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Best Songs 2013

Yes, I’m aware the schedule went right out the window. Yours would too if your life got dominated by a qualifier exam and working on a research publication(!!!). Never mind the wait, here’s a bunch of songs you should check out.

25. Mercy by TV on the Radio – Every time TV on the Radio releases new material it’s reason for excitement. They overcome the overuse of the phrase “unique” because they embody the word. The production style, the instrumentation, the band always manages to take you on a new journey. “Mercy” is no different, an urgent and exciting tune that fits only in the TVotR cannon.

24. Big Red Dragon by Little Green Cars – Little Green Cars are pure energy, and it’s so much fun to hear them explore their powers on their debut album. It was hard to pick a single track (highlights abound), but “Big Red Dragon” is too much to overlook. The whole thing bubbles with joy, and the melody is a complete earworm.

23. Never Run Away by Kurt Vile – You’ll see more press about the lengthy title track from Wakin on a Pretty Daze, but I’ll take “Never Run Away” instead. The succinct, catchy song grabs you with a dark start and carries through a great psych-rock tune without meandering off track.

22. No Destruction by Foxygen – If you need more Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era Wilco or younger-voiced Bob Dylan music in your life, I’d suggest looking to this track by Foxygen. Such comparisons could create lofty expectation, but the band thrives in this beloved musical niche.

21. Love Illumination by Franz Ferdinand – These Scots will never write another song like “Take Me Out.” This is important to remember and accept. Once you’ve made peace with the idea, songs like “Love Illumination” feel just right. Franz Ferdinand hit all the right notes to make you move and it’s fluid fun. The hidden trick to this song’s success? Those horns own.

20. Hannah Hunt by Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City is a phenomenal record and “Hannah Hunt” is the emotional core. While Ezra Koenig and company ask pressing questions about existence throughout the album, it’s the climax of “Hunt” that drives everything home. Even after dozens of listens, the final yelp still cuts. “If I can’t trust you then dammit Hannah, there’s no future there’s no answer.”

19. Coast to Coast by Waxahatchee – In many ways it’s no surprise that “Coast to Coast” stands out on Cerulean Salt. The volume alone makes it pop (this is probably the loudest and fastest track on the record). Placement also does a great deal to raise the song’s profile (following a reflective “Brother Bryan,” “Coast” is an eruption). But the key is that “Coast” is a great individual track, driving ahead and taking everything along with it.

18. Farewell Appalachia by Stornoway – On the surface there’s nothing inherently remarkable here. Solid singing with lovely harmonies and gently plucked guitar seem like typical folk-rock fare. This quiet hymn is set apart by its charm, weaving and building slowly, finally turning into a much bigger song in the final half. Then, just as the climax peaks, Stornoway slowly releases you into the world. I like that kind of construction.

17. Dance Apocalyptic by Janelle Monae – This isn’t another “Tighrope.” But it’s okay, I promise. Instead of trying to replicate that kind of song, “Dance” (the highlight of Monae’s newest record) is a bubbling, energetic pop gem. There’s a curious balance between the quasi-apocalyptic lyrics and the joyous sounds, and the two sides play off each other beautifully.

16. Na Na by Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap is the most interesting rap release I’ve ever heard (a small sample to be sure), and I was drawn to the most playful selection on the mixtape. “NaNa” functions at a basic level because of its funky bassline, but it’s the amazing lyricism atop the beat that matters. It’s hard to pick any single line above the others, but Acton Bronson’s guest verse is an ovious highlight. “I couldn’t help but laugh,” he adds shortly before Chance intones “Blow me,” to close the song. It sounds goofy, but it works.

15. Shout it Out by Mikal Cronin – The exploding chorus is what you’re here for. Yes, the rest of the song is a pleasant set of plucked garage rock, but when Cronin takes action on his core question, it’s a thrilling result. “Do I shout it out, or do I let it go?” We’re getting a sonic approximation of Cronin’s mind, asking if he’s going to act on love. Taken on that level, the tension is outstanding. Just on face value though? This may be the best pure rocker of the year.

14. River by The Belle Game – Take a dash of The Walkmen, wash that sound out slightly, and then swap in an emotional female vocal and you’re well on your way to “River.” More relevant than that roadmap: this is a great indie track, fitting in all the distorted guitar glory that fans of the genre have come to love. The best parts of the song come toward the end as singer Andrea Lo opens up, yelling and pleading “Take a little more from me.” You’ll come back over and over to hear those striking vocals and grand guitars.

13. Afterlife by Arcade Fire – So much of Reflektor is a bloated disappointment, so it’s nice to give Arcade Fire credit again. Recall, there’s bits and pieces of good songs buried behind too-long outros and next to outright-bad tracks. “Afterlife” stands out because it doesn’t outstay its welcome. This song is the sound of desperation, elation, and wonder. I’d say that’s a pretty typical set of emotions for a good Arcade Fire track, and at least this one time they manage to pull off a great performance again. Big guitars, sweeping strings, straightforward drums, it’s the new AF song you probably wanted all along.

12. We Sink by Chvrches – “The Mother We Share” is nice, but the sinister/sweet balance of “We Sink” makes it the better Chvrches song for me. Like everything on The Bones of What You Believe, Lauren Mayberry’s voice is captivating, but the instrumentation pushes this track over the top. That opening synth line is dark and brooding, a perfect contract to the bright release of the refrain. And it’s a simple message, but the voice hits it perfectly: “I’ll be a thorn in your side for always.” Makes you feel warm and fuzzy and terrified.

11. Man by Neko Case – “Man” is goddamn fierce, and it’s surprising. Neko Case is often described as having a huge voice, but her songs tend toward the quiet and reflective (which isn’t a bad thing, mind you. Her previous two records are loaded with outstanding compositions). “Man” is the first real pissed-off eruption I can remember from Case, and it’s exhilarating. The relentless tempo, the distorted guitar, it’s all turned up to match the singer’s voice and her razor-blade lyrics.