I know reading a year-end top 50 list can be overwhelming, so every now and then I like to check in and offer you up a shorter list of the best songs that I’ve found so far. The good news is that 2013 is already looking stronger than 2012, and this is before getting new releases from The National, Kings of Leon, Jimmy Eat World, and other historical favorites. So without further introduction, here’s where I’d say we’re sitting at the 1/3 portion of the year.
#1 Phosphorescent – “Song for Zulu”
This is one of those rare songs that has the ability to get under your skin and strike an emotional chord, and there are a few reasons why. First, it’s the soft strings that circle and sweep in, not unlike The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” years ago. Then it’s the wounded nature of the song, and the way the lyrics marry up to the vocals. “But I saw love, disfigure me, into something I am not recognizing…” is sung painfully and trails off into the strings. As he pledges “I will not open myself up this way again”, it’s one of the best manifestations of heartbreak you’ll ever hear. Powerful song.
#2 Foals – “Inhaler”
I have to admit I’ve soured a bit on the bedroom electronica being pumped out on all the blogs lately, so I was hungering for a good indie rock song. Not since early Kings of Leon have I heard this good a mix of gritty vocals and indie rock, and “Inhaler” is the welcoming party to a great album. It builds and builds and just when you want it to explode, it does. “I can’t get enough…..SPACE” becomes a moment in itself. Turn it up and let it go.
#3 Local Natives – “Mt. Washington”
Picking a favorite off this album is a chore. “Columbia”? “Heavy Feet”? I make no promises they won’t be top ten by the end of the year. Nearly every song exists on some level of amazing, but “Mt Washington” is the one that rises to the top. I have a soft spot for songs that build, and “Mt. Washington” grows into a cathartic 3 minutes. “I don’t have to see you right now” is repeated over a swelling mass of instrumentation, and the usually sunny Local Natives get a little darker in the best of ways.
#4 The Strokes – “Chances”
Over the years The Strokes have dominated the world of cool, retreated from it, and morphed stylistically. I am in the minority of people who adored their last album “Angles” and preferrred it to the style of their early stuff that got them famous. Along these same lines is “Chances”, the most melodic track off their newest album. The song has a tepid, nighttime thoughtfulness quality to it, and when “I will not up for anymore, so you can ask me if something is wrong” is sung before raising into falsetto, it’s as different and equally great as anything The Strokes have done before.
#5 Cold War Kids – “Miracle Mile”
There have been fewer bigger disappointments to me musically over the last five years than the Cold War Kids’ last album, a blatant attempt to change one of the most unique styles in alt rock in order to gain popularity. I’m not above popularity. In fact, I strongly desire more people listen to Cold War Kids, one of the most unappreciated bands in the world. But the album was not good, and lacked the bar-room piano, high energy style that makes Cold War Kids the Cold War Kids. Cue the first track “Miracle Mile” off of there newest album. There’s the piano. There’s the pounding drums. There’s the declaration “I was supposed to do great things!”. Welcome back, Cold War Kids, I missed you.
#6 Django Django – “Hail Bop” (late 2012)
How did I miss this last year? Django Django is alternative rock band that has clearly heard the Beach Boys before, and that promises great things. The modern spacy-ness combined with the layered harmonies and the toe-tapping beat is infectious, and when it breaks into the meaningless “Hail to the bop, believe me, took your time to come back and see me, I‘ve been waiting here so long and now you’ve taken off again” I guarantee you that you’ll be singing along.
#7 Biffy Clyro – “Biblical”
Are you a fan of sweeping alternative rock anthems slathered in strings? Biffy Clyro is and thankfully for us, they are good at making them in a way that doesn’t come off as too cheesy. “Biblical” is as sweeping as they come, putting a dose of the epic with the woah-ohs over the swarming chorus. If you loved “Many of Horror” as much as I did, this is the track you’ve been waiting for.
#8 How to Dress Well – “Cold Nites”
Probably the best track that I found circulating on everyone else’s year-end lists is “Cold Nites”, a unique electronic and falsetto romp tailor made for darkness. Turn the lights off, take a night drive, walk out to your back porch at night. Do what you have to. “Cold Nites” creates it’s own sonic landscape and mood and sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before.
#9 Youth Lagoon – “Mute”
I suppose a fair warning would be that I’m pretty sure neither of the two people I’ve played this song for have liked it. I guess I know why. There’s a share of dissonance and unintelligible vocals going on here, but underneath it is the most depth to any Youth Lagoon song yet. Right around the two minute mark, the song break forth, and Youth Lagoon’s typically hushed vocals become a thing of the past. The song rates high on this portion alone.
#10 Kodaline – “High Hopes”
I have a hunch about this song. The song is #1 in Ireland right now and climbing the charts in the UK. The album drops this summer, and by year’s end you’ll know this song all too well, and maybe I’ll have overplayed it on my own already like I did with the Gotye song. But “High Hopes” has that moving quality that Snow Patrol has and occupies a wonderfully listenable space between alt rock and pop rock. If you hated the Youth Lagoon song above, you’re likely to love this song. Just be careful falling too far in love with this one, because if I’m right you’ll have already put it on all your mixes by the time the US starts overplaying it in October.
Also worth a mention:
- Jim James – “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)
- Dutch Uncles – “Flexxin”
- Chad Valley – “Shell Suite”
- The Airborne Toxic Event – “Timeless”
- Local Natives – “Heavy Feet” & “Colombia”
- Foals – “Milk & Black Spiders”
- Guards – “Coming True”
- Sun Airway – “Close”
- Ra Ra Riot – “When I Dream”
- The Strokes – “One Way Trigger”
- Pinback – “Proceed to Memory”
- A Silent Film – “Anastasia”
So those are my top recommendations. What do you think? What am I missing?