Top 50 Songs of 2013 :: [20-11]

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 20 to 11.

20. Okkervil River - "Down Down The Deep River"

No one did intimacy and nostalgia better in 2013 than Will Sheff and Okkervil River on "Down Down The Deep River". He took us into the tents of his past, using the the imagery of his childhood in a deeply cold New Hampshire, Sheff dished lines like, "We can never go back, we can only remember" which were tautological and still important. We are submerged by memories, his and ours, as the song, surges past six minutes, undeniably Okkervil River's best work since 2005, another memory we can only remember.

19. TV Girl - "She Smokes In Bed"

TV Girl described attractive self-destruction on "She Smokes In Bed". It wasn't a new idea, more like a trope really, a woman, fecund, damaged and damaging, sitting blithely in bed smoking the cigarette that will kill you both. Explosive femininity of this type does little to reason through why this woman is so compelling - see the chorus here, "Ba ba ba" - but "She Smokes In Bed" and its pumping soul-loops built a universe in which we were all happy to burn.

18. The National - "Demons"

What was surprising on the National's latest offering, Trouble Will Find Me, was the relentless ability of  Matt Berninger to be miserable in public. With a hefty six-figure income playing music to an adoring fan base that fills arenas, a brother who seemed to outweigh his problems in easy measure, Berninger still managed to dish lines like, "When I walk into a room, I do not light it up ... fuck." It was work being this sad, or maybe it was the pathos we expected from the band, Berninger providing us what we wanted even when he and we had undeniably changed.

17. Shy Girls - "Second Heartbeat"

2013 was the last days of the R&B craze and Shy Girls arrived as one of the last best pieces of the Empire with "Second Heartbeat". It was simple, quiet even, a reminder of the bizarre beauty of the 1990s of our memories. The chorus wrapped itself together in two parts, the drums almost a hair off-beat, the alleged "Second Heartbeat" of the title. It was, briefly, unity.

16. Wolf Alice - "Bros"

The Joy Formidable never went away, they just had their sound hijacked and turned up by Wolf Alice, among others. It was part Silversun Pickups, it was part the Pretenders. The explosion of the first movement, guitars and vocals erupting from some unseen location provided the magic of the Prestige that emerged over and over again. "Forget everyone", they told us, and this was easy. Nothing sounded as big and brash as "Bros", as the band sang, "there's no one quite like you," we suitably reflected the sentiment back. "Are you wild like me?" provided the best bridge of 2013, the last quiet movement before a wave of destruction returned.

15. Phosphorescent - "Song for Zula"

No song had the power to make you more miserable in 2013 than "Song For Zula". Pulling threads from Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia", string loops designed to cut, and lyrics like "I saw love disfigure me into something I am not recognizing," "Song for Zula" was a punch to the chest, a stab to the side, a caved-in knee; pick you visual metaphor here. "I will not open myself up this way again", Phosphorescent sang to us, explaining all the weakness he wouldn't let "Zula" see, though "Song for Zula" was exactly this window in his heart. "I do not lay here in the dark waiting for thee," he sang, though he would and did exactly that.

14. Emily Reo - "Coast"

It was the best unsigned LP of 2013, Emily Reo's seasick, laptop symphony, Olive Juice. Its best song, "Coast" stuttered over seven minutes, a mixture of Grimes and Beach House, the charm of Computer Magic and the baroque brilliance of the Postal Service. Modernity never sounded so broken, dated or beautiful as Reo's charming vocoded vocal soared out over a sea of keyboards. There were hints of menace and dystopia, a song that took too many shots of digital cold medicine before walking the world a trailing and dizzy mess. This is what 2013 sounded like for some of the hyper-literate and increasingly distant elite. It was, for seven and a half minutes, beautiful.

13. Mt. Wolf - "Hypolight"

Mt. Wolf jumped out of the gym this year, and then broke up, leaving us with a few scant songs and the promise of things to come that never would. "Hypolight" proved a brilliant and troubled composition, made all the more dour by the band's later break-up. "Put another light out", ringing as one of those lyrics so general that their application is only a matter of having a meaningful relationship with the aesthetic and emotive worlds. There was no debating the soaring, crystalline head voice of the first chorus, the onset of the drums reminding us that this all began on the ground. "Hypolight" was already tragic as a piece of art, and became more tragic still, now that its creators are no more.

12. Mary Cassidy and Jon Lawless - "Make It Do"

There was a particularly languid evening this August spent listening, largely, to Haim remixes and Jon Lawless and Mary Cassidy's "Make It Do". The dominant reflection of that night was a head-nodding, "This is just so good," twinkling keys set against Cassidy's delicate soprano. The two iterations of the chorus, trafficking in a rap-video chic (something Lawless did well before Lorde was a teenager), were finally united in a figure-eight weave through the arrangement's last moments. Cassidy was a dream and Lawless, a genius, as "Make It Do" evaporated from view in the same ethereal manner which it arrived; it was and is so good.

11. RAC - "Let Go" [ft. Kele and MNDR]

The RAC finished remixing other people's work by remixing their own. "Let Go" sounded like a Kele song, or a MNDR song onto which the RAC threw a sheen and a backbeat. But this was the debut RAC single, original work that sounded like a remix already. Were the lines between the remix and the mix blurring when a DJ sought out to two solo artists to guest on his own music? Of course, narrative is dead; the call was coming from, as it were, inside the house. Still, "Let Go" held one of the best hooks of the year, MNDR at the top of the room on the title lyric, Kele occasionally mumbling beneath. It wasn't quite a dance floor burner - it didn't have the BPMs - rather, it was one of the best pop songs of 2013, the kind of thing that Top 40 radio should well have put in heavy rotation, and, for you, thankfully didn't.

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