Some people may call this is a ridiculous waste of life. I would call this the definitive list of my music listening for 2013. Below is my top 101 songs for the year 2013. Of course questions will arise in regard to the actual validity of some of the songs and others that have not been listed but basically I have made the decision that singles released in 2012 despite being on a 2013 album are generally not allowed to be included in the poll.
Agree? Disagree? Give me your reasons and we can engage in some hardcore debatin’. On that note, enjoy the list! Let me know your top ten if you would so desire.
Quick note: Spotify does not have Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rain and Thundercat’s Heartbreaks + Setbacks. As such, I’ve posted them in their respective positions.
Willie Bee’s 100+2 best tracks for the year that was: 2013
- Why Write A Letter That You’ll Never Send Away – The Drones
- Elevate – St Lucia
- Heartbreaks + Setbacks – Thundercat
- Play by Play – Autre Ne Veut
- Wasting my Younger Years – London Grammar
- Reflektor – Arcade Fire
- The Vampyre of Time and Memory – Queens of the Stone Age
- Is This How You Feel? – The Preatures
- Alive – Empire of the Sun
- Lay Me Down – Sam Smith
- Let Her Go – Jagwar Ma
- Promises – Cloud Control
- Hold on, We’re Going Home – Drake ft. Majid Jordan
- Get Lucky – Daft Punk
- Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High – Arctic Monkeys
- Mirrors – Justin Timberlake
- Baby I am Nobody now – Andy Bull
- A Baru in New York – Yolanda Be Cool ft. Gurruml (Flume remix)
- Graceless – The National
- Happens – Sampha
- Diane Young – Vampire Weekend
- Afterlife – Arcade Fire
- The Wire – Haim
- Royals – Lorde
- I Listen to Soul, I Listen to Blues – Safia
- Riptide – Vance Joy
- Acid Rain – Chance the Rapper
- Byegone – Volcano Choir
- So Good at Being in Trouble – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
- Wolf – Pyramid
- My God is the Sun – Queens of the Stone Age
- Dojo Rising – Cloud Control
- I was an Eagle – Laura Marling
- California Daze – Peace
- The Hurry and the Harm – City and Colour
- Always – Panama
- Wakin’ on a Pretty Day – Kurt Vile
- Don’t Save Me – Haim
- Can for Now – Underground Lovers
- Black Skinhead – Kanye West
- Free Your Mind – Cut Copy
- Youth Wasted – The Bronx
- Desert Night – RUfUS
- Sacrilege – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
- Smother – Daughter
- Back to the Middle – Deerhunter
- Holding on – Classixx
- Where Are We Now? – David Bowie
- Year of the Dog – Fuck Buttons
- Fresh Strawberries – Franz Ferdinand
- Retrograde – James Blake
- Primetime – Janelle Monae ft. Miguel
- Cavalier – James Vincent McMorrow
- Nirvana – Sam Smith
- Mercy – TV on the Radio
- Chamakay – Blood Orange
- Do I wanna know? – Arctic Monkeys
- 3005 – Childish Gambino
- Luck Now – Big Scary
- Doin’ it Right – Daft Punk ft. Panda Bear
- All the Time – The Strokes
- I am a God – Kanye West ft. God
- Sleep – Snakadaktal
- Plastic Soldiers – Portugal. The Man
- Nosetagia – Pusha T ft. Kendrick Lamar
- Trying to be Cool – Phoenix ft. R Kelly
- Sunday – Earl Sweatshirt ft. Frank Ocean
- You & Me – Disclosure (Flume Remix)
- Step – Vampire Weekend
- Victory – Janelle Monae
- Overgrown – James Blake
- My Number – Foals
- Resolution – Matt Corby
- Gun – CHVRCHES
- The Breach – Dustin Tebbutt
- Too Much – Drake ft. Sampha
- When yesterday’s gone – Hungry Kids of Hungary
- Sex – The 1975
- Head on/Pill – King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
- I. The Worst Guys – Childish Gambino ft. Chance the Rapper
- Everything’s a Thread – John Steel Singers
- Summertime Sadness – Lana Del Rey v Cedric Gervais
- Warm Water – Banks
- All I Could Do – Oscar Key Sung
- Play with Fire – Vance Joy
- Hey Now – London Grammar
- When a Fire Starts to Burn – Disclosure
- Hands – Saskwatch
- Under my Skin – Dan Sultan
- Keep on Running – Andy Bull
- Night Sky – CHVRCHES
- Man I Need – Jagwar Ma
- Comfortable – Aston Shuffle
- From the Sun – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
- Drag me Home – World’s End Press
- The Good Life – Elizabeth Rose
- Human Spring – Buchanan
- Speak to No End – City Calm Down
- Forbidden Fruit – J Cole ft. Kendrick Lamar
- Closer than This – St Lucia
- Berlin – Ry X
- Pizza Guy – Touch Sensitive
2013: A Review
Firstly, I should justify my decision to extend the traditional top 100 to the obscure 102. There is really no excuse, I’m very indecisive and I really struggled to get it down to 100. Thus I thought it would be a nice touch to actually refer to it as the ‘100+2’ list. This is not to say that 101 and 102 are only there as an anomaly and a talking point. Rather, I just could not bring myself to cut them from the list. The two songs, Ry X’s Berlin and Touch Sensitive’s Pizza Guy, are performed by Australian artists and struck me as highly original productions from two artists from opposite sides of the musical spectrum. Ry X is an LA based Australian singer/songwriter whose career has slowly grown over the past few years. Berlin is a classic homesick boy tale that seems to unlock the insecurities that are plaguing him at the time which allowed him to produce a vulnerable, melancholy song that comes that ebbs and flows along the fine line between nostalgia and actuality. Pizza Guy doesn’t have the same touching storyline that led to its production however it does live up to its inane name with its bouncy electronic hooks, formed in a similar mold to Classixx’s Holding on which comes in at number 47 on the list.
The beauty of creating your own list is that it does open up the stories and memories you have of listening to these songs for the first time or in some circumstances, the 7th or 8th where they really struck you and lingered in your mind until the actual compilation of the playlist came about. I recall being rather nonchalant about Andy Bull’s Keep on Running when I first heard it due to it not displaying his ungodly range as his previous work had but with persistence I began to view it as an amalgamation of two distinct genres that brought them together to create a radical anthem illustrating his existential angst linked into the pressure that we seem to all be put under by our own peers. In contrast, my number one for the year, Why write a letter that you’ll never send away by Australian band The Drones, could not have left a bigger imprint on me if it had have struck me in the face with an oversized Queensland banana. The stark imagery, the gritty guitar work and the outrageously passionate delivery from Gareth Liddiard has as of yet not ceased to amaze me. It is undeniably a powerful anthem for the confused and the defeated and one that has not received the credit it thoroughly deserves.
Another great reason for compiling this list is that sometimes it is difficult to escape the asphyxiating nature of peer pressure. Under the guise of friends and strangers alike, we may succumb to liking or disliking a song based upon their own judgments. My opinion of Blurred Lines seemed to harden when I heard female friends disparage the shamefully catchy song for its overt sexism. I must say, I was initially a huge fan of the song and regrettably the film clip because I enjoy beautiful women parading around in next to nothing, call me a Neanderthal, call me a sleaze. However, as I have left it out of my top 100+2 this year, the effect the criticism had on me personally has clearly left a lasting impression. I also nearly included the overplayed yet critically underrated Miley Cyrus ballad Wrecking Ball on the basis that it really is an excellent pop song with heart and soul. Once again though I found myself finding it easier to justify its exclusion rather than a song from say Buchanan or Elizabeth Rose based on my prejudice. I enjoyed each of the songs on their own without having to know a huge amount about the artist’s own story however Miley’s antics seemed to negatively effect me and she did not make the list. Is that a bad thing? It really depends on the perspective.
I wanted, in fact needed, to include songs from The Weeknd but could not justify his inclusion over some of the lower ranked songs. I felt the Arctic Monkeys and Queens of the Stone Age deserved more than 2 songs on the list but again I could not sneak them in as well. In fact, no artist had more than 2 songs this year. Is that because I did not want to obsess over artists too much or was it a truly even year?
The best albums
Each of my top 10+2 albums of 2013 had at least one song in the countdown and surely I could have justified more than 2. Drake’s masterful Nothing Was the Same shocked me for its subtlety and seductive despite my apprehension to like it. The two songs I threw into the mix from him, Hold on, we’re going home (No. 13) and Too much ft. Sampha (No. 76) illustrated his music’s vulnerable sexiness and there were certainly other examples of this that could have very easily snuck into the fold. My favourite album of the year, …Like Clockwork from the ever-impressive Queens of the Stone Age could only muster two songs as well. Whilst the entire album was full of highly potent tracks full of highlights and utterly compelling consistency, I still only felt obliged to include My God is the Sun (No. 31) and the suffocating Vampyre of Time and Memory at number 7. Only Arcade Fire outdid them in sheer productivity when it came to holding two high ranking songs. Arcade Fire’s outstanding Reflektor had the song of the same name at number 6 and Afterlife at number 22. James Murphy’s (LCD Soundsystem et al.) influence as producer has not steered them into murky waters and has only distinguished the band as one of the greatest active rock bands with an eye for experimentation.
Those who know me understand that soul and R ‘n B are my first loves so it is no surprise that Janelle Monae, Justin Timberlake, Drake and even cross-over artists, Haim, have managed to squeeze into the top 10+2 albums. Minus JT, who had Mirrors at number 16, each of these artists had two songs in the countdown. Haim, a group of sisters from California had an outrageously successful year. Their debut album Days are Gone seemed to follow the formula for success in 2013. Nostalgia, groggy memories and a desire for love but uncertainty on how to react when it suddenly comes to us. Justin Timberlake may have smudged his perfect record of 2013 with the second part of the 20/20 Experience which has left an indelible ambiguity in my mind, but the first part of the album was nearing pop perfection. Whilst Suit and Tie, Pusher Love Girl and Strawberry Bubblegum all had elements of this perfection, it was Mirrors that summed up why this guy has a reputation stronger than the average fluffy pop star.
Janelle Monae’s album just needs to be listened to for you to lavish praise on her. One of the hottest acts in the world currently, her highly original material does not concentrate its time on one sound for more than a song or two before branching out to another idea. Alike JT, any number of her songs could have reached the top 100+2 including the brilliant collaborations with Solange and Erykah Badu but in the end it was the perfect combination of Miguel and Monae that made my heart sing the most on Prime Time. Victory also came in at number 70.
Australian artists The Drones and Cloud Control both released excellent albums this year. For the Drones it was their 5th album, for the Cloud Control this becomes their sophomore release. Clearly both are in different phases of their career but both seemed to have sculpted out their ideal sound. The Drones; gruff, cynical and reckless and Cloud Control; idealistic, oceanic and littered with wonderful harmonies. Cloud Control’s Dojo Rising (no. 32) and Promises (No. 12) were worthy additions. Their gritty blues-rock feels inspired by The Animals and early Van Morrison. I will be speaking in more detail about my number 1 from the Drones later in the piece.
Just missing out on spots in the top album list was Matt Beringer and The National who had the solitary song – Graceless – at number 19, James Blake with Retrograd & Overgroun at numbers 51 and 71 respectively and CHRVCHES with Gun and Night Sky at numbers 74 and 91. James Blake is one of the darlings of post-dubstep and minus my dalliance with the Boss with Tom Morello on lead guitar, sits as my number one live show of the year.
Collaborations between hip-hop artists have been a frequent feature of the music landscape even before Dre and Pac teamed up for California Love. It continues to be a popular choice for pure hip-hop numbers however it is becoming increasingly popular for electronic artists to mix soul and dance with a guest appearance. Disclosure added depth to their sound with the inclusion of Sam Smith, Jessie Ware and Eliza Doolittle on their excellent debut album Settle. I did not include Latch in the countdown due to the single being released in 2012 however Eliza Doolittle’s appearance earned a spot in the list at number 68. Further complicating its inclusion is the fact that it is the Flume remix of the song that jumped into the chart. Flume’s remix of the collaboration between Indigenous folk singer Gurruml and Australian producers Yolanda Be Cool also made the countdown at number 18. I have never been one to lavish praise on the new wave of remixes but I felt compelled with these enchanting efforts from the Australian lad who continually disproves the former label of overhyped I had pinned to his chest.
R Kelly remixed Phoenix’s irrepressibly adorable Trying to be Cool to fine effect to push it up to number 66. Alike Sampha’s Too Much, Trying to Be Cool would have made it into the list without the addition of another voice. Drake utilised Sampha’s heart wrenching chorus in his own number of the same name. It is hard to decide which song should go into the countdown when this occurs. Should we honour the original product and ignore the potentially improved product simply because it does borrow from something else? In these cases I thought the original product was improved and not overindulgent thus I have included the said versions.
Collaborations between hip-hop artists have become an omnipresent feature of the industry so much so that I reckon Kendrick Lamar has been featured on more rap songs this year than he has actually produced himself. It seems the man is everywhere. With Big Sean, Chance the Rapper, J Cole (no.99 – Forbidden Fruit), Eminem, A$AP Rocky (Fuckin’ Problems was a shoe-in had the album actually been released in 2013) and Pusha T (no. 65). Frank Ocean too found success with stable mate Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, The Creator, with the former collecting position 67 for the track Sunday. Despite this, Frank Ocean personally struggled with vocal cord trouble throughout the latter half of 2013 and as any singer knows, this could spell an extended hiatus for the man who fronted my favourite album of 2012, Channel Orange.
However, without doubt the collaboration of the year was Daft Punk’s Get Lucky featuring Dr Funk himself, Niles Rodgers and the ageless Pharrell Williams. Rodgers, cancer survivor, Chic lead guitarist and featuring musician to the stars, was so influential in the hit that it became both a critical and mainstream success for the impossibly likable helmeted duo. The song came in at number 14 but the album was definitely in the top 10 of the year.
Until I began a music radio program on a community radio station I did not hold a particularly strong sentimental feeling toward Australian music. I have always been attracted to soul music that predominately comes out of the States and English Indie rock bands such as the Arctic Monkeys (Why’d you only call me when you’re high, no. 15 and Do I wanna know – no. 57), Grizzly Bear and Franz Ferdinand (Fresh Strawberries, no. 50) seemed to be a far ‘cooler’ thing to get around. However, I must say that this year has been a bumper year in terms of my love of Australian releases and the bands that deliver them. Andy Bull (Keep on Running – no. 90 and Baby, I am nobody now – no. 17), Cloud Control, Empire of the Sun (Alive – no. 9), The Preatures (Is this how you feel? – no. 8), Cut Copy (Free Your Mind – no. 41), Underground Lovers (Can for Now – no. 36), Vance Joy (Riptide – probably an underrated no. 26 and Play with Fire – no. 86) and Dan Sultan (Under my skin – no. 89) are all Australian artists with releases within the countdown. It may illustrate my bias as there is a strong underground youth network of artists in every country across the globe, but it filled me with pride when I included young artists such as Safia (I listen to Soul, I listen to blues – no. 25), Ry X (Berlin – no. 101) and The John Steel Singers (Everything’s a thread – no. 81) in the proceedings.
Matt Corby, Flume, Big Scary and Lorde (I know she is a Kiwi but we will claim her) are another load of Oz artists in my top 100 (+2). Big Scary have had a big year and would be satisfied with the album they have released. Luck Now is a super number coming in at no. 59. Jagwar Ma surprised people with their Australian heritage and they have seemingly blown up in the UK after a slamming debut (Howlin’) with Let Her Go jamming its way into the chart at number 11 and Man I need following up at number 92. And how good is Head on/Pill (number 79) by locals King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard? The band name could only come from a group of frazzled stoners and the song could not be more suited to a compression session.
Speaking of Kiwis, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s off the hook release II was a piece of psychedelic magic with the Sgt. Peppers inspired From the Sun coming in at number 94 and the mellow So Good at being in Trouble in at number 29.
I had 5 Janelle Monae songs on my shortlist. The other three were Q.U.E.E.N ft. Erykah Badu, Electric Lady ft. Solange and Sally Ride. For ever free-loving female and to not discriminate, any funky men who love Diana Ross, D’Angelo and Earth, Wind and Fire, this is the album for you. I would go as far as saying she is the most exhilarating artist I have come across for quite some time. Defending our innate right to push boundaries. Primetime ft. Miguel is exactly what Miguel fans would expect it to be. Sincere with a cheeky wink to keep us interested. Victory is another groovy ballad that keeps you guessing. JVM’s Cavalier is another tremendously beautiful song lined with his brave falsetto in at number 53. It is hard to limit myself in terms of my words here on some of these songs. There is the wonderful Nirvana from my boy Sam Smith at number 54, and there is the ocean-pop sound of Snakadaktal with Sleep in at number 63 that tickles those sensitive spots.
However, the two standouts in terms of songs that pinch the heartstrings are Matters – Sampha at number 20 and Sam Smith’s insatiable Lay me Down at number 10. Both British singer/songwriters who have collaborated with high profile electronic acts – Smith with Disclosure and Sampha with SBTRKT – prior to being named in the BBC’s list of the young artists to watch in 2014. Others to feature in my countdown on this list are Banks (Warm Water – no. 83) and the elusive Chance the Rapper at number 27 and also accompanying Childish Gambino at number 80 on I. The Worst Guys.
The Top Ten.
There were several songs that simply stood out from the pack this year. One of the first albums I reviewed on my radio program was indeed The Drones’ magnificent I see Seaweed. It proved a most divisive album amongst its listeners. Some refused to classify it as music, others claimed it as the greatest Australian album of all time. It really is one of those enigma albums that you must listen to and assess for yourself. The standout track on the album for mine was Why Write a Letter that You’ll never send away, a heart-wrenching, brutally honest appraisal of modern day society. For pure songwriting, this is one of the greatest songs I have ever listened to and certainly my number one for 2013. It is timeless in its commentary and although it is political, it does not feel forced or even judgmental; it is simply one man’s opinion, be it the songwriter or the perspective of a friend delivered in a compelling manner.
New York producer/songwriter St Lucia follows at number 2 with the rapturous Elevate, and then comes the elusive Thundercat with the deftly heartbreaking Heartbreaks + Setbacks, the bouncy and immersive Play by Play from Autre Ne Veut and rounding out the top 5 is the pure elegance of London Grammar with the touching Wasting my Younger Years. The theme here is certainly one that cuts close to the soul. Each of the songs listed in the top 5 stresses a certain desperation to connect or lament. Elevate does just that, lifting the listener into a blinding region of tenderness as Jean-Phillip Grobler’s composition is clearly inspired by 80s acts such as Genesis. Thundercat’s Heartbreaks… is a story created on the back of utter frustration by bass virtuoso Stephen Bruner. Alike Monae, his music is very experimental and this track picks a spot in between nu-soul and electronica. Adding to this are his warm vocals to create one of the triumphs of the year.
Autre Ne Veut. Funny old name for an artist. But how good is the build up to the climatic chorus? The song is zany and alike Elevate is inspired by the ilk of Prince and other 80s pop which played with the mixture of funk, soul and gospel to create something new and exciting. ‘Don’t ever leave me alone’ does lead onto the album title Anxiety. It is an anxious, needy song that leaves nothing in the tank.
London Grammar’s Wasting my younger years once made me cry after sex. While I was certainly in a vulnerable position, the song certainly accentuated my overwhelming emotion. Suffice to say, I have not played the song during my intimate moments since. However, Hannah Reid’s voice, undeniably similar to Florence Welch, is enough to win over any casual music fan. The instrumental backing is minimal but enough to create a solid foundation for Reid to do her work. The see-sawing Wasting My Younger Years hits the delirious confusion that is, whether hidden or all too visible, in all of us.
Arcade Fire’s Reflektor and Queens of the Stone Age’s The Vampyre of Time and Memory remind us that classic rock bands still walk the earth and create brilliant music. Butler and Homme, the lead singers of their respective bands, have continued to reinvent themselves with each album and they have succeeded with distinction with their latest efforts. Dominant songs from dominant albums, two class bands.
In at number 8 is the pop-rock sounds of Sydney act The Preatures. A rambunctious, flirtatious and infectious song, Is this how you feel? captures the essence of summer love and will keep you movin’ on up until the early hours… (F### Abbott for those in touch with Australian music news). Number 9 is Alive from one of Australia’s premier dance acts, Empire of the Sun. The hooks are catchy, capturing a winter wonderland within a sound built for the summer. It simply hums along with glistening synth and heavy bass. A knockout.
Number 10 is the divine Lay me Down from Sam Smith. Some may consider it just another ballad and they are welcome to that opinion but Smith’s future greatness will come with his absolutely outstanding voice. It is head and shoulders above most of the current male voices and the guy is only 21. Lay me down drips with vulnerability and desperation. It is simply Smith’s chops that sneaks under my defenses to break my stupid little heart time and time again.
Favourite lyrics from each of the top 10 songs.
1. Why write a letter that you’ll never send away – The Drones
‘i’m saying life is cruel, you know it’s true
but all sides still try and recruit you
for shangri-las as practical
as doing the karma sutra’
2. Elevate – St. Lucia
‘All this time, never thought I would see you smile
Know that I, and I know that I see it now
But I know I can’t walk it
Never go back again’
3. Heartbreaks + Setbacks – Thundercat
‘Heartbreaks, setbacks, breakups, makeups
Love, love, love, love, love
Breakdowns, buildups, talk downs, drag downs
First we’ll find our hearts’
4. Play by Play – Autre Ne Veut
‘You’re feeling like you don’t mind
Thinking that you want to go
Don’t ever leave me’
5. Wasting My Younger Years – London Grammar
‘Don’t you know that it’s only fear
I wouldn’t worry, you have all your life
I’ve heard it takes some time to get it right’
6. Reflektor – Arcade Fire
‘Entre la nuit, la nuit et l’aurore,
Entre le royaume des vivants et des morts’
Translation: Between the night, night and dawn. Between the kingdoms, of the living and of the dead.
7. The Vampyre of Time and Memory – Queens of the Stone Age
‘The Vampyre of time and memories, has died
I’ve survived, I speak. I breathe, I’m incomplete
I’m alive, hurray, you’re wrong again coz’ I feel no love
Does anyone ever get this right?
8. Is this how you feel? – The Preatures
‘I’m too young to quit now
I’m too young to quit but I gotta get clean
Is it real for you like it’s real for me
I’ve been walking in suburbia
Just looking for you’
9. Alive – Empire of the Sun
‘Freedom is within you,
Giving makes us feel good,
Hello to my people,
Say hello to the future’
10. Lay me down – Sam Smith
‘And it’s hard, the days just seem so dark
The moon, the stars, are nothing without you
Your touch, your skin, where do I begin?
No words can explain, the way I’m missing you
The night, this emptiness, this hole that I’m inside
These tears, they tell their own story’
Oh, and it’s okay Kanye, you’re in there too.
The next 20
Fool of Me – Say Lou Lou ft. Chet Faker
Belong to the World – The Weeknd
Inhaler – Foals
March – Jimblah
Love me Again – John Newman
Master Hunter – Laura Marling
Tiff – POLICA ft. Justin Vernon
Sea of Love – The National
Wrecking Ball – Miley Cyrus
Ride on/Right on – Phosphorescent
Arabella – Arctic Monkeys
Waiting all night – Rudimental
The Lottery – The Stepkids
Comrade – Volcano Choir
Golden Moment – Dark Side
Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke ft. Pharrell & T.I
Hurricane – MS MR
Cirrus – Bonobo
Us – Movement
Sun don’t shine – Klangarussell ft. Will Heard
Young and Beautiful – Lana Del Rey
The unlucky 13 best albums for 2013…
Queens of the Stone Age – … Like Clockwork
James Blake – Overgrown
Arctic Monkeys – AM
Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part I
Laura Marling – Once I was an Eagle
Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
Arcade Fire – Reflektor
The Drones – I see Seaweed
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
London Grammar – If You Wait
Haim – Days are Gone
Cloud Control – Dream Cave
Drake – Nothing was the same