artwork by Mat Hudson
We had no trouble listing a hundred songs that stood out to us in 2013. In fact the trouble only came when we had to narrow the list down to just one hundred songs. Nonetheless it was an absolute blast to revisit the songs that made us dance, cry, ponder and, of course, rock out, over the last twelve months, and we hope you enjoy this list half as much as we enjoyed assembling it.
Check out most of the tracks on the list on the embedded Rdio player below (or here if Spotify is more your speed), or skip ahead to our top 20 to read some words on the songs that basically dominated our playlists all year long. There was just no stopping our #1 pick - we're pretty sure we played it non-stop for a week straight.
100 Blood Orange - "You're Not Good Enough"
99 Marnie Stern - "Year Of The Glad"
98 WAVVES - "Demon To Lean On"
97 No Joy - "Hare Tarot Lies"
96 Smith Westerns - "3AM Spiritual"
95 Akron/Family - "No-Room"
94 Chance the Rapper - "Paranoia"
93 My Bloody Valentine - "Only Tomorrow"
92 Jeremih & Shlohmo - "Boo Peep (Do U Right)"
91 Deafheaven - "Dreamhouse"
90 Cut Copy - "Let Me Show You Love"
89 Foals - "Inhaler"
88 Mount Kimbie - "Made To Stray"
87 Miley Cyrus - "Wrecking Ball"
86 Baths - "Worsening"
85 London Grammar - "Nightcall"
84 Annie - "Invisible"
83 Kurt Vile - "Wakin' On A Pretty Daze"
82 Omar Souleyman - "Wenu Wenu"
81 Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Sacrilege"
80 A$AP Rocky - "Fuckin' Problems"
79 Unknown Mortal Orchestra - "So Good At Being In Trouble"
78 BANKS - "Waiting Game"
77 Majical Cloudz - "Childhood's End"
76 Autre Ne Veut - "A Lie"
75 Young Galaxy - "New Summer"
74 Fuck Buttons - "The Red Wing"
73 Janelle Monae - "Dance Apocalyptic"
72 Grizzly Bear - "Will Calls"
71 WET - "You're The Best"
70 Toro y Moi - "Rose Quartz"
69 The National - "Sea of Love"
68 Waxahatchee - "Dixie Cups and Jars"
67 TV on the Radio - "Mercy"
66 The Weeknd - "Belong To The World"
65 Disclosure - "Latch" featuring Sam Smith
64 Neko Case - "Night Still Comes"
63 Earl Sweatshirt - "Hive" featuring Vince Staples and Casey Veggies
62 Glass Candy - "Warm In The Winter"
61 Postiljonen - "Supreme"
60 Jai Paul - "All Night"
59 Youth Lagoon - "Mute"
58 Angel Olsen - "Sweet Dreams"
57 Foxygen - "No Destruction"
56 Arctic Monkeys - "Do I Wanna Know?"
55 Mikky Ekko - "Kids"
54 Daft Punk - "Doin' It Right" featuring Panda Bear
53 Haerts - "Wings"
52 The National - "Pink Rabbits"
51 CHVRCHES - "Recover"
50 MØ - "Never Wanna Know"
49 M.I.A. - "Come Walk With Me"
48 Blood Orange - "Chamakay"
47 Youth Lagoon - "Dropla"
46 Pusha T - "Numbers On The Board"
45 Danny Brown - "Lonely"
44 Merchandise - "Anxiety's Door"
43 The Knife - "A Tooth For An Eye"
42 Arcade Fire - "Reflektor"
41 King Krule - "Easy Easy"
40 FKA twigs - "Ultraviolet"
39 Rhye - "Open"
38 James Blake - "Retrograde"
37 Lorde - "Royals"
36 Mariah Carey - "#Beautiful" featuring Miguel
35 Volcano Choir - "Byegone"
34 Autre Ne Veut - "Counting"
33 iceage - "Ecstasy"
32 Baths - "Phaedra"
31 Savages - "Shut Up"
30 HAIM - "The Wire"
29 Janelle Monae - "Primetime" featuring Miguel
28 Vampire Weekend - "Diane Young"
27 Robin Thicke - "Blurred Lines" featuring Pharrell and T.I.
26 Foxygen - "San Francisco"
25 Torres - "Honey"
24 Big Sean - "Control" featuring Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica
23 Laura Marling - "Master Hunter"
22 Drake - "Hold On, We're Going Home"
21 Kanye West - "Black Skinhead"
20 MØ - "XXX 88" featuring Diplo - Let’s pretend for a moment that you are one of those discriminating types on whom it takes much effort to make a positive impression. Perhaps you simply thought Karen Marie Ørsted was an oddball-pop one-hit-wonder, and saw “Glass” and its successor “Waste of Time,” as flukes, two inordinately catchy tracks from yet another Scandinavian pop upstart. Then, she rolled out “XXX 88” at the tail-end of summer, and you finally took her seriously, and with good reason. This Diplo-assisted fireball of a track, augmented with brass and battle yelps, was one of the most rousing tracks to emerge from the treasure trove of 2013. Three is a charm, and for MØ it means that she is someone to watch in the coming year, as her debut album seems poised to take the blogosphere by storm. [Jean-Luc Marsh]
19 Disclosure - "White Noise" featuring AlunaGeorge - What does one get when they combine two of the year’s most anticipated new talents? This.
“White Noise,” the collaboration between British duos AlunaGeorge and Disclosure, was the stuff of dreams on the eve of 2013. Two massively hyped outfits both with a forthcoming debut and complementary sounds that seemed destined for an encounter. The stars aligned and in the cold months at the top of the year, this immortally cool track was born. A slinky, 90s-inflected affair delicately adorned with Aluna Francis’ airy vocals and throwbacks to the deep house of a decade gone by, “White Noise” was just what we needed to get up, move, and keep our bodies warm until both sides of the collaboration dropped their long-awaited albums in the summer. [Jean-Luc Marsh]
18 Chance the Rapper - "Chain Smoker" - Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap is good, great, and then killer. “Chain Smoker”, the Frank Ocean hat tipping, cathartic, mixtape-closing, powder keg is exactly the finish Acid Rap deserves. The rolling piano, the whip snare, the high hi-hat, all sewn together by giddy time changes would be an awesome song as it is. Chance more than rises to the occasion, firing on all cylinders, as he showcases his impressive vocal range, and his refreshingly quirky rhymes and delivery. The message provides a nice wrap up to the themes of the mixtape: Hi, I’m Chance, and yes, I’m having as much fun as this sounds. This song is summer’s offspring, and I dare you to try and make it through that part without smiling or bobbing your head. What part? Oh you’ll see. [Nick McGourty]
17 David Bowie - "Love Is Lost" (Hello Steve Reich Mix by James Murphy) - After years of homages and interpolations, James Murphy finally gives his hero David Bowie the full, official LCD Soundsystem treatment. Murphy, too wise to monkey with The Next Day’s already excellent singles “Where Are We Now?” and “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” reinterprets and invigorates one of the album’s second-tier tracks: the restless, synth-sodden “Love Is Lost.” Murphy splits the song wide open, pulls the husk across 10+ minutes, stuffs it with rhythmic hand clapping, brings it to a thumping climax, and sprinkles some “Ashes to Ashes” atop it all, because – why not? No one is under the impression that this remix is anything but pure wish fulfillment and fan service, both for us and Murphy himself. It’s a bittersweet gift, though – a reminder of how great Bowie remains decades into his career, but also of how much we already miss Murphy, so early into his. [Peter Tabakis]
16 The National - "Graceless" - It takes a special kind of band to merge shadowy narrative threads about drugs, depression, and death into something darkly triumphant and redemptive. Enter The National. Even before Matt Berninger’s bleak baritone utters the opening lyric of “Graceless, is there a powder to erase this?”, the ominous instrumentation conveys a sense of impending dread: a swirling sea of unflinching drums, melancholic piano lines and apocalyptic bass. Then come the verses - marbled in gloom and crackling with restrained menace.
But there’s hope – and that’s why as a single this song burns so brightly. The bridge (“There's a science to walking through windows without you…”) works to dissipate some of the accrued tension before the gradually escalating cathartic surge of the chorus. Then there's the spectacular outro, when the track’s palette of desolately shaded hues bleed away to reveal a brighter surface beneath. It all combines to produce a track that’s simultaneously heart-warming and heart-rending. Oh, and it contains one of the year’s most wryly humorous lines in “God loves everybody - don’t remind me...” [Benji Taylor]
15 The Knife - "Full of Fire" - It says a lot about the Knife’s fourth LP, Shaking The Habitual, that the first single, “Full Of Fire” – nine minutes long, dissonant, eerie, repetitive, lacking any clear governing structure, and accompanied by a video from noted feminist pornographer Marit Östberg – is its most accessible track. But “Full Of Fire” is also a commendable choice for a single not because it’s the most danceable track on a largely dancefloor-averse album, but because it lays out Shaking The Habitual’s main preoccupations in condensed form: the lyrical obsession with stories and unanswerable questions; the blunt exploration of politics, sexuality, and gender issues; and, best of all, the lively, playful energy of the album in the face of its daunting length and grim concerns. All of this comes to a head in the closing moments, when the Knife cleverly, hilariously, and ominously rewrite the refrain of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex” as “Let’s talk about gender, baby, let’s talk about you and me.” Like Shaking The Habitual as a whole, “Full Of Fire” is a challenge, but the always-theatrical band never forgets the basic creative value of entertainment. [Samuel Tolzmann]
14 Vampire Weekend - "Hannah Hunt" - One of our best working lyricists, Ezra Koenig has a knack for selecting clever cultural references and mundane but revealing details. Modern Vampires Of The City tests this talent, as Koenig turns from the cutting social commentaries and character studies of songs past to Big Literary Themes, causing his words to generally skew broader than before. So what elevates “Hannah Hunt” is the way Koenig limits himself to small, strange images yet still speaks more to vast, difficult topics than worse writers manage over whole careers. The inevitability of death, the difficulty of leading a moral life, the pull of nostalgia, the dissatisfactions of religion, the power of love: it’s all here, subtly expressed through Koenig’s catalogue of botanical curiosities and a New York Times turned to kindling. Meanwhile, ably assisted by Ariel Rechtshaid, the rest of Vampire Weekend delivers their most elegant composition ever, a song that gracefully moves from muted keyboard to rockstar guitar solo and back again without fuss or cliché. Other Modern Vampires tracks announced themselves more boldly, but “Hannah Hunt” leaves the most enduring impression. It does, after all, live by its own sense of time. [Samuel Tolzmann]
13 Kanye West - "Blood On The Leaves" - When we talk about Yeezus, we constantly strive to find meaning in the music. What’s the message? What’s Kanye’s statement?
“Blood On The Leaves,” in particular, has been analyzed to death. Why, we ask, did Kanye take Nina Simone’s cover of lynching ballad “Strange Fruit,” imply slavery with the song’s title, then write a fairly standard breakup song about “second string bitches” and palimony? Is it poignant social commentary? A forced allegory for slavery? A tasteless attempt at making a political point?
All this analysis gives Kanye far too much credit as a messenger, and not enough credit as a producer. Regardless of the song’s "message," “Leaves” remains an absolute BANGER – a six-minute epic with thrilling production, blaring horn beats and memorable auto-tuned hooks.
Kanye likes to see himself as a prophet. But more than anything, he’s a pop star. It’s great for songs to have meaningful lyrics, but sometimes, we just need a jam. As usual, Mr. West delivered. [Adam Offitzer]
12 Jai Paul - "Str8 Outta Mumbai" - One of the year’s most controversial releases was the unexpected collection of sixteen Jai Paul tracks, but although the debate over their legitimacy was as fierce as it was confusing, it ultimately didn’t matter when it came to the actual music. The first full track on the “album” is now known by the title “Str8 Outta Mumbai,” and within ten seconds it nullifies the entire argument about these tracks’ validity by reminding us from the get-go that Jai Paul is one of the most gifted pop songwriters to emerge this decade, no matter how officially sanctioned the release. Here, he collages a busy splatter of elements into a rough-hewn but catchy-as-hell organized pandemonium. If this is just a demo, then I can’t wait to hear the finished product, even if it takes another three years, because “Str8 Outta Mumbai” more than matches previous singles and confirms that this mysterious man’s music is always worth the wait. [Samuel Tolzmann]
11 The Preatures - "Is This How You Feel?" - The hopelessly romantic “Is This How You Feel?” amply demonstrates how it little it matters what era you take your inspiration from, as long as you do it properly. Pulling from the playbooks of Cars and Fleetwood Mac and contemporaries like Chairlift and Chromatics, The Preatures’ breakthrough track revels in the value of restraint and picking your moments. Flecks of guitar and snapback drums idle perkily while co-vocalist Isabella Manfredi lurks in the shadows, waiting to blindside you with one of the most indelible choruses in recent memory. “Is This How You Feel?” chugs along cheerfully, its only wish to be devoured repeatedly. Since you asked, we feel pretty good. [Brendan Frank]
10 CHVRCHES - "The Mother We Share" - With a wall of synth cutting like knifes in a fistfight, the disarmingly dangerous vocals of Lauren Mayberry, and drum beats and swaths of sound galore, CHVRCHES came galloping though this year with their immaculate cut “The Mother we Share.” The breakout band of the year’s sing-a-long effortlessly shines through in a year crowded with synth pop like a guiding light. From its delirious intro of claps and oscillating chopped and screwed vocals, to the sweeping and addictive chorus of frustrated sorrow, CHVRCHES have given us the track to put on repeat till you’re sick of it, and then play it a bit more. [Dorian Mendoza]
09 Lady Gaga - "Do What You Want" featuring R. Kelly - Lady Gaga treads a thin line: she’s made a career out of being weird, but she can’t risk actually alienating her listeners. When we’re all expecting something crazy, how could she throw a genuine curveball and still satisfy the demands of pop radio? Cue “Do What U Want,” effective proof that raising the stakes doesn’t always require raising the volume. Over, under, and in between a sinister synthetic throb close enough to Italo disco that no one would blink if Johnny Jewel’s name appeared in the credits, Gaga and guest R. Kelly offer up a disorienting combination of come-on and fuck-off (“You can’t stop my voice because you don’t own my life, but do what you want with my body, world!”). “Do What U Want” doesn’t have a characteristically bonkers video (yet), but when the two vocalists performed it on SNL in November, the choreography was a lot like the song: blatantly erotic, strikingly raw, a little awkward, and, in its own special way, totally batshit. [Samuel Tolzmann]
08 Ciara - "Body Party" - Mike Will Made-It’s breakout hit this year was Miley Cyrus’s inescapable “We Can’t Stop,” but his masterpiece was surely “Body Party.” The rising producer reimagines Ghost Town DJ’s’ classic “My Boo” as a sex jam that’s simultaneously ethereal and refreshingly tactile. But while Mike Will Made-It and co-writer Future are undoubtedly responsible for much of what makes “Body Party” great, the majority of the praise rightfully goes to Ciara, whose delivery is a master class in the tense interplay between restraint and release, play and gravity, as she expands and contracts her vocal presence nimbly around the production’s many contortions. Best of all, she manages to absolutely sell lyrics that range from silly metaphors to frank bedroom directives. No post-Weeknd nihilism here; in Ciara’s capable hands, “Baby, put your phone down, you should turn it off” isn’t just a hot line, it’s an announcement that “Body Party” is meant as a throwback to the great R&B slow jams of yore, and it’s true. [Samuel Tolzmann]
07 Arcade Fire - "Afterlife" - It’s not that great of a chorus, right? “Can we just work it out? Scream and shout, till we work it out.” Sung in a fairly traditional melody, with relatively monotonous, weary vocals. So why is it always stuck in my head? Why does it feel so spiritual, so important? Why is “Afterlife” easily one of the best songs of the year?
Well, we all know why. It’s the overpowering, sonic wall of sound surrounding the singing. It’s the hypnotic stutter-step syncopation of the drums; the frenetic, morse code tap of the bubbly synthesizers. It’s the way Win Butler pronounces every word like a preacher, each syllable carrying the weight of the world on its shoulders – “When love is gone, where does it go? And where do we go?”
Still, as usual with Arcade Fire, the wordier moments are secondary to the wordless: The pervasive, cooing “oo-oos” that propel the song forward. Regine Chassagne’s “oh-ah-ohs” that follow every chorus, lifting the song to greater heights. While these subtle chants can never match the cathartic sing-along refrains of “Wake Up,” or the relentless bombast of “No Cars Go,” they fill the same purpose, and pack the same punch.
The chorus of “Afterlife” is not spectacular on its own. Rather, it’s one of many elements, brilliantly mixed together by a generation-defining band, to build a spectacular song. [Adam Offitzer]
06 Phosphorescent - "Song For Zula" - Rosanne Cash once said “Ring of Fire,” a song co-written by her stepmother and immortalized by her father, was "about the transformative power of love.” So, too, is “Song for Zula.” Only Matthew Houck takes as a promise the couplet that opens the Man in Black’s most famous song, one that eventually cools and hardens around the neck, a yoke held by a lover with a jealous grip. Houck sings of transformation, sure, but of the worst kind: “I saw love disfigure me/ Into something I am not recognizing.”
“Zula” is not a breakup song, but a song that longs, wretchedly and acutely, for an emancipation that has yet to come. Houck’s shattering vocal reverberates throughout the track, as do drumbeats and string melodies, all echoes bouncing off prison walls. And yet, some “cold, clean light” peeks out the cracks. When he sings “I am not some broken thing,” we are left desperate to believe his words. Matthew Houck, of course, is right there with us – just as unsure, and all the more desperate. [Peter Tabakis]
05 Vampire Weekend - "Ya Hey" - Traditionally, rockers blaspheme in a roundabout fashion, by celebrating activities God tends to frown upon: having frequent, meaningless sex; ingesting copious quantities of drugs and booze; practicing Satanism. With “Ya Hey,” Vampire Weekend instead bristle at the Almighty on philosophical grounds, directly and unambiguously. During the song’s superb chorus, Ezra Koenig treats the Heavenly Father as a deadbeat dad. If God couldn’t be bothered to simply reveal His name to Moses – the man who recorded the creation story (and other important biblical events) for posterity – then where do we stand exactly? In other words, “Who could ever live that way?” When Koenig takes a few stabs at singing God’s name, all that comes out is beautiful nonsense. A subtle and nuanced critique? No. But satire rarely is.
Vampire Weekend achieve a tonal balance on “Ya Hey” to match the sophistication they’ve long brought to their music and lyrics. The song’s hefty message, delivered with a quarter-note bounce, is counterbalanced by the heavenly flourish of a gospel choir. And so, the sacred and profane mingle in winking harmony. None of this would matter if “Ya Hey” weren’t so fundamentally moving. The mark of a great song is the fodder it provides for other artists. To those listeners turned off by the high-pitched chirps that pepper it, listen to Phosphorescent’s heartbreaking rendition. It’s not the gospel truth by any means. Still – better to bask in the glory of “Ya Hey” in a lesser form than not at all. [Peter Tabakis]
04 Justin Timberlake - "Mirrors" - After a seven-year hiatus – which lasted longer than your average pop star’s full shelf life – Justin Timberlake returned to music early in 2013 and then opened the floodgates. His ambitious 20/20 Experience project produced two sprawling albums: a humongous smash, followed by a satisfying, if less commercially appealing, return to form. Having crisscrossed America as Jay Z’s sidekick on a blockbuster tour, JT is now readying to single-handedly conquer global arenas in 2014. Cash receipts aside, this feast after famine has been of mixed overall quality, yielding but a single, unimpeachable delicacy – the mid-tempo showstopper “Mirrors.”
As a solo artist, Timberlake is best known as the blue-eyed conduit for his beloved R&B and soul influences. He instead follows Bon Iver’s lead on “Mirrors” and gives us schmaltz, straight up, in the style of Peter Cetera (Timbaland’s beatboxing notwithstanding). This gambit, so cringe-worthy on paper, pays off with resplendent results. As a bonus, the song comes with a subversive twist. Delivered like a future wedding standard, “Mirrors” is in fact an anthem of self-love. Timberlake’s words of praise and devotion, directed at his lover, ultimately bounce right back to their source. He closes “Mirrors” by reciting a mantra into the song’s namesake: “You are, you are the love of my life.” On second thought, this may just be a perfect wedding ballad, custom made for Kimye’s first dance. [Peter Tabakis]
03 Daft Punk - "Get Lucky" featuring Pharrell and Nile Rodgers - Instant classics arrive with a built-in flaw. We soon take them for granted, by definition, as if they’ve existed forever. And yet I reach back with little difficulty to that April night when Daft Punk’s first single in years debuted on iTunes. After an hour or so of bouncing around the living room like a sugar-addled toddler – or, more accurately, like the village idiot – I dashed upstairs and shook my boyfriend awake. With a big, dumb smile, I played “Get Lucky” on repeat through our bedroom speakers and breathlessly rhapsodized about the triumphant return of both Daft Punk and the dominant pop genre of the 1970s. He patted my head, kissed my cheek, and returned to sleep.
America took notice however. The French duo nearly topped Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for five consecutive weeks (a milestone left unrealized thanks to Alan Thicke’s son). “Get Lucky” reached cultural ubiquity without the aid of an accompanying viral video (though celebrity fans supplied a fewoftheirown) by featuring the year’s earworm-iest hook, a career-reinvigorating vocal by Pharrell, and Nile Rodgers’ best fretwork since his work with Madonna. And so, two robots conquered the Earth the old fashioned way: with four brilliant minutes of disco. [Peter Tabakis]
02 Kanye West - "New Slaves" featuring Frank Ocean - It started with a projector. Sixty-six projectors, to be precise. Kanye West, lying uncharacteristically low since Watch The Throne, broadcasts his face on buildings all around the world. He’s stolid and dead-eyed, unflinching and uncomfortably close, silently demanding our full attention, reciting what sounds oddly like commercial suicide. If the spectacle wasn’t enough, then there’s always the accompaniment. Not hip-hop in any conventional sense of the word, “New Slaves” is all about shedding skin, and with it, expectation. Whether he’s always fully aware of it or not, Kanye is a man of contradiction, and he may well be the only one who can get away with lambasting the 1% while also glorifying the privileges that come with being a member of the world's most hated club. For our consideration, he submits his thoughts on civil rights, consumerism, for-profit prisons, and his preferences for metaphorical sex acts, while noxious synths fire off in anger. A series of unmusical events is followed by an auspiciously melodic sample from Hungarian rock act Omega, which may warrant inclusion on this list entirely on its own. With "New Slaves", Kanye provided a correct answer to the question: How do you follow up your (and possibly your entire genre’s) magnum opus? [Brendan Frank]
01 Autre Ne Veut - "Play by Play" - “Play By Play” opens with a shimmering synth line and Arthur Ashin repeatedly moaning, in medias res, “…And I said, baaaaaaaaaby,” for a full minute. Enjoy that minute; it’s the only break you’ll get. When it really gets going, powered by enough keyboards to fuel about six ‘80s pop songs, “Play By Play” is unstoppable. It’s a titanic juggernaut, a jolt of vertigo, a seismic reverberation, the overwhelming sound of momentum itself represented in lush neon hues and fractured R&B tropes. Rather than give us the easy comfort of a proper chorus, Ashin builds his towering masterpiece higher and higher and higher, giving us about two dozen developments that all register as the climax, only to be audaciously one-upped on the very next line. There’s a fantastic moment at the 2:25 mark, when he yanks the word “want” out to four syllables and slowly drags it in a circle. It’s so agonizingly huge and forceful and dizzying, it seems impossible that the song could somehow escalate further, but since “Play By Play” is miraculous and there are still two and half minutes left, it somehow does. In a way, the song’s exhilarating quality is a buffer against its wrenching emotional content. Loneliness, desperation, technological disconnect, an unhealthy sense of dependency, and, yes, anxiety bleed through every note, hauntingly realized by Ashin’s frantic falsetto (the most-repeated lyric is “Don’t ever leave me alone!”). “Play By Play” is intense, relentlessly harrowing stuff, but it’s also thrilling, very beautiful, and presented with utterly singular, uncompromisingly original artistic vision. Pretty much the only other thing you could possibly demand from a pop song is a revival of that cheesy old “Choir” synthesizer preset, but don’t worry – “Play By Play” has that, too. [Samuel Tolzmann]