23 December 2013

top 25 traxx of 2013

Honorable Mention:

"Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger) (Chromeo & Oliver Remix)" by Donna Summer

Certainly the song I danced most to in 2013, this Chromeo reworking of a 1982 Donna Summer single is pure genius. Great remixes expand upon what was great about what the original and use the new elements to accentuate what's already there; that is exactly what's been done here. Donna used a vocoder in the hook of the original, so Chromeo and their talkbox were a perfect fit. The brilliant original structure is now lain in the cradle of a 2013 dancefloor beat, and we may all happily shake our asses.

25. "We Can't Stop" by Miley Cyrus

Miley's album was a few decent-yet-half-assed pop songs peppered into some odd attempts at southern hip hop. This lead single, however, stood out this summer as a unique banger to hear out in bars or on the dancefloor. If I'm able to look past her obnoxious persona and enjoy the song, you can too.

24. "Everything Is Embarrassing" by Sky Ferreira

This was a great year for female vocalists and synthpop. Ferreira's album will please most fans of the genre. It features mellow, glowing synths over her appropriately matched voice, with the occasional 2013 oddity thrown in (like the baritone backing vocal in this track) to remind us what year it is. Listen carefully: There's an excellent bassline that develops in the final third of the song.

23. "Hey Porsche" by Nelly

This track would not be a musical stretch for most pop artists, but it is for Nelly. This deserved to be just as big a hit as 2010's "Just A Dream," but I didn't hear it get one single radio spin. I've been a fan since "Country Grammar" and I genuinely respect that, 13 years later, he's still putting out singles that I'm into.

22. "Wishes" by Beach House

Beach House are a duo from Baltimore who are keeping alive the "dream pop" sound popularized in the late '80s by acts like Cocteau Twins and Black Tape For A Blue Girl, and boy do they do it well. This track is as light as a feather, yet it manages to linger in the mind. A freaky video starring Leland Palmer helps.

21. "Dope" by Lady Gaga

This is Lady Gaga's first truly great ballad since "Brown Eyes," from her 2008 debut The Fame. She first performed it at the opening show of the iTunes Festival ("Swinefest" as her fans called it) back in September under its original title, "I Wanna Be With You." Fans instantly connected with the song, and upon its release as a promo single the following month, it sold so well that it debuted at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100. The very scant yet carefully placed synth bass added in the studio version gave the track a much-needed bottom end, making it feel like the full, looming, hefty presentation that it truly is.

20. "Hold On, We're Going Home" by Drake

Finally, I love a Drake song! This recalls smooth mid-'80s r&b and at times even Michael Jackson, but is very much a 2013 single in style and substance.

19. "Eden" by Sara Bareilles

Bareilles' album The Blessed Unrest doesn't branch out too much instrumentally, but this track is the exception. It takes her AC radio soft rock sound and gives it an almost new wave flair, and the result is a definite standout that deserves single status.

18. "I Could Be The One" by Avicii ft. Nicky Romero

A fun dance track, sure, but this was absolutely my favorite music video of the year. Avicii Is a masterful producer and he seems to be leading the next wave of great dance music creators. Guetta and Harris could learn a thing or two from his structuring and melodies.

17. "Latch" by Disclosure

Another track that just seems so '90s, and I say that positively. Disclosure is a progressive house duo from the UK who have had several hits back home, but this garage track was a hit in several countries. The abrupt beat change and octave increase at the chorus is just to die for.

16. "Bubble Butt" by Major Lazer

I don't even care that Bruno Mars (who I find immensely overrated) is involved; whenever I was on a dance floor this summer and this track spun, I went nuts. If there were any justice in the music industry, we'd hear this instead every time someone felt the need to turn on "Baby Got Back."

15. "Gentleman" by Psy

This track is so much cooler than his big hit last year, so it's kind of a shame that no one will remember it in five years. Psy is great at showing off the beauty of his hometown via shots of its commonplace activities in his music videos.

14. "What About Love" by Austin Mahone

I'd never have heard this track if it hadn't shown up on YouTube's homepage one day, so hooray Internet targeted marketing. I'm glad it was shoved in my face, though, as it's a well-produced delightful throwback to boy band pop of the late '90s. The very full bass and electronic drums are countered by a sawtooth synth sound that's so distorted it almost just sounds like a downed power line. Listen for one particular synth voice in the bridge that's exceptionally '90s - you'll know it when you hear it. Mahone isn't a particularly strong vocalist, but he sounds just fine here.

13. "Lightning Bolt" by Jake Bugg

The low-fi style of Jake Bugg's debut single (and album, really) seems very matched to his personality. He's not trying to change the world with his guitar; "I play music because I enjoy to play music. I'm not looking to be any savior," he said in one interview. He writes about what he likes to do and how the people who surround him and his little environment make him feel. You can't ask for simpler songwriting than that, and when it's paired with his high, powerful voice and quality, bouncing melodies, the result is pretty damn awesome.

12. "Same Love" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Yeah, "Thrift Shop" has a better hook and was a much bigger chart success, but the historical importance of this track was unparalleled by any artist in 2013. The LGBT community thankfully has many, many straight allies, but it's very rare to see support from such a genuine, heartfelt place. "Born This Way" became an anthem two years ago for loving yourself and being uncompromising in who you are; this song has blazed further down the trail in a very direct demand for marriage equality. What can I say? I have a soft spot for songs of political import, and they're rare when a Democrat is in office.

11. "Like A Stranger" by Kitten

I don't know anything about Kitten vocalist Chloe Chaidez's childhood, but this outstanding EP would suggest that she grew up listening to Taylor Dayne, Cyndi Lauper, Depeche Mode, maybe even Stacey Q (I can dream), etc. as she has perfected the late-'80s pop sheen in both her production and her sultry vocals. This song is such a sexy, breathy come-on that I feel weird listening to it in public. My research indicates that the group is going through some lineup changes, so I hope it doesn't impede future excellence, but since Chaidez seems to be the band's core and remains its only consistent member, I am optimistic.

10. "Cups" by Anna Kendrick

I love every single thing about this song. I love that it was originally recorded in 1931 and that this version isn't that much different than the original. I love that it's barely two minutes long. I love that it's a very sweet sentiment wrapped in such snark that the compliment is almost lost. I love that it's sung by a woman who was already a respected actress and that this is her only offical single and that it wasn't milked into an album. I love how perfectly the video is cast, especially the oh-so-perfect group of three musical theater kids that show up at the 2:50 mark. Yeah, great tune.

9. "Acapella" by Karmin

Karmin has perfected the art of the song that is just annoying enough to be memorable, but not annoying enough to dislike. Sure, they may be the band that you dance like a doofus to around your apartment rather than throwing them on at a party (for fear of your friends telling you to have a seat), but doesn't that make them amazingly cool? This track will be on my party playlists for years to come, but I won't tell anyone that it's "that 'Brokenhearted' group" unless asked.

8. "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk

In my post reviewing this album, I referred to this track as a "modern classic," and I stand by that. While it's certainly an homage to disco, it stood out against its peers on the dancefloor this summer. It's rare to see a track this universally acclaimed and liked by folks of all walks, and in this case I must agree that it's justified. So glad these guys finally learned how to write songs!

7. "American Girl" by Bonnie McKee

Bonnie McKee has been hiding in the shadows of pop music for a few years, writing hits for Taio Cruz, Katy Perry, Ke$ha, and even Britney Spears, plus many more. This is her first solo single, and I don't think she could have picked a more perfect tune to keep for herself. It has a very modern sound and sticks to pop conventions, yet still retains uniqueness through a smartly-played keyboard riff (the third chord hits a half-beat after you think it's going to), some popcorn synth voices, and very well-written lyrics. I maintain that "I was raised by a television / Every day is a competition" is the most true-to-life lyric that millenials will hear in 2013's musical offerings.

6. "Play The Game Boy" by A*M*E

Get ready for some globetrotting: A*M*E is from Sierra Leone but now lives in Britain, and her music is inspired by Korean pop. The result is this incredible, synth-driven R&B electropop track that sticks in your head like peanut butter from the first listen. Once it's on your iPod, you'll have it on repeat for an entire day. This would be a HUGE hit in the US if she'd just release it over here already!

5. "Royals" by Lorde

A well-deserved hit, some music critics even credit Lorde with inventing a genre they're calling "chillwave." The track's snapping beat and minimalist structure create an undeniably unique sound, and Lorde's thick, sweet voice dribbles like honey right down over it. The idea of embracing your middle-class existence yet fantasizing about wealth has universal appeal. Lorde is a smart, smart girl and I look forward to her next move.

4. "High Society" by Betty Who

Until now, I hadn't heard a song that I'd describe as "sophisti-pop" since Swing Out Sister's 1989 hit "Breakout." These songs are characterized by flawless, shiny vocals, and an undulating synth-bass line under spry, warm keyboard chords. This is Betty Who's first EP, and while the other three tracks have a much more modern sound, I was immediately drawn into the uptempo brightness of this adorable track that playfully suggests the singer and her lover pretend to be much wealthier than they are.

3. "I Love It" by Icona Pop

This is a perfect pop song. Not even three minutes long, a chorus that's instantly repeatable, and accessible lyrics. Don't think for a minute that they're just pretty faces with decent-enough voices, either.

2. "Do What U Want (With My Body)" by Lady Gaga ft. R. Kelly

My favorite single she's released since 2010's "Alejandro," this song is Gaga's polite middle finger to an entertainment media that always seems to focus on the wrong things. With that idea in mind, it's easy to understand why she asked Kelly to guest on the track, but it feels a bit tongue-in-cheek, doesn't it? Gaga is surely in on the joke. It certainly doesn't detract from her point, though, and musically the song is flawless. By the end she's yelling like Pat Benatar, and you're feeling every bit of her frustration.

1. "The Mother We Share" by CHVRCHES

I think I knew when I heard this back in March that it would end up being my favorite track of the year. It would have been pretty impossible to top, as it has nearly element that I love: synthpop, flawless female vocals, danceable retro electronic drums, and ambiguous lyrics. I love that the band hasn't commented on the song's meaning, but I'm sticking with my interpretation: It's about loving our Mother Earth and how being good to it is being good to your fellow human. I'm such a bleeding heart, I know, but goddamn this song rules.