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Top 10 Songs of 2013

This started out as an exercise to pick the year's best music – twenty-five songs, each artist used once – but, while there was a lot of good music this year, I'm looking for the great stuff. A few albums (Arcade Fire, Daft Punk, Kanye) were even a little better than the sum of their parts. But as far as single songs go, this is the playlist that I'm going with, and so my list of 25 gave way to these ten. These are the great songs of 2013.

10. "Thrift Shop" by Kidz Bop Kids

Usually the Kidz Bop machine swallows a pop song and spits out a sugary substitute sans sharp edges and questionable lyrics. When it's bad, it's bad (their version of the Lumineers' "Ho Hey" conjures sad-sack 12-year-olds who maybe made a bad call somewhere between second grade and here, the corner of Canal and Bowery).

But when it's good, it's sublime. Take the lyric rewrite from "Thrift Shop," which spins Macklemore's original:

Draped in a leopard mink, girl standin' next to me
Probably shoulda washed this, smells like R. Kelly's sheets


Draped in a leopard mink, girl standin' next to me
Probably shoulda washed this, smells like my baseball cleats

Eh, Bravo!

09. "If You Didn't See Me (Then You Weren't On The Dancefloor)" by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

Juding from the glut of '80s dance-rock in today's alternative mix, you can't rent a Brooklyn apartment furnished without pedals and synthesizers (hear: Bastille, New Politics, Imagine Dragons, Passion Pit, Capital Cities, CHVRCHES, etc.).

But this track from DEJrJr ditches the hipster-nostalgia and embraces the zeitgeist's past, with a half-winked answer to "what'd you do last night?"

08. "Do I Wanna Know?" by The Arctic Monkeys

For bringing the sleazy, slightly scary, probably-has-or-had-the-clap, guitar riff back into the conversation.

07. "Nutty" by Thelonious Monk

This is a ridiculously fun record, recorded in Paris in 1969. Monk never lets you forget the piano is part of the percussion, and "Nutty" tumbles, pitting the piano and snare against everyone else in the room.

Monk actually being crazy doesn't hurt, either.

06. "Comrade" by Volcano Choir

Bon Iver's Justin Vernon (in yet-another-side-project) delivers this swell of synth blips and guitar lines and his signature sung/spoken/auto-tuned falsetto.

It's about either a failed  relationship, or puking in a casino... tomato, tomahto.

That Ticonderoga’s shit;
Made my mind and my heart all split up over
The floor of the Jackpot.

05. "I Need My Girl" by The National

The National have always used layering and repetition to mess with you. So by the eighth time Matt Berninger repeats "I need my girl," you're wondering if he means it, or if he's trying to convince himself. Most of this album deals with reflection, self-awareness, and deprecation -- the musicians' mid-life moment of clarity, and this song pins it.

There's some things that I should never
Laugh about in front of family.
I tried to call you from the party.
It's full of punks and cannonballers.

04. "Cover Me Up" by Jason Isbell

The one where the cowboy sobers up, settles down, and comes clean. You know that one. (Incidentally, Isbell's Southeastern is the best album of the year.)

So girl leave your boots by the bed, we ain't leavin' this room
'til someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom.
It's cold in this house and I ain't goin' out to chop wood.
So cover me up and know you're enough to use me for good.

03. "Step" by Vampire Weekend

Because I'm a sucker for a good conceit, and this is Ezra's love-letter to music (the "girl" he's singing about) and how his relationship with her has changed (and continues to change, through his realization that "she" doesn't really belong to him at all).

02. "Song for Zula" by Phosphorescent

If Walt Whitman wrote pop songs this would've been his first single. This is all about rhythm and timing: the inhale and exhale of the strings, the heartbeat of the bass, the echoing pulse of the snare. You're three verses in before you realize there's no hook, just a whole lotta narrative on the spectacle of love: fickle, transfiguring, abject, confining, consuming.

And all you folks, you come to see.
You just to stand there in the glass looking at me.
But my heart is wild, and my bones are steel,
and I could kill you with my bare hands if I was free.

01. "The Wire" by Haim

This song (if not the entire album) is produced.


The way "Damn The Torpedos" was produced. The way "Born To Run" was produced. The way "Rumours" was produced.

Every bit of sound -- every handclap and sigh -- is so precise, so in its place, that ultimately the production is what makes this record feel like a throwback.

And if you listen close, you can almost hear Don Henley singing a verse of "Heartache Tonight" on top of Dash Hutton's drumbeat...

2 thoughts on “Top 10 Songs of 2013

  1. Joe, great list. I opened after reading WFUV’s 2013 list, and was happy to see Phosphorescent’s gorilla-POV hit the top. But HAIM at #1?! Genius. Obvious. Best sound of the past year. Plus, now I get a few more great songs I must hear. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Pat. I’m glad you brought up the “Song for Zula” POV. I’ve been trying to dig up an “official” outing from Matt Houck, but I’ve not been able to find anything. Have you seen anything (other than Tom Morello’s tweet)?

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