2013 in review:
20-11: Lebron James in 2012
20) Vampire Weekend – Unbelievers
By and large, I think people take Vampire Weekend too seriously. Articles from several pop culture touchstones make mention of the band’s “unexpected success” and how unlikely it is that “this group of Ivy League upstarts matured beyond their Byzantine roots …” and so on and so forth until my eyes explode and blood shoots from my head.
Fuck anyone who spends too much time thinking about this band’s larger place in the world, anyone who honestly thinks this album sounds so much different from the rest, anyone who puts gimmicks like “trilogies” and “songs that address GOD, man!” above the number one rule of music: you can’t knock a hit. Vampire Weekend makes fun music. This is a fun song. If you want to find greater meaning, it’s there for you. If you want to just enjoy something catchy, you aren’t wrong, either.
19) K. Michelle – V.S.O.P
If you told me at the start of the year that one of my favorite songs would be made by a reality star, I would have made fun of you to your face, kicked you in the shin, taken your girlfriend by the waist and rode off on my motorcycle. Truth be told, this song succeeds not because of K. Michelle’s vocals (which are good) but the dual sampling of “That’s How Long” and “Very Special,” two completely unstoppable songs.
Still, I need to give KM some credit for providing something that we haven’t truly had since Lil Kim (or maybe, MAYBE Eve): the down-ass, ride-or-die gansta bitch that knows her man is doing wrong and lives with it. K Michelle is the woman from 50 Cent’s “21 Questions” video. She is Ray Liotta’s wife in Goodfellas. She’s Jadakiss’s girlfriend, she’s the kind of woman Pusha-T would put in charge of the cocaine, and tonight, she’s going to light some candles and get the fuck DOWN.
18) Mister Lies – Dionysian
Pill music, by definition, is the kind of spacy, glitchy, airy, rhythmic electronic music that people who are losing their mind on pills can (and should) listen to. By and large, pill music is no different than a black light poster or a dog-eared copy of Dazed and Confused: something to use in the aid of getting high and not much else.
Sometimes, however, trippy electronic music can surprise you. Sometimes it can move from a cloud form only to rain down on you in big, soupy drops, drops that slowly form a puddle you want to wade in, a puddle that rumbles with bass and tells you that now is the time to stand up and be true. “Mister Lies” is a song like that.
(If that second graph made sense to you, odds are good you like pill music.)
17) Phoenix – S.O.S. in Bel Air
I can pinpoint the exact moment I realized that Phoenix is not a cool band. I was at Made in America in Philadelphia and the band was ripping through their hits. In the middle of “Lasso,” I took a brief break from dancing like a man covered in ants and looked at the crowd. I found a nation of college kids and rap youths sitting on the pavement, waiting for this weird bunch of French dads to stop making keyboard rock so Beyonce could come out and play “Love on Top.”
So, sure, no one really looks that cool trying to open for Beyonce, but what I realized in that moment is that songs like “S.O.S in Bel Air” are not cool songs because they are not about cool things. They are about awkwardly laughing at a joke so there won’t be a silent pause. It’s music to check your phone to at a party where you don’t know anyone. They make songs for close friends doing dork shit in safe places. Can’t cross the line, can’t stop trying.
16) Ciara – Body Party
The sexiest woman in rap dancing made the sexiest song of the year, and she did so by reminding the world that “My Boo” exists and getting her boyfriend to coo into an auto tune track. Fuck a Grammy nod, Ciara has done more in a year than most of us will ever do in our lives.
15) The Minors – Moon Date
The legend of Weird Al’s “Dare to be Stupid” is that, upon finishing the song, Odd Allen went to Mark Mothersberg (of Devo’s) house to play the parody song that was based on his band’s seminal work. Mothersberg, upon hearing the track, said this:
“I was in shock. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. He sort of re-sculpted that song into something else and, umm … I hate him for it, basically.”
That is how I feel when I listen to “Moon Date.” Anyone else trying to make pop rock should just hang it up. Shit is mad ornate.
14) Deafheaven – Dream House
“Dream House” sounds like six songs going at the same time. All of them are the most joyful rock music of the year. I can understand how people might be turned off by it, seeing as “it’s a metal band” and “you can’t understand the words” but fuck all that. How you say something is just as important as what your say, and Deafheaven has the “how” down.
13) The Bronx – Pilot Light
The dudes in The Bronx are not especially old, but their music sounds like it comes from a different time. Which isn’t to say that it apes a time period (like Dr. Dog) or is stuck in a no longer viable past (like, say, Buckcherry or whatever). “Pilot Light” sounds like a muscular holdover from a time when punk rock had to exist soley in basements and shitty metropolitan VFWs, lest it get crushed by glam rock or new wave.
More importantly than that though, it reminds that punk, glam, metal and whatever else kind of music has more in common with themselves than people realize. At the end of the day, we all just want to rock the fuck out a little bit. No song this year rocked out harder.
12) Apparat – A Violent Sky
Music to think to.
11) Big Sean – Fire
Large Sean causes problems for me. 90 percent of the time, he’s not much more than a walking, talking penis dressed in a flat brim and a gold chain and, as such, totally easy to diminish as some kind of horrible Drake / Ying Yang Twins hybrid. Then there are songs like “Fire,” in which Sean takes one of the year’s best rap anthems and runs wild all over it. Sean’s rag-to-riches narrative isn’t special, but his full-on belief that success can’t ruin hustle sounds larger than life and, (fuck it’ I’ll say it) beautiful. If I have to sit through 100 lame Big Sean songs to get one “Fire,” I’ll take that trade.
10-1: Jordan in the 90s
10) Aure Ne Veut – Play by Play
This is how you move things forward. The last 15 months have seen bedroom producers making R&B approximations with varying levels of success. The best ones have sounded like subdued retreads of the late 70s and 80s (Rhye, Inc.), the worst have sounded like someone got high, listened to Weeknd and a Boyz 2 Men cassette than created a Soundcloud account (literally everyone else).
Autre Ne Veut did something different. “Play by Play,” takes its influences (pill music, EDM, Prince,) and jams them together, creating electronic R&B that legitimately sounds like nothing else. It’s a dynamic, active, kinetic song that still manages to be both sexy and heartbroken.
9) Earl Sweatshirt – Sunday
Let’s get this out of the way: Frank Ocean raps sometimes.
Moving on, there’s a ton to like here: Earl’s two-headed embrace of his celebrity while seeming like he’d be so much happier is he were just some dude again, the thumping, rolling beat that sounds exactly how I think California looks, the general “fuck it, I’m just rapping” mood of the track, the fact that Earl seems poised to be the West Coast’s answer to MF Doom. This song is a vacation.
8) The Men – Bird Song
If an alien came down from the sky and asked me to explain to it what Rock and Roll music is supposed to sound like, there are a few moments I would share with it. The breakdown in “Stuck Between Stations.” The opening riff from “Hey Hey My My,” The guitar solo from “Johhny B Good.” Add to that list the first 30 seconds of “Bird Song.” American rock and roll is dead. Long live American rock and roll.
7) Off With Their Heads – Nightlife
I could write a college paper about this song, but I could also write the world’s longest Livejournal entry about this song. Let’s just say that this is the best, most accurate song about hating yourself that I’ve ever heard and move on.
6) Drake – 5am in Toronto
It would be so much easier to hate Drake if he wasn’t capable of putting out songs like this. “5am in Toronto” is a giant fuck you to everyone who hoped for his failures, everyone who thought he couldn’t rap, anyone who thinks he’s just some teen-aimed R&B “rapper” (in other words, this song is for me). In a little over three minutes, Aubrey validates every hyped-up moment of an entire career, then FUCKING CASTS THE SONG ASIDE AND LEAVES IT OFF HIS ALBUM. I hate you, Drake.
5) Plow United – Meggers
“Meggers” is a crash course in all the right things that punk has ever done in one song. Of course it comes from a band of dudes in their 30s who had walked away from punk for about a decade to pursue jobs and outside lives. You can only make music like this when you are desperate or comfortable. Plow United sounds old, but not jaded, accomplished but approachable, wise, but idealistic. It’s a beautiful song that inspires beautiful feelings.
4) Pusha T – Hold On
Pusha T makes a lot of references to characters from The Wire on his latest album. “Hold on” is King Push at his most Prop Joe-ish. Something that is often lost about Pusha is that he doesn’t want people to live life like he has. He’s always had a peaceful streak in his music; he never wanted to be a monster, his life forced him to be. All things equal, he’d want to extend a hand, bring everyone up with him. He stands head and shoulders above most rappers, but he genuinely seems to want people to stand with him, not below him.
All this, plus one of the best beats of the year and a song that makes Rick Ross sound both enormous and humble.
3) Kanye West – Blood on the Leaves
Fuck anyone who protests the use of “Strange Fruit,” like West isn’t “worthy” of that song. Fuck anyone who says auto tune can’t convey emotion. Fuck anyone who doesn’t feel his or her world come apart when the beat drops at the 1:07 mark. Fuck anyone who listens to this song and doesn’t hear art, pain, longing, regret or themselves in the music. Fuck everyone who thinks Kanye West is an overblown celebrity. Fuck everyone who doesn’t see the future of what rap music can be changing before our eyes. Fuck everyone who doesn’t believe in Kanye West.
2) Haim – The Wire
Hey, have you ever noticed the similarities between Haim and Fleetwood Mac? I don’t think anyone has really brought that up before.
1) ASAP Rocky – Fashion Killa
I should know better, but the heart wants what it wants.