I may not have written all that much about music here this year (in case you haven’t noticed, the focus of ccpopculture has been shifting gradually towards film at the expense of other media), but that doesn’t mean I’m not listening and, uh, listing. Here are my 10 favourite songs of the year: and the 10 songs I’ll be voting for in the 2013 Triple J Hottest 100.
10. Lorde – Royals
Sure, it’s “the” song of 2013, but if a spare, atmospheric pop song performed by a sixteen New Zealander is too “obvious” a choice then I’m pretty fuckin’ happy with the state of modern pop music. I enjoyed this song well enough when it first came out, but it wasn’t until I experienced it live at Splendour in the Grass that it really connected with that sense of vitality that characterises great music. “Royals” is catchy yet different and features lyrics that are, like most of Lorde’s work, a charming blend of intelligence and innocence. (It’s also, I must admit, partly on the list because if a great song has a chance of winning the Hottest 100, I make a point of voting for it)
9. Wavves – Demon to Lean On
Wavves’ latest album of surf-punk-pop washed over me like a wave, leaving a pleasant sensation but not much of an impact otherwise. The notable exception from Afraid of Heights was this slice of singalong sorrow. Sure, the lyrics are all about death and “no hope and no future” but there’s that wonderful sense of teenage indifference behind it, the unconcerned conviction that life will be shit, but …whatever. It’s sunny outside.
8. CHVRCHES – Gun
Not a complicated song. Just a breezy synth-pop tune with the kind of chorus that makes you want to run out into the street with a spring in your step and sort of sing and yell it to bystanders with a dumb grin on your face. It’s just that kind of song.
7. Yuck – Middle Sea
Yuck’s first record was decent in a pretty forgettable just-another-garage-band kind of way. “Middle Sea” is a different kettle of fish altogether, a Frankenstein’s monster sutured together with garage aesthetics, a shoegaze sound, a pop-rock structure and some kind of brass section. It’s simple, but I’ve always simplicity is the key to great shoegaze; put as many layers of vocals and as much distortion on the guitars as you want, but keep the song itself as straightforward as possible. Yuck stick to that template and it pays dividends here.
6. Palma Violets – Step Up for the Cool Cats
“Step Up for the Cool Cats” demands attention. It’s insistent, with that droning organ and shimmering cymbals opening up into a rollicking, shoe-tapping good time. The song feels theatrical (you can hear the quotation marks around the kinda-silly, kinda-awesome, half-whispered of “CATS!”) and loose all at once, with a thumping, undeniable drum beat. They’ve got me dancing in the sun, alright.
5. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Sometimes music grabs you by the throat after one listen, slipping into your bloodstream like a virus infecting a host. Other times, it’s more of a “long sickness,” as was the case for me when it comes to “Reflektor.” It’s not that I ever hated the song, but when the music video was released with swirling clouds of hype I found it a little underwhelming, like a good three-and-half minute song stretched out over twice that length. But “Reflektor” ended up encapsulating why I’m so reluctant to provide music reviews right as the music is released, growing on me to the point that the last couple minutes – that I’d initially dismissed as unnecessary – would give me goosebumps. A great, expansive, throbbing piece of music.
4. A$AP Rocky – Wild for the Night (featuring Skrillex and Birdy Nam Nam)
Not a complicated track. There’s no deep emotion or symbolism behind “Wild for the Night” – it’s just a thumping club tune about getting’ fuuuuucked up. But sometimes a dumb banger is exactly what you want from a song, and I haven’t heard anything else this year that does it so well, finding the middle ground between harsh aggression and glossiness.
3. Lorde – Tennis Court
All of Lorde’s music is credited as being jointly written by Joel Little (her producer) and Ella Yelich O’Connor (Lorde herself), but this is the one track that really feels like lyrics straight from an arty, introspective teenager. Lines like “Baby be the class clown/I’ll be the beauty queen in tears” and especially “Pretty soon I’ll be getting on my first plane,” resonate where they might have come across as false from a more experienced pop singer. And there’s the music itself, a slender, breathy gorgeous thing that wafts around Lorde’s voice like diaphanous fabric. “Royals” might get all the attention, but this song is the real standout in my book.
2. The Avalanches – Stalking to a Stranger (Planets Collide Remix)
Another long track (coming in at almost nine minutes) for a group that’s been away for a long, long time. This remix (produced for a Hunters and Collectors tribute album) is a mish-mash of a whole bunch of disparate elements – the original, heartfelt funk-rock of “Talking to a Stranger,” relentless disco and sneering, “Robot Rock”-inspired bass – that come together to produce a jagged masterpiece. It’s unlike anything else you’ve heard this year, and is a clear demonstration of why The Avalanches’ long-rumoured second album is one of the most anticipated albums of this decade.
1. James Blake – Retrograde
James Blake’s sophomore album, Overgrown, is a lot like his music – impressive, but spare. A little too spare for my tastes: it’s unlikely to make the cut for my top albums list, defined as it is but some amazing tracks and a lot of okay ones. But, man, those amazing tracks. Top of the list is the moving, delicate “Retrograde,” a heartbreaking wintery ode to loss and abandonment. Just, just …goosebumps, every damn time.