Best of Year: Best Songs of 2013 (Part 1)

In a world with too many voices, too many lists, and too much music, here are some words I wrote about my favourite songs of the year.

Now obviously I wouldn’t just do this in an ordinary manner, so I’ve done it all in ‘ottava rima,’ a poetic form probably best known by English speakers as having been used by Lord Byron in his satiric narrative poem Don Juan. This is part 1—songs 20-11—and part 2 will follow soon. Unless I lose interest. Enjoy (and read Don Juan).

20: Young and Beautiful by Lana Del Rey

No matter what you think about her lips
(Though they appear to hold more added air
Than any not-yet-opened bag of chips)
One can’t deny she has a sultry stare
To match her glorious voice, that often rips
My spirit clean; she’s more than I can bear.
And in a Gatsby film so ably helmed
By Baz? It always leaves me overwhelmed.

19: Byegone by Volcano Choir

It may not quite be strictly Bon Iver
But Justin Vernon does whatever he
May want to do, and I’ll be waiting there
To buy it if I have a chance to see
His warm, non-threatening face and straggly hair
Promising comfort and security.
Besides, which song would not gain prominence
With lines like ‘Sexing all your parliaments’?

18: Resolution by Matt Corby

When fresh young Matthew Corby first appeared
On Aussie Idol clad with shorter mane
And noticeably less impressive beard
(And much more Christian faith), you’d call insane
A person claiming that kid had long reared
The seeds of ‘Resolution’ in his brain.
It’s also nice to know he’s got another
Song as sublime as that old favourite: ‘Brother.’

17: Dojo Rising by Cloud Control

I hate to be the one that harkens back
To previous albums, but the Cloud Control
Debut was perfect for when skies would lack
A hint of cloud, and time allowed a stroll
Around the block just one more time to stack
Your happiness for days when troubles roll
T’wards you. Yet this song doesn’t need to capture
The first album’s consistent gift of rapture.

16: Royals by Lorde

While some have seen their faith in pop restored
By this sixteen year-old, it’s more surprising
How hastily the masses so deplored
This undeniably fine track, comprising
Of clicks and attitude, when radio roared
Its approval in the form of slowly prising
The public’s sanity away by playing
It ’til “Oh kill me now” we all were saying.

15: You & I by Local Natives

Its intimately private title tells
It all—I feel as though I am intruding
Upon this Local Native’s perfect yells
Towards his lover, leaving me concluding
That normal social etiquette compels
My exit, with this single man left brooding,
Reflecting on the beauties I will miss
Out on without writing such songs as this.

14: À tout à l’heure by Bibio

Pronounce the title? So superfluous!
This is a song to message to a friend
—When they no longer feel impervious
To all the woes vicissitudes may send—
Accompanied by ‘This may seem obvious
But hang in there, keep fighting til the end.’
Of course, this all I’d never do or say;
Sometimes my pen just gets carried away.

13: My Number by Foals

I’ve had tattoos that lasted fewer hours,
But Foals’ ‘My Number’ always, always lingers,
Like that one party guest whose stay devours
Your own recovery period: a thing as
Vital as air. If I had super powers
That let me forget songs, my nemesis
Would be this track. Oh, such film gold this is.

12: Entertainment by Phoenix

While famous folks bemoaning all their fame
Is something no-one ever wants to hear,
I’ll contradict myself and boldly claim
That Phoenix’s new songs do not appear
To trigger anger in my heart the same
Distracting way when other bands adhere
To giving off that stale, ungrateful stench.
I wonder if it’s just because they’re French.

11: Baby I’m a Car Crash by The Starry Field

Who needs a chorus? Not The Starry Field,
A man involved back with The Middle East,
That Townsville band to whom smart listeners kneeled
While offering many a sacrificed beast.
Too much I feel I maybe just revealed;
That ritual is reserved for an old priest.
The Starry Field released (I should be clear)
The best Australian album of the year.

10.5: Black Out Days by Phantogram

It’s hard to know if one should blame the Muse,
Oneself, or even blame the very band
Responsible when one struggles to choose
The right words to explain why this should stand
So lofty in the list with splendid views
Above the many songs on lower land.
Black Out Days is punkish, brash, and ambitious;
Perfect for when I’m feeling quietly vicious.

(Yeah sorry that last extra one is 10.5; my counting wasn’t great and I guess this is now my favourite 21 songs of the year. For Part 2, stay posted)

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Hear This Artist Today: Paul Thomas Saunders

I don’t know a whole heap about Paul Thomas Saunders. I couldn’t write his biography or even his Wikipedia article. I couldn’t introduce him before he gives a guest lecture to earnest young students. But he’s writing some excellent music, and he deserves to be heard by your ears. He’s a singer-songwriter with a guitar, and I think we need more of them, but he has a desire to flesh out a whole song rather than leave it skeletal and malnourished; think Bon Iver, Bon Iver rather than For Emma. Not that he really sounds like Bon Iver—I guess he’s more Ben Howard—but he’s certainly worth your time, especially if all your time includes at the moment is you sitting at your laptop.

Here’s his latest track.

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Hear This Band Today: Roosevelt

I’m an honest guy. And I’m the first to admit that once or twice (really not very many times though) I’ve written about an artist or a song and then never really listened to them again. But tonight as I let the fresh new German psychedelic dance-pop outfit Roosevelt threaten to disturb my sleeping neighbours, I knew this would be one of those artists that would make it to the iPhone. You’re right, I probably could’ve just said phone.

I was watching an interview tonight with a former German footballer, Michael Ballack, and was astonished by the quality of his English, apart from his tendency to say ‘far too less.’ But hey, he probably only says that because he’s picked up on how people say its antonymous cousin far too much.

Here’s the first Roosevelt track I heard which should also be the first Roosevelt track you hear. That guitar tone that kicks in after a while is the sonic equivalent of the first woodfire of a new Winter.

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First Listen: Holding On For Life by Broken Bells

You might remember Broken Bells, the collaboration between Danger Mouse and James Mercer of The Shins fame. If not, you might remember Garden State, the Zach Braff film that gave The Shins a chance to be heard in a slightly Queen Amidala context. If not, you might remember Zach Braff making the right decision not to appear much in the final season of Scrubs. And what’s one thing you’ll probably never need to scrub off a television screen? That’s right, a broken bell. And that brings us full circle and back to the music.

You’ve at least probably heard The High Road, the most popular track from their first album, but if not, that doesn’t matter, because here’s a fresh start. They’ve released a new song from an upcoming album. The track’s Holding On For Life, and the album’s After The Disco.

If you’re thoroughly underwhelmed by the new song, then here’s a chance to hear New Slang one more time, which no-one should ever turn down.

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Hear This Song Today: Advanced Falconry by Mutual Benefit

“oh to stare into the void / and see a friendly face / and find meaning in a word / in a moment of rare grace”

The lyrics above are unlikely to ever win a prize for profundity (isn’t that an ugly word, and isn’t a profundity prize an excellent idea for an accolade?), but even I have managed to descend from my tennis umpire chair of soaring snobbery and appreciate that even a simple, somewhat cliched sentiment can be enjoyed. After all, cliches become so for a reason, right? Mutual Benefit lather some quieter Dodos vocals over a High Highs track and imbue it with the spirit of what I imagine went through the mind of a 16 year-old Sufjan. Advanced Falconry’s the track, but Love’s Crushed Diamond is the album, recently released for your listening benefit. Actually, for some mutual benefit, as the musicians will profit financially. Hello capitalism.

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First Listen: Stream the new Arcade Fire album, Reflektor

If you can name a less-than-excellent Arcade Fire album then I’ll give you a special prize.

Ha, that’s impossible, so I guess my favourite sweater is safe. I’ll still give you a prize anyway though; here’s the new Arcade Fire album, Reflektor, streaming in full.

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Hear This Song Today: Us by Movement

They’ve been described (in that bastion of truth: the press release) as producing ‘seductive nocturnal music,’ and that’s not too far off for Sydney-based trio Movement. They may have a thoroughly un-Googlable name, but they combine that with that rare ability to repeat a musical phrase or idea without letting you get distracted by that nail that’s slightly too long.

I just spent about ten minutes trying to ascertain who they sound like, but had to conclude is that I’m having flashbacks to when I first heard their track Feel Real a few months ago. That’s the sort of quality journalism you get at this establishment folks: ‘They don’t sound like anyone, oh except for themselves.’ But I guess you could compare them to an Olympic Ayres trying not to wake their sleeping grandma in the next room. Like most of the less flashy Modular artists they don’t seem to be all that fussed about releasing volumes of music or information about future releases, but this top new track is called Us.

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