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Best Songs 2013

Welcome to the first installment of Best Songs 2013. The self-imposed rules: only one song per artist. Todd Terje broke the rules ever-so-slightly, but only because he’s not the sole composer one of the tracks. Don’t worry, you’ll see.

Come back tomorrow for the second part of the list. Did I miss any songs? Is there a great track you think deserves more attention? Let me know in the comments!

50. GMF by John Grant This is both an instant hit and a grower, and given a few more weeks it might climb toward the top. Man, those lyrics though. “But I am the greatest m*********** that you’re ever gonna meet.” Believe it.

49. Strandbar (disko) by Todd Terje The first 3:40 are a great buildup, but that piano kicking in demands some kind of physical movement. Add in a late-half breakdown and rebuild? Funky.

48. Take Back the Night by Justin Timberlake When he’s on point, Timberlake delivers pop gems that stick. This track is no exception, an infectious dancey delight.

47. Empathetic People by Telekinesis This song is a driving, fuzzed-out garage stomper with teeth enough to grip your mind long after the brisk 2:32 is over.

46. Ramona by Night Beds Gently weeping guitars pull you in, but you’ll stay for the whole ride thanks to beautiful singing and dynamic control.

45. Rebirth by Yuck The lo-fi sound of the band’s debut is gone in favor of this MBV homage at the center of Yuck’s second record. The result is great as notes bend and swirl.

44. You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now by Parquet Courts You’ll bounce along to this one, with a pleasantly deep guitar and drum cut hiding below the lo-fi exterior.

43. Gold by Wake Owl The song starts as a quiet, reflective piece. But slowly the sound builds, eventually hitting a powerful refrain. A great transformation.

42. Line of Fire by Junip Best known for its use in ads for the Breaking Bad finale, “Line of Fire” sets a haunting tone thanks to ethereal vocals and an organ that hums just below the surface.

41. Casanova by San Fermin The tenor brings The National to mind, but that’s good thing. Quiet piano slowly gives way to strings and the song hits a memorable climax as the singer croons “I’ll prepare a place for you.”

40. Only a Clown by Caitlin Rose If you don’t fall in love with that opening guitar lick? I’d advise getting checked for a soul. And then that voice? And the sweet-sorrowful lyrics? Take a chance on this one, it’s a keeper.

39. The Oil Slick by Frightened Rabbit Strip down the sound of The Twilight Sad and you’re mostly there. The guitar slide and bass at the outset establish the mood, but it’s the weather-worn Scottish voice that impresses most.

38. Nightwater Girlfriend by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin SSLYBY produce immaculate pop sounds (“Sink/Let it Sway” is an all-time great), so it’s fun to hear their style with a bit of fuzz in the guitar. Even better? It’s still good.

37. Bugs Don’t Buzz by Majical Cloudz The penultimate track on Impersonator is a spare, heartbreaking performance. The mood would be strong enough with just piano and vocals, but then rattling bass pops every few bars, to devastating effect.

36. Turtle Neck by Bosnian Rainbows “Turtle Neck” sounds like what would happen if you put OK Computer through a drug trip and gave it a female voice. The ringing guitars (and solo guitars) are fabulous.

35. You Will Be Free by The Thermals The Thermals have all but perfected their brand of punk, so it’s no shock to see them with another excellent outing. “You Will Be Free” is the best off their newest album, and it’s rich with the forceful desperation you’d expect from the band.

34. Next Stop by Bleached A surf-pop/power-punk blend with the breakneck speed you’d expect from either genre? Sounds good. An great female lead vocal and rolling guitars? Yes please. You’ll hit repeat more than a few times on this one, I promise.

33. Worse or Better by The Devil Makes Three “Worse or Better” roars in fully realized from the first note with banjo, bass, and fiddles all striking together. The confident singing and great final note-fade only add to a clear sense of bluegrass swagger.

32. Falling by Haim Others will tell you “The Wire” or “Forever” are Haim’s best songs, but they’re wrong. “Falling” gets all the power of the vocals without the needless quirks, all while featuring the best lyrics and stronger melody. Haim as a whole have been overrated, “Falling” is great.

31. Timothy Shy by Ducktails The outro to this song is a fun noise-fest, but I come to “Timothy Shy” for the great indie rock opening. Echoing guitars, thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk piano, in-step percussion, and the layered vocals all hit me in the right places. The narrative of an aloof boy only adds to the experience.

30. Follow Your Arrow by Kacey Musgraves Writing a feel-good anthem is a risk. You must be sincere and avoid cheesy positive slogans. Crafting a socially-inclusive country song is a different kind of challenge thanks the genre. Musgraves hits the perfect balance. She holds “Arrow” together with catchy melody and razor-sharp lyrics, making the best country song I’ve ever heard.

29. Lanzarote by Lindstrom and Todd Terje Sometimes it’s hard to explain just what makes an electronic dance song so good. Here the answer is simple: just after the 2:00 mark, the track opens up and lays down one of the best grooving synth lines you’ll hear. And then the melody repeats for the rest of the song, eventually sucking you into its trance.

28. Lecce, Leaving by Lee Ranaldo and the Dust It’s the best Sonic Youth song this year! Reductive, sure, but that’s not a negative observation. Ranaldo’s now-classic guitar sound and curious voice are always welcomed. “Lecce, Leaving” finds Ranaldo as energized and lyrically exploratory as he’s ever been.

27. Get Lucky (feat. Pharrell) (Radio Edit) by Daft Punk Yeah, it was the song of the summer of the century of the moment of the year or something. Oh yes, we got tired of it. But the key to its success (and why it’s still so damn catchy 50 billion times later) is that guitar. Nile Rodgers completely dominates this collaboration and for good reason. Of course, it’s also better when cut down a bit (thus the pick of the Radio Edit).

26. Officer by Saint Rich Saint Rich probably flew under your radar, but their blast of guitar rock should make a mark if you give it a chance. “Officer” kicks off their debut record and starts with a sweeping intro, then never letting you down for the next 4:37. Come for the controlled-demolition guitar sound, stick around for the vocals and thrashing drums.