Steve’s Best Songs of 2013 (part 4)

Well, the year is quickly coming to it’s inevitable end (or perhaps it has already ended – in fact that is most likely the case, as there are only 6 hours left on the year, and I am slow at putting these pages together), and so is my epic, four-part breakdown of what I feel are some of the best songs of 2013.  Of course, you should agree with me and form your tastes and pleasures around what I think, but on the off chance that you feel differently, I welcome you to reveal your favorite musical ditties of 2013, perhaps here in the comments section!  That would be oh so lovely.  If I get no comments, I will assume you all have the exact same opinions as me.

 
16.  Wire – Adore Your Island (Change Becomes Us)

Keeping the vibe of the last part going, I choose the legendary band, Wire to start things off. So many of the iconic art-punk bands of the 70’s-80’s have left a lot to be desired on their “reunion” releases of recent years.  Wire is not one of these bands.  Since reforming in the early 2000’s Wire has put out several excellent albums that not only match up well with their early catalog, but even surpass them in many ways.  Their 2013 release, “Change Becomes Us”, is perfectly titled, as Wire has taken their short/sharp/shocked (sorry had to go there) sound and blended it with a big dollop of prog.  Adore Your Island is a perfect example of a song that starts off pretty mid-tempo, with some big chord riffs and swirling keys, followed by some layered vocals that might even be confused with John Wetton (Asia, King Crimson).  Then 30 seconds in, it speeds up and the vocals go from smooth and easy to harsh and screaming.  And as the vocals go, so do the guitars.  This may be the best punk/prog song ever recorded.

I’m posting the studio version of this as well as the live version on the Soundcheck program.  It’s interesting to hear the difference – it’s even more raw and frenetic live (as you would expect).

 

 
17.  Grant Hart – Letting Me Out (The Argument)

OK, readers, I am asking you to tell me what this song sounds like to you.  It sounds a lot like a song I grew up hearing, something that probably came out in the 60’s or 70’s, as that is the era most songs that trigger my deja vu reflex came from.   There is a little bit of Billy Joel in this, a little David Bowie and a little, I dunno, Jerry Lee Lewis perhaps?  I might be stretching a bit there.  For those of you not well versed in the 80’s pop-punk song book, Grant Hart is the Paul McCartney half of the Husker Du (Bob Mould is the John Lennon) songwriting duo.   After a decade of singing/drumming for one of the most influential punk bands in history, Grant spent most of the next two decades trying to stay alive and beat a serious heroin addiction.  A few decent solo projects were released in that time, but nothing of note, until now.  Grant put out The Argument earlier this year and it’s a sprawling, epic 20-song journey that is apparently loosely based on John Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Not everything works here, but it is very clear that Hart is energized and is getting it all out.  



 

 18.  Mikal Cronin – Shout it Out (MCII)

This is the perfect song to follow Grant Hart, as Mikal Cronin is the illegitimate monster child of the Husker legends.  His long hair and melodic vocal style resembles Grant Hart in his heyday, and his wall of guitars sound clearly is influenced by Bob Mould’s amazing axe-work.  Known for being a bass player in Ty Segall’s band for several years, Mikal as a solo artist brings a sweet, melancholic, almost tender approach to a lively, energetic sound.  If I were 19 years old again, this would be my favorite album and I would be dancing wildly in my room, air guitaring and whipping my greasy hair around.   At 47, I dance within reason, air drum and shake my bald head around.

 

 
19. Queens of the Stone Age – I Sat By the Ocean (…Like Clockwork)

Josh Homme reminds me of one of my stoner friends growing up, when I was a hard rock/heavy metal loving teen.  When I decorated my pee-chee folders with the names of my favorite bands, like Rush, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Van Halen and Led Zeppelin.  I would sit, bored in my Algebra class, and sketch out the VH of Van Halen’s logo with the extended horizontal lines shooting out the sides of the V and the H.  Using my red bic pen to make the lines seem like they were fire.

Most of my friends who grew up as heshers like me, have since expanded their musical horizons beyond the hard rock/heavy metal bands of the 70’s and 80’s, though I know some of my classmates did not move much further, musically.  Josh Homme is one of those guys from high school who is still a lot like the guy I remember from 30 years ago.  I am guessing of course, and this imagining is a bit exaggerated, because Josh and Queens of the Stone Age create music that expands beyond stoner rock riffs.

I Sat By the Ocean feels like a song that I grew up listening to.   It makes me want to ditch fifth period English class and meet my buddies at the Winchell’s Donuts.   It feels like a long lost hit from 1979, but with a more minimal alt-rock approach.  Like if Richie Blackmore era Rainbow mixed it up with Britt Daniel from Spoon and they had a musical baby.

and a nice acoustic version….



 
20. Waking On A Pretty Day – Kurt Vile (Waking On A Pretty Daze)

Kurt Vile makes me think of Neil Young.  Neil Young’s quieter, acoustic stuff mixed with his more recent ten minute epics.  And if you take out the nasal vocals.  It sounds like that would be stripping away the personality, but with Kurt Vile, it’s not.   Like Mikal Cronin, Kurt wears his emotions on his sleeve.  Kurt though, keeps his sleeves rolled down, so the emotions are more hidden, more expressed indirectly.  And a lot of that emotion is expressed in his guitar playing.  This 9-plus minute song opens the album which is extremely rare in today’s “hits first” song-tracking.  But it totally works.  It sucks the listener in and keeps them in the album’s grasp.   This is a lazy Sunday record.  This is an album to put on if you want to mellow out after a tough day.  I know it’s called “Waking On A Pretty Day” but to me, I’d want to crawl right back into bed if I put it on first thing.



 
Thanks for checking out my top 20 songs blog! I hope you enjoyed your stay and will come back soon.

Steve’s Best Songs of 2013 (part 3)

Part 3 sees us transitioning out of the contemplative mood and back into a dance-inspired, world-music spirit.  I was very tempted to choose a song from the latest Vampire Weekend album, Modern Vampires of the City, which I enjoyed more than I thought I would, but when I played “Unbelievers” or “Finger Back” against Foals “My Number” I found I kept going back to the angular grooves of Foals.  If this was all about the album, and not the song, I might’ve chosen Vampire Weekend.  Foals just have that hypnotic sound that you can get lost in, like if Franz Ferdinand discovered Haircut 100.  That might describe some people’s nightmare, but for me, that sounds like peanut butter and chocolate.

Found this cool live version from some French TV show (trying to be like Later with Jools Holland).

11. Foals – My Number (Holy Fire)

and to hear what I didn’t choose (but still like a lot)….

12.  Bombino – Amidinine (Nomad)

I don’t have a lot of world music artists on this year’s list, which is unfortunate, but I didn’t get a chance to listen to a lot of it.  One artist I did get to spend some aural time with is Bombino.  Being a huge fan of Malian music, and the Saharan blues sound in particular, with artists like Tinariwen and Ali Farka Toure, it makes sense that I would love Bombino.  “Amidinine” is the opening track and the one you may have heard if you listen to college or satellite radio. Since the new album was produced by the Black Keys‘ Dan Auerbach, Bambino’s latest, “Nomad,” is getting some well-deserved airplay.  I can hear a bit of Black Keys in this song, less so on the rest of the album.  Or maybe it’s Black Keys borrowing the sound of Bambino on their records.  Either way, it’s all good.  Me likey.

And if you like that, check out this cool stripped down tiny desk concert from earlier this year.

13.  Foxygen – No Destruction (We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic)

In 2013 we lost many musical icons, but none more influencial, IMO, than Lou Reed.  More bands have taken the sound that Lou and his Velvet Underground cohorts created in the late 60’s and taken it to new and exciting places, than anyone else.  And that includes the Beatles.  Foxygen is one of those bands, and this song “No Destruction” perfectly encapsulates the folky/psychedelic sound of the 60’s and wraps it up in a blanket of 90’s ironic alternativity (see: Pavement).  I normally don’t like overly affected vocals.  You know, fake accents, mumbliness, whisper/talking.  But here the exaggerated stylings are meant as a clear nod to their classic rock influences.  The rest of the album is excellent and touches on greatness at times.  It can be a game of name-that-influence, but I like to play games, and being an old fart, I can appreciate when the young kids can steal the keys from our pockets and still bring the car back with a full tank when they get home.

14. Of Montreal – Belle Glade Missionaries (Lousy with Sylvianbriar)

One of the most musically and lyrically inventive bands to have ever graced the planet, Of Montreal have returned with arguably their most inspired album yet.   Usually each of their albums can be described as “the disco one” or “the psychedelic one” or “the acoustic one” though in truth, each of their albums is really a hodgepodge of multiple styles and genres.  Lousy With Sylvianbriar is no different, but to me, it definitely has a 60’s hippie vibe to it.  It is more laid-back than most of their albums, which can be so dense and complex that listening to them is like reading Faulkner — you know it’s brilliant but it is a chore to get through and fills you up with a couple bites.  This one is spare yet rich, lyrically obtuse (sample line: The blade missionaries are here to steal your cocaine/You better send your malaria to puncture their brains/Send them back to where they came from/Send them back to the souvenirs of disease) and reveals hidden layers upon repeated listenings.  I guess I would compare this album to a poppier version of an early Pink Floyd album.

After watching the below review of the album, I realize I should not quit my day job to review albums.  He goes on way too long, but just being able to riff rhapsodic for ten minutes is pretty impressive.

15.  Parquet Courts – Stoned and Starving (Light Up Gold)

To include Parquet Courts on this list is sort of cheating, as I had included them on my 2012 best of list, since Light Up Gold did get released in December of 2012.  But the year this album reached the attention of the masses was 2013, and I do love this album so so much, that any chance I get to hype it up some more, I will take.   Parquet Courts, to me, are like the perfect blend of the stoned jamming and stream-of-conscience lyrics of Pavement, the sardonic, straightforward propulsion of Modern Lovers, and the experimental, expressive, guitar-focused vibe of Television.  Basically, Parquet Courts emulate the music of my favorite era, late 70’s early 80’s pre-punk.   And they write about getting stoned a lot, which I don’t do anymore, but love the music I listened to when I did.  Stoned and starving is a state I remember all too well.

Steve’s Best Songs of 2013 (part 2)

I’m back to bring you Steve’s Best Songs 2013, numbers 6-10.  If part 1 was all about the groove, the funk, the shaking of the booty, then part 2 is more about about creating an evocative mood.  It’s the down-tempo portion of the program. So, transitioning from the previous JT slow-jam, I thought I’d move the action from the dance floor to the bedroom.

I first discovered Rhye earlier this year when I heard their debut album, Woman, being reviewed on the Sound Opinions podcast.  I was captivated by the spare, sexy grooves, and the album’s gorgeous vocals.  It sounded like the closest thing to Sade that I’ve heard since, well, Sade.  The main difference being that the lead singer is male.  It’s truly a fireplace album, evocative and moody.  If you like Sade, you should love this one.

6. Rhye – Last Dance (Woman)

 

Now it’s the early morning and you are in a post-coital haze, but not exactly awake yet.   The dreams float through your blissed-out (washed out?) brain like stuffed animals on a conveyor belt.   It All Feels Right, is the soundtrack to these dreams.

There is so much terrible electronic pop out there today that to find a true gem takes a lot of patience.  Washed Out is able to find that subtle balance of psychedelia, song craft, hazy vocals and hypnotic keyboard swells.  I was a big fan of the first Washed Out album in 2011 and I’m an even bigger fan of their second, Paracosm.

Here’s a cool video of them performing it on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.

7.  Washed Out – It All Feels Right (Paracosm)

 

I wish I could say that I organized all these songs to correlate with the time of the day, going from late night to late afternoon, but I’m afraid that kind of pre-planning is out of my pay range.  I could fake it, but that sounds like a lot of work….

8.  Caveman – In the City (Caveman)

It is a seamless transition to go from Washed Out to Caveman as they both share a love for sweeping keyboard swells and orchestral pop.  I would say that Caveman is what you would get if you crossed Washed Out with The Shins.   Which I guess is a little what the James Mercer/Danger Mouse collaboration, Broken Bells is all about.  But I would say that Broken Bells is a bit more uptempo than Caveman.   The guitar is a bit more upfront, and I get a feeling the band are big fans of ELO.

 

9. Daughter – Winter (If You Leave)

I discovered Daughter, like I often do most new artists, via a music podcast.  It could have been one of my many “Song of the Day” podcasts, which I have automatically download to my iTunes, and then I copy them (literally hundreds) onto an SD card which I can play in my car.  When a song particularly catches my ear, I pull out my phone, take a picture of the artist/song readout on the dashboard, and revisit the tune later.  I do this while at red lights and stop signs, don’t worry.

At the end of the year I look at all the 4 and 5 star SotD (Song of the Day) picks and many of them get added to lists like this one.

This one liner from AllMusic.com is a good description of Daughter: “This London trio crafts moody, electronic-tinged folk that evokes the xx and Cat Power.”   It’s definitely more XX than Cat Power, but I like it even more than XX, as the instrumentation is more full, with some great drumming and guitar lines that remind me of The Cure.

 

10. Neko Case – Night Still Comes (The Worse Things Get….)

Neko Case continues to release great album after great album.  And her latest might be her best yet.  The second song on the new album, Night Still Comes, has been my ear worm song of the morning at least four times this month.   I wake up in the middle of the night with the lyric, “You never held it at the right angle” emblazoned on my brain.  I have no idea why, but I think it’s because not only is it an evocative line (it could be aimed at a former lover, or, perhaps, aimed at herself) but Neko’s voice is so raw (not gritty, more vulnerable) and pure that you can’t help but want to be her best friend.

This is one of the few songs on my list that comes on an album where pretty much every song is a complete gem.  I won’t say favorite album (not just yet – most of my listening has been to singles this year), but it would be in the top five for sure.

Steve’s Best Songs of 2013 (part 1)

I will be the first to admit that I didn’t listen to a lot of new music in 2013.  I listened to plenty, but the majority of my listening this past year was of the podcast/storytelling variety.  I plan to write up a best podcast episodes piece soon, so stay tuned for that.

I did listen to enough new music to compile a best 20 songs of 2013 though, and I will list my favorite songs below, in order of how I think they sound best when played one after the other.  If you are on Spotify, send me your info and I’ll forward you a playlist with all these tunes.  But since this is a blog post, I will add links to video versions of most of these favorites; and if I can’t find a video version, I will find an alternative that will give the original song justice and props.   As it will take me several days to assemble this 20-song post, I am going to divide it up into four parts for your perusal and entertainment.  Also, this way it creates anticipation and the more manageable quantity won’t overwhelm you.  I will have a lot of deep, well-considered thoughts to impart for each song, so I advise you to stick around, pull up a comfy chair, grab a frosty, frothy, piping, steaming beverage and settle in for a while.

1.  Har Mar Superstar – Lady You Shot Me (Bye Bye 17)

Har Mar Superstar has been around for a long time now.  And for the most part, has been relegated to the “gimmick” bin by most critics and record stores.  He also might be best known for his fantastic cameo in the movie “Starsky and Hutch.” This is one of my favorite dance off scenes in the history of cinema.  And I’m not kidding.

Har Mar is best known for his 70’s/80’s funk/disco stylings on his previous records.  He has given Prince a fat, sweaty white-boy run for his money (sorta), and now he takes on the kings of 60’s Soul on his latest album, Bye Bye 17.  Lady You Shot Me is clearly mining the Stax/Motown catalog, but he pulls it off with such finesse and joy, that you might think it’s a long, lost B-Side from Sam Cooke.  And there’s no getting around the fact that the guy has some killer pipes.  Too bad the whole album doesn’t match up with this great song.

2.  Janelle Monàe – Givin’ Em What They Love (with Prince) – (Electric Lady)

If you have known me for a few years, you probably know that I am a huge, huge Janelle Monàe fan.  Her debut album, The ArchAndroid was my favorite album of 2010 and I awaited her second album, The Electric Lady, with great anticipation.

I could have chosen any of a number of the new album’s funky tunes for this list, and at first I thought I’d go with the title track, which is a duet with Solange Knowles, but I keep finding myself coming back to the swampy, dirty grooves of this one, which gets taken to even sludgier heights once Prince comes in to sing the second verse.  This is the sort of song that you feel first in your belly and then it spreads to your groin and your ass.  Givin’ us what we love, for sure.

3.  !!! – One Girl/One Boy (Thr!!!er)

!!! is supposedly pronounced Chik, Chik, Chik.  They have been making funky-dance rock for over a decade now and if you haven’t heard them before and like this song, get their new album, Thr!!!er.  It’s the perfect dance party album if you want to keep your guests moving on the dance floor (carpet/linoleum).  I chose this song not just because it makes me move and it’s got both a retro and a modern dance vibe going, but because I love almost every song that has the words “girl” and “boy” in the title or the lyrics.  Other favorites of mine are Blur’s “Girls and Boys” and The Violent Femmes “Black Girls.”  Also, INXS’ “Original Sin” is an all-time favorite of mine.  “Dream on white boy, dream on black girl, and wake up to a brand new day…to find your dreams have washed away.”  

What other boys/girls songs are favorites of yours?

4.  Mavis Staples – Can You Get To That (One True Vine)

It’s probably not possible to outdo the groovalicious joy of the original Funkadelic version of Can You Get To That?, but if anyone can get close, it would be Mavis Staples.  Her second collaboration with musician/producer Jeff Tweedy, One True Vine is, IMO, just as musically fruitful as the first, and their choices for covers are always spot on.  She also covers Nick Lowe on this album.   It’s an album that showcases Mavis’ powerhouse from-the-heart vocals on every song.  And if you ever get a chance to see her live, do it.  I had the opportunity to see her perform in 2010 after her last album and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.  Mavis Staples is a musical treasure and I would bet her next album appears on my year-end favorites as well.



5.  Justin Timberlake – That Girl (The 20/20 Experience: 1 of 2)

OK.  I know, as an album, JT’s first part of his 20/20 Experience was a bloated whale of a record.  Songs that start of promising, devolve into over-produced, rambling messes.  But like some shit, a kernel of greatness can poke through, and the corn on this album is this 60’s Soul by way of Prince-inspired slow-jam, That Girl.  It’s under five minutes, the instrumentation is minimal, JT’s voice is smooth, the sax line funky, and, I’ll admit it, I have a man crush on JT.   I hate him, really.  He’s good looking, can sing and dance  like a pro and is a good actor to boot.  I just saw him in Inside Llewyn Davis and he was great.  And he’s married to Jessica Biel.  Fuck him.  And his appearances on Jimmy Fallon and SNL are always hilarious.  Jesus.  He must suck at something.