Friday, 3 January 2014

Best Songs of 2013: #25 to #16

2013 was full of great songs, so many that I decided to expand my list to include twenty-five tracks this year. I've also included some honourable mentions, as well as a 'Special Jury Prize' given to a song that didn't quite make it into the Top 25 but deserved more than just an honourable mention. Hope you enjoy.

Honourable Mentions

Special Jury Prize: Royal Canoe "Birthday"

25. Mariah Carey (ft. Miguel) – “#Beautiful”
Yes, that hashtag in the title is wholly unnecessary, and yes, Miguel is more than just a featured artist here. Still, “#Beautiful” might have been the most pleasant surprise of 2013: its opening guitar immediately recalls warm summer nights, and Mariah Carey and Miguel seem to actually be enjoying themselves, making the song feel like a genuine collaboration. Instead of hurling hooks at the listener, “#Beautiful” relies on the chemistry and charisma of its two vocalists, and is all the better for it.

24. The Darcys – “The River”
The opening notes of "The River" both draw the listener in and hint at ominous things lying ahead. What starts out as a straightforward rock song is elevated by its lyrics' eerie imagery, the song's haunting, almost primal rhythms and the growing desperation in Jason Couse's vocals. "Are you reaching out?" he calls, and as the other instruments rise to engulf his voice, we get the feeling he already knows the answer. 

23. Diane Birch – “Tell Me Tomorrow”
As with many great pop songs, “Tell Me Tomorrow” contains moments of pure euphoria – that chant of “hey! hey! hey!” was practically made to be shouted by festival crowds – but tempers, or perhaps counters, them with with a refreshing sense of weariness. Birch's stunning, soulful voice takes centre stage here, showing a range that extends beyond the '70s singer-songwriter pop of her earliest work. 

22. Lorde – “Royals”
When “Royals” first emerged, it felt a bit like a revelation due to its minimalist production and Lorde’s captivating, smoky voice. Months later, I'm still impressed by the song, mostly for the way it works effortlessly as both autobiography and anthem while avoiding the pitfalls of either genre. 

21. Laura Veirs – “Shape Shifter”
“Shape Shifter,” as with many songs from its parent album Warp and Weft, is as much about the joys of relationships as it is about their difficulties. “Winter’s on the way / I think we’re going to make it out / if we stick together now,” Veirs sings, accompanied by her own quiet but spellbinding guitar line, as Alex Guy's gorgeous violin weaves in and out with a warmth enough to melt the heart of even the coldest listener.

Head below the fold for #20-#16.

20. Kanye West – “Blood on the Leaves”
“Blood on the Leaves” is Kanye West at his most exposed - and his most abrasive. Pairing a sample of Nina Simone's cover of "Strange Fruit" with a (genuinely compelling) narrative about an ex-girlfriend may appear inconceivable on paper, but West makes it work, however improbable such a balancing act might seem.

19. Chvrches – “The Mother We Share”
Lauren Mayberry’s sympathetic vocals give an already inescapably hooky song its heart and soul, making “The Mother We Share” one of the most impressive debut singles in a year full of them. 

18. Goldfrapp – “Drew”
I've listened to "Drew" dozens of times and still haven't quite figured it out; the song seems to operate by its own logic, full of ethereal and inventive imagery that nevertheless remains firmly on the ground: for every "falling lemon moon," there's a line like "feel the cold arrive in my bones." Perhaps the key lies in Alison Goldfrapp's dreamy, half-murmured vocals, or the backdrop of gently strummed guitar, quiet percussion and cinematic strings. I don't know if I'll ever fully understand what makes "Drew" so engrossing, but with a singularly beautiful song such as this, I don't mind. 

17. Arcade Fire – “Reflektor”
“Reflektor” is the rare Arcade Fire song about modern relationships that attempts to sympathize, not sneer. Crucial to its success are Regine Chassange’s vocals - a source of hope and light not always present on Reflektor itself - and the song’s surprisingly infectious disco-inspired groove.

16. Volcano Choir – "Byegone"
"Byegone" provides the sort of thrill few songs of its caliber offered this year. The song's lyrics - delivered by Justin Vernon in what may be one of his best performances - and music are both evocative (but not needlessly opaque) and unflinchingly direct: "he's a legend / I'm a legend / and we both go tripping through the door" is at once boastful and humbling. By the time the whole band roars “Set sail!” – perhaps the most exhilarating moment in a song full of them "Byegone" has already cemented its place as one of 2013's most rousing singles. 

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