Since I can’t even find enough albums I actually like from 2013 to recognize, songs will have to do as a representation of the year in music. The albums that would have been on a list are M.I.A.’s Matangi, the Hands on a Hardbody Broadway cast recording, and Janelle Monae’s The Electric Lady. That’s it.
The Best Songs of 2013 includes original songs, covers, and even an incredible rehearsal performance. Stage works are included here, as well, since I did not see nearly enough shows in 2013 to recognize the best.
10. M.I.A., “Come Walk With Me”
M.I.A. is the most consistent force we have in contemporary music. In four wildly different albums, she has created an overwhelming amount of smart, inventive, socially aware music all connected with a gritty dance style. There’s a reason she can travel around the world now to record her songs: everyone wants to work with her.
“Come Walk With Me” should be her next big hit once Top 40/CHR radio finds some space to add her. It’s the perfect distillation of all the trends in pop, with the tempo shift after the first chorus, the heavily processed backgrounds, and sing-song style. It goes beyond the overwhelming dubstep influence to in modern pop into something far more delicate and engaging. Everything is so heavily echoed, it fades into total chaos. It’s brilliant for blatantly mocking the trends.
9. Emily Wells, “Becomes the Color”
Emily Wells was asked to write the credits song for Chan-wook Park’s English-language debut feature Stoker. She took the task seriously. She envisioned herself as the troubled protagonist, imagining a world where everything has a loud and distinct sound.
The result is haunting. It’s a very 20th Century Modern approach (very minimal, waves of sound and effects rather than traditional song structure) with a little drum and bass angle to keep a steadier beat. The breakdown instead of a bridge with sound effects from the film and screeching violin is just thrilling. The song was so good, elements of it were strung throughout the actual film to highlight key moments in addition to Clint Mansell’s masterful score.
8. Fiona Apple, “Pure Imagination”
If you told me Fiona Apple would be the voice of a fast food commercial, I’d have laughed in your face. I was wrong. Of course she teamed up with Chipotle–plenty of vegetarian options and cruelty free protein–to be the voice of their new ad campaign. Her cover of “Pure Imagination” hinges on scaring you then opening up a world of possibilities.
Apple is an alternative artist. Industrial sounds are not out of her wheelhouse even if she typically goes for a more acoustic angle. The ominous sound corresponds to Big Agriculture visuals, while the dreamier vibe at the end is Chipotle. Frankly, if the song wasn’t so linked to the visuals, it would probably top this list. The video is inseparable for context, sadly. Unless you’re running a haunted house. Then the freaky arrangement is all the context you need.
7. Sarah Silverman, “Diva”
NSFW. NSFW. Did I mention it’s really NSFW?
Sarah Silverman knows how to write a comedy song. This acoustic folk commentary on reality TV entitlement is shocking, offensive, and vulgar. It’s also a perfect response to the idiots who have transformed diva into an insult.
NSFW. No, seriously. The second half of the song will get you fired.
6. Bastille, “Pompeii”
I don’t know why so many pop/rock bands struggle for the better part of a year to get radio play. Bastille is following in the footsteps of Paramore, Fall Out Boy, and Maroon 5 in finally getting recognized for a great debut single almost a full year after it was released. “Pompeii” sounds like what would happen if Mumford & Sons enunciated and wrote pop songs.
Lead singer Dan Smith’s voice has a nice rasp to it and a smoothness to musical phrasing lost far too often in contemporary rock. You’re not supposed to pop your high notes; its bad for your throat and sounds really awkward. Too bad most male singers do it. The clever backing–a nice bass chant and heavy bass drum and snare breakdown–make “Pompeii” one of those songs that will catch your interest immediately and, mercifully, not overstay its welcome. Another verse and you’d realize it really is all chorus and chant for intrigue.