2013 was a good year for music. True, the Top 40 Singles and Hot 100 Albums charts were filled with a lot of crap, as usual, but if you just take the time to look, you'll find some hidden gems. So much of the best music out there these days doesn't chart as highly as other stuff (or at all), so a little exploration can be a beautiful thing.
Here, then, are my picks for favorite tracks of 2013 (granted, two of them come from a # 1 album, but then there always exceptions to the rules):
10. Right As Rain / Alison Moyet
She of the seminal '80s synth group Yaz, Alison Moyet came storming back in 2013 with a fairly solid album. Oddly enough, her choices of singles didn't move me much, but I quite liked our # 10 selection, and another track, Horizon Flame. While Right As Rain does have a desperate, bitter streak running through it, I think the repetition and chord progressions work well.
9. New / Paul McCartney
It's hard to go wrong with a former Beatle. Thus we have an entry from Sir Paul McCartney on the list. The eponymous track from his 2013 album New, it's a bouncy rock/electronic diddy that doesn't waste any time getting started. Paul's vocals are strong, and I particularly like the line: "We can do what we want, we can live as we choose / You see there's no guarantee, we got nothing to lose." It speaks to me coming off a year where gay marriage has become legal in my home state and, of course, I continued to grow older, wherein there are no promises or guarantees in life.
8. Secret to the End / Depeche Mode
Like clockwork, every four years we get a new album from Depeche Mode, those masters of dark synth pop. Their 2013 effort was solid, but perhaps works best as a complete listen-through. Of the many tracks, the one that stood out to me most was our # 8 entry. The song really strikes its moodiest, most effective chord after the sections where Dave Gahan sings: "Should have been you (if it hadn't been me)". Good stuff.
7. A Tattered Line of String / The Postal Service
The sporadic output of The Postal Service continued in 2013 with a brief reunion wherein they put out a couple of new tracks. Of those, our # 7 song immediately took hold in my soul. I love the hooky chorus, and enjoy the lyrics about a night full of questionable romantic/sexual choices. It's cute and sad, and I like it.
6. Is the Black at the End Good? / Flaming Lips
Ah, well, 2013 saw the controversial release of the movie Ender's Game. Controversy ensued because of the anti-gay political views of author Orson Scott Card, who wrote the book upon which the film was based. Like a bad gay, I went to see Ender's Game and thought it was rather good.
Oklahoma's own The Flaming Lips were tapped to provide an EP for the film, and it was known as Peace Sword. Among the tracks of the mini-release was our # 6 song. It's slow, it's sad, it's dark and it sort of meanders, but those are precisely the reasons why I like it. I find the song moving, and it especially resonated well since I discovered it right around the time Ashley & I had to put our dog Zena to sleep.
5. Hourglass / Soft Metals
This was an iTunes find. I forget how I happened it upon it there, but Soft Metals' Lenses album popped-up one day whilst I was lost in Apple's musical labyrinth, and I sampled some of the songs. Hourglass features no vocals, but doesn't need them. It's a strong synth track that is both light and heavy, fun and serious. In short, it's delightful, and always makes me want to bop.
4. Love is a Bourgeois Construct / Pet Shop Boys
From their fantastic 2013 album Electric is the venerable Pet Shop Boys' first appearance on our list. From Stuart Price's tight production, to Neil Tennant's distant vocals, to the blending of Karl Marx and views on love, this song is a unique joy. Typically arch Pet Shop Boys, and the soaring, backing choir gives me chills.
3. Diane Young / Vampire Weekend
The east coast boys had a well-deserved # 1 album this past year, and nearly every track is worthy of inclusion on a Top 10 list. Alas, that would be a tad boring, so this time just two songs make the list. Coming in at # 3 is a bouncy electro-rock diddy that does a word play on "dying young" and is fun to sing along to, not to mention dance (privately) to. The video? Well, it's typically quirky Vampire Weekend. Of course, singer Ezra Koenig's table-top hip gyrations alone are worth the price of admission.
2. Thursday / Pet Shop Boys
Probably the most accessible track on their Electric album, Pet Shop Boys' Thursday may not be as complex as our # 4 entry, but that's partly what appeals to me about it. Mostly a reference to a wonky relationship (your standard pop music subject matter), I like the electronics of the music, and the contrast between lead singer Neil Tennant and guest vocalist Example. It's a catchy song. It's peppy. It's good.
1. Step / Vampire Weekend
I don't pretend to always understand Vampire Weekend's lyrics. Some of the lyrics in Step leave me baffled, but no worries. I get the gist of the song: getting a little older, feeling lonely, wanting to settle down and, most of all, share your life with someone. How can that not touch us? Of course, what makes a good song is a nice combination of lyrics and music, and Step offers both in great measure. From it's opening chords to its closing strings, Step's music is, in a word, sublime. No question of it being my favorite song of the year.
And there you have it. My Top 10 favorite songs of 2013. Can't recommend these tracks enough.