Here's my picks for the best songs of 2013 -- tunes that thrilled at first listen and continued to be faves to revist throughout the year. It's not a ranked listing but curated as a playlist, as always kicking off fast and fun then meandering through other musical approaches from there. I chose official videos for this post, all except Okkervil River's "Down Down the Deep River," which is also the name of an upcoming film Will Sheff is creating about his childhood hometown through a kickstarter campaign. So I inserted the trailer for that since there's no official video for the song itself. This movie is definitely on my list for in 2014...
Find a straight up listening session here or click on the videos and let 'er rip! 1. "If You Didn't See Me (Then You Weren't On the Dance Floor)"– Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. 2. "Dumb Disco Ideas"– Holy Ghost! 3. "Song for Zula" – Phosphorescent 4. "It All Feels Right" – Washed Out 5. "Right Action" – Franz Ferdinand 6. "Sharpteeth" – The Octopus Project 7. "Come Save Me" – Jagwar Ma 8. "High School Lover" – Cayucas 9. "Ohm" – Yo La Tengo 10. "The Perfect Life (featuring Wayne Coyne)" – Moby 11. "Don't Swallow the Cap" – The National 12. "Shuggie" – Foxygen 13. "In the City" – Caveman 14. "Your Life Is a Lie" – MGMT 15. "Varsity" – Smith Westerns 16. "Reflektor" – Arcade Fire 17. "Down Down the Deep River" – Okkervil River 18. "The Truth" – Dr. Dog 19. "Rose Quartz" – Toro Y Moi 20. "Sun Blows Up Today" – The Flaming Lips
I have no business curating another holiday playlist with everything going on these days, but the idea came to me after reading in the December issue of Real Simple. Under party tips,it was suggested that hosts take advantage of streaming services for music and have a soundtrack randomly selected. Of course, I'm all about the pick and choosing of tunes, then lovingly sequencing a playlist. When I got out my Favorite Holiday Tunes Playlist from 2011 for background as the decorating began last weekend, it was like having a beloved old friend visit. So I took another look into my vast holiday music archives and put together another one.
Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips begins Favorite Holiday Tunes II, intoning that "Everything is going to work out just fine." This is exactly what I need to hear and this time of year, entrusted as I am with the role of family traditions coordinator. This is followed by two covers of songs from cherished holiday specials. 80s rockabilly master from the Stray Cats Brian Setzer intones "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" and Au Revoir Simone muster a laissez faire attitude for "Christmas" (as in the Peanuts gang type). I also couldn't help including Fall Out Boy's raucous version from my Halloween obsession the Nightmare Before Christmas, "What's This?"
The rest is a mix and match of old and new, with two songs from the recent Starbucks compilation, Holidays Rule (2012) -- a powerhouse collabo with Rufus Wainwright and Sharon Van Etten in "Baby, It's Cold Outside," and The Shins taking on Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime." There's a song by Fitz & The Tantrums that was offered as a free download last year, when they were still cranking out that awesome retro vibe that got them noticed in the music scene on the first place. And I'll be forever thankful that someone came up with the idea of having Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders rock a holiday classic, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." (She's my answer to the question, who would you sing like if you could sing like anyone?) Plus I'm not usually a fan of remixes, but YACHT took on the goofy tune with The B-52's Fred Schneider as The Superions, "Fruitcake," to cook up a match made in holiday heaven. I've concluded with two songs pointing us to the New Year, Death Cab for Cutie's contemplative "The New Year" and Dan Wilson's "What A Year For New Year" (a nod to witnessing this velvety smooth voice in concert back in November!)
1. "A Change At Christmas (Say It Isn't So)" -- The Flaming Lips 2. "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" -- The Brian Setzer Orchestra 3. "Christmas" -- Au Revoir Simone 4. "Santa Stole My Lady" -- Fitz and & The Tantrums 5. "Let It Snow" -- Luscious Jackson 6. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" -- Rufus Wainwright featuring Sharon Van Etten 7. "Sleigh Ride" -- The Ventures 8. "The Christmas Song" -- The Raveonettes 9. "Christmas Time" -- Smashing Pumpkins 10. "What's This?" -- Fall Out Boy 11. "Little Saint Nick" -- Sugar Ray 12. "Wonderful Christmastime" -- The Shins 13. "Please Come Home For Christmas" -- Pat Benatar 14. "Fruitcake (YACHT remix)" -- The Superions 15. "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" -- The Pretenders 16. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" -- The Smithereens 17. "The New Year" -- Death Cab for Cutie 18. "What A Year For A New Year" -- Dan Wilson
Here is a slightly ranked profile of my personal faves for Top Ten Releases of 2013. As I compiled the list, I realized that I'm lucky to have seen all but TWO bands in concert (can you guess which ones?) To accompany each pick, I found a live video to show the band in action -- most in mid-size venues that I prefer, so not to get overwhelmed or lost in the crowd. However, the best one for Yo La Tengo is from the Pitchfork Music Festival, perhaps a nod to my own experience this year at the massive ACL Music Festival in Austin, Texas. Late night television is also an impressive source for catching performances of kinds of new music, all online afterwards so there's no need to stay up late! And of course, some are directly from the NMMatterscorp YouTube channel archives as bands toured in support of these albums. With that I give thanks as always to my video guy Paul and his calm, steady hand with the flip camera. Plus, be sure to check out the honorable mentions at the end of the post. Onward!
1. Arcade Fire, Reflektor Reflektor, the highly anticipated fourth album by Arcade Fire, finally arrived at the end of October but most of the fans attending the not-so secret show in Brooklyn on October 18th were already well acquainted with it. (Maybe if I had my hands on a preview, we wouldn't have been punked by the stage switch captured in this video, knowing there would be plenty of congas needed -- all is forgiven, really I need to move on!) The band had wanted to collaborate with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and DFA Records for 2010's The Suburbs, but he was unavailable at the time. Yet the delay actually seems beneficial in retrospect, now that the influx of EDM has everyone used to getting their groove on.
2. Moby, Innocents
Moby utilized a spirit of collaboration for his eleventh studio album, Innocents, enlisting the likes of Damien Jurado, Cold Specks and (my favorite) Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips. In this video after the shoot for fave track, "The Perfect Life," a sing along breaks out as Coyne applied his frontman skills to get everyone to join in, including this fan -- no matter how many times I hear this song! Moby is still working the full band sound that he returned to for the last album, 2011's Destroyed. (I caught him live that year at Moogfest 2011 after I interviewed him in his new home of L.A. a few months earlier.) However, he can still work that trademark magic with heart-swelling instrumentals, as in the opening track "Everything That Rises" and "Going Wrong."
3. The National, Trouble Will Find Me
For their fourth album, Trouble Will Find Me, The National continues to explore its treatise of deeply sincere indie rock. While I was in the throngs for their show at ACL, a guy commented how he just loved the voice of singer Matt Berninger and I had to agree, being smitten since first listen. The band has plenty of admirers and there's no pressure for detractors, so polarizers can just join in or go home.
4. Phosphorescent, Muchacho
Matthew Houck of Phosphorescent has another voice in indie rock that caught my ear right away. There's a slight twang from Alabama roots and deeply personal lyrics provide an instant connection with fans during his sixth studio album, Muchacho. "Song for Zula" was heard everywhere yet I never tired of it, a sure sign of the everlasting power of great music. This year, I saw a some of Phosphorescent's set at ACL after being up close and personal at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, both memorable moments with a veteran road warrior just strutting his stuff.
5. Franz Ferdinand, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
Scottish indie rock quartet Franz Ferdinand returned with its fourth album, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, conjuring up the amped up energy of their self-titled debut in 2004. I finally witnessed the lads live in Austin, a set full of cheeky fun with impressive new songs, formidable old hits and unexpected covers (Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" of all things!)
6. Okkervil River, The Silver Gymnasium
Okkervil River's seventh album, The Silver Gymnasium, finally brought me into the fan fold of this Austin band. The thematic pull of a New England childhood certainly helped, but it was the rollicking, tuneful songs as conveyed by singer/songwriter Will Sheff that had this new material on repeat. Seeing their solid set at ACL just sealed the deal for a Top Ten spot.
7. Yo La Tengo, Fade
Hoboken's own indie rock trio Yo La Tengo released its thirteenth full length album this year, Fade. While the lilting closing track, "Before We Run," was plucked for my Early Summer 2013 Playlist, "Ohm" and "It's Not Enough" are also beloved tracks from this collection.
8. Portugal. The Man, Evil Friends
Portland-based Portugal. The Man knows how to compose soulful alt rock that easily translates epic swells of emotion. I saw the band headlining CMJ 2011 at Terminal 5 and caught a glimpse of them recently at ACL, with an expanded lineup confidently presenting the new songs of this seventh album, Evil Friends. The music is timeless with the best intentions, a straight forward approach to the simple joy of rocking out.
9. Ra Ra Riot, Beta Love
Indie pop outfit Ra Ra Riot released its third album, Beta Love, back in January before heading out on tour (I caught them live at a hometown show in NYC after interviewing frontman Wes Miles). They forayed into electronica as the band regrouped as a quartet, resulting in a new danceability that left some fans confused but others, like me, thrilled.
10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mosquito
NYC's indie rock trio, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, returned to the scene with anotherblast of no hold barred musical creativity.The single, "Sacrilege," was featured on my Spring 2013 Playlist, with the powerhouse vocals of Karen O matched by a choir no less.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (Other albums on heavy rotation throughout this year)
The Walkmen (photo in digital booklet from Heaven, 2012)
As the news of fave indie rock band The Walkmen taking a hiatus hit last week, I found myself reeling in self pity. I have been a fan of the band since their song "We've Been Had" on that Saturn ad back in 2003 caught my ear and left me wanting much, much more. Not that they didn't deliver -- when I finally saw the band live at Crossing Brooklyn Ferry in May 2012, they were playing material from album number seven, Heaven, which wasn't even out yet. Old and new songs were presented with the same gritty take on indie rock, sealed by the plaintive, emotional tenor of frontman Hamilton Leithauser. This concert had me holding my heart often, as their authentic approach to traditional band instrumentation and soul-bearing music cut to the core. The night earned a spot on my list of Top Concert Experiences in 2012, while the album was a Top Ten Releases of 2012. The title track was also one of my Top 20 Tunes of 2012, after appearing on my Early Summer 2012 New Music Playlist. Now that band members are moving on with solo projects, this album may well be the very last one.
The official video for the song "Heaven" shows a nostalgic pastiche of footage and photos of The Walkmen through the years. A lengthy article on Stereogumdiscusses how members joked how they should quit after this video was made, since it was such a fitting conclusion to the band. It begins with someone's kid hopping around backstage, as the lyrics enter with "Our children will always hear, romantic tales of distant years." Yet as the song was presented live, I had no idea the end was near. They played like a super tight group as always, with a common upbringing in the D.C. area creating an instant bond that carried into the music. Sure, they had spread out from those early years as young men making their way to the Big Apple, to Philly and New Orleans, and the new collection was created virtually, but that's nothing unusual these days. After all, the song credit was still given to The Walkmen, a nod to the group aesthetic. But it seems recent gigs were treated as guys getaway weekends, with the pull of family responsibilities bringing an early conclusion to the rock and roll lifestyle. While I'm saddened by this next stage, I'm still thankful for all the great music in my collection attributed to this band. Check out both videos below, and be sure to acquaint yourself with anything by The Walkmen you may have missed along the way.
London's electronic music producer and composer Jon Hopkins stopped by the KCRW studios this week on "Morning Becomes Eclectic." While I was unable to catch it live, the show is posted in the archives for listening on demand.
In his dreamy British accent, Hopkins says right off how he's "delighted" to have a grand piano for the session. As I found out researching my 2010 interview with him at Moogfest in 2010, Hopkins was a child prodigy on the instrument, as the love of all things electronic would come along a bit later. He presents several tracks off his latest album, Immunity, calling the collection" concealed experimentalism" in the interview. (I wrote about the single, "Open Eye Signal" back in June which appeared on my Late Summer New Music Playlist.) Hopkins also talks about working with Brian Eno, who would draw a diagram for "introducing accidents" during the artistic process. Unfortunately, time ran out before the entire set list but it's still worth visiting, along with the new album if you haven't already. This classically trained musician has an ear for form and beauty, along with an inventive electronic wizardry.
Link to listen in the KCRW archives here and watch the performance of the first song in the video below.
1. Breathe This Air, Immunity (2013)
2. We Disappear, Immunity (2013)
3. Abandon Window, Immunity (2013)
4. Nightfall, How I Live Now (2013 Movie Soundtrack)
5. Autumn Hill, Insides (2009)
6. Open Eye Signal, Immunity (2013)
Turning the page from the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, it's time to move on to celebrating all that was noteworthy in 2013. PopMatters posted The 75 Best Songs of 2013 today, after tallying the staff picks of only five for the year. I was handed writing assignments for two of my picks, Arcade Fire's "Reflektor" (#16) and Phosphorescent's "Song for Zula" (#17), while Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" claimed the #1 spot on the list. It's always interesting to peruse this compilation of musical tastes, checking out unknown bands and genres. Here's my picks for PopMatters and I'll put together a post for the Top 20 Songs along with Top 10 Releases for 2013 (with video highlights, of course!)
TOP 5 BEST SONGS
1. "Reflektor" - Arcade Fire
2. "Get Lucky" - Daft Punk
3. "The Perfect Life" - Moby (featuring Wayne Coyne)
4. "If You Didn't See Me (You Weren't On the Dance Floor) -
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.