BEST SONGS OF 2013
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.
These are my 100 favourite songs of 2013: songs I love
more than as much as day-hikes & shave ice & sudden breakdance breakouts.
I follow just one arbitrary rule: that no artist may be listed twice.
I made similar lists in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
The best way to browse this list is to click the little arrow beside each song and then to listen as you read. The things you like you can then download by right- or ctrl-clicking with your mouse.
You can also download the complete 100 songs, in three parts:
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: finding good songs
, and writing about them
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Of these 100 songs, approximately 62 are fronted by men, 38 by women. 42 acts are mostly American, 29 are Canadian, 12 are British, 4 are Australian, two each from France, Mali, South Korea and Sweden, and there is one Mexican, one South African, one Japanese, one Ghanaian and one Syrian. This is the way it worked out; it certainly ain't perfect.
My favourite songs of the year do not necessarily speak to my favourite albums of the year. Songs and LPs are entirely different creatures. But if you want full-length records that are the best, the best, these were my twelve in 2013: Haim's Days Are Gone, Leif Vollebekk's North Americana, Yo La Tengo's Fade, Frog Eyes' Carey's Cold Spring, Young Galaxy's Ultramarine, J Cole's Born Sinner, Sarah Neufeld's Hero Brother, Michael Feuerstack's Tambourine Death Bed, CHVRCHES' The Bones of What You Believe, Tim Hecker's Virgins, Basia Bulat's Tall Tall Shadow and, Beyoncé's BEYONCÉ.
Some songs that you heard in 2013 may have been omitted from this tally because I heard them before this year, and included them in my Best of 2012. For example works by CHVRCHES, Jessie Ware, MIA and Karneef.
One last thing: my debut novel is out in spring 2014. It's called Us Conductors and it tells a story about Lev Sergeyvich Termen, inventor of the theremin, and Clara Rockmore, the theremin's greatest player. It's a book full of love, electricity, music and espionage - plus a little kung-fu. If you like what I do here - and after you've paid for the music you've discovered - I hope you'll consider picking it up. Pre-order here.
original photograph by Nick Knight
- Phosphorescent - "Song For Zula" [buy]
This was the song, in 2013, that people turned to me to ask, "What is this?" This was the song that grew more marvelous with every single listen. This is the one that felt like a fortune, an inheritance, something you could live on, in a little house, in the country. Matthew Houck writes so beautifully of faded love, of ever-after, in a way that feels neither precious nor obscure. Working with his band - especially Bobby Hawk on fiddle and Ricky Ray Jackson on pedal steel - he makes a sound that feels astonishingly fresh, new & young, but also so timeless, grounded in a tradition. And more than the poetry, the arrangement, the production, Houck found a song - a hook, a verse/chorus/verse, a pinecone in the dirt - that the most storied popular music songwriters, Cash & Simon & McCartney, all of them - would trade some starlight to hold.
- Daft Punk - "Get Lucky (radio edit)" [buy]
In 2013 there was no other song so universally hailed, so instantly embraced, as Daft Punk's "Get Lucky". Sequinned soft-funk, easy and feel-good, strafed by pinlights, girded by Nile Rodgers - one of those tunes that seems incontrovertible. Obvious. Ubiquitous from April on, the world seemed keen to hail it, to have another tune for the bar mitzvahs and wedding DJs, an antidote to gaudier (terrible) new standards like "Gangnam Style" or "I Gotta Feeling". A song so good that it eclipses Pharrell Williams' dire verses, that it eclipses an otherwise mediocre album... a song so good that Daft Punk themselves don't seem to have been able to keep a handle on it. As much as I love the radio edit, it feels like an even finer version is promised by it - a sunrise or sunset, a breakdown, a vocoded freakout, something to do with those weebly closing synths. But when the album version finally dropped - and, later, Daft Punk's 10:30 remix - the DJs didn't fulfill the imaginary. It's like Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter grew the perfect golden pumpkin and had no idea how to do it again. We'll cope.
- Haim - "Falling" [buy]
The Haim sisters made 2013's best album - a peerless collection of songs, splendid and detailed. Like Vampire Weekend's 2008 debut, Days Are Gone demonstrates a beautiful, natural songwriting. Tunes that hook and catch with a classic pop ease; and also exquisitely recorded, both lively and polished, full of tiny surprises. They are continually compared to Fleetwood Mac, but in a way I think the comparison needs to be more specific: to Tusk, to Rumours - not just to Fleetwood Mac's sound but to the lush efficiency of their greatest (creative) hits. Haim have also been influenced by 21st century R&B - the sumptuous productions of the-Dream and Max Martin. It's there in "Falling"'s needle-nimble guitars, its watercolour of vocals, the gated drums. If Beyoncé had released "Falling" (OK, before the second week in December), there wouldn't have been a bigger song this year.
- Robin Thicke ft Pharrell and T.I. - "Blurred Lines" [buy]
Pop-bottle percussion, basso and falsetto, gang vocals, distant whoops, loping bassline, stupid asides. Its cheekiness verges on tacky: "You wanna hug me?" Thicke scooby-doos, "What rhymes with 'hug me'?" But I am extremely forgiving when it comes to good tunes, and this is a very, very good one. In a sense, my mixed feelings are part of the gist of this song: it is, after all, called "Blurred Lines" ... When they croon, "I know you want it," there isn't any of rock or hip-hop's customary threat; I think they mean it as an invitation, a provocation, a dare.
- Pusha T - "Numbers on the Boards" [buy]
Brittle as chalk, so thrilling in its newness. Full of white bone and children's cheers, its MC gone panther. Incredible. (via hoot.ch)
- Cass McCombs - "There Can Be Only One" [buy]
Cass, singing lazier than I've ever heard him, singing a song about love. He's made something I would wrap around my finger like a ring, that I'd wear up into the street or down into the forest, that I'd slip into one of this traincar's empty seat-pockets, for a stranger to find, one day, lucky.
- Vampire Weekend - "Ya Hey" [buy]
The year's best song about the Old Testament God. Weird and regal, solemn and mischievous, slippery and baroque. So many heterogeneous thises and thats, with a hook that kept coming up through my dreams and daydreams, unbidden, pernicious. (Made me feel like Jonah.) Love the bravery of its theology, the sly nod to Desmond Dekker, the unfettered yodel of its winsome refrain.
- Jai Paul - "Str8 Outta Mumbai (demo)" [soundcloud]
Jai Paul's best cuts feel damaged - not drunk, not high, but still wobbly and redoubled, splendidly wavering. It's like someone is playing with the levels on the mixer; these microscopic fades, neurons firing and disappearing. A lurid part of me wants to call it Parkinson's pop. "Str8 from Mumbai" is a necklace of vanishing jewels, gems in and out of phase. A nightclub you can only see in a mirror.
- Young Galaxy - "Pretty Boy" [buy]
Just a treasure of a song. Catherine McCandless's tribute to Patti Smith's Just Kids is willful and loving, arrayed in rays, rich with Young Galaxy's mature talents. Electronic pop is usually either manic or lugubrious; so lovely to hear a tune both dancing and deliberate.
- Rokia Traoré - "N'Téri" [buy]
Traoré is a Malian artist, singing in Bambara, and this is from her new album. Seven minutes of slow waking, extraordinary.
- AroarA - "#14" [buy]
AroarA are Ariel Engle, undeniable as a hot coal, and her partner, Apostle of Hustle's Andrew Whiteman. Their album takes its lyrics from the poems of Alice Notley. It was mixed by Sandro Perri. "#14" is an anthem for valiant artists and valiant lovers and also for more fragile figures. Make a yelling piece of art, I wrote. Hang it on a wall; let it yell.
- A Tribe Called Red ft Black Bear - "The Road" [buy]
From an album of thrilling club music, A Tribe Called Red's quietest thing. I don't usually look to dance music for spirit-stuff, hauntings; but I didn't hear another song this year that so finely gestured to the ghostly, the transcendent. And it isn't the Black Bear's Atikamekw singing that gives "The Road" its ghostliness - it ain't just the exotica of the powwow, instant magic medicine. It's those calm, unperturbable synths. A masterful, spooky persistence.
- PUP - "Reservoir" [buy]
A song that's made of two even things: anger and celebration. It's not an equal split - "Reservoir" is gladder than mad - but each aspect informs the other. PUP do not celebrate safely. They do not rage unkindly. They mosh and gnash, crest and crash, bare smiles and heft fists. Splashes of roaring guitar intro a chorus that's a kingdom, a victorious realm, pogo-ing in place until the peril of another verse. For all the volume and feedback, there's no mess, not really: this is exact & expert, precisely unbridled, tight as a good knot.
- Drake - "Started From The Bottom" [buy]
I was slow to uncover this song. It took about six listens for Mike Zombie's enchantment to catch. But then this mystic production sank its teeth into the skin under my skin - the high, eerie beat, half-memory and half-spell. It found myself wanting it, needing it, asking for it from strangers. Such a strange setting for Drake's dry bildungsroman.
- Fantasia - "Lose To Win" [buy]
"Lose To Win" uses the Commodores' "Nightshift" as its beams and struts. So the shimmer is the shimmer of skyscrapers in the 80s, starlight on old fashions. Nine years after she won American Idol, Fantasia remains one of the series' great discoveries. She's a great singer. A song like this could so easily feel slight, a pleasant balm. But Fantasia is such a powerful interpreter, forceful of feeling; she makes this pop ballad a thing of intense will, of self-discovery. She catches someone's eye and holds their gaze.
- Unknown Mortal Orchestra - "So Good At Being In Trouble" [buy]
So much space in this lovely song. Whole acreages, counties, provinces of space. Valleys and plains, scrubland and woods, clusters of quasars. You could go swimming in this song and never see another person, except the person you're holding in yr heart, carrying with you, like a melody, like a hope or a promise, like a wish.
- Colin Stetson - "To See More Light" [buy]
To See More Light's title track is more "piece" than "single": a searching journey, too brave and rough for radio. But Stetson's lone saxophone takes me with it whenever I give this track room and space - through rough-going, rises and falls, with roar and tremble. A song of brief solaces and great pits.
- MS MR - "Hurricane (CHVRCHES remix)" [bandcamp]
In 2013, my favourite CHVRCHES song was a reboot of a MS MR track. Gloomy electro-pop made less gloomy, more electric; slabs of synths like an 80s TV themesong, like Madonna or Erasure, juddering out into a blinding bright-lit blizzard. CHVRCHES broke this tune into a thousand brilliant pieces.
- Earl Sweatshirt ft Frank Ocean - "Sunday" [buy]
The greatest MC to release an album in 2013. Earl Sweatshirt made a record that's un-triumphant, un-joyous, un-depressed; that's somewhere all in-between. This made Doris particular - hard to hear on repeat, unless the day's grey and yr heart's a little clouded. But "Sunday" is its own perfect thing, balanced in unresolved melancholy, a letter to a lover (or, with Ocean's verse, two lovers). A meditation on uncertain mistakes; I love the way both MCs offer incomplete thoughts, unfinished lines, a dozen earnest almosts. And as always, Earl's rhymes are juicy crisp incredible, a flow I resolutely rank with the best.
- Reversing Falls - "Curse This Place" [buy]
Montreal's Reversing Falls grit their teeth, charge their guitars, but they know they cannot unmake the place, the town, that they are cursing. It is bigger than they are, crueler, fiercer and louder. A charging electric anthem; an unhappy, winning racket; a track full of battery acid, a "Creep"-like stutter, something close to conviction.
- Miley Cyrus - "We Can't Stop" [buy]
Despite everything - despite Miley's year-long dead-eyed romp, the song's craven stagger, the headlines and tongue-lolls - I love the uncollared yelp of this, the weird cyber-bellow. As much as Miley would like to be an idol for bad-ass bad girls everywhere, this song is sweeter than she believes. I suspect she's a young woman who takes her coffee with three sugars.
- Arcade Fire - "Reflektor" [buy]
Arcade Fire's comeback single is hard and glittering - a diamond, an antenna, a reflector. For all its nimble boogie, there's a harshly mechanical aspect to "Reflektor"'s carbon churn. Engine-like, subway-like, a machine stirring in a stadium. The humanity of it comes from unexpected corners: sax, skittering high-hat, rinkytink piano, David Bowie, but more than anything the plunging discontentment of Win Butler's verses. Like singles by the Cure, like Joy Division's "Love Will Tear us Apart", here's a song I'm uncertain about dancing to; I won't take it lightly.
- Sophie - "Bipp" [buy]
A splendid squiggle of British electronica, pop and snap without the crackle. That weird thing where you dive off a diving-board and never hit the water. Twists in the air, somersaults, fanning limbs, cannonball -- but no splash. No landing. No clap and spray.
- Blue Hawaii - "Try To Be" [buy]
Raph and Agor make a song of slips and falls, fumbles, fragile interruptions. Cut-up touch, la and ee, assembling soft ideas around a few clear-eyed statements. An inversing disappearing act.
- Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip ft Kanye West, Lil Wayne - "Thank You" [video]
A merry triumph. Busta and Tip just cheerily showing off, showing on, reading out pages from their notebooks with the low-lidded confidence of all-time vets. With guest-hosting by Tunechi, a bearable cameo by Kanye, a tight circling sample that makes me think of fire alarms and engagement parties.
- Michael Feuerstack - "Scorekeeper" [buy]
A song of game-changing, game-changers, by one of the great songwriters. Steady as an anchor, deliberate as a man counting primes, but a song like a green willow - feelings hidden in the green & dark, hidden in the fronds, Feuerstack joined by Little Scream and Colin Stetson, and Jeremy Gara's imploding drums.
- J Cole ft Kendrick Lamar - "Forbidden Fruit" [buy]
My girl spilled a bottle of perfume on the floor. Glass cut up my Nikes. I got down on my knees and sopped it up, lavender jasmine everywhere, blotting with paper towels, photo albums.
- Factory Floor - "Fall Back" [buy]
OK so imagine if THIS IMAGE could run a city. It cannot run a city as it is. It is just a dog putting on sunglasses. It is just the words DEAL WITH IT. To run a city this image must be threshed and decimated, ground and shredded, hewn into ten thousand tiny pieces that can each run like dogs, see through sunlight, deal with it. Imagine if the image suddenly arrived, threshed and decimated, lightspeed, like the hard beat of a relentless song, and it made everything over, everything over, refracting the city into perfect splendid function.
- Kanye West - "Black Skinhead" [buy]
A staged fist-fight, more pirouettes than punches, rottweilers on stage-managers' leashes.
- Leif Vollebekk - "Photographer Friend" [buy]
There are a lot of young men who love Bob Dylan and Gillian Welch, who write lyrics in notebooks, who sit in creaking apartments, making songs. Leif is one of these young men, and he is one of the best. He lives in Montreal and lives a life like mine, has lived a life like mine, and he has turned this life into magnificent, uncovering music. I say "uncovering" - I mean that he examines his memories, his heart, and finds the lines that begin to say what he has found. He is interested in that "...begin to say" part: not the ends of lines, lasting pronouncements, pat wisdom, bad poetry. He sings what he uncovers, before it has settled. Before it's in amber. Even a song like "Photographer Friend", over slow piano chords - there is a perfect incompleteness: uncovering, searching. A feeling not yet named. The chair makes shifty sounds. The upright bass is an unsentimental companion. Something true has been found, and they're recording it before it's too late.
- Foxygen - "San Francisco" [buy]
One of those songs that seems guileless, unpremeditated, and then about half-way through you realize, "Oh, these bozos are experts." A little golden hook, hooked to other hooks, copper and silver hooks, or hooked to itself, golden hook-golden hook, sounding as easy as a Kinks record, a simple as reverb-y strum, that most wondrous magic which looks like nothing at all.
- Danny Brown - "Lonely" [buy]
A compact track, full of scamper. Brown's rapped verses are neatly stacked on a gilded beat - lace of guitar, glimmering keys, like a sample borrowed from Bibio. But Brown's light tone belies his heavy-hearted words: stoned down, poor, alone and merely dreaming.
- Weaves - "Hulahoop" [bandcamp]
Chunking, dazzled, dizzy, fulgent pop from RatTail's Jasmyn Burke. Please go away. Please fuck right off, and keep fucking right off for the rest of your fucking life. Take your perfect leather boots, and your haphazard hair, and the tiny ankle fold in your jeans and vanish from Earth. Please let your love notes and your open toothpaste and your breakfast leftovers be long-awaited proof of a parallel universe, inapplicable to this one. Take everything that happened, every second of it, and fold it a million times. From meeting to parting, fold it up, take an awkward dinner and crease it at great sex. You are steam now.
- Silverkeys - "The Lamb in the Garden" [bandcamp/X-files video]
Music like a lost link between Roy Orbison and the Go! Team. "The Lamb in the Garden" is all sparkle and flash, clipped vox loops, earthworming club bass; Adam & the Amethysts' Adam Waito is still singing about spirits and blue-jays, hallucinated Canadiana. Rarely does a dancing pop song feel so hand-drawn, so splendidly inked.
- Kacey Musgraves - "Follow Your Arrow" [buy]
Forget the Knife: this was perhaps the most radical song of 2013. A lilting country single from a number one country album, a gentle anthem for social liberals. Pro-gay, pro-legalization, pro goodnatured carpe diem Golden Rule-ry. Nice as neighbours.
- Suuns - "Edie's Dream" [buy]
This dark-hearted band woozily lullabyes us. Makes me want to bat my eyes in response, raise my hands, surrender. Slow rock music with kaleidoscope distortion, a fine & single riff knock-knock-knocking on the lake.
- Woodpigeon - "Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard" [buy]
An unglad song, but I don't know that it's sad, or angry. It's like a room filled up with smoke. It's an emergency. All this furious acrid noise until finally an opening appears: the kindness of an electric guitar, an organ. The joy of joined voices, climbing chords. The smoke never clears, but Mark Hamilton stands up in it, his heart like a turret.
- Tirzah - "I'm Not Dancing" [buy]
The beat's by Micachu: drumsticks, swampy synths, the dry rattle of shoes trapped in a dryer. Tirzah's all steady charisma, urging patient stubborn two-step and singing dead candles into flame.
- Mystikal - "Hit Me" [buy]
This is a new song from Mystikal, who is listening to James Brown and turning his life around. Listening to James Brown and Richard Pryor, I'd say now. Before, I compared "Hit Me" to the stabilized footage of the Apollo 16 lunar rover. The rover looks the way Mystikal sounds: supremely confident, fulfilled, embodied, an efficient machine that is finally executing the thing it was designed for. A fine piece of business.
- Mariah Carey ft Miguel - "#Beautiful" [website]
Mariah's silken comeback single didn't catch on with the kids, but I bet it got tangled up in some sheets. One of those songs that feels like an outright anachronism now that there's snow on the ground.
- Basia Bulat - "Promise Not To Thank About Love" [buy]
Tall Tall Shadow has deeper pools than this, but no songs so easy to sew on your sleeve. The handclaps are hand-made. The vocals are astral. The guitar/dulcimer solo is better than any trophy I have ever received. But the best part is the crisp compactness of the songwriting - an idea made clear enough to fit on a single groove.
- Thee Oh Sees - "Maze Fancier" [buy]
A comet-tailed rock song going lap after lap, like the White Stripes trapped in the rings of Saturn. (Per Dan.)
- Tegan and Sara - "I Was A Fool" [buy]
My favourite from Closer is measured in its ascent, trading spritzing glitz for a modest gravitas. OK, very modest. But Tegan and Sara are so good with pop shimmer that without a certain sternness I can get lost in the halo. This song is to someone, for someone, handsomely specific and beautifully gold.
- Frog Eyes - "Claxxon's Lament" [buy]
Frog Eyes' Carey Mercer sings a (very old and) bare-open song about the barest times, electric guitars flickering like lights, like lights mounted in fixtures, at the very end of days. Dan: Frog Eyes don't often live in this world, they often create a place, an alternate brown leather world, but Carey's Cold Spring is here, it's now and it's singing in your ear and somehow, even thought it's a record, a recorded and finished thing, it holds impermanence up in reverence, it feels like it could disappear, it knows it will. The world they see is a world with bright red Air Jordans, with dudes, with moving trucks, shitty boyfriends, bourboned liars; David Bowie is there, The Black Bloc is there, capital-E Evil is there. And capital-d Dreams. The moon refuses to rise, a firing squad takes dead-eyed aim, a rioter screams so loud they take flight, an arrest is made on charges of being too good to be true.
- Yamantaka // Sonic Titan - "One" [buy]
Screeching, blasting, bonkers psych from a wild-eyed band that cleave every Montreal indie stereotype. Singing high as eagles and low as sandworms, focused amid all their fireworks.
- Beyoncé - "Blow" [buy]
More bold than BEYONCÉ's politics or its release format is the breadth of its songs. These tunes bend and fold; they experiment with pop song structure, emerging from one place into another. It's like what Justin Timberlake attempted, only much, much more successful - plus military-industrial grade feminism, Prince-like bounce, and lots of metaphors for cunnilingus. The only downside is the lack of singles: if you like Beyoncé purely for her "Halo"s, "Single Ladies" and "Crazy In Loves", there's not much for you, here. (I think "XO" is the closest thing.) On the other hand, we have the hot and funky pleasure of "Blow" - exact and lascivious, irrepressible. No, you shouldn't play it for your parents. Yes, the aforementioned metaphors seem worthy of a ridiculous R Kelly song. (See: "skittles".) But just take it easy, OK? Let's be adults about this.
- Jerusalem In My Heart - "Yudaghdegh El-ra3ey Walal-Ghanam" [buy]
Radwan Moumneh's faded rose song bared to lights & sky by streaming synths, digital shadow, drone. Music made in Montreal and sung in Arabic, clutched in its own time, changing pixel by pixel. (More.)
- Balacade - "Marigold (demo)" [buy]
A drowsy bedroom song, rousing itself from listlessness. A guitar solo like déjà vu, like fine gold thread, like the last strands of a dream. Andrew Reynolds revisits and remembers, traces out the year's silver lining. He is full of quiet confidence. He is full of modest hope. All day he carried a cymbal under his arm, and now he has put it on a stand, now he is hitting it with a the tip of a drumstick.
- Daughter - "Youth" [buy]
The most conspicuous absence from this list is "Royals", by the 17-year-old New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde. I wasn't smitten by that song. This track, by the 23-year-old English singer Daughter (she now has two bandmates), does similar things with poetry and dynamics; but it's a much better tune, aspiring to more and calmly achieving it, a hook that comes out of the wardrobe and resides in the room.
- J. Fla - "Story (Stupid Story)" [buy]
A soaring South Korean ballad, perfectly machined. The video is great: South and North Koreas, reunited by drumroll and a bursting chorus. I think the trick of political music, however dilute or intense, is the courage it instills in its listeners. The courage and, hopefully, the action. A chorus can't remedy the real forces of inequality and strife, but maybe it can send a few people into the streets, dancing and resolute.
- David Bowie - "Where Are We Now?" [buy]
It's difficult to divorce this song from the moment of first hearing. Suddenly Bowie was back, morose in a grey-blue music video. The shock of it was enough to make "Where Are We Now?" seem like Bowie's new anthem: 'Here is the song that encapsulates him, melancholy and forlorn, at 66.' But "Where Are We Now?" gained a very different tint after hearing the rest of The Next Day; you realize it is one of Bowie's present colours, not his whole palette. And so now this Berlin requiem feels less like a cri-de-coeur and more like a restless, deliberate song for a certain kind of a nostalgia. In a certain way it has been reduced; in another, made deeper.
- Withered Hand - "Black Tambourine" [website]
Our first preview from New Gods, due in February and March. Scotland's Dan Wilson is a Said the Gramophone favourite, shaggy and clear-eyed and irascible and brave. I always preferred his DIY demos to the earlier studio stuff, but here the cleaned-up sound is crystal and glorious; sorta Orange Juice, a little like Mikal Cronin or a glad-eyed Kurt Vile. But mostly just himself - cheery and doomed, undeterred and seeking, with a gorgeous & overdriven guitar solo.
- Yo La Tengo - "Ohm" [buy]
Fade is the finest Yo La Tengo album since And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, but it can't be summed-up in a song. Take "Ohm" just on its own merits: a rangey, shakey sprawler, like a guitar-solo and like a kids' choir and like a road-trip through sunrises. The sheer, coarse incredible of a band utterly itself.
- Katy Perry - "Roar" [buy]
All right - I waffled for weeks about whether to include "Roar" on this list. Not because it doesn't deserve to be. Not because it's mainstream pop - as evidenced elsewhere, I have no problem celebrating bubblegum. But there is a certain politics here. Somehow, listing "Roar" feels like conceding defeat. Conceding defeat to corporate masters, commercial interests, the military-industrial machine that fueled millions of dollars into a laboratory-honed hit. The same issues are in play with Drake, Miley Cyrus, Daft Punk, Beyoncé or even Phoenix, but "Roar", in particular, feels like a culmination, a quintessence, of our gamed means of musical production. "Roar"'s undeniable steamroller of hook seems almost pharmaceutical in its attention to detail - ingredients that have been tested, double-blind, lyrics borrowed from other successful (and triple-patented) products, polished and packaged and then beamed directly into my ears, in a thousand shops and shopping-malls and children's parties. Katy Perry is a real person but this catchy masterpiece is as soulless and bullshit as Walmart's Boxing Day flyer, as a commercial for Old Spice or Dove, as the score in a play-off game by my beloved Habs. Beware.
- Valerie June - "Somebody To Love" [buy]
A creaky backwoods folk-song, with the melancholy of a slowly sinking balloon. (Thank you Meredith.)
- Junip - "Your Life Your Call" [buy]
José Gonzalez as a steely-eyed aerobics instructor. Step, lift, back, step. I say "steely-eyed"; really the things you make out of steel. Tankers, skyscrapers, indestructible ball bearings. Gonzalez is level on a swaying ship. There are no tremors in his instructions. It's over now, he sings. You have taken your time. / But you can't stay here. / Go dry up your tears. Gonzalez's band, Junip, is one of the most underrated groups in indie rock. Their songs sound like kaleidoscopes: splendid, prismatic, controlled.
- The Knife - "Wrap Your Arms Around Me" [buy]
A melting glacier of joyless techno-pop. A song of seduction without any comfort or kiss: just cold clang and bone bang, frilled synths and rattle, astral radiation. One gold link, caught on a nail, and the whole bracelet stretched out behind me, distended, pulled long like taffy.
- The National - "This Is The Last Time" [buy]
A fine song, hard as walnut, with a light at its heart. The lover who leaves, who leaves at last, who knows he's getting away.
- The Preatures - "Is This How You Feel?" [buy]
I can't listen to this song without hearing it as a kind of synthy fleetwood mash-up with Mozart's Sister "Mozart's Sister". The Australians twirl and gallop but they're (almost) sharing a hook with one of Montreal's finest, and I'll warn them right now: be careful who you take on.
- Peals - "Tiptoes in the Parlor" [buy]
A humble instrumental, like friendly calligraphy or an electric game of tag, a fast-forward slideshow holiday. Guitars that are best friends, that will always be best friends, we swear. (Previously.)
- Look Vibrant - "Plateau" [buy]
Face-melting. Face-melting like drooping popsicle face. Like aging willow-tree face. Like Ark of the Covenant dance party. Face-melting like when the sun came out last night, across Montreal's Plateau Mont-Royal, just before dusk. Face-melting like the sour happy terror of remembering your love for a friend, your love for a kitty-cat, your love of clamouring city-soaked daylight. If you fall off your bike your head could crack open. Why do you live in a noisy place like this? Why do you live amid all these roaring cars? Why not move to the country, to the placid brookside easy-life? Why do you sit here and let your face melt, over and over again? What's the allure of the crucible, the metro station, the intersection, the concert-hall, the crowd? Do you see more colours, here? Do you really see more colours? Hello? Can you hear me? Can you even hear me? HELLO CAN YOU EVEN
- Dawn Richard - "'86" [buy]
A slow-jam for Gondor. Amplified by a video that's a little Kate Bush, a little Liv-Tyler-in-The Lord of the Rings, "'86" is a magic medallion of a song, an amulet, a unicorn of idiophone R&B. Richard's earnesty is enough to scale towers, ford rivers. It may not win back her ranger, but it will try.
- Zomes - "Loveful Heights" [buy]
An organ that lurches like a cyclops, a jam as heavy as a mine, from a Swede and an American. A roaring knowledge, a jungle lush with certainty.
- Laura Mvula - "She (Robin Hannibal rework)" [soundcloud]
Like Solange Knowles' "Losing You," this only feels like half a song, especially in remix form. It's all surface, skim, unplunging. But listen: it's been so hot in Montreal. In this heat I find myself seeking just such a surface song. Play it again, in a loop, as the fan turns and turns.
- Ariana Grande - "Piano" [buy]
A pop song with a few different flavours of hook, something for everyone, neapolitan.
- John Wizards - "Lusaka By Night" [buy]
Dubby pop from South Africa, warm and precise, vaguely cosmic. Their Rwandan-born singer offers his lyrics like calm asides, a poet or hushed stand-up comic, little pearls to take along through a dreamscape.
- Destiny's Child - "Nuclear" [buy]
I didn't expect Destiny's Child's briefest of reunions to produce anything of any value. Beyoncé didn't seem likely to share any of her real treasures, not with a solo LP she was saving for mid-December. But the trio surprised me - "Nuclear" is light-footed and magnetic, finely balanced between modern R&B and the group's turn of the century sound. Credit producer Pharrell Williams, maybe - I love the underlay of rock-solid imaginary drums. But credit also Knowles, Rowland and Williams: for harmonies, for taste, for vocals lithe and ethereal.
- Fred Woods - "The Pond" [buy]
A song like the snap of frost, or the whole sheet of a lake going suddenly ice. Woods takes up so little space with his voice, guitar, a simple drum kit. And then just as you are meditating on this little, on this empty quiet, horns lift up like aftermath, like consequence. When a sunbeam lands on snow it is like the snow reverses, rising up into cloudless sky, undoing itself. This music is undone cold, freeze & thaw. Folk music as sharp as pines.
- Omar Souleyman - "Warni Warni" [buy]
Four Tet's production has softened the harshness of Omar Souleyman's sound, leveled the mix for easier dancefloor deployment. What little is lost has been more than compensated for: these rainbow synths come nudging out of nowhere, dance and tumble, scatter over the sky. It's easier to place Souleyman as a man with a voice, a real-life singer, instead of some godlike force. A strange Syrian sound, sour and seductive, made attainable, even neighbourly, closer rather than far.
- X Priest X - "Samurai" [website]
Wistful electronic pop that's ridged & gilded, a small wealth, a small fortune. Song like a silk slip, like an indulgence from the queen. You don't own your house, but you own Los Angeles.
- Sleaford Mods - "Jobseeker" [buy]
Sleaford Mods' belligerent drum-machine punk is absolutely addicting. A spat spoken-word, with a little of the Streets and a little of the Fall, clever as a gutter, unassailable in its righteousness, stagger-running through the windowglass of a federal employment clinic.
- Sia ft The Weeknd and Diplo - "Elastic Heart"" [buy]
A song that seems like it must have bit off more than it can chew - epic and pop and operatic and hip-hop, with two guests, everything built up over an obtuse and backwards sample. But in recent weeks "Elastic Heart" has stamped all over everything else on the radio; like The Hunger Games (for which this song was written), "Elastic Heart" succeeds by being simply exceptional - a winner not despite but because of its unlikelihood.
- Daniel Romano - "He Let Her Memory Go (Wild)" [buy]
A glittering old-fashioned country song, sure-footed and heartbreaking. Romano has been an Opry crooner for a little while now - to the chagrin, perhaps, of milquetoast Attack In Black fans. But I think "Memory Go (Wild)" is the culmination of his talents: deft, pretty and crying; old-fashioned in meter but showing the rare gift of songwriters like Kenny Rodgers or Merle Haggard, its poetry lifting up at the end of a line.
- Nanimal - "Muffin" [buy]
Montreal's Nanimal make a racket, make my head hurt, make sparky indie rock from the ashes of Parlovr. Why are we driving down the sun-slashed highway at 150mph, teeth clenched, fists balled, a trunk full of picnic supplies? Why are we so furiously cavorting? Why can't we let go? This "Muffin": will it teach us where we're coming from?
- Future - "Honest (Ryan Hemsworth Post-Rock Tears Bootleg)" [Hemsworth mixtape]
I think there's probably a joke to Hemsworth's remix of the Atlanta rapper Future. He's made a desperately sad beat: bereft piano, weeping synths, like a lonely cut-up of Sigur Rós' "Vaka". But Future's drawly brags, shiny and crass, are the same as ever; Hemsworth's sound makes them feel desperately thin, utterly flimsy, the excuses of a poor braggart who prostesteth too much. At worst it's a cruel trick, at best it's ironic and artful and strangely beautiful.
- Franz Ferdinand - "Bullet" [buy]
Nimble and dancing, Franz Ferdinand decked-out in designer denim and plunging a dagger into your gut.
- The Dodos - "Confidence" [buy]
Yes, it's confident. It's confident and breathlessly rushing, much more Do Make Say Think than Visiter. Across almost five minutes, the Dodos move from a tolling, hopeful tribute to a ferocious mayday - Buddhist warnings over drums and black-charged electric guitars, fence-jump &am; steeple-chase, near-drowning & a seized raft. This band used to include Women's late, great guitarist Chris Reimer: here they do full credit to their departed friend, here they find sweet notes and set them alight.
- Petra Glynt - "Sour Paradise" [buy]
Like Micachu's work with Tirzah, this is tumble-dryer pop, but filled up with noise and jubilation. A splendid cacophony, Glynt's pounding drums and her voice like The Magic Flute's birdcatcher, racing and racing and heaving into an oil-drum. (Thanks Alt.)
- The Weather Station with Marine Dreams - "First Letter" [buy]
Weather Station's Tamara Lindeman, one of my favourite folk musicians, collaborated with artists like Daniel Romano and Baby Eagle on a series of duets. This is one of them, with East Coast indie-rockers Marine Dreams. I wrote: Weather Station's Marine Dreams duet starts as one song, in silver light, and becomes another, with a different shade of silver. A sunrise that changes its mind.
- Gerardo Ortiz - "Dámaso" [buy]
With its precisely marshaled horns and drums, flagrant and crisscrossing, clean as a stainless steel counter, "Dámaso" reminds me of Baths and Omar Souleyman. But of course the Mexican narcocorrido is from another tradition entirely, more polka than IDM, and Ortiz is probably as committed to his storytelling as his splendid sonic barrage. (via the eminent Singles Jukebox)
- Teen - "Big Talk" [website]
I was disappointed by Teen's first album (and a subsequent EP). With a song called "Better", they had released one of the greatest debut singles in recent memory. Maybe it was too much to live up to. But "Big Talk" proves they still have a remarkable gift, not quite consummated - this electric blue motorik is so thrilled and thrilling, so exciting to listen to, so unbound. Shrieking and regretful, churning and free, like an atomic Electrelane.
- Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba with Khaira Arby - "Djadje" [buy]
I can tell you what I know about this record, Jama Ko. Mainly that my friend the producer Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, Silver Mt Zion, Wolf Parade) flew from Montreal to Mali to record it. He was so nervous before he visited; he is sometimes a nervous guy. It was March 2012. He landed and they started recording and then a war broke out. Bassekou Kouyate is a super-star in Mali, a kind of Michael Jackson, the world's best n'goni player. The war began when Amadou Toumani Touré, Mali's president, was deposed on 22 March 2012. Touré and Kouyaté are friends. So, listen: this isn't safe music. I don't understand the words, and you probably don't, but this isn't safe. This is frightened music. This is angry music. This is steadfast and ferocious music. These are real microphones in a real room and some musicians are singing and playing. They are in Bamako. Outside the window there are birds, and people, and further away there is smoke, and there is gunfire, and there is a bare sky. The night they recorded "Djadje", these musicians went home and maybe they kept on hearing the music, the song's unworried hook, while they wondered about their country. While they wondered and worried about their country, their family, their friends, this terrible and arbitrary planet. This track is a document - a recording of events, of movements, that took place. And it is also a song, a piece of art. It is loose and living. It is true.
- Sarah Neufeld - "They Live On" [buy]
Hero Brother, the solo debut by Arcade Fire violinist Sarah Neufeld, is a humble wonder. Miles away from the frantic Reflektor or even Neufeld's work with the ensemble Bell Orchestre, Hero Brother is a work of quiet minimalism, or rather a collection of works of quiet minimalism. Instrumentals that choose progress over climax, little vignettes or miniatures that owe more to Satie than to Rachel's or Iva Bittova. "They Live On" feels like either a fable or meditation, a modest decision or a lesson, something tiny but lasting.
- Jeremih ft Lil Wayne and Natasha Mosley - "All The Time" [website]
Bar-none the dirtiest song on this list. (There is none of Beyoncé's coy analogy.) Naked pillow-talk murmured over a beat that's fragile and solstice-slow, hot to the touch.
- DIANA - "Perpetual Surrender (Four Tet remix)" [website]
Such a splendid swirl of a remix. One of those pieces of music where you think all the parts are laid out before you, easy to take in. But the mosaic of it is deceiving: first you get drawn in by one pieces, then by another, by a saxophone or a repeated breath, a ladder of keys, and then you've lost track of that simplicity, you're in the throng, glad. I adore the flatness of this; its cool, dryness; the brightness of watercolour jewels, on paper.
- Okkervil River - "Down Down the Deep River" [buy]
A song like a TV themesong, a glitzy red carpet for a stream of live audience-members, a deckled invitation to a man with a thin-stem microphone. There are roars, there are cheers. There is the crash of pop-song cymbal and the ripple of pop-song guitar. People are waving placards, people are waving their smiles, smiles and placards catching the fake neon light. The man with the thin-stem microphone wants to give the crowd some wisdom, to use this moment for something besides corvettes and kitchen sets. Forget the spay & neuter, he's got something bigger to share. Something that harkens back to riverside makeouts and childhood camping trips, backyard crushes and lockercrisp longing, something involving a driveway and a girl and an autumn, something like that, just as soon as he can remember it.
- Phoenix - "Bourgeois" [buy]
Phoenix's sharply-coloured meandering over a bed of shuddering analogue sound. Part-blurry, part-clear, a song of easy choices and shattering consequence. [Thanks Vinny!]
- Devendra Banhart - "Daniel" [buy]
Banhart says that this song is not about him. Two tenderhearts who fall in love at the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus. A relationship that fades away. Then a reunion one night, unexpected, in the queue for a concert. Banhart is wordless for this meeting: he tells it only with music, a glimmering California sound. Bars count out, the drums shuffle, and we leave the scene behind. "Daniel" is a short film, not a short story. There are cuts, steadycam, a long zoom out.
- Justin Timberlake - "Mirrors (radio edit)" [buy]
I'd put forward Justin Timberlake's two 20/20 Experiences as the biggest disappointments of 2013. But "Mirrors" kept its place in my playlists, kept my ear when it sounded out across Café Olimpico. Maybe it was its odd balance between unbuttoned Timbaland pop and an "epic" entreaty of guitars and voice: different parts of the song feel out-of-place at different times . The wabi-sabi makes it work.
- King Krule - "Easy Easy" [buy]
England's mush-mouthed King Krule makes a song like a opium-dosed Billy Bragg or a hungover Morrissey, a tune that's sloppy and measured at the same time, loose metal poured into a simple mold.
- Migos ft Drake, Meek Mill, Tyga - "Versace"
I am a sucker for dumb hip-hop hooks, the dumber the better. (I will never relinquish LL Cool J's hook on "Control Myself.") There's some virtuosity to "Versace" - there in the lope of commercial-capital rhymes, especially Drake's multisyllabic opening volley (and I am bemused by the clear impression he's reading these lines). Still, "Versace"'s greatest asset is its dumb hook, the versace-versace-versace that could tangle up your day, trip you over, send your mug right down into the tufts of a designer rug.
- HAERTS - "Wings" [buy]
Germans who moved to New York and pooled together to make this swelling American music, yes Fleetwood Mac and yes Madonna, but Nini Fabi is no Stevie Nicks nor M. Ciccone. "Wings" is at its best when it is resting lightly on Fabi's voice and more heavily on the sumptuous, smash-hit production, a desert island turned into a gold record.
- A$AP Ferg ft Shabba Ranks, Busta Rhymes & Migos - "Shabba (Remix)" [website]
So much like an alarm - neither cheerful nor cruel, just clamouring. Can I entertain the thesis that this is a street lord version of the Beatles' "Come Together"? I don't know which I like more, Shabba's ragga poetry or Busta's verbal interceptions. Actually, I know: it's Busta Rhymes, playful and tough, absolutely masterful, a deposed king somehow re-coronated. (Busta joins Kieran Hebden and Pharrell Williams as my nominations for 2013 MVPs.) And that hook - dog-bark mantra, slouching goad.
- Cloud Control - "Dojo Rising" [buy]
Dry and wistful indie rock, with an extraordinarily fine middle-eight. Cloud Control are as easygoing as Real Estate but with a nostalgic, 90s rattle & hum; a song for the way you remember yourself to have been, not the way you were.
- 4Minute (포미닛) - "Is It Poppin?" [website]
Candy-coloured k-pop. 4Minute zoom on a pixelated pegasus through squiggly midi bloops, a Microsoft starfield, saying nothing at all except maybe I like you. (Previously.)
- Sarkodie ft Fuse ODG "Down On One" [video]
The liveliest marriage proposal of the year. Yes, these Ghanaians spend too much time appealing to the in-laws. But I have never heard a catchier hook about getting down on one knee-knee - a chorus that's tucked perfectly into this milkbottle dance-DJ tune, just scarce enough to surprise, to tickle, to delight on each new anniversary.
- Courtney Barnett - "Avant Gardener" [buy]
Ativan-kissed indie rock, sleepy and drudgey and smart, like a twee take on the Cloud Nothings. The guitar solo's a treasure - a column of sound twisting and howling in the air. Melbourne's Barnett tosses out clever two-liners, a tiny stand-up monologue, like she wandered from an alternative comedy club into a concrete-and-drywall garage.
- Majical Cloudz - "Bugs Don't Buzz" [buy]
Like a weird, wired piano ballad, only it isn't piano, of course - it's something electric-charged. Akin to a dubstep track, the most crucial part is the drop - the arrival of that bluzzzz of bass, wiping away the song's fragility, its existential worry. Death's grey arrival, clear as glass, answering.
- Ben Khan - "Eden" [website]
Electronic soul, in the vein of James Blake or Jamie Woon, but a better single than either of those two put out in 2013. The trick is "Eden"'s loud, cleaving interruptions: an electric guitar figure, an elephant-trunk blast. These are the things that lend the software its life, put needed cracks in the sterilized stained glass.
- tricot - "Ochansensu-su (おちゃんせんすぅす)" [website]
Quietly-marshalled math rock from four Japanese women. Such simplicity to their neat passages of electric guitar or drums - its mathiness recalls equations, answers, balanced forms. It also reminds me of tricot's countryman, the electronic artist Cornelius: the cut-up of voices and harmonies, soft/loud, could so easily be samples. But they're not samples, pieces arranged on a grid: it's a band, playing.
And that's 2013's century of songs, or the way they seem today. There are so many that didn't make it, that I wish I were pointing you to. And there will be so many I've missed (there are so many I'm already remembering). Maybe make your own suggestions in the comments.
At Said the Gramophone we spent the year writing about as many wonderful songs as we could, and old songs too, treasures kept in chests. If you're new to the site, please come again (or subscribe). We update almost every weekday, penning tales about the tunes that make us think YES
Thanks for reading, sorry for the broken links, please support these artists with your money. (Invest in things that are important.) Be kind to each other. Wishing you all the best this season - hope you find feasts and dazzles, bonfires and fizz, and lots & lots of love.
Posted by Sean at December 16, 2013 9:00 AM
Awesome surprises in here Sean, now my Monday is going to be bright. I love both Jai Paul and Fantasia but missed these tracks, so thanks.
A few that didn't make your list but made mine:
* Autre Ne Veut - Play By Play
* Blood Orange - It Is What It Is
* Dan Croll - Compliment Your Soul
And g'luck with the upcoming novel. I got to play a theremin for the first time a few months ago and it was something wonderful.
Thank you this is my favorite best of list every year!
great list! book is now pre-ordered...
I wait every yearlong to check this. Always full of surprises. I'm faithful to your taste in music. Happy holidays.
Basia Bulat led me here. Fave song on list - King Krule, but so many gems and so much new stuff. THX. :)
This is the best of list I wait for each year. Can't get any of the song links to play or download, though. Not sure if the problem is on my end or not...
This is the one end of year feature I'm always waiting for. You always have some of the best blurbs and selections from any other blog/zine in the world.
i cant get any to download either :(
Confused and sorry to hear it, Kayjayoh and Kat... Clearly, others aren't having problems. Can you let me know what kind of computer, browser and operating system you're using? Is it the individual song links or the big bundles? And do MP3s attached to other (non-Best-Of-2013) entries work for you?
I've also had troubles downloading the three bundles... I'm on a Macbook Air, OSX 10.7.4, couldn't download with Google Chrome or Firefox... but it worked with Safari.
So excited to hear all these tracks! Thanks :)
If it's trouble with the bundles, it has nothing to do with me - those filesharing sites can be dodgy. Try one of the mirrors - that's what they're there for.
Sean, thank you so much for doing this! I officially look forward to your "Best of" lists more than I anticipate anything Christmas-related. So I guess you have become my Santa AND my Jesus! Congratulations on the completion of your book—I will be picking it up in 2014 for sure...
Another year, another great list from Said the Gramophone. Many thanks Sean!
That's my holiday filled... thanks for the music! Hope the book will make it to Europe as well, sounds great!
MacBook running OS 10.8.5, running Chrome. I've been trying to get the individual songs to play.
I click a link and it will open, but nothing will play. Nothing happens when you hit the play button. The time says 0:00. The volume control is a dead icon with a slash across it.
Trying to Save As, I can save the html file of the page itself, but no option to save an mp3
Firefox seems to do ok. I never use that browser anymore, but it looks like it will come in handy today.
My perspective on Song for Zula changed when I found out it was inspired by a captive gorilla. Still a great track though!
And I went ahead and made a Spotify playlist as well, with all the songs that are available. Enjoy (I know I will)!
There's a reason you have a novel coming out Sean, (and I can't wait to read it). It's because you put many of us scriveners to shame. Humbled by your lines and letters. Keep up the great work.
Sweet! Anyone out there have this in iTunes and can share the playlist XML? My iTunes relabelled and re-sorted the whole list….
So grateful for your list - thanks! I've had the same problem as Michiel above when trying to listen to individual tracks. I'm on Android, using Chrome. No worries, really, I just read here and pull up the music on Spotify (thanks a ton to the reader who shared this as a playlist!), but thought I'd chime in since it sounds like others are having trouble, too.
Awesome list, will be pre-ordering your book--it sounds very interesting! Happy Holidays and keep warm up there in Montreal, Sean!
No. 98 Majical Cloudz - "Bugs Don't Buzz" doesn't play. Download is only 1KB.
Was away all December and finally found time to check out your list - definitely my favourite Best Of list for new music. Thanks again, congrats on the book and all the very best for 2014 to all of StG.
Long time reader of your blog. Great list! Keep up the good work and good luck in 2014
Ugh... what a disgrace to Ronnie Foster's "Mystic Brew"... J Cole and Kendrick Lamar need to be strung by their balls for an hour... starting off with, "Me and my bitch.."? Way to ruin a smooth beat, fellas. Leave the master untouched with the stain of your lyrics. You've turned a melody into a malady, to jokingly paraphrase Vyvyan Ayrs.
about said the gramophone
this is a daily sampler of really good songs
. all tracks are posted out of love
. please go out and buy the records
to play a song in your browser, click the
. to download a song, right-click the link and choose 'Save as...'
all songs are removed within a week or two of posting.
said the gramophone
launched in march 2003, and added songs in november of that year. it was one of the world's very first mp3blogs.
if you would like to say hello, find out our mailing addresses or invite us to shows, please get in touch:
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please don't send us emails with tons of huge attachments; if emailing a bunch of mp3s etc, send us a link to download them. We are not interested in streaming widgets.
if you are the copyright holder of any song posted here, please contact us
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to any of these tracks. please love and wonder.
"and i shall watch the ferry-boats / and they'll get high on a bluer ocean / against tomorrow's sky / and i will never grow so old again."
about the authors
lives in Montreal. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors
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is an actor and writer living in Toronto. Any claim he makes about his life on here is probably untrue. Email him here
lives in Toronto. He is an opinion editor at the Toronto Star
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