It’s here! It’s finally here! Welcome my friends to the beginning of that magical time of year known as Listmas. For the uninitiated, Listmas is the annual multi-week festival here on the site that celebrates everything list-worthy. Think of it as the year of music in review, wherein everything is ranked. So basically this is just like everybody else does, but with that snappy name of Listmas. In the past, Listmas has extended its reach outwards from the onset of December all the way through Christmas, with three full weeks of list-related programming that included ranking live shows, EPs, and other bric-a-brac. As much as I loved some of those smaller, less important lists, they always functioned as the appetizer to the main course, only more difficult to put together than most anyone realized. For example, I don’t listen to many EPs, so if I had to rank at the very least my Top 5 from this year, the entire list would likely be the only five or so EPs I’ve heard so far in 2013. So I’ve decided to do away with some of those less prominent lists and stick to what truly makes Listmas great: songs and albums. Starting today and running through Friday, I’ll be counting down my Top 50 Songs of 2013, 10 at a time. Next week we’ll do the same thing, but with albums. Some people like to throw full lists at you all at once but provide no context for their choices, nor ways in which you might be able to actually hear some of the music that’s mentioned. The reason the Top 50 Songs and Top 50 Albums lists take a week to fully unveil is because I want to write a little something about each entry, and provide proper links for you to look into the music further should you so desire. It’s a little classier than simply cutting and pasting my list onto the site.
Before we get started with this Top 50 Songs of 2013 list, I want to take a moment, as I do every year, to explain the criterion for what you will see across these entries this week. First and foremost, the reason this list is titled “Top Songs” and not “Top Singles” is because simply restricting the list to singles eliminates the many deep cuts that sometimes prove to be better than whatever choice an artist or their management decided to make to release to the general public for immediate consumption. Of course if you look over this year’s list you’ll find a lot of singles anyways. It was a great year for catchy tracks, to be sure. But allowing deep cuts creates some real curveballs, and I hope you’re surprised by some choices on this year’s list. Secondly, artists are restricted to one song apiece on this list. There were some great records this year, some of which have multiple tracks on them I might call part of this Top 50 list, however the one song restriction is in place solely to maximize the potential and number of artists given credit for their hard work. Lastly, only songs released on full length albums or EPs are allowed on this list. If an album released in late 2012 featured a single I didn’t hear until early 2013, I can’t in good conscience include it here. The same goes for new singles released by artists in advance of a 2014 album. These are the Top Songs of 2013, and I’m going to stick to that. And so, without further ado, let’s get this thing started with songs 50-41 on this countdown of the Top 50 Songs of the Year!
50. Franz Ferdinand – Right Action [Stream]
Franz Ferdinand have had a rough go of it these last few years, particularly as their particular dance rock sound has gone out of vogue. Still, it’s hard to argue with a comeback single this compelling. It served as a fantastic reminder of why so many fell in love with this band in the first place. Too bad the rest of the record wasn’t nearly as great as this.
49. Bibio – A tout a l’heure [Stream]
The first time I heard this song, it was a warm spring afternoon, and the sun was streaming through the blinds as I was sprawled out on my bed relaxing. Those seemed like the perfect conditions in which to hear that song, and it’s been a constant companion on lazy, sunny days for much of this year. Try it for yourself and tell me it doesn’t feel absolutely right.
48. Speedy Ortiz – No Below [Video]
Speedy Ortiz’s album Major Arcana has plenty of great songs on it, and most fall into the loud 90’s alt-rock/grunge category. “No Below” feels like the standout from the record, because it’s the warm and gooey centerpiece. Like the eye of a hurricane, it’s a momentary, beautiful and memorable calm from the storm.
47. Glasser – Shape
As the first song that Cameron Mesirow released as part of the follow-up to 2010’s Ring, “Shape” opened up a whole new direction for Glasser. Not only is it an enriching piece of glitch-pop in the fluid (aka shapeless) structure and sound, but the lyrics follow through conceptually as they discuss the urge to explore every crevice of this ever-changing world.
46. Phosphorescent – Song for Zula [Video]
Any song that quotes Johnny Cash is a-ok with me, and not only does “Song for Zula” do just that, but also weaves a tale of sadness, rejection and an attempt at redemption. Matthew Houck’s quivering, fragile vocals are the perfect vessel for this purpose, and the complex yet airy composition replete with violin and pedal-steel guitar is stunning in its grandeur and beauty.
45. Potty Mouth – The Spins [Video]
With “The Spins,” Potty Mouth turn on the 90’s-styled alt-rock guitars and alternate between a bouncy, lighthearted melody and a much heavier grind. It’s a little bit disorienting, but that’s entirely the point. The lyrics are very to-the-point about how easy it can be to give in to peer pressure and wind up dizzy and completely “out of it” as a result. You could call it a nightmare scenario, but it’s essential to not forget how fun things were up until that point.
44. FKA twigs – Papi Pacify [Video]
The perfect song for anybody who has ever worried that their partner isn’t as committed to the relationship as they are, “Papi Pacify” has FKA twigs making an insistent plea for clarification on such an issue. She wants answers, and doesn’t care about the potential consequences. A slowly building and pulsating R&B ballad, the production work by Arca becomes more and more discordant until the vocals are nearly buried beneath the static. Yet the throbbing beats of the chorus place essential emphasis on the situation and turn it into a festering, open wound that’s equal parts disturbing and sexy.
43. Mikal Cronin – Shout It Out
Released back in February when temperatures were anything but hospitable, “Shout It Out” was like a 3 minutes slice of summer when we really could have used it. Starting with bright acoustic guitar strumming and containing a rocking, addictive and fun chorus, it’s nearly impossible not to love this song.
42. Janelle Monae – Q.U.E.E.N. (ft. Erykah Badu) [Video]
When you really think about it, this song kind of has a little bit of everything. It’s got a strong synth and bass-anchored hook that makes you want to dance and sing along, which then transitions into a jazzy horn bridge with an Erykah Badu verse, before finally adding a string section while Monae does a little bit of rapping to close things out. It’d be great for just that, but then the positive lyrics about empowerment and loving yourself take it to a whole new level of greatness.
41. The Knife – Full of Fire [Stream]
After going largely dormant for a few years, The Knife returned in early 2013 with the nearly 10 minute epic “Full of Fire,” which served as a preview to the Shaking the Habitual album. While all of their previously established stylistic hallmarks are in place here, they add a much heavier industrial groove that among other things sustains your interest from start to finish. The gender bending and political angst in the lyrics feel almost secondary to everything else, but it’s just another way for Karin Dreijer to try and make the listener uncomfortable. What’s your story? That’s my opinion.