Let’s start things off with a bit of a curve ball, shall we? “Boom” is the little skit that could; while the majority of Matangi is every bit as friendly and positive as Maya’s pre-release interviews built it up to be, “Boom” is proof that she’s always ready to shut down her haters, especially if she’s got one of the catchiest beats of the year to back her up.
Earl may be one of the few Odd Future members left that it isn’t totally lame to like, but there was still no way the young MC’s proper debut album could live up to the hype surrounding it. Still, the record had more than its fair share of choice cuts to offer, especially the darker compositions like this track. A bit of an update on previous single "Chum" with even more menace, “Hive” lurches with an inky darkness, propelled by a sinister bass line and some truly unsettling synths — the perfect soundtrack to murdering a cop or something on a dark Halloween night.
"Retrograde" begins unassumingly enough, with some of the white boy soul that’s long since become a touchstone of Blake’s music. That is, until the song’s chorus drops through the roof and punches you in the gut as Blake summons a swarm of gigantic, buzzing synths to lift the song to a climax that stands as one of the year’s most truly visceral.
It’s hard picking just one song from Beyoncé’s surprise end of the year smash, but “Rocket”, the record’s sensual centerpiece, is as good a choice as any. A soulful stroll through the R&B goddess’ kinks and fixations, “Rocket” sounds like the result of Beyoncé taking Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience and whipping off the record’s glasses and ponytail to reveal the smoldering sex appeal it always had lurking underneath. I can only imagine the look on Jay Z’s face when he heard this one for the first time.
Not only the shortest and simplest Burial track we’ve heard in years, but the most unconventional by far. Definitely one of the most stunning as well. Burial’s work is so often clouded with a bleak sense of darkness that I can’t help but see this song as the light at the end of a long tunnel, a true moment of self-realization and a triumph over the Rival Dealer, whoever or whatever that may be, once and for all.
Given how often Daniel Lopatin’s latest effort sounded like being trapped in an outdated computer, it’s only fitting that the record closes with an atmosphere calm enough to rival even the most relaxing of Microsoft’s desktop wallpapers. Whoever thought synthesized computer voices could sound this human?
With their first release in eight years, Boards of Canada managed to capture a sound that was in equal measures bleak and imposing, like the ruins of a destroyed metropolis overlooking the vast wasteland of a post-apocalyptic world. Buried in the album’s final third, though, rests “New Seeds”, a song whose gorgeously twisting coda seems to represent a glimmering hope for rebirth, renewal and new life.
While not quite as good as the first single this Scottish synth pop trio dropped late last year, “Gun” still finds the group going straight for the jugular. Perfectly confrontational and determined as hell, singer Lauren Mayberry sounds like she’s gonna deck someone and I’m totally into it.
While releasing a synth pop titan such as “Full of Fire” in promotion for an album punctuated by experimental bursts of noisy ambience turned out to be a bit of a red herring, I still can’t fault this track for being anything less than a perfect way to spend nine minutes. The Knife sound appropriately ready to burst into flames here and Karin Dreijer Andersson’s frenzied shouts of “LET’S TALK ABOUT GENDER, BABY” gave me goosebumps like few other songs released this year managed to.
MF DOOM may not have released anything this year, but 2013 still saw its fair share of rap super villainy — largely thanks to Killer Mike and El-P’s collaborative Run the Jewels project. Every song on the band’s album may be a slam dunk, but no track manages to capture their aesthetic quite so perfectly as “Get It”, a song that sounds like the two MCs piloting one of Pacific Rim's Jaegers to destroy everything whack about modern day hip hop.
While Nothing Was the Same found Drake proving that he may not be as soft as everyone says he is, the album’s finest moment still manages to be buttery smooth, yet another reminder that Drake can still charm the pants off of us even when he’s on his worst behavior.
While the Front Bottoms’ arrangements are usually utilitarian in their spartan simplicity, their finest offering of 2013 honestly sounds as big as the flood waters that singer Brian Sella claims to be coming in the track’s first lines. “Twin Size Mattress is nothing less than a true anthem, an epically distressed call-to-arms and an assurance that the band will always be there to help you swim, that they’ll always find something for you to do on stage.
Each of the four lovingly-crafted songs on For Everest’s debut helped to make Last of the Dogstronauts my favorite EP of the year, but it was the EP’s jangly, horn-laden opening track that truly announced For Everest as the newest group of indie emo wunderkind to watch. It’s the chemistry shared by front-duo Nick Pitman and Sarah Cowell that really brings this song to life, a partnership that I know will take the band great places in the future.
Is it just me, or did this track somehow manage to turn the whole “emo revival” movement on its head? In retrospect, it seems like things had always been leading up to this song’s final moments. Possibly the grandest finale of the entire year, “Getting Sodas” still sounds as urgent and important as the first time I heard it and still leaves me more emotional than anything else this side of American Football.
James Murphy may have feared that growing older meant losing your edge, but thanks to him, Arcade Fire have only gotten cooler with age. On their recent double album’s labyrinth of a title track, the dance-punk king traps the band within a hall of mirrors before flooding it with disco lights and challenging them to groove their way out, only for Win Butler and co. to prove that just because they’re a bunch of overwrought Canadian indie rockers doesn’t mean they can’t get you shakin’ your butt on the dance floor.
Leave it to a maniacal genius like Kanye to conclude his latest blur of forward-thinking insanity with the soulful sound on which he once made his name, just twisted enough for the haters to still not be satisfied. “Bound 2” is like a nightmare version of West’s old material: it’s Kanye effectively telling us that there’s no going back. Even if it was possible to return to the days of The College Dropout, things wouldn’t be the same. Everything is horrible and fucked and nothing is ever going to be the same.
It’s hard to mourn the death of LC!’s twee sound when they’ve somehow managed to warp into one of the weirdest and funnest pop bands of all time. Here they sound like the lamest cool kids at your high school’s homecoming dance, Gareth frantically barking moves out to a troupe of cheerleaders as you square off against your schoolyard rival on the path to sharing the last dance with the life of your life.
I was banking on Vampire Weekend hard this year to turn in their greatest effort so far, and songs like this one made it impossible for Modern Vampires of the City to disappoint. With a little inspiration from Souls of Mischief, Rostam Batmanglij directs the band into lusher, more stately territory than ever before and Ezra Koenig cements his position as one of indie pop’s most resonant, romantic lyricists. Just don’t get him started on the whole selfie thing.
"Blissful" is an understatement — if this is what dying sounds like, sign me up. The climax of this nine minute blackgaze opus feels like the entire world is exploding around you, leaving you alone to fall to your knees and weep as everything flashes bright pink and your body dissolves into sunlight.
Like any other song even stood a chance. 2013 truly was the year we all stayed up to Get Lucky.