense of release that is perennial in pop music but has felt long dormant in the meantime. img-1065 Maria Schurr


Artist: The Head and the Heart

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/t/theheadandtheheart.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 59

Display Width: 200

The Head and the Heart
“Another Story”

Let’s Be Still, the ambitious sophomore release from Seattle’s the Head and the Heart, is packed with lovely folk-rock songs, but “Another Story” achieves a liftoff unlike any other. Written in response to the Newtown tragedy, singer Jonathan Russell declares “I don’t want no music tonight”. Certainly, it sometimes feels that art can offer no fitting response to appalling horror. But then Russell’s falsetto soars over the band’s elegant waves of piano, violin, and percussion to ask, “Can we go on like it once was?” Perhaps not, but the band is able to fuse distress, outrage, love, and resolve beautifully enough to gently suggest that a song can play some part in healing after all. img-1065 Steve Leftridge


Artist: John Grant

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/j/john-grant-gmf.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 58

Display Width: 200

John Grant

John Grant beats himself up frequently over the course of his second album Pale Green Ghosts, so in “GMF” it’s refreshing to hear him describe himself, against a backdrop of soaring strings, as “the greatest motherfucker that you’re ever gonna meet”. Sure, he’s also self critical in this song, but when he runs through his flaws it feels more like sober assessment than tortured despair. There’s black humour too, such as when he suggests exhuming Richard Burton’s corpse to star in the movie version of his life. A heartfelt confessional song by a man torn between loving and hating himself. img-1065 Alan Ashton-Smith


Artist: Eminem

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/e/emlp.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 57

Display Width: 200

“Bad Guy”

By creating a sequel to “Stan”, Eminem took the risk of tarnishing the legacy of one of his most celebrated tracks. The opening to Eminem’s latest album came as a shock. It wasn’t surprising just because it existed, but because it was actually a great song. The story of Matthew Mitchell is nearly as captivating as the tale of his older brother, and it also gives Eminem a platform for self-analysis as he picks apart his flaws through the eyes of a crazed fan. The storytelling on “Bad Guy” goes to show why Em is one of the best to ever do it. img-1065 Logan Smithson


Artist: The Vaccines

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/t/the-vaccines-melody-calling.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 56

Display Width: 200

The Vaccines
“Melody Calling”

With two albums in two years, the Vaccines had explored post-punk and cowpunk, and done a pretty good job at both. But they always insisted they were just a pop group at heart, and “Melody Calling” finally proved it. Wistful guitars recalled the Smiths and, as a real treat, indie legends Felt. A clean, two-tiered chorus was pure bliss, and the Vaccines’ trademark energy was there in the steady, propulsive rhythm. There are few things as exhilarating as a promising band squeezing itself out of a pigeonhole, and succeeding. Congratulations, Vaccines, you’re all grown up. img-1065 John Bergstrom

55 – 46

Artist: Waxahatchee

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/w/waxahatchee-cerulean-salt.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 55

Display Width: 200Waxahatchee
“Swan Dive”

Waxahatchee‘s Cerulean Salt is an album full of scorching, emotionally precise observations, and “Swan Dive” may be the most searing in the collection. The song details despair of the darkest pitch, only it does so in a clear-eyed, composed manner that makes it all the more resonant for the refusal to lapse into hysteria. Crutchfield shows both lovers in the song an equal amount of empathy, the “I” who shields herself with indifference, and the “you” who indulges in his worst memories and suicidal ideation. Both are at fault, and neither is at fault. Isn’t that how it goes? img-1066 Corey Beasley


Artist: Manic Street Preachers

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/m/manic_street_preachers_rewind_the_film.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 54

Display Width: 200

Manic Street Preachers
“Rewind the Film”

I’m man enough and old enough to admit that when I first heard this lead track from the Manics11th album I got a bit dewy-eyed and wobbly. Even with the foresight that the album was to be “Gentle, introspective and melancholic” nothing prepares you for this. A real “Slowly watching the final sunset from your hospital deathbed” experience. Based around a mystical melody from avant-garde experimentalist David Axelrod and blessed with the ‘Whisky-and-cigarettes for breakfast again’ gruffalo tones of Richard Hawley it’s akin to receiving last rites. The slow rowing towards God only intermittently broken by James Dean Bradfield heroically kicking against the dying of the light, “Let me hide under the sheets / With the radio on.” Totally fuckin’ devastating. img-1066 Matt James


Artist: Foals

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/f/foals_my_number.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 53

Display Width: 200

“My Number”

“My Number” is certainly the poppiest moment from Foals‘ third album, Holy Fire, but it’s no less lacking in the sense of abnegation which permeates the release. Whether it’s taken as a renouncement of modern life or a bitter reaction to rejection, one thing is for certain: “My Number” is a masterstroke as far as introducing pop hooks into a math rock setting goes. The jumpy, funky synth and bass lines are instantaneous, yet don’t feel cheap in the way a lot of mainstream pop can. Foals aimed big on Holy Fire, and what resulted was one of the best British releases of the year. img-1066 Maria Schurr


Artist: James Blake

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/j/james-blake-retrograde.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 52

Display Width: 200

James Blake

James Blake is a music omnivore. On “CMYK”,” he showed an appreciation for contemporary R&B as much as for future garage. His cover of “Limit to Your Love” saw him putting his touch on a pop affair, while his cover of “A Case of You” had him getting his inner soul on. On “Retrograde”, the lead single and best song from the Mercury Award winning Overgrown, he does something we haven’t heard in his short-yet-prolific career; he rolls all his influences into one lifeform. After starting with a wordless motif, he gives us everything at his disposal, adding piano, drums, layered vocals and bass one at a time. There’s two key moments in the song: the inhuman way he says “We’re alone now” the first time, wonderfully taking you out of the music and making you consciously aware of your own surroundings — your own loneliness — and the “Suddenly I’m hit!”, signalling a meteor shower of noise around you. img-1066 Marshall Gu


Artist: Cass Mccombs

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/m/mccombs.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 51

Display Width: 200

Cass Mccombs
“Brighter!” feat. Karen Black

Forget m b v, Big Wheel and Others was 2013’s most literal record title. Through a sprawling, gleefully fickle two hours of country and blues tourism, Cass McCombs laid his songs out as competent short stories, each living off the back of a really fucking good one. If “Big Wheel” was the slogan, though, its record’s best song was actually “Brighter!”, performed first by McCombs, and later transposed with the voice of late actress Karen Black. The second version of “Brighter!” makes slight but breathtaking touch-ups on its source material: Black’s voice is stronger than McCombs’, able to hit high notes with a persuasive ease, emerging triumphant from the undercurrent of gorgeous guitar riffs and ringing twang. The stinging truths of “Brighter!” belong to McComb’s cruel and earthy songwriting, though. Black’s gorgeous voice is another instrument of his sarcasm, seeking out the heat of a secretly malevolent dust bowl. img-1066 Robin Smith


Artist: Disclosure

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/d/disclosure-f-for-you-2013.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 50

Display Width: 200

“F for You”

England’s Disclosure has been releasing music since 2010, but it’s 2013’s Settle that brought this young electrodance act worldwide critical acclaim and notoriety. Where Rudimental blasts you with every beat in the book — not saying that’s a bad thing, mind you — Disclosure shows remarkable restraint for artists so young. The spare arrangement enclosing the ridiculously catchy vocal of “I’ve been infected with restless whispers and sheets that manifested in words and the lies that you speak” displays the maturity characteristic of musicians completely in command of their tools and abilities. Disclosure deserves the praise they have earned at every turn and we look forward to years of amazing, groundbreaking music from this young duo. img-1066 Sarah Zupko


Artist: Okkervil River

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/o/okkervil-river.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 49

Display Width: 200

Okkervil River
“Pink Slips”

A roving cast of sad-sacks haunts this rambling tale of loss and desperation named for the items littering the broken lives of each character. “Pink Slips” features no chorus, just an endless cavalcade of failure set to alliteration and slant rhyme that gives the song a sinewy feel. Okkervil River has long used such a narrative structure, early jams “Red” and “It Ends with a Fall” both succeed without a chorus, but rarely has any band, even one this accomplished, created something so sublime. A sleek, wordy snake roaming a hopeless landscape. An atomic bomb of catharsis. img-1066 Adam Finley


Artist: My Darling Fury

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/m/mdf.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 48

Display Width: 200

My Darling Fury
“Blots in the Margins”

Seldom does a song stop me dead in my tracks. This, however, is the exception. Richmond, Virginia band My Darling Fury recently released their debut album Licking Wounds, and it’s unquestionably worthy of your investigation. The band has been likened to a collaboration between Andrew Bird, Fleet Foxes and Aimee Man, and that comparison isn’t far off the mark. Frontman Danny Reyes, with his pliant, gorgeous voice, is one of the first openly gay lead singers in recent memory, whose mere presence doesn’t drip sequins, glitter and sass. With an instrument like that, he doesn’t need theatrics. Brilliant musicianship all around, the band crafts emotionally complex, musically inventive indie pop-rock. Honest and extremely raw, the climax of “Blots in the Margin” still gives me chills. img-1066 Ryan Lathan


Artist: Volcano Choir

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/r/repave.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 47

Display Width: 200

Volcano Choir

Justin Vernon is a busy man. In addition to being the frontman of popular indie folk band Bon Iver, he is also a member of Gayngs, the Shouting Matches, and Volcano Choir. The latter is responsible for “Byegone”, an atmospheric work of lyrical abstraction that affirms Volcano Choir as one of the most undervalued bands in contemporary music. The song’s soothing melody mirrors Vernon’s work with Bon Iver, but this isn’t a bad thing. “Byegone” is a soulful, poetic track that simultaneously revitalizes the listener’s spirit and reinvigorates indie rock music. img-1066 Jon Lisi


Artist: Wolf People

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/f/fainwolf_people_.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 46

Display Width: 200

Wolf People

Placed in the middle of their second official full-length Wolf People album, “Herperus” is a perfect moment. It brings the album to a natural crescendo, unhurried as the layered guitar of songwriter Jack Sharp transitions from a clean, gentle strum to fuzz-laden electric assault, and Tom Watt’s drums boom-bap like Bonham goes hip-hop. Celtic monk harmonies and Brit-folk melodies elevate with a sonorous female chorus, elevating in a way that makes each of its cycles compound their intensity. Equally indebted to rare Scandinavian prog, English psych-folk, and Greek mythology, this song is grandiose enough to require costume changes. It’s like the dark side of the Queen of the Wave. img-1066 Alan Ranta [SoundCloud]

45 – 36

Artist: Tegan & Sara

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/t/tegan-and-sara-closer-remixed.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 45

Display Width: 200Tegan & Sara

As admirable as recent albums Sainthood and The Con were the Canadian twins dubbed ‘Tegan’ and ‘Sara’ had appeared to have abandoned much of the pop melody that made 2004’s So Jealous so alluringly addictive. Though many ran for the hills when it was announced they were fashioning a full-on pop monster with wizardy Greg Kurstin (Lily Allen, P!nk) some of us cracked open the Moët and counted down the days. Heartthrob‘s first single “Closer” delivered a dance yourself dizzy trampoline of pop, an unashamed rainbow fountain of joyful euphoria. Even grumpy curmudgeonly folk and meditative types with beards soon agreed this was a splendid idea. A song so triumphant there’s even a Karaoke version for dogs. YES DOGS! Readers it’s officially OK to have fun. So what ya waiting for? img-1067 Matt James


Artist: Robert DeLong

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/g/globalconcepts.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 44

Display Width: 200

Robert DeLong
“Global Concepts”

Robert DeLong reconstructs dance music with his seemingly unsophisticated, but decidedly club anthem “Global Concepts”, one of many equally strong dance songs on his debut Just Movement. He starts by tossing out some rhetorical questions, toying with the listener, before blowing their minds. Once he asks, “did I make you fucking dance?”, it stutters out into something instinctually dancey. Your body will have a Pavlovian response to the conga drums, percussive breaks and squelches and you’ll find your body thrashing. On stage, DeLong stands apart from other dance producers because he doesn’t simply DJ, he builds his songs with a full drum kit, keyboards and video game controllers. Essentially, DeLong arrives as a fully formed rock star. img-1067 Sachyn Mital


Artist: Radkey

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/r/radkey.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 43

Display Width: 200

“Cat & Mouse”

Radkey are three home-schooled brothers from St. Joseph, Missouri. Though the oldest is barely out of his teens, they’re already a scorching live band with a fervent UK fan base. “Cat & Mouse”, the title track of their first EP, is a toe-tapping piece of late ’70s New York style pop punk. Dee, the guitarist and singer, has more than a touch of Danzig’s croon, but it’s the rhythm that carries this song skyward. It’s simple and swinging, with a propulsive breakdown from youngest brother Solomon. The band was smart to make this the first song on the EP. The hooks it has are strong and deep. img-1067 Erik Highter


Artist: Queens of the Stone Age

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/l/like_clockwork.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 42

Display Width: 200

Queens of the Stone Age
“I Appear Missing”

There’s nothing quite like it in all of Queens of the Stone Age‘s discography. …Like Clockwork introduced a rush of new ideas ranging from piano ballads to Trent Reznor cameos, but “I Appear Missing” is the Queens at their darkest and best. It’s an absolutely scorching song; the intricate and blazing guitar line combines with the sludgy lower end to create the desert feel that the Queens mastered long ago. The first half of the song is mesmerizing, but after Dave Ghrol’s blistering break down is when it really kicks into high gear. The seconds before the breath-taking final solo pierces the stratosphere are filled with electric tension and Josh Homme matches the energy with his best vocal performance yet, both in range and vulnerability. The musings on morality are deeply impacted by Homme’s near death experience on the operating table a few years ago and a sinking feeling of shocking hopeless seeps into every note, trading the usual sardonic smirks for honest fear. It’s the most visceral and devastating song in their catalog. img-1067 Nathan Stevens


Artist: Pusha T

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/p/pushat.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 41

Display Width: 200

Pusha T feat. Kendrick Lamar

Two things right up front: Pusha T‘s My Name Is My Name is the best commercial rap album of 2013. Also, Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse is the second best verse he gave us in 2013. The best came in this sneering street classic, where the young Lamar trades drug stories with the drug storyteller. Pusha T once again reminds us he has not run out of fascinating ways to tell us of days when he sold “Johnson and Johnson”. Meanwhile, when Lamar growls in with “want to see a dead body?”, the baton is passed. The two unravel sprawling verses over a beat lean enough that the guitars that slice through echo out into some seemingly pitch-black night around the rappers. Mix in a sample from Boogie Down Productions, which sounds like KRS-One putting his blessing on the track, and you’ve got one of the purest lyrical gems of 2013. img-1067 Matthew Fiander


Artist: Lee Ranaldo & The Dust

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/l/leeranaldoandthedust_lastnightonearth_608x608.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 40

Display Width: 200

Lee Ranaldo & The Dust
“Lecce, Leaving”

It drifts in with a lazy strummed marching rhythm. Then that psychedelic warble guitar stabs in like a lightning bolt and everything falls together into one of the most exciting pieces of music released this year. The lyrics reference the surroundings of Lecce, Italy to some degree but are mostly abstract — typical Lee Ranaldo in other words and I mean that in the best possible way. The band hits levitation level by the song’s middle before it’s all brought back to earth at the end. Nobody else is quite doing what Ranaldo is doing on “Lecce, Leaving” and on the rest of the album Last Night on Earth: combining the spirit of early ’70s singer-songwriter music and jam bands with modern noise rock sounds. And always with that ion-charged guitar at the center of it all. Sonic Youth? He’s better off on his own. img-1067 Rob Caldwell


Artist: Cloud Control

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/c/cloud_control_dojo_rising.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 39

Display Width: 200

Cloud Control
“Dojo Rising”

The unrepentant loser is a well-established rock ‘n’ roll archetype. The brilliance of “Dojo Rising” is that the self-loathing is audible, seeping through the cracks in the bravado. It’s there in Alister Wright’s vocals, which go from smug to plaintive to emphatic as the song goes through its motions. And crucially, it’s there in the music, a midtempo lope whose whining keyboards and salvos of syn-drums convey the wheels turning and churning in Wright’s head. Emotive apathy sounds like a paradox, but “Dojo Rising” pulls it off, and makes it sound cool in the process. img-1067 John Bergstrom


Artist: Arctic Monkeys

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/a/arctic_monkeys_i_wanna_be_yours.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 38

Display Width: 200

Arctic Monkeys
“I Wanna Be Yours”

“I Wanna Be Yours” is the closing track from Arctic Monkey‘s fifth album, AM. While lead singer Alex Turner is renowned for his superb lyrical skill, the song takes its inspiration, and most of its lyrics, from British poet John Cooper Clarke. The lyrics and the melody that strikes a sense of emptiness, perfectly bring together the idea that in this world of commercialism and branding, the simply essence of love can sometimes be lost. While the poignant lyrics are mostly Clarke’s, Turner’s silky smooth, emotive voice bring the words to life, transforming the poem into one of the best songs of 2013. img-1067 Francesca D’Arcy-Orga


Artist: Frightened Rabbit

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/r/rabbit.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 37

Display Width: 200

Frightened Rabbit
“The Oil Slick”

Frightened Rabbit‘s Pedestrian Verse was a great album, but “The Oil Slick”, the disc’s closing number, was something else entirely. It was a love song about not being able to write love songs, about letting anxieties overrun the lyrics and sinking what was so beautiful to begin with. That simple guitar melody, the addictive accent, that heavenly coda… the list goes on. “The Oil Slick” is self-referential and funny, but with an emotional through-line slithering underneath the meta-winks, it also turned out to be one of the greatest songs of 2013, hands down. img-1067 Evan Sawdey


Artist: Majical Cloudz

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/m/majical-cloudz-bugs-dont-buzz.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 36

Display Width: 200

Majical Cloudz
“Bugs Don’t Buzz”

Majical Cloudz‘s Impersonator was one of the year’s most stunning records and had more than a few moments of pure devastation. Even with the songs that preceded it, the impact of “Bugs Don’t Buzz” was jarring. No other song managed to match the velocity of the sheer paralysis it brought on. “Bugs Don’t Buzz” took Majical Cloudz’s formula to a terrifying level of aesthetic perfection. The song’s scaled back futurism ensures it a place in the pantheon of timeless classics that will haunt listeners deep into the future. Knowing a smile’s not coming has rarely felt more comforting. img-1067 Steven Spoerl

35 – 26

Artist: Rudimental

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/r/rudimentalfeelthelove.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 35

Display Width: 200Rudimental
“Feel the Love” feat. John Newman

Nearly headlining UK dance act Rudimental’s Home at track number two, sits “Feel the Love”, the song that, along with “Not Giving In”, introduced British neo-soulman John Newman to the masses. It’s propulsive, full of energy and frenetic beats married to Newman’s sublime vocals. Rudimental’s record may be a bit unfocused when played in full, but the singles are all top notch and this one is the highlight. Rudimental brings in many fabulous singers to feature on Home’s 15 tracks (US edition), including Emeli Sande and Angel Haze, but it’s their collaborations with Newman that bear the sweetest fruit. Give in and ride away on a sheer wave of happiness… drugs not required. img-1068 Sarah Zupko


Artist: Los Campesinos!

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/p/pg-11-arts-los-campesinos.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 34

Display Width: 200

Los Campesinos!
“Avocado Baby”

Los Campesinos! have undergone their fair share of line-up changes in their half-dozen years as a brilliant indie-rock outfit — that’s par when you start off with seven or eight members. This has left their newest album, No Blues, without nearly so many sweet-sounding female backing vocals as its predecessors. The major exception is “Avocado, Baby”, an infectious single that layers in a killer pre-chorus (“I have known friends to crack from love’s weight,” sings Kim) and a pack of actual cheerleaders chanting the refain first offered by frontman Gareth Campesinos. In the 2013 version of the band, Gareth’s wry, heart-injured laments stand front and center. But they swell up into an anthem here, and the toughness vaunted in the chorus reveals itself. img-1068 Jesse Hassenger


Artist: Pistol Annies

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/p/pistol_annies_hush_hush.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 33

Display Width: 200

Pistol Annies
“Hush Hush”

In an age of sharing every bleedin’ personal detail online, “Hush Hush” seems at first to suggest that we “keep a lid on it”. No one wants to see your tattoo, dude, TMI!!! (But really, everybody already knows about it.) But really, “Hush Hush” parodies our innate inability to keep it all pent up. The hypocrisy in family and community dynamics, and our primal need to gossip, is playfully toyed with. The video shows Pistol Annies dancing on the pulpit. A nod to Pussy Riot? Some things are best not kept hush hush. With its catchy beat and the ladies’ sweet birdsong-like voices, “Hush Hush” will have you dancing up on the table and letting what God gave you shine, for all the world to see. img-1068 Karen Zarker


Artist: Ciara

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/c/ciara-body-part.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 32

Display Width: 200

“Body Party”

From the very first line, Ciara understands how millennials fuck: “Who’s having fun? I hope you’re having fun too.” She drops in a little of the ’90s classic “My Boo” by Ghost Town DJ’s and ramps up a lot of the slowed down synth, which sounds like a slurred harp, and lets you know that tonight it’s going down, tell your boys it’s going down. She gets that you’re on your phone all the time and normally that’s fine, but no, not now, turn it off. Her voice is a light off-white, the beats are dark red. You can get busy to it, sure, but it’ll also make you want to sneak out of bed and moonwalk in your underwear before the person you just slept with wakes up. img-1068 David Grossman


Artist: Charli XCX

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/c/charli-xcx-you-ha-ha-ha-608×608.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 31

Display Width: 200

Charli XCX
“You (Ha Ha Ha)”

When Charli XCX burst onto the scene, she was a laid stake to being a champion singles artist, delivering one clever catchy tune after another. “You (Ha Ha Ha)” marries Charli’s fierce wit with Gold Panda’s track to deliver something that goes far beyond the original source material. Accompanied by a shockingly violent music video that features Charli and her gaggle of teenage girls with firearms all about, taunting the failure of Charli’s lover’s inability to realize a good thing while he has it. At it’s core, “You (Ha Ha Ha)” is the postmodern feminist response to musical artistry smashed together with love, anxiety, failure and victory. It veritable proof that Charli XCX can deliver the best tracks of her generation. img-1068 Enio Chiola


Artist: Betty Who

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/b/betty-who-somebody-loves-you-2012-960×960.png

Display as: List

List number: 30

Display Width: 200

Betty Who
“Somebody Loves You”

It sounds like the most ecstatic kind of love song, but the singer’s admitted she wrote it about a partner who was too depressed to process or accept that someone loved them. Crucially, neither the song nor the singer blames that person. Clearly a much better solution is just to make the song sound like the opposite of the problem. Pop music has benefitted from that kind of deliberate confusion for decades, but rarely in a form this effervescent or with content this starkly contrasted. Of course, the first dozen or so times you hear “Somebody Loves You”, you could be forgiven for not noticing that. The chorus is just that good. img-1068 Ian Mathers


Artist: Chance the Rapper

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/a/acid-rap1.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 29

Display Width: 200

Chance the Rapper
“Chain Smoker”

Chance the Rapper‘s Acip Rap is full of catchy songs that leave a lasting impression. Half the songs on the album are good enough to be mentioned on a “Best of 2013” list. Perhaps the apex, if it’s even possible to choose, is “Chain Smoker”. All of Chance’s musical flavors are rolled into one charismatic, melody-driven rap encompassing a College Dropout-like vibe. Not many rappers can sing their own hook and make it sound this good. Chance is able to do it consistently. Not bad for a 20-year-old who can get you saying, “This part, right here, right now right here, this part my shit.” img-1068 Logan Smithson


Artist: Kacey Musgraves

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/k/kacey-musgraves-merry-go-round-single-cover.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 28

Display Width: 200

Kacey Musgraves
“Merry Go ‘Round”

While I love plenty of things about “Merry Go Round”, from Kacey Musgrave’s strong voice to her startling command of melody, the song is most striking in how understated it turns out to be. There is no gigantic chorus, no key change, nothing resembling a big blinking sign reading “HERE’S THE HOOK”. Instead, we get minimalist details of dead-end life, sung over plucked banjo and an insistent piano, Musgrave noting that “Just like dust we settle in this town” as a pedal-steel buzzes somewhere distant. In comparison to most of her country contemporaries, Musgrave’s focus on subtlety ranks her as a master of a form increasingly too focused on the easy thrills of rock and dance music. To date, “Merry Go Round” is her best expression to that end. img-1068 Robert Rubsam


Artist: Robin Thicke

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/r/robin-thicke-blurred-lines-ft.-t.i.-pharrell.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 27

Display Width: 200

Robin Thicke
“Blurred Lines”

“Blurred Lines” was one of the most polarizing songs of 2013. Receiving criticism regarding its messaging (interpretable misogyny) and the amount of ‘influence’ it received from Marvin Gaye (“Got To Give It Up”), “Blurred Lines” was among pop talking points all summer. Skepticism aside, “Blurred Lines” also proves to be an über-addictive pop-soul record that revved up Robin Thicke’s career. Minimally conceived around a ’70s inspired funk-riff thanks to Pharrell Williams, amplified by a guest rap from ATL’s T.I. and drenched in Thicke’s sensual, nasty falsetto, there’s very little ‘blurred’ about how clever “Blurred Lines” is. Risqué it is, but undeniably satisfying. img-1068 Brent Faulkner


Artist: Yo La Tengo

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/y/yo-la-tengo-ohm.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 26

Display Width: 200

Yo La Tengo

You’ll have to forgive Yo La Tengo for lying to your face when Ira Kaplan kicks off “Ohm” singing the lines, “Sometimes the bad guys come out on top / Sometimes the good guys lose,” since the beloved trio proves that the opposite is true, at least in its own case. It’s the irony of ironies that such a sentiment comes on this particular track, because “Ohm” is an example of Yo La Tengo at its best doing what it does best: It’s a trademark epic that’s a throwback to the long-form indie panoramas from the Hoboken group’s ’90s heyday, as Kaplan conjures up a guitar-spun trance and Georgia Hubley and James McNew weave multiple threads of rhythm. While the three of ’em create a whole greater than the sum of its parts from their own little corner of the world, there’s still plenty of room to welcome you in here, whether through the uncanny way Kaplan shapes feedback into something warm and inviting or wry, poignantly delivered vocals that show they care enough to make you care too. img-1068 Arnold Pan

25 – 16

Artist: Deafheaven

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/s/sunbather.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 25

Display Width: 200Deafheaven
“Dream House”

If you were going into Deafheaven‘s Sunbather expecting more Burzum worshiping black metal you were going to be severely disappointed. If the album cover didn’t tip you off, then the opening track certainly should have told you that this album was a different beast. The opening salvo of guitars leading to that avalanching drum pattern is incredible, all of it managing to be spectacularly heavy while feeling uplifting and reverent. The sudden shift from brutal blast beats to a stunning melodic interlude is brilliant, but the final few minutes is where “Dream House” becomes one of the year’s most emotionally potent songs. Over arena sized guitar front man George Clark screams “I want to dream.” Ignore genre labels and let this massive and spectacular song engulf you. img-1069 Nathan Stevens


Artist: Haim

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/h/haim-days-are-gone.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 24

Display Width: 200

“Days Are Gone”

Haim sisters Este, Danielle, and Alana packed the first half of Days Are Gone with quite a few top-10-worthy songs, but it’s the title track that shows that they’re not afraid to make pop music that prizes ’70s Fleetwood Mac songwriting, ’80s electronic drums and keyboards, and early ’90s R&B over the typical trademarks of today’s pop songs. The result is simultaneously familiar and refreshing. The quietly chanted, repeated refrain of “Days Are Gone” offers an antidote to the current pop radio ballads that can’t help themselves from leaning too often and too hard on big, belted choruses. In that way, it’s almost hard to tell that the song was co-written with the UK’s Jessie Ware and Kid Harpoon (and recorded in London), especially since it’s still imbued with the L.A.-chic vibe that made us notice Haim in the first place. img-1069 Marisa LaScala


Artist: Autre Ne Veut

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/a/autre_ne_veut_play_by_play.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 23

Display Width: 200

Autre Ne Veut
“Play by Play”

You can’t really begin to answer the question, “What does Autre Ne Veut‘s ‘Play by Play’ do?” It’s better to start off with, “What doesn’t ‘Play by Play’ do?” In its dizzying five minutes, it spans a veritable phantasmagoria of all things pop, so much so that by the time the song concludes, you’ll probably feel like you need to take a breath. Arthur Ashin, the man behind the Autre Ne Veut name, probably feels the same way. His falsetto, which keeps the mood of his sophomore LP Anxiety always in high emotion, is at full blast all throughout the track, and the multiple repeated lyrics — “Don’t ever leave me alone,” “I’m just calling you up to give that play by play” — are repeated so earnestly that it feels like he’s spun out his whole life’s story even though he’s only said a couple stanza’s worth of words. The balance between minimalism in words and maximalism in music is what makes Anxiety the work of genius that it is, and “Play By Play” is its greatest triumph. img-1069 Brice Ezell


Artist: Jason Isbell

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/j/jason-isbell-southeastern.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 22

Display Width: 200

Jason Isbell

Some songs that are so powerful that they land like a sucker punch to the gut. Maybe it’s because the truths they carry can strike us with the same force. That’s certainly the case with Jason Isbell‘s “Elephant”. Written about a friendship between the singer and a cancer-stricken woman, the song’s unblinking honesty lends it considerable emotional heft. Over a musical bed of softly plucked guitar and plinking piano, the song’s narrator, Andy, chronicles his friend’s slow descent to the inevitable with heartbreaking observations about missing hair and “sharecropper eyes”. The two share joints and one-sided gallows humor as they circle around the inescapable truth alluded to in the song’s title. While Isbell pulls no punches, “Elephant” is saved from bleak hopelessness by its willingness to chronicle people who are unafraid to share in the raw humanity (other’s or their own) that life eventually reduces us to and we’d all rather avoid. img-1069 John Tryneski


Artist: David Bowie

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/d/david-bowie_the-next-day-200×200.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 21

Display Width: 200

David Bowie
“Where Are We Now?”

The first single from David Bowie‘s excellent The Next Day finds Bowie once again sitting in a tin can, this time a train in Germany, and getting exquisitely existential over a floating musical arrangement anchored by a serene piano progression. The title question and the geographical references make it easy to read the song as a sober reflection on Bowie’s fabled Berlin years. On the album’s saddest and prettiest song, Bowie surveys the past and present and sees people “walking the dead”. He can’t quite grasp the answer, but he can build to a climactic, elemental compromise in order to cope with it — clinging to sun, rain, fire, and our fragile investment in each other. img-1069 Steve Leftridge


Artist: Lorde

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/l/lorde-royals.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 20

Display Width: 200


“And we’ll never be royals / it don’t run in our blood… we crave a different kind of buzz…,” Kiwi teen Lorde sings on “Royals”, one of the year’s most intriguing songs. “Royals” shines for numerous reasons, arguably most for its antithetical, subtle approach. Though it packs a Herculean punch with its vocal arrangement (on the chorus), Lorde never breaks a sweat. The production also trends more minimal with a simple, anchoring groove, contrasting the more maximal trends of contemporary pop. Thoughtful pop cultural references including “gold teeth”, “Maybach(s)”, “diamonds on your timepiece” and one hella catchy chorus propels “Royals” to a lofty heights. img-1069 Brent Faulkner


Artist: Arcade Fire

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/a/arcadefirereflektor914sqalaq2l._sl1400_.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 19

Display Width: 200

Arcade Fire

After months of dropped hints and speculation, “Reflektor” arrived on September 9th as the title track of the fourth album by Arcade Fire, the Grammy-winning indie powerhouse based in Montreal. Setting the tone for the next phase in the band’s trajectory, the song opens with full-bodied beats and synth flourishes, courtesy of a new connection with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and DFA Records (a producer along with long-time collaborator Markus Dravs). Husband and wife Win Butler and Régine Chassagne trade pulsating vocals until a mysterious cameo by none other than rock legend David Bowie adds a respected seal of approval. With a suggested dress code and hanging disco balls at live shows, the new music boasts a deep message wrapped in a slick dance package. img-1069 Jane Jansen Seymour


Artist: Okkervil River

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/o/okkervil-river-the-silver-gymnasium1.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 18

Display Width: 200

Okkervil River
“Down Down the Deep River”

As far as sugar-coated synth rock anthems go, “Down Down the Deep River” is a crushing reality check. Imposing himself as narrator, Okkervil River‘s Will Sheff uses his time to dissuade the freckled kid version of himself from the promise of tomorrow, dashing the grin from his face with a simple truth: the place you love the most makes you hurt. If that’s not clear from the song’s very first line — “You’re spit into the centre of your hometown”, like a statistic, one of the lucky ones that your geography’s fate is impartial to — then it’s clear in the blow Sheff keeps delivering throughout the song. For every camping trip, for every best friend, for every tape with a pop song as glorious as this one, there’s the ineffable kid sadness that goes with it: “It’s not alright. It’s not even close to alright.” “Down” might be considered The Silver Gymnasium‘s centrepiece, but really, it’s the record’s very own fable: a discerning lesson in climbing out of childhood. Lauren Gurgiolo’s guitar riffs rumble down the tracks, Justin Sherburn’s synth becomes replete and subdued, and Sheff’s fantasy world turns into that all-too-real one. img-1069 Robin Smith


Artist: The National

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/n/nationaltroublecover.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 17

Display Width: 200

The National

The National doesn’t need to rise above a dull roar, having staked their claim mumbling through middle-aged ennui. But when they do speed the tempo up and Matt Berninger fires off a string of spiky observations, they leave you with no choice. “Graceless” doesn’t have the fury of early National tracks like “Abel” or “Mr. November”, but it does allow the best rhythm section in indie rock to lock in to a tight Joy Division-inspired rut. “God loves everybody / Don’t remind me” might be the single best line the National have put to paper. At once an affirmation and a condemnation, “Graceless” is the real sound of settling. img-1069 Scott Elingburg


Artist: Vampire Weekend

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/v/vampire_weekend_diane_young.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 16

Display Width: 200

Vampire Weekend
“Diane Young”

“Diane Young” is Vampire Weekend by way of Buddy Holly, albeit if an amped-up Buddy Holly had a bunch of sonic tricks to enhance his singing of “baby, baby, baby”. Holly may have been an influence on the lyrics as well as the sound, since “Diane Young” is about, well, dying young — the wordplay showing that the band has no intention of giving up the brainier aspects of their songwriting — only done in a catchy, upbeat way that steers clear of the usual moroseness that results when contemplating mortality. “Diane Young” almost conceals its inventiveness. It feels like a straight-ahead rock track and, coming in one, sub-three-minute burst. It cements Vampire Weekend’s status as creators of songs you can listen to four times in a row before you even realize it. img-1069 Marisa LaScala

15 – 6

Artist: Kanye West

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/a/album_yeezus_mini2.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 15

Display Width: 200Kanye West
“Bound 2”

Let’s ignore the recent music video that features a topless Kim Kardashian and talk about the music. Yes, the usual Kanye haters make a good point that the rapping is subpar, yet I’d argue that it feels amateurish in an endearing way (“Walking ‘round, always mad reputation / Leave a pretty girl sad reputation / Start a Fight Club, Brad reputation”, or “Damn, what would Jeromey-Romey-Romey-Rome think!?”). But in an album full of sounds meant to purposely alienate listeners, “Bound 2” is undeniably the album’s sweetest cut — or at least, as sweet as a Kanye West track can be. For example, “One good girl is worth a thousand bitches” is either a love letter to Kim Kardashian or his newborn daughter. Or both, even. Then, there’s Charlie Wilson, standing on a mountaintop to deliver the song’s hook over soulful backing vocals that bring us back to Kanye West’s The College Dropout days, an affirmation of love and life. img-1070 Marshall Gu


Artist: Phosphorescent

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/p/phos.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 14

Display Width: 200

“Song For Zula”

Once in a lucky while, an individual’s heartache becomes universal with a song that speaks directly to the listener’s soul. “Song for Zula”, by Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Matthew Hauck’s band Phosphorescent, is one of those expressive wellsprings (from a fifth album Muchacho). A repeated theme ushers in waves of emotion over a slow, uneven, percussive foundation, like a pulse that continues on without a glimmer of hope. The raw powers of Hauck’s vocals convey the tale of love lost, as a full band provides the support system for his own masterful guitar playing (organ, piano, drums, bongos and bass). Performed live, Hauck becomes a crestfallen storyteller, flaunting his Alabama roots with a Southern twang and gesturing in despair. img-1070 Jane Jansen Seymour


Artist: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/5/518wezk9-ql._sl500_aa300_.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 13

Display Width: 200

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
“Higgs Boson Blues”

Joining (and arguably besting) a weighty list of end-of-album Cave epics — “A Box for Black Paul”, “O’Malley’s Bar”, “Babe, I’m on Fire”, to name most of the others — “Higgs Boson Blues” merges Push the Sky Away‘s Internet-inspired fixations with a voyage narrative that’s delivered with a surreal, near-religious fervor. Cave’s inimitable vocalisms lead the way, granting the song its weary, dreamlike pall: “Iiiiii’ve been sittin’ in my basement patio,” the singer drawls; “Aaaaah, it was hot!” But it’s the heady climax, featuring visions of “Miley Cyrus float[ing] in a swimming pool in Toluca Lake,” where you’ll wonder if Cave is positively prescient or if he’s simply lost it. Push was said to have been inspired by “being entranced by exotic Wikipedia entries whether they’re true or not.” Here’s where “entranced” seems to have been meant literally. img-1070 Zach Schonfeld


Artist: Superchunk

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/s/superchunk-me-and-you-and-jackie-mittoo.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 12

Display Width: 200

“Me and You and Jackie Mittoo”

It begins and ends with a lapse in belief that plagues all self-aware listeners: “I hate music / What is it worth? / Can’t bring anyone back to this Earth.” In the intervening two minutes of “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo”, Mac McCaughan and his band of indie rock lifers do everything short of raising the dead in convincing themselves — and us — that music can be worth everything. Stitching together a song out of could-have-been choruses, the band reinvigorates clichés like loading up the van and sweet summer breezes, and hangs its title line on an inspirational figure a few genres over. It’s a perfect encapsulation of how both communal experience and unlikely, treasured record store scores can silence the pesky naysaying pragmatist lurking in the heart of music fans everywhere. And, as the members of Superchunk know well, a killer sing-along refrain never hurts, either. img-1070 David Bloom


Artist: The Lone Bellow

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/l/lone_bellow.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 11

Display Width: 200

The Lone Bellow
“You Never Need Nobody”

When I hear the Lone Bellow two things happen: 1) I feel like I’m hearing a veteran Americana band as indebted to the carefully composed soundscapes of Radiohead, and 2) I am literally moved beyond words. This new Brooklyn band has the sounds of the South embedded in their DNA along with along with the advanced compositional gifts that enable them to craft heart-stopping crescendos, which emerge from spare melodic beginnings. You hear all of this on “You Never Need Nobody”, a song that rises with gospel intensity and brims with soul and sublime choruses. img-1070 Sarah Zupko


Artist: Chvrches

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/c/chvrches-the-mother-we-share-album-version.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 10

Display Width: 200

“The Mother We Share”

Electroshock therapy wouldn’t get this thing out of your head. From the opening samples to the anticipatory handclaps and all the way to the cutest use of the word “Fuck” in 2013, Chvrches‘ “The Mother We Share” is the most complete pop song of the year, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry singles be damned. Rarely does a song sound so retro while encompassing all that’s new, but Lauren Mayberry and her crew crafted what amounts to the most inescapable hook any music fan has heard in a long, long time. If the accented synths through the verses won’t get you, the desperation of the chorus will. It’s true: Everything old is new again and in this case, everything new is better than it’s ever been. img-1070 Colin McGuire


Artist: Paramore

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/p/paramore-still-into-you.png

Display as: List

List number: 9

Display Width: 200

“Still Into You”

Hayley Williams and her man live in eternity, and each spiky power pop beat does not shorten but lengthens their eternity. Kierkegaard said that. Ambushed by joy, Williams opts for the more sensible, “I should be over all the BUTTERFLIIIIIIES!!!” Endless love is nothing new — in fact, it’s one of the most hackneyed and cloying sentiments available to songs, so cheers to these good hearted brats for barrelling through it. Every moment offers new pleasures. Williams spits her words because her love is not croony. If she can make love work, so can you. If you haven’t looked someone in the face today and hollered, “Baby not a day goes by that I’m NAWWWWWWT… EHHHHHHHHNTO YOWWWWWWWW!!!”, well, what are you waiting for? Life’s short! (OR IS IT…) img-1070 Josh Langhoff


Artist: Janelle Monáe

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/j/janelle-monae-dance-apocalyptic.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 8

Display Width: 200

Janelle Monáe
“Dance Apocalyptic”

When “Dance Apocalyptic” first hit the airwaves a couple of months before Monáe‘s Electric Lady album came out, certain circles derided the song for not sounding tougher. After all, shouldn’t a song called “Dance Apocalyptic” have something of a hard edge to it? But a closer listen to the lyrics demonstrates that the song is about celebration in the face of disaster. “But I really really wanna thank you / For dancing ‘til the end,” goes the refrain. So a soul-pop confection seems just about right. In her relatively short career, Monáe has already proven herself adept at any number of styles, but this track is one of those rare moments of pop perfection. From the simple, catchy beat to Monáe’s impassioned vocals to the chant-along background vocals (“Smash smash / Bang bang / Don’t stop / Chalangalangalang”), “Dance Apocalyptic” deserves a place in the 21st century song canon alongside fellow retro-pop luminaries “Hey Ya” and “Fuck You.” img-1070 Chris Conaton


Artist: Haim

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/h/haim-wire.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 7

Display Width: 200

“The Wire”

Haim are a melting pot of various influences, veering from synth-pop to throwback guitar rock throughout their debut album Days Are Gone. “The Wire” serves as a synthesis of all of their styles and influences in one infectious four-minute helping. At times, the song feels like a throwback, recalling everything from Prince to Tom Petty. However, the trio’s vocals — all of which are refreshing in a pop landscape filled with diva moments and faux-sexy cooing — elevate the song from being merely satisfying to transcendent. By the time the band break the down the song in a sea of handclaps and synths, it’s just the icing on top of a slice of pop perfection. img-1070 Kevin Korber


Artist: Vampire Weekend

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/v/vampire-weekend-step.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 6

Display Width: 200

Vampire Weekend

A little too often, Vampire Weekend get crowned as kings of the melting pot. The Ivy League, multi-culturally cognizant band is unafraid to dump everything from Auto-Tune, M.I.A. samples, harpsichord, in a bitches brew for the sake a poignant hipster anthem. Their influences are patched squarely on their sleeves, perhaps more than ever on “Step”. Culling a sample from both YZ and Bread, Koenig and co. name drop Modest Mouse and Angkor Wat in the same tune and still manage to distill it all down to a perfect pop bliss-out. “Step” shows that when Vampire Weekend turn it down and subscribe to a minimalist philosophy, they might be worth all the accolades. img-1070 Scott Elingburg

5 – 1

Artist: Neko Case

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/t/the_worse_things_get_the_harder_i_fight1.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 5

Display Width: 200Neko 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. img-1071 Cole Waterman


Artist: Kanye West

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/k/kanye-west-black-skinhead.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 4

Display Width: 200

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. img-1071 Dave Heaton


Artist: Bastille

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/b/bastille_pompeii.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 3

Display Width: 200


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. img-1071 Karen Zarker


Artist: John Newman

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/j/john-newman-love-me-again.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 2

Display Width: 200

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. img-1071 Sarah Zupko


Artist: Daft Punk

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/d/daft-punk-get-lucky.jpg

Display as: List

List number: 1

Display Width: 200

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. img-1071 Christian John Wikane