Monday, 13 January 2014

Favourite Songs of 2013

Before I get to actually naming and detailing what my favourite songs of 2013 actually were, here are a whole bunch of songs that almost made it. I was addicted to or just loved all of these at various points over the course of the year (sadly there's no place for The Pipettes' "Pull Shapes" anywhere). At the bottom of the post you'll find a Spotify containing all the songs mentioned here. And now the list:

Honourable Mentions:
Arcade Fire - "Afterlife"
James Blake - "Overgrown"
Boards of Canada - "Reach for the Dead"
Daft Punk - "Doin' It Right"
Daft Punk - "Touch"
Chvrches - "Gun"
Chvrches - "We Sink"
Glass Candy - "Warm in the Winter"
Jon Hopkins - "Open Eye Signal"
Icona Pop - "All Night"
Lorde - "Royals"
Janelle Monáe - "Q.U.E.E.N. (feat. Erykah Badu)"
The National - "Don't Swallow the Cap"
Sigur Ros - "Brennisteinn"
Vampire Weekend - "Unbelievers"

10. Charli XCX - "You (Ha Ha Ha)"
This was a song that I wasn't entirely sold on when I first hit, but it became the very definition of a grower. Much like the other song on this list with vocals from Charli XCX, this song is all about female empowerment. There's something heart warming in someone being so upbeat and positive even whilst singing about heartbreak. You can hear the pain in the lyrics, but that's isn't going to get in the way its 'party all night' attitude. This is the definition of what good pop music can do, it forces you to smile even as the tears are washing all the glitter.

09. Jon Hopkins - "Breathe This Air (feat. Purity Ring)"
On it's own on Jon Hopkins' Mercury nominated album "Immunity", "Breathe This Air" was great, but definitely not the albums highlight (that was "Open Eye Signal"). Then two months later Hopkins added Purity Ring to the track and it became a thing of transcendent beauty. Purity Rings' album "Shrines" was one of my highlights of 2012 and I can't wait to hear what happens on their follow, but I can't help but want Jon Hopkins involved in some form now. Something about the glitchy sounds of "Breathe This Air" only reinforce the beauty of Megan James's voice. This was a match made in heaven and I can't wait to see if there any future collaborations to come from these artists.

08. Kanye West - "Blood on the Leaves"
Along with "Bound 2", "Blood on the Leaves" is the most sample heavy song on all of "Yeezus", marrying together Nina Simone's "Strange Fruit" and TNGHT's "R U Ready". Whilst I feel that "Bound 2" works wonderfully as a conclusion to what Kanye achieved on "Yeezus", it's "Blood on the Leaves" that is able to stand apart far better as an actual song. There were few moments in music in all of 2013 that sounded as crushingly massive as when TNGHT's horns kick in during this song. Their use as a counterpoint to the almost idyllic sounding sample of Nina Simone is cognitive dissonance at it's strongest. Whilst the rest of the album is both thematically and sonically dark, "Blood on the Leaves" is light... until it isn't any more and you realise it was all so the songs message would stick that much more.

07. Frightened Rabbit - "Holy"
Despite the concept of "Holy" sounds deeply cynical, it's a song about a man rejecting religion because he knows he's already damned, that doesn't keep the song from being so deeply joyous. There's a propulsive nature to Grant Hutchinson's drums on this track that it make sound like it's being driven by an army of horses across the finish line. "Holy" has all the makings of an indie rock classic and there are comparisons that I could easily make to The Walkmen's "The Rat" or TV on the Radio's "Wolf Like Me", but Frightened Rabbit are still one of Scotland's best kept secrets and that seems to be more than enough, especially if they keep putting songs as strong as this one.

06. Daft Punk - "Giorgio by Moroder"
I remember returning home on the 13th of May to find that Daft Punk had put the entirety of "Random Access Memories" up on iTunes for people to listen to, so obviously I immediately loaded up my first lesson. Whilst the first two tracks felt like extensions of the aesthetic that had been started by "Get Lucky", it was when "Giorgio by Moroder" started up that I knew I was in for something special. I wasn't entirely sure who it was that I was listening to, but . Then the click kicks in at 1:33 and the whole song reaches another level. What follows is seven minutes of pure synth bliss. When I first heard this song I said that I couldn't remember the last time that a song hit me as hard, and I continue to stand by that. "Giorgio by Moroder" is a tour de force of a song and one that would have had irreparably damaged "Random Access Memories" had it not been included.

05. Chvrches - "The Mother We Share"
At the end of the day, Chvrches were unequivocally my band of 2013. This probably most evident in the fact that I bought this. Chvrches had such a fantastic year, every single that they released was brilliant ultimately culminating in their superb début album "The Bones of  What You Believe". Now, technically, "The Mother We Share" was released in 2012, but was reissued in 2013 and is the epitome of everything that Chvrches do so well. From the melancholic feel of the song being juxtaposed with the twinkling synths and brightness of Lauren Mayberry's voice. Chvrches feel like a more world weary version of Purity Ring, and that is one of the highest pieces of praise I can give them.

04. Kanye West - "Black Skinhead"
"Black Skinhead", much like the rest of "Yeezus" sounds like nothing that Kanye West has done up until this point. Gone is the lush and expensive production that defined "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy", replaced by something far more raw. As has been pointed out many times before, "Yeezus" feels like Kanye trying to make a punk-rap album and nowhere is this more evident on "Black Skinhead". The song is a mere 3 minutes long and it just doesn't let up, from the moment it starts there's a barely a chance to breathe. Whilst the studio version lacks the visceral nature of the SNL performance, it's still an absolute wonder to listen to Kanye at his moist vitriolic on this track.

03. Arcade Fire - "Reflektor"
When I heard that James Murphy of the late, great LCD Soundsystem was going to be producing Arcade Fire's fourth album I knew that above all the album would be much more danceable, but I was pre
pared for "Reflektor". The drums alone are just about the funkiest thing I had heard since the guitar riff from "Get Lucky". But there's so much more to love about "Reflektor" than James Murphy's production; the glory that is Colin Stetson's saxophone (the songs stealth
MVP), the random David Bowie cameo, the fact that not one second of it's seven minute run time is wasted and, most importantly, the fact that it still sounds like an Arcade Fire track. Even ten years removed from their career defining début album, Arcade Fire cement themselves as one on the definitive musical voices of the 21st century.

02. Icona Pop - "I Love It (feat. Charli XCX)"
Cheating a little bit on this one considering the song actually came out in 2012, however it didn't receive a UK release until the middle of 2013, which is why it gets on this list. I first heart "I Love It" when it was featured on the third episode of Girls' second season. It's such a joyous moment that you can't help but be sucked in and is one of the few times that I've known I had to own a song having heard it only once. Despite the fact the lyrics feature someone crashing their car into a bridge, there's a sense of complete euphoria to this song that's hard to shake. There's an energy and addictive quality to this song that is hard to define in any way other than I know that I love it (pardon the pun).  If I were to write the dictionary definition of 'fun' I'd just include a link to this song, it's that infectiously happy.

01. Daft Punk - "Get Lucky (feat. Pharrell Williams) (Single Edit)"
This one is probably a bit too obvious, but it's obvious for a reason. Whilst people are going to claim that "Blurred Lines" is also a claimant for Song of the Summer, the backlash to that song is only going to damage it in years to come. ''Get Lucky" on the other hand is still as good as it was the day the preview came out back in April. What makes "Get Lucky" so brilliant is that it manages to evoke that feeling of disco music of the past whilst still being able to evoke 2013 in such an intrinsic way. Other songs may have made claims to be the song that defined the year, in 20 years it will only be "Get Lucky" that soundtracks all of those retrospectives on 2013.