Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best of 2013: The Year in Music!

I don't know if it's because I listened to more music this year than I ever have (which is possible), but it took me forever and a day to make my final decisions about my favorite music for 2013. There was so much good. Well, I did it, finally, and below is my list. Of course, I would love to hear (literally) what you guys have dug this year so comment away and enjoy!

Album of the Year

Young Galaxy, "Ultramarine" (cover above)

This Canadian indie pop band has been around for a little more than 5 years, therefore, it should come as no surprise that they know how to put together a good set of songs for an album. The surprise comes in when you've been listening to the album for a little while and you've realized that not only do you love every song, each comes with a renewed attitude, a pulsating swagger, and another infectious groove that compels you to dance, now damn it.

But it's not a dance album. Themes of love and loss keep the deliciously syrupy sweet synths from becoming cloying and Catherine McCandless' voice is not anything you can duplicate, though you will sit in your car listening to her and try. Listen to "Fever" if you don't believe me.

top 4 (in order of preference):

Young Dreams, "Between Places"
Norwegian band debuts with ticklish Beach Boys' inspired psychedelia.

David Lemaitre, "Latitude"
A Bolivian-born multi-instrumentalist and songwriter crafts soulful yarns on debut album.

Phoenix, "Bankrupt!"
A solid effort of 80s new wave, R&B, and rock from the popular French band.

Night Panther, "Night Panther"
These Pennsylvania group rocks without hesitation or a need to stick around long.


Kanye West, "Yeezus"
Millionyoung, "Variable"
Outfit, "Performance"
John Legend, "Love in the Future"
Vampire Weekend, "Modern Vampires of the City"

honorable mentions:

Beyoncé, "BEYONCÉ"; Valerie June, "Pushin' Against a Stone"; Harper Simon, "Division Street"; Caveman, "Caveman"; Childish Gambino, "Because the Internet"

Single of the Year

Night Works, "Modern European" (video above)

Night Works is the moniker of London musician Gabriel Stebbing, and for as well put together as his solo debut, Urban Heat Island, was, I must reserve all my love for the single, "Modern European." It's a pop confection mostly about nothing, probably about Euro haughtiness and pretension, that has everything I love in a song, a circular structure, an intricate arrangement of sounds, layered verses, leading into a stealthy hook that ramps up into the most fun thing I've heard all year.

top 4:

HAIM, "Don't Save Me"
It's cool, the L.A. band is cool, you'll be residually cool just by listening.

Theme Park, "Jamaica"
A sunny single by the laid back, quirky London band.

MEN, "All the Way Thru"
JD Samson's gender-queer band's lead single from album "Labor" gets parties started.

Vampire Weekend, "Ya Hey"
A somber song that incorporates religious inspiration into something better than VW has ever done.


Childish Gambino, "3005"
Beyoncé, "XO"
Young Dreams, "Fog of War"
Ian Pooley, "Kids Play"
Momofoko, "We Know"

honorable mentions:

Soldout, "94"; Phoenix, "Trying to be Cool"; Dent May, "Let Them Talk"; Tegan and Sara, "Closer"; Millionyoung, "Lovin"

Album Track* of the Year
*Song included on an album in 2013 but not released individually as a single

Phoenix, "The Real Thing" (listen above)

There's something completely absorbing about the moment when the drum machine kicks in after a few seconds of kaleidoscopic horns at the very beginning of this song that shot it to the top of my list this year. It's powerful and lumbering, and heavy, yet coupled with strings, the 80s Orient guitar (carried through the entire album), and Thomas Mars' voice, sweet and kind. The hook is a deep dive into head-banging luxury. Put together, "The Real Thing" is an experience you must have.

top 4:

Vampire Weekend, "Finger Back"
While the album was relatively serious, this ditty is quick and dirty, and danceable.

Young Dreams, "Wounded Hearts Forever"
An epic song-scape about love.

David Lemaitre, "Spirals"
Delicate folk about feelings of the head and the heart.

Background Radiation, "Controls"
Fun and fresh, this track from the electropop duo enchants.


MS MR, "Salty Sweet"
Ron Sexsmith, "The Morning Light"
Jinja Safari, "Oh Benzo!"
Sara Bareilles, "Eden"
Part Time, "Living in the U.S.A."

honorable mentions:

Ra Ra Riot, "Is It Too Much"; Nvmeri, "Detachment"; Raheem DeVaughn, "Wrong Forever"; Harper Simon, "Chinese Jade"; High Highs, "White Water"

Non-Traditional Release* Track of the Year
*Includes compilations, extended plays, soundtracks, singles, remixes, demos, mixtapes, deluxe album tracks, and independent/unofficial releases

HAIM, "Edge" (listen above)

HAIM has been compared to Fleetwood Mac many times, but never do they sound more like a modern Steve & Co. than in this bonus track from their debut album, "Days Are Gone." Co-written by Twin Shadow, this song will satisfy all of your bombastic karaoke dreams and provide plenty of opportunities to clench your fists as you sing along to the soaring chorus or chant with the sisters "No I can't fight it all," and you can't so don't try.

top 4:

Bondax, "Gold"
This British electro R&B act's big single was spare in its brillance.

Annie, "Hold On"
Annie Strand is back with Richard X and the result is super sexy.

Kylie Minogue, "Skirt"
Minogue updates her sound in this club-ready banger.

Passion Pit, "Constant Conversations (Alternate Version)"
One of the oddest and most exiting revisions of a song I've heard this year.


Veto, "Turning Machine"
Kelela, "Floor Show"
The Weeknd, "Wanderlust (Pharrell Remix)"
Navigateur, "Breathe"
Butch Clancy, "P&B"

honorable mentions:

Chrisette Michele, "Love In the Afternoon"; Skrillex, "Scary Bolly Dub"; Andrew McMahon, "After the Fire"; Bombs and Bottles, "I Will"; Gary Go, "Through the Walls"

Breakthrough Artist

David Lemaitre (above)

No matter how long a person has been performing, the idea of distilling knowledge and experience into a debut album is no easy thing to do. Lemaitre's "Latitude" feels like it comes from an artist without fear, without trepidation, and with the confidence of someone who totally understands his own sound and how to translate it. If he keeps doing this, I expect his name will be one of those people will be speaking for a long time.

top 4:

Young Dreams (above)
Imaginative without being overly serious.

HAIM (above)
Everyone's (secret) favorite new band. They keep the spunk, they'll become legends.

Kelela (above)
Her raw skill at transcending current R&B and hip hop notions is welcome.

William Beckett (above)
He's been around for awhile, but his personality and writing ability should keep him here.


Night Panther
Ariana Grande

honorable mentions:

Lorde; Rhye; The 1975; Night Works; Mary Lambert

Music Video of the Year

Harper Simon, "Bonnie Brae" (video above)

This music video is ostensibly a performance vehicle for Simon, but it's the moments in between that are so affecting. While the song talks about having that one person to whom you've connected slip away, moments of everyday life, particularly moments of fun, flash by in the hazy hue of red/blue 3-D glasses as they would in your memory. Normal people having trying to have fun together before the moment passes. It's a very simple video and extremely well produced.

top 4:

Momofoko, "We Know" (above)
The trippiest video of the year.

Robin Thicke, "Blurred Lines" (above)
Yes, I know, but the actual video is quite enjoyable. Mute the song.

Phoenix, "Entertainment" (above)
It's a mess that I happen to think is kind of brilliant.

Cayucas, "High School Lover" (above)
Sometimes if you want a Peter Gabriel video, you have to look elsewhere.


David Lemaitre, "Megalomania"
Gabriel Bruce, "Greedy Little Heart"
MGMT, "Your Life Is a Lie"
Niagara, "Seal"
Alicia Keys & Maxwell, "Fire We Make"

honorable mentions:

Matthew Dear, "Her Fantasy"; Luscious Jackson, "#1 Bum"; Oh Land, "Renaissance Girls"; Dawn Richard, "86"; Alpaca, "Republic"

Question Time: What were your favorite albums, artists, and/or songs of 2013!? I'm so glad I actually posted this before the year is over. I thought I would never get through it!

And if any links don't work or are wrong, tell me!

p.s. Most all of these songs are available to listen to on my YouTube page. Clicky here or at the top of the page to go to YouTube and click around. You'll find junk.


westernnc said...

Happy New Year Junior!
I guess I'm a little behind on some of this year's music, so it will take me a little while to listen to all of the songs you listed, but I do have one immediate comment.
 Part of what makes you so incredibly special is the way you see things - which was perfectly expressed in your commentary on Harper Simon, "Bonnie Brae". You have a magical talent that few possess for seeing the unspoken. I love how you were able to see the video and hear the lyrics and connect these everyday moments.
 Thank you for creating a moment of bliss in my life just now.

Junior said...

Dale! Thank you for your kind words about my writing. It's always appreciated! And glad I was able to bring you a moment of bliss! We all need more of them!