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.

2013-12-30

The Fire Drill

When I was a young kid, our town had a “Fire Safety Week”, so my mom thought it would be a good idea to run a fire drill in our own home to learn an escape plan in case of an emergency.

From my bedroom, my best route outside was down the staircase and out the front door. At our house, though, the front door was mainly ornamental. We always entered and exited through one of the side doors, so the front door actually stayed double latched.

For the drill, my parents sounded a fake alarm. I ran down the stairs to the door. Seconds were of the essence in this hypothetical scenario, but I struggled with the locks and couldn’t get the door open. When I didn’t arrive at the the designated meeting area out front, my parents came to look for me as I still tried to get the door open.

My mom showed me how to open the door, but when she put it to me to replicate what she had done, I still couldn’t figure out how to unlock it on my own. After a couple more of my failed attempts, she said, “I’m sure in a real emergency you’d figure out how to open it.”

Yeah, good drill. HOW AM I EVEN STILL ALIVE?

2013-12-29

Bowled Over

Kevin: [pointing and laughing at a kid near us who somehow managed to get his bowling ball stuck in the gutter DESPITE having the bumpers up]
Amber: [whispers] Don't do that! He's mentally handicapped.
Kevin: Oh my gosh! I didn't realize! Whoops!
Amber: I'm just kidding, I was trying to make you feel bad.
Kevin: [swats at Amber] Ugh, you're horrible, I believed you!
[a few minutes later]
Amber: You know, I think that kid is actually mentally handicapped after all.
Kevin: I was just starting to realize that myself…

WHOOPS X2!

(Moral: don't call someone mentally handicapped because they might actually be mentally handicapped.)

2013-12-28

Bag of Butts


Huh? I refuse to click on the link on principle because I'm committed to whatever the opposite of "keeping up" with the Kardashians is, but I'm really curious about what a "bag of butts"is. It sounds like the punchline to a joke my sister would tell when she was ten.

"What'd you get me for Christmas?"
"A bag of butts!"  

2013-12-24

We Don't Go to Church on Christmas Eve Anymore

For most of my life, I've attended TWO services on Christmas Eve: one protestant and one Catholic to appease both sides of my family. I'm no longer obligated to attend either, though, not because I'm old enough to make my own decisions, but because the churches have forced our hands.

The protestant church stopped being a requirement when the married minister got a teenager in the congregation pregnant. Surprisingly, church-goers found it difficult to stomach hearing the dude preach the good word after that, my family included.

After a prolonged process, the church hired a new pastor. He's easily 350 pounds. I can't help but guess that he was chosen in part because they figured no teenage girl would want to have sex with him. I suppose we could start going to church again because of the new pastor, but the whole thing is tarnished. Christmas especially - all of the celebration over a religious birth from a young, unwed mother still hits a little too close to home after the last guy, if you get my drift.

Right now you may be thinking, "If that's what stops you from going to the protestant church, the Catholic church story must be downright scandalous!"

It's not, though. There are no sexy secrets that I know of at this particular Catholic church, but even supposing that the priest knocked up a teen girl, they'd just call the baby a miracle and put it in the manger for the nativity play. By now, Catholics have just learned to ignore the hypocrisy - the sermon could literally be about the virtues of being a ChiMo and you'd still have one thousand people sitting in the pews because it's Christmas Eve and you can't skip church on Christmas Eve.

I am the exception that gets to skip church on Christmas Eve, however, because the Catholic side of my family is now mostly dead, so there's not much peer pressure. Besides, the sermons are awful. The priest literally just reads Christian-themed email forwards as his sermons like the bogus one about the hero marine punching an atheist professor (fucking liberals!) on God's behalf. One Christmas, the sermon was about a disfigured man who started going to an Australian Catholic church for solace - the priest then hooked the ugly man up with a talented plastic surgeon and made him into a handsome man. That man went on to be… ACTOR MEL GIBSON! First, I don't get what this tale had to do with Christmas, but second, as any idiot who has visited Snopes can tell you, the story is absolutely not true. Then again, if the priest had a problem dressing up falsehoods as fact, he'd be in a different profession altogether.

Even with all of that in mind, the number one reason we don't attend the Catholic service anymore is actually the choir. It is the worst choir you've ever heard. It's a buncha adults bleating out Christmas hymns as if they were goats. They couldn't be more out of tune if they tried. Maybe at rehearsals half of them practice going sharp, while the other half goes flat just to mess the congregation. When I briefly entertained the thought of attending mass this year, I then remembered this one hellbeast's annual solo/slaughtering of "O' Holy Night" and decided that the nicest gift I could give to my ears this holiday is not putting them through that.

So, yeah, no church for me. And I'm pretty okay with that.

Merry Christmas from my family to yours!

2013-12-22

17 With Him


Hmm, is this an appropriate way to interact with a Facebook "friend" I haven't had contact with in many years?

2013-12-16

BEST MUSIC VIDEO OF ALL TIME



"Best music video of all time" is the kind of praise that someone says hyperbolically, and then repeats for another music video three months later, but I feel pretty confident I will never retract my feelings of adoration for "All Night Long."

The Lionel Richie song was released two months after I was born, but somehow I didn't realize how amazing it was until hanging out with friends Saturday night. I still can't figure out how it popped into my head originally, but I put it on Spotify. And that I put it on Spotify again. Over the course of the night, I think we listened to the song about ten times. Each time was as good as the first, and by 2 am we were just full on dancing to it on repeat. We turned the title into something literal.

When I got home in the wee hours, I somehow still wasn't sick of the song, which is when I watched the music video. I didn't think the song could be improved upon, but the visuals are killer. Richie has Michael Jackson's "Beat It" outfit on loan six months too late, but instead of interacting with hooligans, Richie is prancing around with disillusioned 80s people in bright pastels. With Richie's help, everyone is transformed by the power of dancing in the street.

My favorite part is obviously the youngest girl in traditional dress who is way late on her cue and clearly doesn't know the steps, but is still too cute to edit out of the final cut of the video. But my second favorite part is a 500-way tie for all of the other dancers. I want to learn every person's individual moves because it makes me so happy.

If I hire a choreographer, would you all help me recreate this music video? It's all I want to do with my life.

2013-12-14

Trans Fats

"When I heard about the trans fats ban, my first thought was, [whispers] 'I hope Chili's is okay.'"

- my roommate; Chili's #1 fan

2013-12-11

Person of the Year

There, I fixed it for you.

I mean, the Pope is still one of the surprisingly raddest dudes around, butlet’s not pretend that Edward Snowden didn’t twerk all over our fascist oppressors this year.

(And as someone who has twice been Time's Person of the Year, I obviously know what I’m talking about.)

2013-12-10

Caterpillar



Poll: Am I dumber for mistaking a green bean for a caterpillar or for thinking that a caterpillar would somehow respond to my whistle?

2013-12-09

THE BARONESS IS DEAD



I've seen a lot of internet jokes about how NBC's awful "Sound of Music Live" special must have killed the original baroness, but if we're being honest, the lady who played the new baroness was the only good part* of the whole musical. It was almost ridiculous that she had to pretend she was threatened by country Maria's looks, personality, and singing ability when the baroness had her beat in all three categories. For the first time, I found myself rooting for Captain Von Trapp to stick with the baroness, even if it meant aligning with the Nazis.

If anything, maybe Eleanor Parker died because out of that whole swastika-emblazoned shit show, the new actress proved that the original baroness could actually be replaced. "Why couldn't Carrie Underwood have played my role?" she probably shouted on her death bed.

It's funny how the baroness has retroactively become my favorite part of The Sound of Music, thanks in main part to a Melinda Taub article published on McSweeney's. If you're familiar with the musical, "I Regret to Inform You That My Wedding to Captain Von Trapp Has Been Canceled" is one of the funniest things you can read. I'm tempted to just quote the whole damn thing, but I'll restrict myself to one of many favorite lines: "I had planned to send [the kids] to boarding school since their education at the moment seems to consist mostly of marching around Salzburg singing scales. I think it would have been particularly helpful for the eldest daughter who seems intent on losing her virginity to the mailman."


* Well, her and Kurt. That kid was definitely putting the other child actors to shame.

2013-12-03

Help!

Help! I just absentmindedly shampooed my body and body washed my hair. Am I going to die?


brb, gonna ask Yahoo Answers where I'll get some real help