2013-12-31

The 50 Best Songs of 2013

It's time for one of my favorite blog traditions - an annual listing of my favorite songs. There's been so much great music this year that cutting it down to 50 was harder than ever. To sample the songs, click on the title to see a corresponding YouTube video. Or you can listen to (almost) all of them on this Spotify playlist. Or you can just (shhhhh) download them all at once here to learn/enjoy at your leisure if you promise to financially support the artists that you wind up liking. (That last link will disappear in the near future.) On with the countdown:

50. Only Teardrops - Emmilie de Forest
This barefooted Danish cutie not only won over our entire viewing party with her catchy song, but also the entire Eurovision contest. Never underestimate the power of a flute solo.

Last year's Channel Orange was so strong that even some good material got cut. For that reason, I'm glad this unreleased track leaked to the internet because it's really, really good. 

There's no mistaking that British accent even in the lead singer's high-pitched singing voice. This song is a treat; you know, like chocolate. 

Of Monsters and Men released quality singles of their own this year, but none were nearly as beautiful as this cover of a Yeah Yeah Yeahs song. When you can outdo Karen O at her own song, that's something.

Some of my friends have been on the Fitz train for years now, but the Tantrum never struck me until hearing this fun one on the radio a couple of times.

It's been ages since Ciara unveiled her "Goodies", but that doesn't make this song's sexy invitation any less enticing. While the song oozes sex, if I'm being honest, the main draw is that it borrows from Ghost Town DJ's "My Boo" (aka one of the best songs of all time) - how can you not appreciate that?

There's too many layers at play to try to explain this song, it's more of an experience. With sounds like these, I can't wait for Bear Mountain to deliver more than an EP.

Cold War Kids are one of the most consistent bands around. The urgent, pounding piano accompaniment almost never lets up, giving this song a pleasantly intense energy.

There's not much Karen O can't do, but spooky songs are probably her forte. Once the gospel choir takes over for the latter third of the song, you might feel like you're in an episode of True Blood.

Perhaps I should be embarrassed for relating to a jaded teen like I do with Lorde, but given that she hit #1 with this tune, I'm obviously not alone in being disenchanted with lavish lifestyles. Here's hoping the fame and fortune don't corrupt this outlook. 

40. The Mother We Share - CHVRCHES
One of the year's hottest indie bands proves it lives up to the hype with this weird yet enjoyable composition. Look for a more vibrant song from them higher on this list. 

Vance Joy scored a hit with this song in his native Australia, but it deserves international attention. By blurring the line between peppy and depressing, it's one of the more intriguing songs of the year. 

I'm tempted to apologize for enjoying a bratty, semi-vulgar Miley album cut, but I have a feeling you're going to dig her kiss-off song, too. 

37. Back to Forever - Lissie [no Youtube available]
The final track to her album of the same name is my personal favorite. Her nostalgia-inspired lament showcases her chops.

After initially catching my attention with her witty debut single "Merry Go Round" last year, country music's cleverest - and presumably most progressive - songwriter (claims I'm in no position to make given that I barely dabble in the genre) has done it again with this ode to nonconformity. 

Rudimental's "Waiting All Night" had me dancing, but the more laid-back "Free" is the track I anticipate coming back to the most in the future. It's hard to go wrong with the superbly talented Sande at the mic. 

34. Stompa - Serena Ryder
Talk about anthemic. Ryder's palpable attitude should inspire you to clapa your hands and stompa your feet right along to the music. 

The exciting chorus that greets Doreen was enough to pull me in initially, but then I paid attention to the other lyrics and realized that Doreen and the singers have committed an unspeakable act like murder or something. How wonderfully creepy!

Internationally successful, this disco track is certain to still be considered a classic decades from now. While I do wish it were less repetitive, it's hard to fault the robotic boys for not wanting to deviate from a hook this groovy. 

I could do without the titular hashtag, but aside from that, this is easily one of the best pop/R&B duets of the year. The song capitalizes on Miguel's patented smoothness, as well as some rare restraint from Carey.

It's been a decade since DeGraw hit the big time with that One Tree Hill theme song. The folksy lyrics here just beg for a sing-along, so much that I find myself randomly shouting out the name of states by the end of the song.

I would have told you there's absolutely no need for a song about YOLO in 2013, but then I gave this song a chance. It turns out to be M.I.A.'s usual humorous assault of noises. The spoken word riff on reincarnation is the perfect conclusion to this tongue-in-cheek tribute.

While I can't cop to being a fan of all of West's creative risks this year, "Black Skinhead" is different in an appealing way. The Marilyn Manson beat is way smart, but the other audio samples are super overdone. Is it parody or is he really just someone who went overboard after discovering the "sound effects" portion on GarageBand? As usual with Kanye, it's hard to say.

It's obvious how much fun this Canadian indie band has performing this song. The energy is high throughout and the variety of vocal tricks they pull out keeps things exciting.

This song doesn't officially get released as a single until next year, but it's already playing on repeat in my house. If it becomes a major hit, 'memba I toldja. 

I don't understand how I'm late to the game on this Canadian singer/songwriter. This song is great, as is the whole album. How do we make her the Sarah McLachlan of this generation?

I don't normally go for songs this uneven and experimental, but there's something about this song that just works. By the time DeLong poses the question "Did I make you fucking dance?", you're not going to be able to deny it. 

It's a little unfortunate that this Danish band released a song called "Harlem" with the word "shake" prominently in the chorus the same year the Harlem Shake fad climaxed, but I still prefer this catchy alternative song by far.

Mars is pretty hit or miss for me (don't get me started on "Gorilla") but he definitely got me with his emulative disco song that flaunts it danceability. This is the kind of throwback sound that last year's "Locked Out of Heaven" aspired to be.

On first listen, I was confused - this is what Cyrus's singing voice sounds like? Nevertheless, her unusual rawness fits the energy of the song. Even if, like me, you tried to resist the song at first, its inescapability proved fortuitous because this is a pop classic. 

Country meets soul - a marriage I wouldn't mind hearing more of. As much as I like an uptempo tune, when this song shifts at the midpoint from slow to a super slow stilted lyric recitation, I couldn't be happier.

My ongoing fandom for Lavigne probably correlates with my desire to never grow up, and it's great to see Lavigne has a similar mantra. When she calls for us to put our middle fingers up, I gladly do so with only minimal irony. 

This folkish indie group deserves to be more than a well-kept secret. Their songwriting skills and harmonies resonate long after the track ends. 

Hands down, this haunting single is Rihanna's best song since "Umbrella". She can still put out a hot dance track, but stripped down and piano-backed is a good fit on her voice, too.

Though the lyrics are hardly raunchy, this song kind of reminds me of an old school filthy Prince jam. There's an undeniable underlying sexual energy here, so you're probably going to need a shower after this one.

Superb harmonies as always. Don't tell them, but I secretly hope that people never stop breaking these twin sisters' hearts because the resulting music is always killer.

This song's simplicity is its strength. Sometimes all you need is a solid guitar riff and a great vocal performance to create a song that'll stick in your head. The peppering of hand claps, cooing background singers, and piano tickling adds that extra little kick that'll keep you coming back for more.

Considering how many times Monae has inspired me to dance over the years, I'm willing to along with her unique thesis - when the apocalypse arrives, don't use your final moments to mope: bust a move!

Last year's "Ho Hey" was such a mega-hit that it took people some time to even acknowledge their follow-up single. Though "Stubborn Love" is certainly subtler and more layered than its predecessor, it's still every bit the sing-along... once you've learned the words.

While I want to "applaud" Gaga for going rogue on ArtPop, most of the eccentric tracks are over my head. It's actually the album's most radio-friendly song that struck a chord with me. How is "Gypsy" not a single before that laughable duet with R. Kelly?

I love that Vampire Weekend isn't afraid to tackle weighty subjects with seemingly trivial lyrics that cut more deeper on further inspection. Heck, they turned an exploration of agnosticism into this fun, bouncy tune. 

Though the catchy chorus deserves most of the credit, my favorite part of the song is the periodic sound effect that sounds like someone is banging out the hook to "You Keep Me Hangin' On" in Morse code. 

Passenger's voice may skew a little too unconventional to be a choir leader's favorite, but it's sure resonated with listeners this year. His ballad on the age-old theme of "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone" packs a lot of emotion. 

I can't get enough of the chorus: "I'll be a thorn in your side 'til you die/ I'll be a thorn in your side for always." It seems like a fucked up relationship dynamic, but the music is too pleasant-sounding to be sure. 

I have trouble believing that this is a song recorded in 2013 - it sounds like a soul/funk smash from decades past. I also have trouble believing a voice like that is coming from a Ron Jeremy lookalike (from the waist up, at least) and not someone like Sam Cooke - the man whose rumored dying words are the title to this song.

5. San Francisco - The Mowgli's
I'm not usually sentimental enough to buy into the "I love love" crap, but I am a sucker for over a dozen goofy people singing in unison, so this track won me over instantaneously. 100+ plays later, it never fails to brighten my mood.

4. Wake Me Up - Avicii & Aloe Blacc
It's a testament to a song's greatness when you can be bumping it months before its radio release and then still not get tired of it when it hits the mainstream. As a longtime admirer of Blacc, I have to give the majority of the credit to his vocals for bringing to a coolness and authenticity to a DJ track.

3. My Old Friend - Sam Amidon
I'm curious whether this bare-bones cover of a Tim McGraw song will cling to your hearts as much as it has mine. The lilt of Amidon's voice is odd, but definitely moving. It's a sentimental tune I'll keep with me forever.

2. We Got the Power - Loreen
Not everyone can use dark sounds to empower her listeners, but not everyone is Loreen. Sweden's Most Important Person (an honor I'm bestowing personally and sincerely) is so good at what she does that when she stretches out "love" into a twelve syllable word you actually wish she had made it twenty.

1. Pompeii - Bastille
I've long been a fan of Bastille's complex songs that take you through a full progression. "Pompeii", the first song to make a real splash in the U.S., is no exception. It's about time someone brought Gregorian hanging mainstream.


Ta-da! Again, you can download them all here or stream them on Spotify here. Happy 2014.

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