My Top 15 Songs of 2013

When I need a break from thinking about things like the neoliberal annihilation of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, I often slap on a pair of headphones and start streaming or downloading new music THROUGH COMPLETELY LEGAL CHANNELS, I ASSURE YOU.

Ahem. So here are some songs I thought were worthwhile in 2013.

Four not released as singles and/or not readily available on the web:

  • Autre Ne Veut, “A Lie”
  • CHVRCHES, “We Sink”
  • Kanye West, “Blood on the Leaves” (Yes, the narcissistic appropriation of “Strange Fruit” pisses me off, too. But there’s no denying the force of this track.)
  • Yo La Tengo, “Well You Better”

One that I forgot about until just before publishing: Foxygen, “No Destruction.”

And my top 15:

15. Classixx, “Holding On

My most played jogging tune of the year, for whatever that’s worth.

14. FIDLAR, “Cheap Beer

The harmonic complexity of the rhythm guitar is matched only by the semantic complexity of the refrain. I believe the words were originally uttered by Dr. Samuel Johnson: “I drink cheap beer. So what. Fuck you.”

13. Lily & Madeleine, “Devil We Know

Sometimes I just like things that are pretty.

12. Phosphorescent, “Song for Zula

A little “With or Without You,” a little Jason Molina (RIP). Some lyrics about closing yourself off forever, some sounds about precisely the opposite.

11. Bill Callahan, “Small Plane

How about this as a companion piece to Aimee Mann’s “Driving Sideways“? Both use vehicle metaphors to illuminate truths about trust and control in (presumably romantic) relationships. But here’s the fun part: Callahan’s song is so, so much happier. It’s like Mann’s protagonists grew up and figured things out.

10. Chance the Rapper, “So Good (Good Ass Intro)

This is the sound of being deliriously in love with words. And with the fact that you’re really good at saying them.

9. Yuck, “Middle Sea

Guitar riff of the year. No contest.

8. HAIM, “The Wire

Can’t decide where this song belongs more: scoring a compilation of John Hughes clips, or blaring from the loudspeakers at a basketball game.

7. Drake, “Hold On, We’re Going Home

I’m not sold on Drake the rapper. But Drake the Millennial Marvin Gaye? Sure.

6. Laura Marling, “Where Can I Go?

No-bullshit folk, comfortable in its mastery of pace and dynamics. Why has Marling not gotten more attention this year? Has she grown too proficient in her genre?

5. Burial, “Come Down to Us

Almost seems irresponsible to call this a “song.” A movement? An experience? A short film without images?

4. Earl Sweatshirt, “Chum

The stoned surrealism of the refrain (“Get up off the pavement, brush the dirt up off my psyche / Psyche, psyche) complements the piercing sobriety of the verses (“Too black for the white kids, too white for the blacks”).

3. Sky Ferreira, “I Blame Myself

Attention, Gaga: This is how you rip off Madonna.

2. Kacey Musgraves, “Merry Go ‘Round

Graceful Nashville country-folk plus sneaky sophistication. Listen to how the chorus matches an endlessly signifying merry/marry/Mary go ’round with cycling, elongating chord progressions.

1. James Blake, “Retrograde

It’s all about the synth sound at 1:44. “Suddenly I’m hit.”

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