2013 was an amazing year for music–so much so that I spent a lot of my holiday break catching up on a big backlog of albums I’d wanted to give a listen. As we kick 2014 off here at The GeeKon Record, I want to take a look back at my 15 favorite songs of the past year–because really, how can you call yourself a self-respecting music blogger without an arbitrarily ranked year-end list?
After the jump: numbers 15 through 8 on my list, plus Youtube links for each song!
15. Sigur Rós – Isjaki (from the album Kveikur)
Sigur Rós have long trafficked in shimmering, ethereal songs that unfold over long periods of time. The way I’ve always described them is “the musical equivalent of glaciers.” It’s funny, then, that a song whose name is Icelandic for “iceberg” is one of the most direct songs they’ve ever written, propelled along by the kind of drumbeat that inspires furious air-drumming every time I hear it. It’s the sound of the band cutting to the chase and rocking out, unexpected but welcome.
14. Shugo Tokumaru – Katachi (from the album In Focus?)
This song is the sound of The Beach Boys dropping acid and watching a bunch of Studio Ghibli movies. The accompanying stop-motion music video is one of my favorites of 2013, too.
13. The Octopus Project – Sharpteeth (from the album Fever Forms)
After an album of psychedelic experimental rock that hops between genres and time signatures with reckless abandon, this closing track begins with a vocal melody that’s disarming in its simplicity. Then it explodes into a huge wall of sound, and the entire band starts singing in unison over it, and the effect is chilling. Also the foremost and possibly only candidate for Best Theremin Solo Of 2013, the highest of accolades.
12. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – Invader Invader (from the album Nanda Collection)
I read an interview in The Fader in which J-pop artist Kyary Pamyu Pamyu talked about her fascination with mixing the cute and the grotesque. Her music videos are neon explosions of color that pair teddybears and donuts with eyeballs and anatomically-correct hearts. “Invader Invader” is the musical equivalent of that visual aesthetic: blaring and completely in-your-face. At first listen, it’s kind of off-putting–a really gorgeous verse of piano and vocal gives way to a chorus of obnoxious synths and guitar lines. If you give it a few more listens, it becomes clear that this is an incredibly self-aware pop song–it knows just how obnoxious it is, but despite that (or maybe because of it), it’s absurdly catchy. Plus it’s got a really tongue-in-cheek dubstep breakdown in the middle, so what more could you want?
11. Parenthetical Girls – Evelyn McHale (from the album Privilege: Abridged)
If this has been a Best Albums of 2013 list, Parenthetical Girls would’ve ranked much higher for me. This year saw the end of Privilege, a multimedia project that spanned five limited-edition EPs (numbered in the band’s own blood, which is incredibly metal), a bunch of videos, and other supplementary detritus. The music that resulted from it is a fascinating collection of 20+ songs that span a bunch of genres, linked together by an intense theatricality and Zac Pennington’s distinctive voice. It’s really something you have to listen to as a whole, but if you’re going to pick one song to start with, the woozy, infectious opening track is a great bet.
10. The Postal Service – A Tattered Line of String (from the album Give Up: 10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
When it first came out a decade ago, Give Up was a really unassuming album, a one-off collaboration between Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and electronic producer Jimmy Tamborello that spiraled into an album of glitchy, poppy love songs. It was sometimes a bit cheesy, but the sheer exuberance of the songwriting made it really charming. (Full disclosure: it was my favorite album in middle school.) In the years since, Gibbard and Tamborello have gotten really busy with their other bands, and initial talk of a Postal Service reunion fell by the wayside—until this year, with the 10th anniversary deluxe edition of Give Up, an accompanying reunion/farewell tour, and two new singles, including this one. It’s classic Postal Service through and through: intricate drum programming, cute little guitar flourishes, guy-and-girl harmonies, the works. And after eight years of holding out hope for a reunion, even if it just meant another single or two, hearing this song was a joy.
My correspondence with other writers from The GeeKon Record, on trying to write about “Ya Hey”:
Nathan: “I’m currently trying to figure out how to encapsulate Ya Hey in a paragraph”
Jessica: “the word perfect over and over, with a short sentence about the religious aspects of the song”
Trey: “NATHAN YOU SHOULD ENCAPSULATE OUTKAST’S HEY YA IN A PARAGRAPH INSTEAD”
Emily: “THIS IS WHAT I THOUGHT AT FIRST TOO”
8. Los Campesinos! – Avocado, Baby (from the album No Blues)
You know how sometimes you listen to a song for the first time, and when you hit the chorus, the song’s hook is so mind-blowingly good you just sit there and bask in it? Los Campesinos! have always been good at those sorts of choruses, and this one song is stuffed with an album’s worth of them. It’s especially thrilling when you get to the end and five of them are happening all at once.
This band’s lyrics have always been densely-packed with allusions to literature, mythology, and European football terminology, but there’s this one line in this song that’s direct by their standards.”Oh, it won’t get any better / that doesn’t mean it’s gonna get any worse.” It’s awfully blunt, but it’s sung triumphantly, and that moment and this song epitomize what Los Campesinos! have grown to do best: dark, emotional subject matter conveyed by catchy, cathartic melodies.
NEXT WEEK: the shocking second half of the list, including my favorite song of the year!