Getting pretty serious here, folks. If you’ve just joined us: You missed this, this and this. Catch up on those before venturing further. Or, maybe you just want to check out the top 40. That’s cool, I guess. Alright, party time. Bring the noise!
40. Vampire Weekend – Diane Young
They’ve been a go-to gag for nearly half a decade; a mainstream view of hipster culture, a dismissal of sorts. “Ahh, go listen to Vampire Weekend.” Still, once you peeled back the pretty-boy looks and the polo shirts you actually found a capable pop band with a slew of excellent – and underrated – singles. “Diane Young” is one of them, which served as both the lead-in to Modern Vampires of the City and its best track. From its wigged-out anti-guitar-solo to the brown-note tuba and the multi-pitched “baby, baby, baby” breakdown, this is where all the potential built up over the years has ended up.
39. The Lonely Island – Diaper Money
The greatest fake MCs on earth are always finding new and inventive ways to send up the genre that they love; accumulating millions of YouTube hits and an undying, ever-growing fanbase along the way. Now that they’re all in their thirties and married men, they’ve decided to take the bravado and boasting that are commonplace in hip-hop’s mainstream into the realms of buying nappies, monogamy and pristine locations to get buried. Each member has roughly thirty seconds to get their point across and they don’t need a second more – utter hilarity and every lyric endlessly quotable. Grown-ass shit.
38. Lemuria – Brilliant Dancer
There are two distinct parts in “Brilliant Dancer,” able to be neatly cut down the middle. The former matches a twirling guitar part with pitter-pattering drums and Sheena Ozzella’s sweet soprano. The latter, then, steps on a pedal and adds an unexpected kick with its forceful drums and basic yet surprisingly urgent piano. Besides containing the two words of the title (repeated to great effect in part two), these snippets seemingly have nothing to do with one another. A chance encounter, if you will. Perhaps its creation was serendipitous. Whatever the case, it’s nice to have it in the world.
37. Lucy Wilson – Wake Up Alone
The late Harlan Howard once said that the formula to a great country song was three chords and the truth. Melbourne’s Lucy Wilson isn’t quite country, but she applies this formula here with truly rapturous results. Faithfully strumming away on a ukulele, Wilson delivers a few home truths to a jilted lover. That said, you may well never hear the phrases “we are fucked for life” and “you will wake up alone” delivered more sweetly or melodically. There’s no lamenting, no stretching out the details, no use crying over spilt milk or stupid men. In, out, done. Three chords and the truth – that’s Lucy Wilson for you.
36. Surfer Blood – Gravity
Pythons, as an album, revolves around the highs and lows of what appears to be an immeasurably intense relationship. Track two finds it in somewhat happier times – bounding through a Davies-brothers chord progression, John Paul Pitts sings to his “other half,” who has stood by him despite his full awareness that he “can make a mess of things.” To be perfectly honest, a song like “Gravity” is somewhat of a relief – there are simply far too many tracks that merely see the roses of love without detailing the thorns. “Gravity” is prickly in that regard, and a better song overall for it.
35. Dave Hause – Autism Vaccine Blues
In the late nineties, a medical journal called The Lancet published a research paper which detailed and supported a (false) theory that an MMR vaccine could trigger and develop autism within those that took it. Exactly why this inspired Dave Hause to create this number is anyone’s guess, but it certainly makes for a gripping listen. Tearing through biblical imagery and meandering, muddled mind, Hause presents himself as substantially worse for ware throughout the song. Hell, one of the hooks is the desperate question “Have you seen the shape I’m in?” Here’s to Andrew Wakefield, the lying bastard. Your legacy is intact.
34. Daft Punk feat. Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers – Get Lucky
It all began with a snapshot of Nile Rodgers at his guitar being pointed at by two men with their faces out of shot (guess who). Months later, during an ad break of Saturday Night Live, our first snippet of “Get Lucky” arose. It was obsessed over – there may still be websites floating around dedicated to that snippet’s very existence. The amazing thing was, no matter how much the anticipation grew, the song fulfilled every possible fantasy. From fifteen seconds to its full six-minutes-ten, 2013 will forever be defined by our love affair with this song.
33. Janelle Monae – Dance Apocalyptic
The cabaret never ends when it comes to Janelle Monae – there’s a good chance she is still dancing and ad-libbing to an instrumental outro of “Tightrope” that ended in 2011. In turn, she may come across as somewhat exhausting to the untrained eyes and ears. With this in mind, when Monae brings the party vibes? Fuggedaboudit. With a troupe of backing singers shouting boisterously along with every other lyric, as well as scoring a hook of their own (“Smash smash!/Bang bang!”), Monae kicks the door down from verse one and doesn’t let up. She is the dance commander and she commands you to dance.
32. Brendan Maclean – Stupid
The combination of Maclean and Paul Mac was always going to be a curious one. Having spent the last few years as a popstar in a piano man’s body, Maclean essentially became the blank, white canvas that he sang about all those years ago. Their debut collaboration ended up somewhere closer to The Dissociatives than “Just the Thing,” a bubbly kiss-off that matches a snapping beat to a confident vocal delivery and a chirpy keyboard solo. Basically, “Stupid” was Brendan dipping his toes in the water of pop to find the water crisp, cool and clean. Why not jump in?
31. Haim – The Wire
“The Wire” wound up being on of the big crossover hits of the year, and when you break it down it’s easy to see why. They take daggy influences like the Eagles (whose “Heartache Tonight” serves as the mirror image for the drums) and Sheryl Crow (whose “Strong Enough” was one of their go-to covers of the year) and give them a dash of youthful exuberance and substantive attitude. A lot of adjectives spin through music writing on a daily basis, but perhaps “The Wire” could be summed up the best with this one: Righteous.
30. Miley Cyrus – Wrecking Ball
While Helen Lovejoy and her band of outraged internetters were busy asking everyone to PLEASE think of the children, wholesome little Hannah Montana was busy making the single best song of her career. After seething through her teeth during the verses, Miley Ray dropped a chorus that erupted with the kind of power one might get from the sledgehammer she so tastefully licked in that video. “Wrecking Ball” ended up being less a torch song and more a towering inferno that was only fuelled with every parody, from the Hulkster to the one guy still using Chatroulette in 2013. Eat this, Sinead. Fight the real enemy.
29. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
The lights dimmed, the mirrorball lowered and the dozen or so people that make up Arcade Fire on any given day arrived on the dancefloor. What better way to launch a monumental double album than with a title track that employs bilingual lyrics, a wall of guitar swagger, sizzling horns, pounding piano and gasping hi-hats locked into a bongo rhythm. Oh, and David fucking Bowie. Just ’cause. You’re probably thinking that this is all very uncharacteristic for a group like Arcade Fire, and you’d be exactly right. It’s this that made “Reflektor” all the more gratifying.
28. Surfer Blood – Weird Shapes
For the conspirators among you: After the first chorus of “Weird Shapes,” John Paul Pitts namechecks the Beatles song where John Lennon explicitly confesses to beating Cynthia. Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s focus in on the song itself: A bristling, sneering rock number that takes its cues from some of the heavier moments of their debut, 2010’s Astral Coast. Of particular note is the duelling guitar break and the off-beat snare hits that define the song’s rhythm. When it comes together, it really is a thing to be admired. Open up to Surfer Blood and see what the results are.
27. Lorde – Royals
This year, the title of pop’s dark horse belonged to a smirking, awkward then-sixteen-year-old who compared herself to Gollum while performing and made fans out of Lily Allen, Russell Crowe and Ellen Degeneres among many, many others. Her signature song was a minimalist commentary on rejecting mainstream ideas of luxury and cloud-talking through her own imagination. For everything that seemed unconventional – its bare production, its buzzing synth lurching back and forth in the mix – there were even more aspects that qualified it for its inevitable platinum status. If you didn’t let her be your ruler the first time around, you sure as shit did by the year’s end.
26. Courtney Barnett – Avant Gardener
A common thread among the purveyors of the supposed “dolewave” movement – predominantly stick-think Clean fans with a guitar and vocal chords both out of tune – has been the somewhat-ironic celebration of doing completely humdrum activities like making toast (Dick Diver) or playing poker (Bitch Prefect). In theory, a five-minute song about an asthma attack while doing yardwork should just blend in with the rest – and yet, against all odds, it became one of the best examples of Australian storytelling to come out in the year. From the minute Barnett wakes up to her final refrain detailing her difficulty breathing, it’s a captivating and infatuating prospect.
25. Brendan Maclean – Winner
And there’s Maclean – aka Klipspringer, aka @macleanbrendan, aka that poonce that disrespected the bloody Sando – charging out of the gates, all neon and confetti. It was with “Winner,” single number two in B-Mac’s busy 2013, that the true colours shone through like a beacon – think John Belushi’s glow in The Blues Brothers’ church scene, followed by flipping his way down the aisle. Chopped-and-screwed vocals blurt in and out of fizzling synth hooks and an urgent drum machine. Sure, the twist maybe Maclean’s chorus of “I won’t be a winner,” but you’ll be hard pressed to feel like anything else at the song’s triumphant conclusion.
24. The Lonely Island – Spring Break Anthem
For all of their praise and adoration, one criticism of the Lonely Island is that they needn’t bother making albums or releasing songs. Given they are trained in visual mediums and score their biggest hits through YouTube views, one might have an understanding of where this comes from. Then something like “Spring Break Anthem” turns up. As hilarious as the video is, it’s just as gut-busting on its own accord. If you haven’t yet experienced its twist, just know that the marriage equality movement was a LOT better off because of this song. Also of note: The single best closing line of a 2013 track.
23. Crayon Pop – Bar Bar Bar 2.0
The west’s infatuation with Korean pop music (K-pop) can more or less be divided between pre-“Gangnam Style” and post. Beforehand, it was an occasional YouTube laugh. Now, as Psy horse-rides into a billion views and beyond, we’re constantly seeking out the latest pop pleasures from Seoul and its surrounds. Once such delight came in the form of bouncy (literally) girl group Crayon Pop, who smashed a broken English chorus out of the park and into your skulls. The energy goes beyond mere cuteness and ends up being flat-out undeniable; becoming a global pop force to be reckoned with. HEY, YOU GUYS!
22. Justin Timberlake – Mirrors
A three-minute pop ballad isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? An eight-minute pop ballad. “Mirrors,” a silk-smooth ode to true love and the commitment of marriage, stood head and shoulders above every other song Timberlake released in 2013 – and most other songs by other artists, too. No Jay-Z cameos, no gimmicks… just pure, unadulterated Trousersnake served just right for your slow, savoury consumption. How great is “Mirrors”? Let’s just put it this way: This makes up for The Love Guru, Bad Teacher, Friends with Benefits AND In Time. Act all you want, son. Just don’t forget where you came from.
21. Buke and Gase – Houdini Crush
It’s somewhat of a platitude among writers to note that a duo makes a lot of noise for merely a two-piece. With this in mind… what is going on here? The song swerves, scales and plummets through its various peaks and valleys, capturing your attention from the very second the “gase” gurgles out into the ether. Not only is it incredible that everything you hear on “Houdini Crush” is made by merely four hands and four feet, but the fact they’re using instruments that were made by the aforementioned four hands arguably makes Buke & Gase the single most unique act in this entire list.
Download the podcast version of Part Four here.
Read on to the final part of the countdown here.