Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Top 20 Songs of 2013

2013 has less than a fortnight left in it, so it's high time I started making some lists. I'll be sharing my favourite albums of  the year on Friday, but I figured I'd build up to it a little bit first.

To that end, here are my top twenty songs of twenty-thirteen. Some are from albums that I've been banging on about for months; some are from records that I've never even mentioned on the blog before. It was quite difficult to decide on the right order, but lists like this are so much better when somebody wins, don't you think?

One more note before we get started: I considered limiting myself to one song per artist, but then I decided to scrap that idea because, hey, if your album contains two really spectacularly amazing songs, I want to reward that. Reward it with kudos from my piffling little music blog.

Anyway, enough explanation. Let's rock...

#20 - Lately I've Found Myself Regressing by The Superman Revenge Squad Band
(from There is Nothing More Frightening Than the Passing of Time)
My list starts with the opening song of an album I've blogged about a lot recently. More or less every song on There is Nothing... is a lyrical corker, but on Lately I've Found Myself Regressing, they really knock it out of the park musically as well. The frantic drums, the warm-sounding instrumentation, and the "let's pack in as many syllables as we possibly can" stanzas come together to create something truly magical: a magnificent musical meditation on getting back to one's roots that bursts out of its two-minute runtime and leaves debris strewn about your mind for hours afterwards.

#19 - Let's Go to Sleep (And Never Come Back) by Future Bible Heroes
(from Partygoing)
Partygoing was smashing - a Magnetic Fields album in disguise, and one which turned out to be even better than the last proper Magnetic Fields album. This song, featuring the familiar voice of Claudia Gonson, is one of the prettier suicide songs out there, and it makes giving up on life sound very appealing indeed. "Some people just make oodles of income, we never had the knack. Just count these sheep, let's go to sleep and never come back."

#18 - Time Crisis, 1982 by Andrew Paul Regan
(from Dinas Powys)
I was blethering about Dinas Powys this time last week, so I shan't talk too much about Andrew Paul Regan's contribution to this list now. I'll just say that it's a very good song - particularly the "is this the part where you kill all your friends, or is this the part where it comes to an end?" bit - and add that if APR was aiming to match Do You Realize?? by The Flaming Lips (as suggested in his own blog about this song) then he's done himself and Wayne Coyne proud.

#17 - You Don't Have To by John Grant
(from Pale Green Ghosts)
When I first heard this song, it was in a far more naturalistic state than it was when it turned up on Pale Green Ghosts in early 2013. The new version was crisp and electronic, a distant cousin of the sparse piano version that JG had bashed out at Swn Festival not 6 months prior. It didn't matter though. John Grant could have been sung this song over an arrangement of space hopper squeaks, and it would still have been hugely affecting. Oh, and that stupendous organ solo in the middle - and this is one element of the song that was present in both versions - may well be the best noise on the whole damn album.

#16 - A Slow Parade by Georgia Ruth
(from Week of Pines)
I was looking for this track on YouTube just now and I was shocked - shocked! - by what I discovered. A Slow Parade, it seems, is a cover. A cover of a song by someone named AA Bondy. One of the highlights of this year's Welsh Music Prize-winning LP...and it's a cover! I considered throwing it out of my list, but actually, I've had a listen to the original, and frankly, this one's better. Covers which improve on - or at the very least change up - the original should be celebrated, and that stonking electric guitar part (just click on the video, it's pretty much the first thing you hear) is all but absent from the Bondy version. So you're off the hook this time, Ruth. Congrats on the WMP and all that.

#15 - San Francisco by Foxygen
(from We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic)
The Foxygen album was one of my first purchases this year (it was released on the 22nd of January), and I was wowed by its classic rock vibes and the variety of the songwriting. This one was the cream of the crop; where other tracks played around with groovy jams and jammy grooves, San Francisco was far more focused in terms of songwriting, to its benefit. A great summer tune with a killer boy/girl trade-off in the chorus.

#14 - Night Mail by Public Service Broadcasting
(from Inform-Educate-Entertain)
Choosing the best cut from Inform-Educate-Entertain is tricky, but Night Mail is certainly one of my favourites. It's very chilled-out in parts, particularly when the drums drop out for that reflective, atmospheric sort-of-chorus ("This is the night mail crossing the border, bringing the cheque and the postal order"). The real reason it's here, though, is the ending; from around the two minute mark, the track starts to build up, like a train gathering speed, and the aforementioned chorus gets rearranged into some kind of found sound rap. I could just as easily have put The Now Generation in this slot - the end of that song is similarly brilliant - but Night Mail is just that little bit more electrifying.

#13 - The Jaguar by Neon Neon
(from Praxis Makes Perfect)
Throughout 2013, I found few sounds as thrilling as the open hi-hat that signals the start of this song. As I mentioned in the run-up to the Welsh Music Prize, The Jaguar has it all: steadily insistent drumming, exquisite synthesiser work, and a chorus that would knock even the starchiest of socks off. I've also mentioned in the past that Neon Neon's music - in my mind, at least - is now permanently tied to images of the live performance, and that's particularly true of The Jaguar, which was accompanied by the sight of two or three Giangiacomo Feltrinellis giving grandiose salutes to each other. It was quite the dance routine.

#12 - Disco Damaged Kid by Polly Scattergood
(from Arrows)
I only acquired (and blogged about) Polly Scattergood's second album in the last few weeks, but by virtue of a free Mute sampler from Spillers, this song has been with me for quite a bit longer than that. It was easily the most ear-gripping track on that compilation; I've never really watched Skins, but Disco Damaged Kid seems like the perfect song for an episode of that. The cascading pianos and thumping dance beat would sound celebratory in any other arrangement, but DDK instead comes off as intensely desperate, and it's all the better for it. Scattergood's voice hits tingly, glittering heights as she heads unswervingly into nightclub oblivion, insisting all the while that she "don't need saving".

#11 - Low F by Superchunk
(from I Hate Music)
Superchunk seem to be something of an indie rock institution, so I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I Hate Music is the first (and remains the only) album of theirs that I've actually heard. I discovered them through their cover of 100,000 Fireflies by The Magnetic Fields, and when this new release materialised on the shelves at Spillers, I thought I might as well give them a try. The album, which showed an unexpected inclination towards classic rock territory, wasn't perfect; its fifth track, Low F, damn near was. The riff is awesome, the verses are awesome, the chorus is awesome, the guitar you know how long it's been since I cared about a guitar solo? This is the song that reminded me how good a bit of straightforward rock music could be.

#10 - Living, Loving, Partygoing by Future Bible Heroes
(from Partygoing)
At the bottom of the top ten, it's another entry from Partygoing. This one was hands-down my song of the summer, a thrumming carnival whirl of brilliance that was just perfect for all those evenings of doing stuff. With friends. In the summertime. Like Let's Go to Sleep..., the vocal duties here are covered by Claudia Gonson; it's not that I don't like the Stephin Merritt-sung tracks on Partgoing, it's just that he gave the best ones to his co-conspirator. Rather selfless of him, really.

#9 - Sure Fire Bet by Zervas & Pepper
(from Lifebringer)
There are a few Welsh Music Prize nominees scattered throughout this list (as you've probably noticed), but this is the song that tops the lot. Lifebringer arrived somewhere in the middle of my WMP odyssey - it was the last one I reviewed before Furniture, which I eventually crowned my personal winner - and while I expected it to be good, I was not expecting to happen upon a stone-cold classic like this. Sure Fire Bet layers greatness upon greatness, opening with an unforgettable, "I'm sure I've heard this before" riff before winding its way to a thrilling bridge and, finally, that stunning chorus. Good on you, Z&P - you may not have won the prize, but as far as I'm concerned, you did the best song.

#8 - Welcome Home, Quiet Marauder by Quiet Marauder
(from MEN)
Speaking of the Welsh Music Prize, here's an act who can probably look forward to a nomination in 2014. I've already chewed over the bonkers brilliance of MEN, and I made special mention of this song, which I still feel may be the best closing track of any album released this year. It's billed as the big resolution, and that's exactly what it feels like; after singing about so many different things and inhabiting the minds of so many different characters, our protagonist returns home and rejoins himself in a thrilling smorgasbord of drums, melodica and wordless, hellishly catchy vocals.

#7 - Lit Up by Public Service Broadcasting
(from Inform-Educate-Entertain)
Another one from Public Service Broadcasting, and this one's a little bit different. Instead of using chopped-up fragments of old information films, this one takes a radio broadcast and sets it to music; the speech itself, given by a slightly squiffy naval officer, remains more or less intact. More on that here, but let's talk about the music, because it really is outstanding. It's barely even there to begin with, but eventually, the gentle keyboard sounds and after-hours guitar riff settle in, creating a stilted, dreamy landscape that makes the cringeworthy drunken spiel sound positively transcendental. Oh, and then there's the ending; PSB really are rather good at their endings, and Lit Up is yet another fantastic example of this, leaving it late before turning into a brisk, balls-to-the-wall synth-off that's, well, rather life-affirming. "There's nothing between us and heaven. There's nothing at all!"

#6 - Lost in Light Rotation by Tullycraft
(from Lost in Light Rotation)
RAY GUN RAY GUN! I haven't breathed a word of them here, but Tullycraft really excelled themselves with Lost in Light Rotation. SPOILER ALERT - I'll be talking about the LP a little more on Friday, because there's no way I'm leaving it out of the Top Albums list; for now, we'll just focus on the marvellous title track. As with Lately I've Found Myself Regressing (see #20), Lost in Light Rotation demonstrates that filling every gap with a syllable is a sure fire way to win me over. The success of this tactic is best exemplified by the phenomenal quickfire chorus: "We just change the station, when you're lost in light rotation you're not fast enough to keep up with the..." I'm not sure how the singer manages to do all of that without pausing for breath, but then I could ask a similar question of the drummer, who keeps up a crazy pace throughout. However they did it, they did it good, and the resultant track is a dose of pure headrush.

#5 - Afterlife by Arcade Fire
(from Reflektor)
I've said it before and I'll say it again: that skittery organ sound could go on for years and it would still be over too soon. In fact, Afterlife in general is just one of those amazing songs that you wish would never end. With a runtime of almost six minutes, it's hardly short as it is, but it could be three times longer and the smile on my face would be three time wider. The "work it out" part (I suppose it's the chorus?) in particular has a lot more mileage left in it.

#4 - Despair by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
(from Mosquito)
I wasn't all that bothered about Mosquito, but every Yeah Yeah Yeahs album has that one really awesome song, usually somewhere near the end, that just blows you away. Fever to Tell had Maps, obviously; Show Your Bones had Turn Into, which still ranks as my favourite song by them; their previous album had Little Shadow, and Mosquito has Despair, a pretty simple song (I learned to play it on guitar last night, it's only two chords) that has a really big impact. It raises an interesting point, too - if you're sad all your life, you'll get pretty attached to that sadness before the end. It becomes a significant part of who you are. That's how I've interpreted it, anyway.

#3 - Northern California Girls by Camper Van Beethoven
(from La Costa Perdida)
In at number three is Northern California Girls, the perfect song for the journey home (regardless of what form that journey takes). This is another long one - even longer than Afterlife - but each minute is entirely earned, as the gentle song about waiting for your man to come home slowly turns into a big, blazing anthem. It's rousing, it's beautiful, and it will make you yearn to go home if you're not there already,

#2 - Lido Pier Suicide Car by Okkervil River
(from The Silver Gymnasium)
Three blog posts about The Silver Gymnasium and I still don't really know what this song is about. I still think my 'failed suicide attempt' theory holds some water. Anyway, now is not the time to lapse into that debate again; I'd just like to say that I really, really enjoy listening to this track, and I love how the slow-building strum eventually explodes into a soulful, rocked-up version of the same tune. That heart-leaping 'oh crocodile!' bit at the climax isn't just my favourite moment of the song - it's one of my favourite musical moments period.

#1 - Down Down the Deep River by Okkervil River
(from The Silver Gymnasium)
It's some album on which Lido Pier Suicide Car is only the second-best track. But where that song is enthrallingly cryptic, Down Down the Deep River succeeds because of how instantly relatable its message is. The third chorus sums it up best: "Down a hall in your house, down the road in December...we can never go back, we can only remember." I wrote that line on my hand when I first noticed it, to make sure that I wouldn't forget it existed.

I'm really pleased with this #1 because it feels like a combination of everything that's great about #20-2. The nostalgic yearning of Lately I've Found Myself Regressing meets the "oh YES it's this song" opening of The Jaguar meets the strangely eighties riff seen in Sure Fire Bet. There are rambling, free-form verses (just like Afterlife) which barely give the singer time to breathe (just like Lost in Light Rotation). It has classic rock sensibilities (like Low F) and it gives you plenty of opportunities to appreciate that killer chorus (like Northern California Girls and Welcome Home, Quiet Marauder). It really is the full package, and that's why it's my song of the year.

Your turn! This list merely represents MY favourite tracks of 2013, and I'm keen to hear everyone else's, so let me know which songs you've been loving this year in the comments.

1 comment:

  1. Ran across your page looking for new stuff in relation to Tullycraft. This is a great list. Definitely dig back into Superchunk. You could just work your way back chronologically. Also don't miss sideproject Portastatic. Thanks for the list!