Top 50 Songs of 2013 :: [10-2]

Welcome to our annual countdown of the 50 best songs of the calendar year. Songs must be from an EP, LP or demo released during 2013, and no band may appear twice. Today, we count down 10 to 2.

10. Pure Bathing Culture - "Dream The Dare"

It was nothing but post-Beach House jams from Portland's Pure Bathing Culture on "Dream The Dare". In a swimming and viscous arrangement, they still plead, "give me forward motion". The chorus proved to be this propulsion, caring the listener to a sophisticated chord progression and resolution in the second verse. The enduring lyrics, "Come on" and "It's a cage, your chest, do you like what you find?", both urging us forward and outside of ourselves, a most important message in the age of the Snow Globe-sized kingdom of the self.

9. First Rate People - "Dark Age" and the Challenger remix of "Dark Age"

In a rare (and cheap) tie, First Rate People ties with itself and the Challenger remix of "Dark Age". Another song about getting older in a terrifying age of modernity and isolation - they call this, "a note on your phone to remind you tomorrow, 'new keys for a new cage'" - FRP saw their original source material done with even greater bombast and nostalgia by John Ross of Challenger. While we await the 2014 material from FRP member Jon Lawless and Ross (the band name Jo(h)n seems like it would work here), the two synthesizer masters occupy a dual spot for one of the best songs and best remixes of the year.

8. Marika Hackman - "Bath Is Black"

Recalling the harp tones of Joanna Newsome and the British austerity of Laura Marling, Marika Hackman provided one of the most promising breakthroughs of 2013 with "Bath Is Black". It is a world of cold water and old soap, bodies covered in tar and stuck together. The second movement, a little synthetic woodwind push-up, snaps against Hackman's lilting vocal. Full of layers and complexity, "Bath Is Black" never concerned itself with making anyone feel good; the justice proved poetic at best. "You're not coming home tonight," the last and most important lyric, was either edict or realization, and either way it killed.

7. Rainy Milo - "Deal Me Briefly"

If there's a likely and currently unheralded heir to the Lorde throne in 2014, Rainy Milo presents a compelling case beyond her precocious age (18), her solid production connections (Chet Faker here), her label association (EMI to Lorde's UMG) and her winsome but take-no-prisoners voice. Lily Allen isn't a bad comparison save its obvious limitations. "Deal Me Briefly" held one of the best choruses of 2013, a body-rolling, "You let me go so slow" as Milo fights with and against herself in the refrain. It was immediately addictive, demanding attention and a slow dance in the age of the diminishing attention span. In 2014, she may well be living the fantasy.

6. Wet - "U Da Best"/"You're The Best"

Wet wasn't kidding with the title, "U Da Best" when this dropped in the spring. By the time they were Columbia signees with the Neon Gold imprint, the title had changed to "You're The Best", the first sign that the band positions itself for a dominant, corporate 2014. "You're The Best" demolished itself on lyrics like, "All I know is when you hold me/ I still feel lonely, lonely when you hold me", resisting easy treatment and crafting a complex modern love song. Even in an era of increasing superlatives - everything is now "the best" or "the worst" or "the funniest" or the "dumbest" ever - "You're The Best" and its final edicts of "figure out the rest"
and "quit while we're ahead" suggested a rich landscape beneath. The hook stabbed and stuck, a bubbling guitar arrangement that held the transformative vocal of Kelly Zutrau. The listener falls in love with her immediately, left, like her, to figure out the rest later.

5. Born Ruffians - "Needle"

"Needle" bore the marks of being a hip-hop song disguised in rock garb. Born Ruffians opened the locus in a Fleet Foxes-homage before "Needle" lifted off with propulsive guitars and head-nodding rhythms. It was more of a tweaker than anything the Foxes would have made, an enormous and washing chorus that sat on the ceiling looking down at the listener quixotically. The visual simile proved alternately bizarre, "I belong to no one like the watermelon," and meta-cognitive, "I belong to no one, a song without an album." Strange and instantly singable, "Needle" offered the way "away" as final edict of the chorus suggested, alone as the new together.

4. Haim - "The Wire"

Formally and informally, I said enough disparaging things about Haim that I shouldn't be allowed to include them on this list, but, "The Wire," like all great pop, is simply undeniable. The lyrics are generic, and this is one of the great strengths of this song as it transitions to heavy-rotation at Top 40 radio sometime in early 2014. "The Wire" ripped and pulsed, a borrowed Thin Lizzy guitar and a clap-track designed to break necks, the yelps and undulations of the chorus resounding as the singable modulations of a modern teenage wasteland. For the worse, 15 years ago teenage girls idolized Britney, Christina and Jessica. Now, they have Haim and Lorde, two artists who largely write their own music and are comfortable being perceived as weird, girls who successfully recast what being girls can be. For that alone, "The Wire" and "Royals" should be the two most important songs of the year.

3. Lorde - "Royals"

I remember where I was the first time I heard "Royals," always a mark of a song's durability and impact. Ready to hate it - Lana Del Rey leaves this writer immensely flat - "Royals" instead charmed instantly. I quickly became a Lorde Birther - there was no way she was actually 16, I thought - before becoming a Lorde evangelist: This girl, who cares how old, was the absolute Truth. It was just "Royals," the rest of the Love Club EP was promising, as was "Tennis Court" and then her debut LP. They were songs where the image was about destroying imagery. Maybe a partial closing argument for postmodernism, this teenager could make meaning out of the abscence of meaning. More accurately, she could salvage meaning from imagery. Above all, "Royals" was a great jam, the hottest and most essentialized version of the R&B diaspora.

2. Arcade Fire - "Afterlife"

"Afterlife" was the "Sprawl II" of Reflektor, the second-to-last song and proof that the band still had a great pop song in a challenging record. For an album about division and the terrible forces of modern life, "Afterlife" was the most human of songs, privileging our screams and shouts, proving that these tiny human voices could make something from the madness. It made you want to fall in love, or to struggle in saving the love you had, asking the pregnant question, "When love is gone where does it go?". The answer was nowhere, as Butler sang, "Afterlife, what an awful word," there was no next movement, just this. Of course, given the stakes of life and death, or maybe, more accurately, figuring a way to live coherently while alive, "Afterlife" asked for, maybe even demanded, our energies.

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