I tend not to be a big year-end list kind of guy — that is to say, I like reading them, but almost never write them. There’s just too damn much out there, and I never feel qualified to offer any kind of judgement on what the ten or twenty best albums were in a given year — how can I, when I’ve only listened to only the merest sliver of a fraction of what came out? That being said, there’s been enough good stuff this year that I’ve actually heard (at least in the little indie pop-folk-dance niche where I live much of the time) that I thought I might make an effort to share it. As the title suggests, this is not “The 25 Best Songs of 2013,” more like a playlist of stuff that came out this year that I keep coming back to. It’s sort of in order, but not exactly, and just to keep it interesting I chose only one song from any artist. Anyway, on with it.
Daft Punk, “Lose Yourself to Dance”
Everyone talks about “Get Lucky,” but this is the biggest earworm on Random Access Memories for me. Much chair-dancing to this one this year; it’s well that I work from home these days.
Lucius, “Go Home”
Slow, stark ballad with a volcanic, pull-out-all-the-stops chorus? Sign me up. The kind of song I could easily picture playing over the closing credits of a Sopranos episode. I’ll bet this tune would give David Chase a boner.
Over the Rhine, “I’d Want You”
Every year-end list should have at least one prom-theme-worthy love song on it. You’re welcome.
Capital Cities, “Farrah Fawcett Hair”
See, and I didn’t even think Farrah Fawcett hair was that big a deal. This song has changed my mind. A fun and surprising paean to things that are … good. Sounds trite, actually damn cool and fun.
The National, “Demons”
“When I walk into a room, I do not light it up.” I hear you, dude. A nice tune for those moments when fighting off your more craven impulses sometimes just isn’t worth the effort. And a good antidote to Christmas music, now that I think of it.
Foals, “My Number”
Song for song, Foals’ Holy Fire was probably the strongest album I heard all year, which makes picking a standout track paradoxically difficult. This is a sort of “I don’t want this album to go unremarked, so here’s one song from it” song; nearly any other would have done just as well.
of Montreal, “Belle Glade Missionaries”
It’s early Dylan! No, wait — it’s early Mick Jagger! No, wait — it’s these guys, with an annoying preposition in their name but a pretty damn good song.
!!!, “Except Death”
Speaking of annoying names, I refused to go near these guys for months in futile protest to this everything-else-on-MySpace-has-been-taken name. A little !!! goes a long way, as the ladies say, but this song kept me coming back. I’m a sucker for a hippie guitar jam, evidently, especially when there’s a beat behind it.
Shout Out Louds, “Sugar”
If XTC had somehow made Oranges & Lemons instead of Mummer, I can imagine the result sounding like this.
Jason Isbell, “Relatively Easy”
Isbell’s record was intense and emotional and I’m disinclined to be snarky about it. (Hard to crack funny about songs about child abuse or cancer.) This is the album’s last song and not necessarily its most powerful, but it does sum up its themes and moods very nicely.
Phosphorescent, “Song for Zula”
Muchacho was probably my favorite album of the year, and this song just leaps out at your face, winds its thickly muscled tail around your neck and deposits its eggs down your throat. In the nicest possible way.
Future of the Left, “Singing of the Bonesaws”
“Shouting inanities in a regional accent is valuable to culture!” Don’t know about that, but it’s certainly good for a laugh. Though I myself was not troubled by the relative lack of action in There Will Be Blood.
Washed Out, “It All Feels Right”
What can you say about a plain ol’, damn good pop song? If you love pastoral, Nuggets-style pop, you really should check out Paracosm, the full-length that houses this stellar track.
Those Darlins, “That Man”
Kind of like Liz Phair making a detour into alt-country act, or an alt-country act channeling Liz Phair. Works for me either way.
Laura Marling, “I Was an Eagle”
When I’m in the mood for literate pop music from an artist with a unique style and point of view, I turn to Laura Marling. If, afterward, the craving still hasn’t gone away, I put on Joanna Newsom and that usually clears it right up.
Minor Alps, “I Don’t Know What to Do With My Hands”
I wouldn’t have thought fidgeting a fertile subject matter for a pop song, and here Juliana Hatfield goes and proves me wrong. I defy you to not turn this up louder when the chorus hits.
San Fermin, “Sonsick”
Yeah, I thought it was the Dirty Projectors at first too. Imagine if Amber Coffman could belt like this?
Blood Orange, “No Right Thing”
Feels like I heard all kinds of dance-pop this year. A lot of the stuff people raved about — the mischievously spelled CHVRCHES; Haim; and what have you — didn’t do much for me. This did.
John Grant, “Glacier”
I am a newcomer to John Grant’s bracing, invective-laced humor, and the loss has been mine. Someone on Rdio remarked that they wish they’d heard this song as a teenager, and so do I.
Paul McCartney, “Road”
Who knew the old guy had it in him? This ambient little ditty sounds completely contemporary and completely of a piece with what Paul does. The title track from New sounded like vintage Macca, catchy and reliable and kind of safe; this track really does sound new.
The Civil Wars, “The One That Got Away”
Not a cover of the Tom Waits song as I originally hoped … boy, wouldn’t that have been something? Wouldn’t you love to hear Joy Williams trill “Well I’ve lost my equilibrium, my car keys and my pride” in that pretty voice of hers? Actually, that probably would have sucked. This is a better way to go.
Best Coast, “Who Have I Become?”
Best Coast’s EP was five slices of solid pop goodness, with this one being the best.
Speaking of dance pop, I didn’t care much for most of this record. But Sasha Keable’s vocal on this track put its saucy hooks into me.
Cass McCombs, “Name Written in Water”
McCombs was another funny, literate artist I am belatedly discovering only this year. Big Wheel and Others is the album, a double-length set with an impressive range of sounds and moods, interspersed with disquieting snippets from this documentary.
Tennis, “100 Lovers”
One last glorious pop song for the road. Happy New Year!