An atypical year but fuck it fuck it fuck it.
2013 was not a year that was lived, but survived. It was horrible, both personally and professionally. Even writing that, I want to kick my own head in. As bad as it was personally, in terms of a year where you’ve put two close family members in the ground, it was about as good as it can be. Death is inevitable, and when it comes to settle that debt, you need to have perspective. Similarly, as hard as it was professionally on every single book, there are people who’d literally kill to have a fraction of the critical and commercial success I’ve had across these twelve months. I’m enormously lucky, and I’d be a monstrous prick not to remember that.
Control matters. I can’t help how I feel, but I can certainly help how I act and the narrative I choose to tell myself.
Still: as the year inches towards its conclusion, I wanted it over and I wanted to be out. My somewhat puppylike demeanour darkened considerably. When writing for the last few months, I’ve noticed a tendency to typo “2014” when I mean “2013.” Normally, I’m the classic person who typos the previous year all spring, so my subconscious is getting the fuck out of dodge.
2014 will be better. I will be better in 2014. With any luck, I’ll even actually properly plan for 2014′s Tracks of the year list.
This is probably the most ramshackle list ever. I abandoned keeping my notes early in the year. In the days before the new year, I was working on getting The Wicked & The Divine’s first instalment into a final state, and didn’t have time to do the more serious pulling together I normally do. As such, this list is really a result of running through assorted playlists and grabbing anything which strikes a memory. I was even thinking about doing it as 30 or even 20. In the end, I got the 40.
Still. This is all good stuff, and whenever I managed to listen it sugared 2013′s pill. Or more often, dramatically lit 2013′s pill and make it look meaningful, like a vitamin advert shot by Lars Von Trier.
The rules remain the same. This is tracks of the year, which means I can grab stuff from albums if it appeals. If a track was actually released in a previous year, but received some manner of push this year as a single or something, it can appear. The normal example of that is singles from albums that came out in an earlier year, and I only ever really fell in love with during the last 12 months. If I included a track in a previous year, it doesn’t get an encore (the most obvious casualty to this rule is Icona Pop.) I only include a single track by a single artist, though occasionally bend it for guest spots. If a band has multiple tracks that could have made the list, I select one, and give it a push up the list to give them credit for multiple orgasms. You must give credit for multiple orgasms. It’s only polite.
Music wise, 2013 was about music finding me whatever way it could. Shared playlists, stuff being lobbed at me, even radio. I listened to more radio than I have for years, with Lauren Laverne’s show being part of the morning ritual on as many days as not. I didn’t do much active hunting, bar a cursory following of certain Music blogs and tumblrs. It was a year when following bands on Spotify was actually useful, for a kick when there’s new content.
On a higher pop level, it seemed a year of oddly grand statements, whether I liked them or not. Some I’m glad I didn’t like as much as I abstractly could have, so don’t have to toss over the ethics of including them here or not (Blurred Lines, amongst others). Others I adored as absolute showmanship – how Daft Punk and Bowie (and latterly Beyonce) took such contrasting and successful approaches to Event Pop is something I’m always going to connect to 2013. There’s plenty of fuel for more essays on aristocracy in pop, and the diminishing middle classes and all that.
(There’s no Beyonce on the list, as I haven’t had a chance to give it a proper spin. You don’t get to rearrange my schedule just because you’re Beyonce, Beyonce.)
Tonally, I scan down the list and bar the trashy exceptions, it’s pretty damn mopey. The soft wash of sound that I connect to some of my fave pop of the last five years turns up a lot. There’s a distinct lack of men singing in traditional “male” singer roles – perennial exception being Nick Cave. And, as it’s a list I’ve basically pulled from the ether, there’s probably more than usual that I’ve forgotten. In the end, the bottom 10 or so were the ones I found myself writing about first, with a selection of other stuff that could have easily been in. I’m listening to Parenthetical Girls Privilege now, and am doing a WISH I HAD WRITTEN ABOUT THIS TOO moment. But that was 2012 originally, so fuck it fuck it fuck it.
This is all good stuff. While 2013 felt like a bad year for me, it was a good year for music. There’s treasure everywhere.
The spotify playlist is here. I’ll add a Youtube one later. And now follows the traditional typo-adorned braindownload.
And here’s the Youtube playlist!
40) Larry Jr – I Kill Giants
I may just be happy that someone named a band I Kill Giants. Incredible comic, to the degree where if I glance at the spine I can choke up a little. This activates the math-punk engine and starts kicking in any door it sees, which makes it a fine start to any list. LIKE THIS ONE.
39) Secret Surprise – Joanna Gruesome
Similarly, I’d have included them for the name alone, but they only went and fell down the stairs covered in fuzz and screeching and then I will hug them forever and ever.
38) The Sky Is Calling – The Impossible Girl
Listened to a lot of Kim’s The Sky Is Calling this year, which I mainly connect to wandering around airports and doing my Ballardian thing. I only realise now when writing this that the album was called that. I thought it was The Sky Is Falling. I really am crap at everything. Anyway – let’s go with the title track, which walks this odd line between pastoralism and techtopia, like the Wicker Man made of wire and circuitry.
37) Jubilee Street – Nick Cave
I didn’t go too deep into the album, but this had a way of inching its way out of the speakers of the radio that made me stir my tea in a particularly melodramatic fashion. The mood is strong with this one. That’s probably my pitch for a Star Wars comic, about mopey sith lords or something.
36) Avocado, Baby – Los Campesinos!
I wasn’t really in a Los Campesinos! place this year, but this is them in their increasingly muscular vein of word-o-vision. I’m tossing up whether the shouty-children near the end or the bit where Gareth has a bit of breakdown. Also, an excellent title.
35) Endless – Kavinsky
Shamelessly trolling for a new Outrun game, and who can blame them. A big John Carpenter Blade Runner epic sadness thing going on. Tears in the rain, falling on tarmac as a digital-perfect red car accelerates away.
34) Now I’m All Messed Up – Tegan And Sara
As Jamie would kill me if it wasn’t included, I suspect.
33) Cut Copy Me (Severino Shed Mix) – Petula Clark
This gave me Saint Etienne moments. IN THE LIST!
32) Reflektor – Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire have moved into one of the bands who I’ll cheerfully insult while still liking them, which is pretty good company. I doubt I’ll ever love them like I loved them in 2005, but there’s no shame in that. I wasn’t particularly fond of any of their albums after Funeral, as they inched towards the U2-stadium-isms, but this finds a little more space for it. I wouldn’t have guessed it was them when I heard it, which is a good and necessary thing for them.
It probably goes without saying that some of the more intense musical moments this year involved certain old Arcade Fire songs, yeah? Yeah.
31) Master Hunter – Laura Marling
I kinda want to make Master Chief jokes, but I’ll resist. I just googled Laura to check something, and Google seems to decide that the most important fact to display in the sidebar is that she’s 1.71m tall. I will never forget this. This is more than 1.71m tall of excellence.
30) Bring The Noize – M.I.A.
29) Rival Dealer – Burial
Not nearly listened to this enough yet, but the EP is instantly fascinating. I wrote about Earth-212, with the Infinite New York. This reminds me of a kind of Infinite London, empty of people, with empty, driver-less taxes perpetually circling all the streets.
28) Dark And Stormy – Hot Chip
Oddly, scanning down the list there’s a everal bands who I’d note a considerable Hot Chip influence on, at least creating a cultural space where they can explore and exist. Which makes it odd that the Hot Chip is the least favourite of them. Still, this bleeps and feels with the best of them.
27) Teenage – Veronica Falls
Makes me want to do a Phonogram story about some kind of Tardis bedroom which is a 1980s bedsit, forever. I’m not sure if it’s a horror story or a story about heaven. Definitely one of the two.
26) Not Alone – The Indelicates
I can sense a blow incoming from The Indelicates, but their Everybody Hurts, but with all the necessary cruelty to make us cynics swallow it. I do not forgive you.
25) Emkay – Bonobo
I caught this over breakfast one day – bananas and branflakes, probably – and pretty much disappeared into it. When I emerged, I was refreshed and beautifu, and capable of graceful flight across the skies for fourteen minutes.
24) Work, Bitch – Britney Spears
I appear to be the only person who likes this one. Mirrorshades-as-eyeballs cellophane-skinned electroclash-retroism vile elitism awesome evil. Also obviously good call to arms when I’m slacking, which is often.
23) Royals – Lorde
22) Follow Your Arrow – Kacey Musgraves
I got this from new friend Hazel’s tracks of the year list, and it hit me at the right angle. Obvious C&W saccharine, but swallowable by the humane detail and wit. Up with the Frozen’s Fuck You All gifs in terms of where my head was at in December.
21) Q.U.E.E.N. – Janelle Monáe (feat. Erykah Badu)
It bugs me that I don’t actually physically adore Janelle more than I do. She’s a spectacular talent, but I always find myself thinking about a line I heard about Ballard, which was along the lines of “the only true great writer of the 20th century who’s never written a truly great book.” Still – she continues to make the world a better place by existing, and Q.U.E.E.N. Is good enough that I don’t mind typing in those full stops.
20) Chain My Name – POLIÇA
There’s a lot of fucking Jamie McKelvie music this year.
19) I Am A God – Kanye West
Inevitably on The Wicked And The Divine playlist. Agreeably egomanical with deep seams of abject horror.
18) Do It Again – Camera Obscura
They did do it again. As in, release another Camera Obscura record. And they did. They did it again. And it’s in my Top 40 again. C’mon. It’s not as if anyone was expecting them to collaborate with Charli XCX.
17) You – Ha Ha Ha – Charli XCX
Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!
Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!
Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!
Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!
16) Dead Island – Kitty Pryde
I’d almost completely this from the dawn of 2013. Yeah, it bugs me that one of the very few pieces of rap on this list and the only thing that isn’t on spotify is bloody Kitty Pryde, but what can you do? I obsessed over this, for all its problems, for days in January. It’s the sort of song I want to insert into history somewhere about 1991, with some kind of crossover between Daisy-Age rap and Shoegaze. It’s a record that goes literally nowhere, and leaving, unresolved. Love it.
15) Sacrilege – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Yeah Yeah Yeahs headquarters. Members over a mixing desk. They’re going Hmm.
“Hmm. This song is losing momentum about half way through.”
“Hmm. You’re right what to do?”
Everyone blinks confusedly before jumping to their feet and high fiving everyone.
14) Where Are We Now – Bowie
This was a surprise. The weary elder-statesman role suits him as well as any role he’s ever chose to play, which is all of them.
13) It Starts And Ends With You – Suede
This was a surprise. A bigger one, even.
The last Suede single I liked was Trash circa 1996, and to find myself liking this was a surprise. Is it the texture to it? That agreeably muffled production that reminds me of the original Dog Man Star. It could be simpler than that. It’s the first time since Trash I’ve believed Brett, or at least wanted to fall for his lies. Doomed Romance, as doomed and romantic as it ever was.
12) Kemosabe – Everything Everything
An undergrowth of a record, except the undergrowth of the land of Tron. The closer you get, the more you see, the more you see, the more you want to become some kind of Kemosabe botanist. With every decision – and Kemosabe is a song that screams decisions! Decisions! – Everything Everything populate these four minutes gloriously.
11) Fragment Two – These New Puritans
I always feel kinda odd putting something so obviously grown up on a list like this. It’s like posting about your excellent insurance rate for your car or something. If you’re listening to indie music in your thirties, this is the sort of thing you’re meant to be listening to. Lower in sugars. Nice craftsmanship. Probably made of Humus.
Enough! This is just great stuff.
10) Youth – Daughter
There’s a little of that to Daughter too, but the the precision of the bitterness means I don’t feel half as iffy about it. The one liners and the arguments just hang in this swirl of sound, those eternally cycling guitar arpeggios accompanying her every painful step of the way. A record populated with hard truths is something I always fall for.
9) Falling – Haim
Jamie doesn’t like them, which proves it is possible to be too Fleetwood Mac. For me, they share my problems with the Mac. The first minute, minute of a half of this is a wonderful construction of pop songwriting, which scatters the slow build with a confetti of ideas – the tiny gasps is the best one – but then eventually settles into its groove, and doesn’t really do anything else. It’s telling the fade out is much less interesting than the arrival. But that first minute! The first twenty-six seconds are the best rock-pop head-turn-to-radio who-are-youuuuuu-ladyyyy intro for years.
Also: the Los Campesinos/Haim twitter brawl was highly amusing.
8 ) Two Chords – Summer Camp
Summer Camp have been a companion this year. I suppose they were there at the official opening of this year, which would be the Robyn gig where the larger structure of Young Avengers downloaded – and where they supported. They were playing in Leeds the same weekend as Thought Bubble, and provided a gateway into 2014 and the lead song of The Wicked & The Divine (It also made me see how much Orange Juice there is in their DNA, which is rarely a bad thing).
It’s not this, partially because I’m holding hopes they release it next year so I can include it then, and partially because Two Chords is the one I’d have to pick anyway. Certainly not them at their most obviously pop, but the dreamy circular dreamscape just makes me want to lose myself and have a wander.
7) I’m Aquarius – Metronomy
That high note comes in two minutes on breaks the song apart. Up to that point, it’s framed around the voice and its sonic and storytelling properties. From there on, it falls apart, gracefully, like an ice sculpture shattering then melting. The more I listen to it, the more I like it and the more I like it, the more I listen to it. WE ARE TRAPPED IN A POSITIVE FEEDBACK LOOP AND WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIEEEEEEE!
6) Get Free – Major Lazer feat. Amber of Dirty Projectors
Makes me re-imagine Atlantis as instead of a stern roman-tinged myth, a missing island of the Caribbean, sinking beneath the waves due to its excellent sonic properties. This is a magical kingdom of a record, and all should explore it.
5) I Don’t Know How – Best Coast
The oldest trick in the book, but it’s like a sunburst when the drums accelerate. Every single time. It tumbles along, never answering its own question, never getting any closer, carried by a infatuated momentum. The only bit I don’t buy is the final bridge, doing the Walk On By-ism, but even that works as a set up for the final rush of not quite knowing how, ever, ever.
4) Recover – Chvrches
They’ve had one hell of a year, and one of those bands who are so aesthetically aligned to what we do, Jamie may as well design their tour poster or something. Lies was probably the best single, but I included that last time, so it’s this. It may have been this anyway. It’s tied to all sorts of moments, in its lost-in-orbit anguish. The moment for me is the big gasps as the one/more/chance/to stay all building towards the songs precise analysis of the situation (I Don’t Know How never reaches and answer, but Recover does, knows it’s over, and carries on anyway, because just because it’s over doesn’t mean it’s finished). The accent as a trace element in the atmosphere of this chilly satellite of a song is just extra.
I still have trouble spelling their name.
3) She Will – Savages
I’m tempted to posit Savages as a missing link between my teenage love of the Sisters of Mercy and Elastica, as dropping them into history around 1992 could have smoothed that particular transition. It doesn’t quite work. There’s too much humour in both the Sisters and Elastica, and a palette doesn’t quite carry it. Still – occasionally things aren’t very funny, and Savages are a scaldingly serious band. The moment in She Will isn’t exactly hard to pinpoint, but makes me want to dub a new soundtrack on Akira with its postpunk precision and fury of its psychic violence. I see bodies rising up from the ground, transfixed, shuddering in tiny spasms and being torn apart. I see people walking through corridors painted with people and it barely registering, because human’s destiny is to be reduced to spent fluids, so what’s changed with this obscenity bar making things so terribly plain? She Will She Will She Will She Will She Will She Will She Will indeed. It passes one of those golden tests of songs for me – it immediately inspired a character, who’ll be glowering all over 2014.
2) Everything is Embarrassing – Sky Ferreira
I was probably sold on this from the first bar of the down-a-well Alexander O’Neal Criticize drumbeat. If there’s one thing all these years loving pop have taught me, it’s that being at the bottom of the well is the best place to be.
The fact we only get the “Everything Is Embarrassing” title twice, and she always sounds like she’s on the edge of saying it is a key thing I love. The scattering of the word “Everything” always makes you expect the second half of the title to arrive. That sounds like Embarrassment to me, that perpetual delay, of almost saying something, but not.
When preparing the list, this is the one I’ve kept on sticking on repeat.
1) Giorgio by Moroder – Daft Punk
One of the more oddly zine moments was late the day RAM was released and Cara and I were on IM, doing our first listen close to simultaneously. I was about four minutes ahead of her, so was a pathfinder into the most obviously album of pop albums in a while. I liked Get Lucky, and knew it was 2013′s single, but didn’t want to tattoo it to my heart. Cara liked it a little more, but not enough. We’re sharing an opinion on the opening tracks, which feel like they’re just feeling a little too period, a little too safely tasteful, a little too chicly chic. Daft Punk at their best are, for me, a band who are powered by their sheer audacity. You can’t quite believe they did that and made it work. This had good taste.
I hit Giorgio before she does. Cara’s still enjoying but not enamoured a few minutes earlier, and I tell her to wait. This is the one.
On first listen, I didn’t immediately know it was Moroder speaking, as I was just listening, not following the tracklisting. Who the fuck is this voice, just filling time with the beauty of a human voice? For a few seconds, I think it’s Arni, y’know? Then it clicks, just about the same time as he sets a click going, and gives birth to modern pop, gives birth to everything, gives birth to this. It’s a big statement record in a big statement album, that transforms everything around it. It’s the manifesto. It’s the To Educate And Entertain.
I don’t say any of that to Cara, and wait for her to go reach it and we’re both nodding converts by the end.
It’s not the one I played when DJing or the one I listen to most, but it’s a big pop statement, it’s the wise one, it’s the simultaneously egotistical and humble one, it’s the one – I suspect – which anyone who’s ever tried to free themselves from the bondage of their own skin recognises.
It made me want to be better. That’s more than art. That’s necessary.
That wasn’t 2013, but it made me think of 2014, and this year, that’s exactly what I needed.