Halfway point! And beyond!
60. Lorde – Buzzcut Season
You’ve probably heard plenty of teenagers utter the phrase “I’ll never go home again.” Some random tantrum has sent them off in a huff, faux-packing their “belongings” and marching off brashly down the street. It’s only when it leaves the lips of one Ella Yelich-O’Connor – better known to the masses as Lorde – that it takes on a degree of believability. This sombre cut from the gangbusters debut Pure Heroine allows Ella to register in a lower tone, chillingly recalling a summer of runaway love and escaping to a better existence. A quiet moment with the artist that perhaps made the most noise in 2013.
59. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – From the Sun
The Beatles are a pretty obvious musical influence, right? They get bandied about from artist to artist as a cliched inspiration. It’s interesting, then, to find this part-Kiwi, part-Portlandian trio taking this influence into the shaggier, weirder side. We’re talking the late sixties, we’re talking fuzzy guitar and we’re especially talking “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” The opening cut from their second album entitled – wait for it – II, UMO churn through this slice of psychedelia like old hands. It’s remarkably catchy, outstandingly mixed and fittingly wigged-out. In other words: The best song from 1968 to come out in 2013.
58. Blood Orange – Chamakay
One thing that Dev Hynes deserves the utmost credit for is not only the fact he has released and recorded so much work before hitting 30; but the fact that he’s never released the same record twice. On his second album under the Blood Orange moniker, Hynes takes it back to the eighties with vintage drum machines, glassy synth and breathy lead vocals. The secret weapon here, though, comes in the form of Chairlift singer Caroline Polachek; who certifiably nails her vocal counterpart throughout the track. Oh, and who are you to deny the sax solo its rightful comeback?
57. City and Colour – The Hurry and the Harm
By this stage, you’re either on board with Dallas Green’s folk-rock ventures or you’re in the corner cursing the world that Alexisonfire are no longer with us. The title track and opening number from Green’s fourth album under the C&C moniker will only cement your stance – whichever that may be. Breezy steel-string washes over a low keyboard drone and sparkling drops of cymbal accents, blending together to form a small slice of paradise. Take it slow and see where the music takes you next.
56. mowgli – Mess
No-one did loud-quiet-loud like Sydney’s mowgli in 2013. After ferociously tearing through the first verse, they cleverly reel themselves in and break down after a substantial build-up. It lets the heart-wrenching, emotional refrain – “I just know I should be with you right now” – resonate with the utmost clarity. Fluttering drum patterns and spiralling guitar build the song up again until it’s once again bowled over by a fit of rage that will shake you to your very core. A masterful songwriting experience and a fine reflection on grief, faith, worry and acceptance.
55. Daylight – Sponge
BOOM-PAW-BOOMBOOM-PAW-BOOMBOOM – the thud of the intro drums for Daylight’s fantastic debut album served as one of the year’s more invigorating kickoffs. How do you better an unstoppable force such as this? Easy – add in an immovable object like the main riff, which seemed to seethe and snarl straight out of the speakers. From there, it’s a churning, heavy rocker with more angst than you can wield a knife at. This, essentially, is what the original post-grunge movement could have sounded like if it wasn’t taken over by the Christians.
54. Isaac Graham – Hearts Convulse
Here to show us the importance of being earnest, Sydney sweetheart Isaac Graham proved with “Hearts Convulse” that just because you’re a nice guy, doesn’t mean your music has to be boring as batshit. The piece de resistance of his second album, Glorious Momentum, the song is a tender back-and-forth between Graham and his lovely partner Lucy Flynn. They recall falling in love, singing the night away and sticking with one another in times of substantial trouble. It’s all just a bit wonderful. Heart-on-sleeve folk rock hasn’t sounded this good in a damn long time.
53. Sara Bareilles – Brave
It was a stellar year for pop, but not always in the places you’d expect. While juggernauts like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry dropped relatively disappointing LPs and singles, a spectacular comeback was made by 2007’s piano-pop darling Sara Bareilles and managed to topple them both – sadly not in sales, but easily in terms of quality. Against all odds, it was Bareilles that delivered one of the defining hairbrush-singalong choruses of the year; replete with bombast and grandeur and sprinkled with sugar, spice and all things nice. “Brave” is a sunny joy of a song. There’s definitely more than meets the eye here.
52. The Civil Wars – The One That Got Away
This one got voted in absentee, considering that Joy Williams and John Paul White – better known as The Civil Wars – have had a well-documented falling-out and are currently not speaking to one another. Is this the end? Your guess. All that is known for certain is that even though they technically didn’t do anything this year, the duo still managed to run rings around their competition. Screeching slide guitar and swaying acoustic intimacies detailed a sour love affair – not one that is at its end, but one that won’t stop going. It’s a slithering, sinister slice of mountain folk and it needs to be heard.
51. Dave Hause – The Great Depression
It’s not often you get nods to both modern history and Hulk Hogan in the same song. Then again, that’s what’s so great about Dave Hause as a songwriter – he tackles broader issues with a flair of originality; getting to the heart of the matter by taking the scenic route. Here, he documents just how far off the radar he and his friends have gotten; trading blows with a barroom piano and spitting confessionals like an airing of grievances. “It’s freedom forever ’til your card gets declined,” he muses at one point. With “The Great Depression,” Hause adds to a strong credit history.
50. Robin Thicke feat. Pharrell Williams and T.I. – Blurred Lines
There’s a strong chance that you currently can’t read this text on account of the fiery inferno that has appeared in front of your eyes. Yep, no-one quite kicked the internet outrage machine into overdrive quite like Robin Thicke; who managed to score a hit after ten years of trying to match the success of “When I Get You Alone.” Conspiracy theories flowed thick and fast regarding the lyrical content, but we aren’t here to talk about that. We are here to dance – and that’s exactly what “Blurred Lines” is here to provide. Err’body git up!
49. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Prancer
Five albums in, Jersey’s resident metal psychos took their particular brand of chaos to fire-breathing new heights. It started here with the track that kicks the door down to introduce One of Us is the Killer, unleashing a world of knife-edge insanity and breakneck intensity within a matter of minutes. This is what heavy music in the 2010s is capable of – it’s definitely not for the faint at heart, but it reaps its own rewards with every full-bore listen. Bonus points: Vocalist Greg Puciato delivers the best “fuck you” in song since Cee-Lo Green.
48. Jen Buxton – It Says No Homers (We’re Allowed to Have One)
In March, Newcastle’s Jen Buxton was a part of the Hits & Pits touring festival. The problem came with the fact that, out of the dozen or so acts that appeared, Buxton was the only woman. It sparked her to write this song, which featured on her split with Lincoln Le Fevre and stands as one of the best songs she has ever written. Subtle in its fury and attack, she defiantly sings to anyone who would dare to judge her on her gender. You can hear it loud and clear: “I’m not standing in the back row anymore.” Girls to the front, please.
47. Ra Ra Riot – Dance with Me
The opening number of Beta Love, Ra Ra Riot’s first album in three years, is all about the higher range. The upstroke guitar, the violin stabs, Wes Miles’ vocals… it’s all floating around up there on a different plain entirely. It’s a surge of power-pop that was unlike anything else that came out this year, a proudly weird roller-disco which packed in as many hooks as possible into its brief running time. The woozy half-time swing is a stroke of genius, as is the intentionally-late drum fills – the little things here build into something much, much greater.
46. Kings of Leon – Supersoaker
The song of the summer is an ongoing battle in the pop world – which track truly defines the warmer weather; its links to positivity, kinship and endless good vibes? Believe it or not, the best contender wasn’t “Get Lucky” or “Blurred Lines” – if it was a true song of the summer you’re after, then the lead single from Kings of Leon’s sixth album was where it was at. The rush of the guitar, the incessant beating of the drums, the joyous release that the chorus brought – this was less lightening in a bottle and more radiating sunshine.
45. Paramore – Ain’t It Fun
The first few tracks on Paramore’s self-titled album aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination – they’re actually quite good. It isn’t until “Ain’t It Fun” turns up on the tracklisting, however, that we’re properly introduced to the next chapter for the band. Instead of making pop-punk a 50/50 split, it’s become 85/15 – and the songs are so much sharper, brighter and livelier for it. The buzzing keys, the cutesy marimba and the pummelling bass are all well and good, but it’s when the choir hits that the song truly explodes – this is the first track of the rest of Paramore’s life.
44. St. Lucia – Elevate
One of the year’s most confusing moments, in retrospect, was just how “Elevate” managed to slip under the radar. Sure, there was a little traction for the song, including a Kimmel appearance and some blog love, but this is the kind of song that deserved to dominate radio globally to the point of no return. It’s just perfect pop, albeit a little left of centre – the Brooklyn-via-Johannesburg outfit layered keyboard after keyboard, thrown atop Phil Collins-sized drums and a Nile Rodgers guitar strut. Perhaps it’s ruling the charts in a parallel universe…
43. Paramore – Still Into You
Are we done with the love song? Far from it. “Still Into You” exists.
42. Little Scout – March Over to Me
It was a year of highs and lows for Brisbane dears Little Scout. After successfully crowdfunding their second album, keyboardist Kirsty Tickle took off on an indefinite European jaunt. Thankfully, we got this out of her before Berlin came a-calling: The second single from Are You Life was a brisk, beaming dose of indie-pop with some seriously solid foundation in the form of the booming toms and the grunting bassline. It’s a wondrous contrast to Mel Tickle’s dulcet melodies and the cooing harmonies she creates with her sister – whatever the future holds, we’ll always have this.
41. Cloud Control – Dojo Rising
A mind’s worth of trouble, thinking about what Cloud Control could sound like in 2013, washed away almost instantly within the first minute of “Dojo Rising.” It turns out that it could sound pretty damn special in its own right – Ulrich Lenffer’s ride-heavy backbeat was one of the year’s most distinctive; while the splashes of weirdness (the submarine bleep keyboards, the siren wail e-bow) added a new layer to what was already an impressive piece of work. “Dojo” managed to work as both a reminder of their excellence as well as an introduction to those that were sleeping on Bliss Release. We’re not in the Blue Mountains anymore, Toto.
Download the podcast version of part three here.
Read on to Part Four here.