At this point in the Top 50 Songs countdown, we’re getting into the real meat and potatoes of 2013 music. Looking at the choices that were made below and really across the entirety of this list, what surprises me the most is how different it is compared to my Top 50 Albums list (coming next week!). In the past that’s typically not been the case, however those lists were largely drawn up from memory. This year, I decided to keep track of all the notable songs and singles I heard, and there are two Spotify playlists to help prove it. The first playlist covers the first six months of the year, while the second playlist covers the second six months. Most of the songs that appear on this list were also on those playlists. By being proactive and keeping up with the tracks I really loved, it was far easier to decide on my Top 50 Songs. So I sincerely hope you’re enjoying the countdown so far, and the eclectic mix of styles and genres that come along with it. In case you missed the earlier parts of this list, just go straight to these links:
Part I [#50-41]
Part II [#40-31]
Part III [#30-21]
And now let’s get into Part IV. This set of ten tracks features a handful of rock bands, a genuine pop superstar, and light brushes of R&B and synth pop. If you think that’s eclectic, just wait until the final ten songs, which will be up tomorrow! Until then, please enjoy #20-11.
20. Jake Bugg – Lightning Bolt [Video]
Even if you can’t quite remember it, you’ve likely heard “Lightning Bolt” before. It’s gotten a fair amount of radio airplay, but I think I first sat up and noticed it as part of at least one TV commercial. It’s the track that cements Jake Bugg as an artist to watch, and likely earned him the Best New Act at this year’s Q Awards. Like most of Bugg’s material, this is a ramshackle Dylanesque folk song, but it has great energy to it, not to mention a hook that can get stuck in your head for days. It’s pretty incredible to have an artist of this caliber writing songs this good when he’s still a teenager. Sure, pop stars start younger, but so few write and produce their own music, let alone play an instrument. Here’s hoping Jake Bugg has a very long and very great career ahead of him.
19. Fitz and the Tantrums – Out of My League [Video]
The first few times I heard “Out of My League,” I had no idea it was a Fitz and the Tantrums song. Maybe it was because I was only familiar with their previous hit “MoneyGrabber,” which was much more of a soul song with a horn section, that threw me off the scent. That, and the “oohs” on “Out of My League” remind me quite a bit of Klaxons’ “Golden Skans,” which is a tremendously weird thing when you think about both bands and their sounds. My extreme appreciation for this song really stems from two things – the hook that keeps hitting your brain over and over again, and the lyrics/subject matter it deals with. So many people desire to date somebody who’s out of their league and otherwise unattainable, so it’s nice there’s now a hit song about that very fantasy.
18. Joywave – Tongues (ft. KOPPS)
“Tongues” is the sort of song that feels like a direct descendant of or benefactor from early Hot Chip material. Actually, take away the helium voiced “do ba do’s” on the track (which is arguably part of its charm), and the Hot Chip comparison hits home even more. It’s really just a super fun and somewhat quirky dance track with incredibly addictive chorus. It made me wish the rest of the band’s 88888 mixtape was as great as that single song. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. But perhaps they can use it as a template for their next release.
17. Foxygen – On Blue Mountain
There are many tracks from Foxygen’s latest album I could have chosen for this list, but I think that “On Blue Mountain” best captures the magic this band creates. Over the course of nearly six minutes, they pull off multiple key and tempo changes without blinking an eye or sounding the least bit disjointed. It’s one part blues song, another part a Rolling Stones inspired anthem, and a third part best described as psychedelic punk. Through it all, frontman Sam France gives an epic vocal performance that requires serious acrobatics as he wails, screams, mumbles to himself and even purposely half-asses it for a minute to achieve a desired effect. Not only does everything work, but it has hooks too, so it’ll stay with you long after it’s wrapped up.
16. Justin Timberlake – Pusher Love Girl
Justim Timberlake comes off as a really cool guy and he’s super talented, but every now and then he makes a mistake. Runner Runner was one of a few acting mistakes he’s made recently. The 20/20 Experience, Part II seems like an ill-advised record, in hindsight. But when it comes to his songs, “Pusher Love Girl” feels like a mistake, at least on paper. Writing a song that compares women to drugs is a pretty obvious metaphor, and to extend that out to 8 minutes borders on the absurd. But the reason why it’s one of, if not the best song he’s ever recorded, is because he unapologeically just goes for it. That means more than just singing with conviction – there’s so much going on in this song on a minute to minute basis that it can take a few listens to fully comprehend all the moving parts. Above all else though, this song is just ridiculously entertaining from start to finish.
15. Neko Case – Night Still Comes
Of the many highlights on Neko Case’s latest record, none seems so important as “Night Still Comes.” As the album was written following some serious struggles with depression, this is a starkly honest and sometimes wryly humerous song about it. The title itself is a metaphor for the dark thoughts that invade our brains no matter what we do or how many drugs we take to try and stifle them. And while the verses paint a picture the way only Case could, it’s the chorus and hook that means the most. “You never held it at the right angle,” she sings to the rafters, a host of layered vocals to turn it into a mini choir. It’s a great mantra you can repeat to yourself whenever things take a turn for the worse. There’s good to be found in just about everything, it all depends on how you look at it.
14. AlunaGeorge – Your Drums, Your Love [Video]
“Your Drums, Your Love” is one of AlunaGeorge’s first singles, released in late 2012 to build early hype for a duo that was still several months away from releasing a full length record. But it was successful enough to grab my ear and also earn them a spot in my Class of 2013 as an artist to watch. More than a year later, the song continues to stay with me for a variety of reasons. It’s memorable and highly addictive, but it also packs a wealth of emotion into its overall construction. The beats hit hard to maximize their impact. The production is complex yet loosely arranged to add warmth and beauty. And there’s just a hint of desperation in Aluna Francis’ voice as she sings, “I’ve been treading water for your love / Whether I sink or swim / It’s you I’m thinking of.” You can’t help but get the feeling she’s speaking from personal experience.
13. Haerts – Wings [Video]
Chvrches may have been the female-fronted synth pop band to make serious waves in 2013, but Haerts are basically their American equivalent. Of course we’re still waiting on Haerts’ debut album, but for now an EP’s worth of great songs will more than suffice. The linchpin of the collection is “Wings,” an 80’s throwback track that’s as gorgeous as it is catchy. Frontwoman Nini Fabi has an impressive Stevie Nicks-esque voice that can really soar at times, and cuts deep with emotion at others. Bolster that with some doubled harmonies and some synthesized strings and you’ve got some serious magic going. It’s a wonder this band hasn’t attracted a lot more attention, but if they keep writing songs as pop savvy and fun as this, it’s only a matter of time before big time success finds them.
12. My Bloody valentine – New You
After making us wait 22 years for a new album, My Bloody Valentine made their big return in 2013 with mbv. While much of the record sounds like what we’ve come to expect from this band, “New You” is the lone outlier that chooses to carve its own path. If the album is intended to show off many of the sounds and styles Kevin Shields was playing around with over the last couple of decades, then this is his attempt to write an unabashed pop song. There are hooks, discernable lyrics, and everything is slightly less awash in reverb and general noise. It’s not the sort of pop song you’ll ever hear on the radio, but it does come off as something from a different time and place that leaves you wanting more.
11. The National – Sea of Love
It’s always a struggle for me to pick a favorite National song from each new record, namely because they’re all so fantastic. The reason why “Sea of Love” was my choice this time around has everything to do with energy, structure and hooks. Right from the outset, the song charges ahead in a hurry like it’s got somewhere to be, and doesn’t stop until it burns all the way out. It’s something the band has done in the past with tracks like “Mistaken for Strangers” and “Apartment Story,” and it continues to serve them exceptionally well. And while I could sing the hook of, “Hey Joe, sorry I hurt you / But they say love is a virtue, don’t they?” all day long, it’s the bridge and final minute that really brings this song into its own. The imaginary sea rises above its banks and begins to flood everywhere, and as frontman Matt Berninger yells out, “I see you rushing down / Tell me how to reach you,” the band yells back, “Don’t drag me in!” By that point, it’s already too late and we’re hooked.