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The Top 100 Songs of 2013, Part Five – 20-1

top20thirt

This is the end, my only friend the end.

Here is the rest of the list:

100 – 81
80 – 61
60 – 41
40 – 21

These are the 20 songs that soundtracked my year. These were my absolute favourites. The best of the best. Thank you to the musicians, the songwriters, the producers… everyone who made these songs possible. Let’s do this all again in 2014.

***

20. Kirin J Callinan – Embracism

He divides the cool kids right down the middle and provokes the most extreme sides of the emotional spectrum with his perplexing and confronting take on art rock. That didn’t change with his debut solo album, Embracism, and in particular its title track: A thudding, swerving and chillingly intense commentary on the increasingly abstract concept of masculinity. Part Metal Machine Music, part self-help guide, Callinan spits through scenarios while synths hum and drone, guitars wailing and screeching. It’s far from an easy listen, but against all odds it manages to have an addictive flair to it. So, do you measure up?

19. Au Revoir Simone – Crazy

Ten years on from a fateful train trip which saw ARS’s Erika Forster and Annie Hart meet for the first time, it’s always a truly wonderful thing to remember that Au Revoir Simone are in the world. Yes, they were out of the picture for a little while, but “Crazy” made sure that the wait was more than worth it. From its rich melodies and impressive keyboard tapestry to its high-fret bass guitar break, there is not a single note out of place here. It weaves together so consummately that it really does make it feel like they were never truly gone.

18. Wil Wagner – Laika

How fascinating it was when two of Australia’s best contemporary musical storytellers – in this case, The Smith Street Band’s Wil Wagner and The Drones’ Gareth Liddiard – both put out songs called “Laika” in 2013. Named after the Soviet space dog, each song took very different approaches to the tragic tale at hand. Liddiard gave a very intense, analytical and borderline scientific take. As excellent and typically Liddiardian as it was, it simply could not compare to Wagner’s first-person (or, in this case, first-dog) perspective – a bittersweet, poignant and truly stirring piece of rewritten history. For everything Wagner achieved in 2013, it all started here.

17. The Dear Hunter – The Kiss of Life

A year when both Deerhunter and The Dear Hunter release albums is going to cause a head-scratch or two; one of the many bits and pieces of confusion that worked their way around throughout the year. Keeping this in mind, there’s absolutely no confusion when it comes to “The Kiss of Life” – it’s the latter, alright; sounding better than ever before. Both the calm before the storm and the storm itself are dynamically written and emphatically played – this has truly moved out of the side-project realm and into its own class entirely. Remember the name.

16. Nick van Breda – The World and the Everyday

How fitting that one of Nick’s former bands was called Staying At Home: Here’s a spiffy little number about wanting to make the most of life and yet constantly being dragged from it on account of menial, insignificant chores and housework. “The World and the Everyday” is a perfect blend of the subliminal and the sublime – cooing harmonies and ticking-clock rim-shots meld into striding acoustic guitar and an infestation of hooks that flutter through the song’s atmosphere and make their home in the back of your head. Be careful if this is your first listen – those earworms ain’t going anywhere for awhile.

15. Kanye West – Black Skinhead

Charlie Skinner, one of the main characters of HBO’s The Newsroom, is at times seen as the show’s comic relief. He has one simple cry when it’s time for business: “I’m not fucking around!” For all the time that Kanye West spent in 2013 as a punchline or in ridicule of endless comment sections, people knew when to shut up once the ear-splitting floor tom came rolling in, the heavy breathing commenced and Mongolian-flavoured grunt-chants filed through the proverbial aisles. Few things – musical, political, whatever have you – quite put people in their place quite like “Black Skinhead.” Kanye to world: I’m not fucking around.

14. mowgli – Disillusioned

“Tear down the things they built.” Six simple words – innocuous separately, borderline revolutionary when combined. This protest march wasn’t so much about what is said as much as how: The unhinged conviction and the teeth-gnashing rage that come from vocalist Cameron Smith lead the charge of this anti-authoritarian call to arms with a ferocity that cannot be matched. Once it catapults into a limb-flailing wig-out – all rolling drum fills and guitar screech – all bets are completely off. “Disillusioned” is the kind of song that can irrevocably prove that actions speak far, far louder than words.

13. Drake feat. Majid Jordan – Hold On, We’re Going Home

Yes, 2013 was another healthy year in the culture of Drake – countless image parodies, song parodies, macros, memes, Twitter accounts and more .gifs than you could poke your digital stick at. Hell, you might have even forgotten the guy actually makes music – that was, of course, until you heard that electronic drum intro and you eased your way into potentially the coolest song of 2013. From its cave-dwelling vocal samples to its glacial, late-night synth warble, “Hold On” got its hooks in early and kept them there. Drake the type of dude that rules the pop universe.

12. Bastille – Pompeii

Making pop songs to fill arenas is one thing, but “Pompeii” was a different beast altogether in that it was a true-blooded stadium song in the traditional Greco-Roman sense. Just listen to how powerful this thing got: A baritone male choir which could be heard within a 500-metre radius. Floor toms and taikos that landed about 8.1 on the Richter scale. Keyboards that fizzled and buzzed with roughly the amount of electricity it takes to keep a small town lit up. Forget “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” – Bastille made sure that they made every single second of their big moment in the sun count.

11. CHVRCHES – Gun

Imagine being told that you are going to be hunted down, that there is no escape and that you best get a wriggle on if you have even the smallest glimmer of hope to survive. Now imagine that you’re being told this by an impish twenty-something Glasweigan lass with a voice of gold and a synthesizer with phasers set to stun. Remarkably, it actually makes the weight of the threats even greater – not to mention assisting in making “Gun” one of the year’s greatest exercises in contrast. A strange, unearthly delight of a song. Don’t fuck with CHVRCHES.



10. Pinch Hitter – Nine-to-Fine

It all began with mid-2000s music lessons and a big-brother/little-brother relationship that would last the ages. Forget all other contenders: 2013’s greatest bromance was between Nick van Breda (Staying at Home, Animal Shapes, Lights Out) and Dave Drayton (Milhouse, Between the Devil and the Deep, Euripides Berserker). They became Pinch Hitter, a duo focused solely on the art of banjo-slinging and “chucking a feels.” Winding up with about half a dozen original songs, the pick of the litter came with this ode to everyone who has ever worked from home. Not only does the double-banjo arrangement flourish, but its chorus became so undeniable over each listen that even those working Dolly Parton hours would still find themselves singing along. Make all the Deliverance gags you please – Pinch Hitter are here to stay.

9. Kanye West – New Slaves

There is a distinct difference between the n-word having an “a” at the end of it and having an “er” at the end. “New Slaves” is a song that explores the latter – a stark, aching state of the union address that goes from post-colonial America to The Waterboy and back again in a matter of minutes. It’s the kind of rant that would have broken Kanye’s fucking Macbook Air a few years back – a wad of bile that has been building up for quite some time. On top of all of that, you could not have asked for a better mic-drop finale than an AutoTune solo followed by ad-libs from Frank Ocean. In conclusion: Kanye West wrote “New Slaves.” Your argument is invalid.

8. The Happy Hollows – Endless

It’s been said many times that music is the language of us all. Let’s take that one step further – the wordless refrain is the language of us all. Think about it: “Miss You,” “Chelsea Dagger,” “Viva La Vida”… even “Pompeii” from this year. It’s a beautiful thing, and its legacy continued on the opening track to The Happy Hollows’ second album, Amethyst. The band have an atmosphere to their music – it’s vast and lush and hazy; with broad strokes of jangling guitar and booming drums. “Endless” is a perfect amalgamation of their greatest traits; topped off with a chorus that doesn’t need words – it just needs a soaring “ohhhhhhh.” In other words, “Endless” is the kind of dream pop that you do not want to wake up from.

7. Austin Lucas – Alone in Memphis

If you paid attention to popular country music this year, you’d have found a lot of dudes fixin’ up their truck, hopin’ to get it stuck and to get a girl in the passenger seat so they can… kiss. Ironically enough, you had to actually go off the beaten track that these artists so romanticised in order to find anything of substance. Were you to take this journey, you’d wind up in southern Indiana with Austin Lucas. Here, Lucas has penned an ode to life on the road and his love/hate relationship with his travels. It’s delivered so soundly and with such a forlorn sense of isolation, you’d think no-one had ever thought to write about such a thing before. It’s real country. No truck required.


6. Buke and Gase – Hiccup

Probably not since Battles’ seminal 2007 single “Atlas” have we seen such a bizarrely resplendent marriage between avant-garde New Yorkisms and quirky pop textures. Then again, you probably haven’t heard anything quite like Buke and Gase in a very, very long time – perhaps ever. The “gase” (a guitar-bass hybrid) is what leads the charge here, sprawling itself out over an incessant kick drum. A shrill lick from the “buke” (a six-string baritone ukulele) follows, throwing shapes over the top of proceedings before locking into the main riff as well. It stops, it starts, it occasionally explodes. There’s no doubting that “Hiccup” is a truly odd machine. But it is a truly marvellous one, as well.

5. The Internet – Dontcha

2013 was a busy year in the Odd Future Records camp – we received new albums from Earl Sweatshirt (very well-received), Tyler, the Creator (not-so-well-received) and MellowHigh (somewhere in the middle). The lot was surpassed, however, with the release of “Doncha.” The song is interesting in that it came in the year where one of its biggest hits stemmed from the minds of Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers. The song takes substantial cues from both – the falsetto-heavy vocals of the former and the unmistakable guitar swagger of the latter. Hell, even the recurring phrase “don’t you want me” is practically a Human League nod. What makes “Doncha” so great, however, is the fact that its multiple influences come together to become something truly refreshing, electric, bouncy and unfathomably groovy. Get down or get lost.

4. GRMLN – Teenage Rhythm

Orange County via Kyoto’s GRMLN (say it “Gremlin”) didn’t so much arrive in 2013 as he did materialise. The project of Yoodoo Park, a Japanese-American musician barely out of his teenage years, his debut LP Empire was recorded and written in-between (or in lieu of) classes at UCSC. From Empire‘s opening track, one is reminded instantly of the simple pleasures that can come from just shouting over an electric guitar. “Teenage Rhythm” has an energy that is relentless, an urgency that can only come with the blissful ignorance of youth and an excitability that can only come with a big, raucous refrain of “Get out! Get out! Get out!” As the cymbals crash about the place and guitars swerve across them, one can’t help but smile. Rock and roll keeps turning up in the strangest of places.

3. Oslow – Desert Dog Rd.

Let’s hone in on the western suburbs of Sydney, where everyone from Northlane to Yes I’m Leaving managed to have impressive years. Perhaps the greatest surprise of them all, however, came in the form of Oslow – despite the fact they only released a single in 2013, it alone managed to trump nearly everything released by Sydney acts throughout the year. So, what made “Desert Dog Rd” such an achievement? Basically, it’s the sum of its parts. It’s a signature song of what is being achieved in Australian independent rock music; a song of peaks and valleys, lyrically defiant without being brattish or pretentious, smartly progressive without being bogged down in the mathematics of song structure. It’s exactly what 2013 needed – and, with any luck, it will be exactly what 2014 and beyond sounds like.

2. Savages – She Will

Here it is. The Daniel Day Lewis of 2013 songs. The single most intense track of the year. How intense are we talking? Even the instruments sound like they hate each other. After launching into the single best riff of the year, the drums start attempting to swat it down with a Stephen Morris hi-hat and snare pattern delivered at breakneck speed. When the chorus hits, the crash cymbal gets pounded into submission through a series of visceral chokes while the guitar seethes and radiates in its feedback. It then hits back with another knife-edge guitar break – as if to say, “Your move.” It must be noted that it’s this ferocity that made “She Will” such a vital, stunning song – the classic kind that stops you dead in your tracks. The kind that will make you have to pull over the car should it come on the radio. The kind that sparks dancing until there is blood dripping from the heel of your shoe. You really have no choice but to give in to it.

1. mowgli – Slowburn

What exactly can one say about a piece of music that simultaneously leaves you at a loss for words and wanting to say so many things? As a rule, a group like mowgli should not be at this stage yet – barely two years old, with a collection of recorded songs that can be counted on a single hand. And yet, here we are – we have been gifted with “Slowburn,” which carries an insurmountable weight to it and a breathtaking emotional ponderosity that belies both age and experience.

There may well come a time where the song doesn’t really belong to the band anymore – it will become a timeless, priceless possession to anyone that has ever felt the frustrations, the exasperate animosity and the desperately questioning confusion that is alluded to through the song’s lyrics. It takes you from the calm before the storm all the way up to when the snare is turned on and the vocals switch from trying not to lose it to having flat-out fucking lost it. It’s a soundtrack to lost friendship, to false starts, to accusations of hypocrisy, to trying to find who you really are and getting completely lost along the way.It’s the realest, the worthiest and the most rewarding emotional investment one could have possibly made in 2013.

The best part? The five people that make up mowgli seem to have absolutely no idea what they’ve done here. It’s a great song, yes; but there will come a time where “Slowburn” will mean so much more than just that. With this song, the band have lit an eternal flame. For whatever may come next, there will always be this.

***

Tracks by female artists (artist/featured artist/vocalist is female) = 33

Tracks by Australian artists = 25

Oldest person on the list = Paul McCartney, 71 at time of recording

Youngest person on the list = Lorde, 16 at time of recording

Multiple entries:

Cloud Control (93, 41), Paramore (90, 45, 43), Justin Timberlake (88, 22), Kings of Leon (85, 46), Surfer Blood (80, 36, 28), Wil Wagner (75, 18), Lorde (60, 27), mowgli (56, 14, 1), Dave Hause (51, 35), Brendan Maclean (32, 25), Buke and Gase (21, 6), Kanye West (15, 9)

Download the podcast version here. Thanks for reading/listening!

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3 comments on “The Top 100 Songs of 2013, Part Five – 20-1

  1. steveholt
    31/12/2013

    needs more parkway hipster fgt

  2. Pingback: The Top 100 Songs of 2013, Part Four – 40-21 « David James Young writes...

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This entry was posted on 31/12/2013 by in Lists.
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