2013 was a great year to be into music. It’s hard to think of the last time that things have been quite this interesting. There have been stellar debut albums and big name comebacks (including a return to Blue Note bandleader after no less than 43 years). There has been major rap release after major rap release after major rap release after major rap release (with a very refreshing minor rap release thrown in for good measure). We even managed to see the return of science fiction. It’s been a great year with great music and here is my take on its top tracks
Honorable Mention: “Valentine’s Day” by David Bowie
Adding an honorable mention to lists like this is cheating, but I couldn’t write this without touching on this song. “Valentine’s Day” was both heartfelt and topical. With barely anything at all, Bowie manages to paint a complex picture of the eponymous Valentine. His description of the planned school shooting is extremely personal and that lets you fill in what pushed Valentine this far. The song itself shifts from tender as he goes over his treasured plans and power trips to frenetic as he is about to take action. Frightening and remarkable, this song is David Bowie as good as he’s ever been.
You can read our full review of his album here
5. “5 AM in Toronto” by Drake
It’s easier to laugh at Drake than to like him. Nothing Was The Same did nothing but reinforce how soft he is. I mean, have you seen “Hold On, We’re Going Home“? It wasn’t actually a bad album though and that speaks volumes about his talent. “5 AM in Toronto” though is Drake going hard and is excellent. Look at this
The part I love most is they need me more than they hate me
So they never take shots, I got everybody on safety
I could load every gun with bullets that fire backwards
You probably wouldn’t lose a single rapper
Niggas make threats, can’t hear ’em over the laughter
Yeah, that’s cause I’m headed to the bank, nigga
Why he chose not to put this in Nothing Was The Same is beyond me, but album complaints aside, this is just really good rap. At the end of the day, this boy has talent.
You can read our review of his full album here.
4. “Lies” by CHVRCHES
So, CHVRCHES have finally arrived. Now that they’re here, I was disappointed by their album, but had a ton of fun at their concert. I like intelligent pop with female singers, and this covers that in spades. This song pulls off the same sound that made me fall in love The Knife and Lauren Mayberry’s voice is glorious. Besides, that chorus just can not be resisted.
This is dark, beautiful and glorious to listen to. Her story of self-confidence through control over her lover is splendid and made much more so by the motif of lies. This is perfect pop.
3. “New Slaves” by Kanye West
When I first heard Yeezus, it was actually “Blood on the Leaves” that straight up convinced me that Kanye West was still on top of the game. It has been a while though and “New Slaves” is the song I most return to. The menace on that opening beat is palpable. You could cut a block out of it with a knife and use its inner fire to heat a home for a month. And that’s before Kanye opens his mouth.
This song is rage. This is pure in the way so few songs are. This is Kanye upset and rightfully so and calling out things that are wrong. You shouldn’t have to be a god to do this, but of all of the players this year, no one else has proven godhood as convincingly. Everything I’ve said until now though does nothing but diminish the song. Rage and menace is worthless if not as crafted as this song. It may have been forged in a crucible instead of handwoven on an ancestral loom, but this is masterwork nonetheless.
Album review, link. You’ve got this by now.
2. “She Will” by Savages
The Savages’ debut album was one of the most intense things that I heard this year. There are very few albums that affect me so deeply that I need to carefully monitor when and how much I listen to it. Silence Yourself acts on me the way Unknown Pleasures does, and that is a very high bar to reach. Songs like “She Will” can absolutely break me.
Jehnny Beth is scathing and confident in her takedown of gender roles. Although takedown is far too mild a word for this song. Evisceration is much more apt. Fay Milton’s drumming is primal and the guitar and bass work could be a song in themselves. These individual points are meaningless though because their sum is so much more. Everything fits in, everything works together and as a listener all you can do is what it says. This picks you up and hurls you where it wishes. That repeated refrain of the title at the song end is far to commanding to ignore.
This is the kind of song that you need to sit alone in perfect silence and breathe after. You can still hear it though. You’ll never really escape it.
1. “Control” by Big Sean (feat. Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica)
Let’s be clear about this. No matter what the title may say, this is K.Dot’s song. I haven’t seen a song been snatched quite so hard since a young Eminem killed Jay-Z in his prime on “Renegade“. The other verses are fine, but I’m not even going to go over them.
Kendrick Lamar has put it down with this song. Rap is going to change because of this and with it music and with that society. The world has moved and his verse is what did it. Let’s start with the easy part to talk about. He just claimed both coasts. With one hand, no less. He name-dropped everyone. Even people performing on this very song weren’t safe from him. Enough nice-guy rap, things are going to go hard again and Kendrick has brought the golden age back.
Now, let’s get to the song. Kendrick’s flow is still impossible. He rides this beat so hard it dies the moment he gets off it. Honestly, its heart probably stopped beating minutes before and K.Dot pushed it anyway. That moment when in the middle of calling out competition he takes a breath because the list is so long, that’s as much of a statement of confidence as wearing the crown. Don’t even talk to me about the replies. The mic was dropped with that verse and not even Thor has the ability to pick it back up. We’re done.