I’m baaack! I took a truly European holiday–not that I was in Europe, just that I took a lengthy time off and didn’t really touch work. But, we’re back for 2014 and it’s going to be a good year. Lots of fun things things planned like this. Every month, Lars’ music editor, Kev Nemelka creates a playlist for us. 

Every year my friends and I gather Top 20 lists and compile them into one newsletter, listing our favourite songs in order (number 20 down to the what we think is the number 1 song of the year) and give explanations as to why we chose each song. Please enjoy.

Top 20 Songs of 2013
20. “Doin’ It Right (feat. Panda Bear)”—Daft Punk.  I wasn’t as affected by Pharrell’s 2013 takeover as everyone else seemed to be—maybe because I grew up listening to his stuff so it wasn’t anything new, nor was it ever bad so it wasn’t like he reached a new level of relevance in my music listening—and even though I think his presence on Random Access Memories is probably the most important part of the album, the Noah Lennox collab was the stand-out track for me: classic DP vocoder, echoic Lennox in the foreground, and a minimal metronome beat comprise the perfect formula for an anytime-anywhere song like this.

19.  “Gypsy” / “Venus”—Lady Gaga.  Her latest ARTPOP confused a lot of people for many reasons, and for the most part the album dealt with some pretty catty reception, most of which seemed like critics were just trying to outwit each other with their own versions of essentially the same review.  I personally don’t love or hate it.  Yes, every song is catchy, no, not much was very artful about it, but it’s a good pop album in general.  “Gypsy” is the glimmer of positive sentiment this album needed, and is the one ARTPOP banger I keep going back to.  On the other hand, “Venus” made my list for the following reasons: I’m a shameless astrophile, the way she sings the Zombie Zombie sampled “Rocket Number 9” intro for some reason pleasantly reminds me of Bowie’s “Ground Control to Major Tom” line, and her shout out to Uranus is straight venom.

18.  “Can’t Take It”—Crowd Shy.  This guy hasn’t broken out yet but his work is spot on.  Also, he’s based in SLC, which makes me all the more proud to have him on my top 20 list.  He knows how to stylishly construct a simple, successful pop song that appeals to fans of Penguin Prison and St. Lucia and the like but with a different touch of romance.

17.  “International Smile”—Katy Perry.  She will probably never make anything better than 2010’s Teenage Dream, but this sugary jam is a prime example of why her latest album isn’t at all a letdown (and why she’s really the only female pop star that finished the year unscathed).  She seemed to be on the same nü-disco wavelength as Daft Punk with this track, which one of my friends predicted would take over pop music this past summer (thank you Pharrell / is it time for the much-deserved deflation of Robin Thicke yet?), but I actually prefer Perry’s Dr. Luke, pop-infused style.  I wanted to put “Walking On Air” on my list because I personally think 90s vogue pop / alt r&b was the thing this year but the lyrics are a little too annoying to completely get behind (she rhymes “utopia” with “erotica” for sobbing out loud).

16.  “Don’t Save Me”—Haim.  Don’t watch interviews of these girls, they’re pretty unbearable, mostly because they’re all sisters and they never finish their own sentences, but also because they’re constantly told how cool they are and behave accordingly.  “Don’t Save Me” is one of many unforgettable melodies on their debut LP that strike hard with the sisters’ retro, Wilson Phillips belting and L.A. funk instrumentation.

15.  “Young and Beautiful”—Lana Del Rey.  I hate that this was affiliated with Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby because I think that film is perpetuating despicable behaviours in American twentysomethings, but this song is so perfectly haunting and gorgeous that you almost forget about the Gatsby syndrome that ensued and Lana’s faux-contemplative, plastic façade.

14.  “Dimming Light”—Tennis.  Another beachy sing-along from this adorable husband-and-wife duo, but this time with some great Supremes-esque piano chords that suit her vocals seamlessly.

13.  “Hard Out Here”—Lily Allen.  I’ve always loved Lily Allen’s inability to just keep her mouth shut, which works out perfectly for neo-Feminist singles like this one (nsfw warning).  I’m remembering when British songstresses ruled pop in 2007 (Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse, Kate Nash, Bat for Lashes, M.I.A.) but no one did it with as much attitude as Lily Allen; even though Miley is every magazine’s fiercest femme of 2013, Lily Allen does the hard-core bit with much more class (but maybe that’s just because I’m American and Brits will always be classier, no matter how chavvy they are).  Also, the (nsfw) video is one of the most entertaining parodies I’ve seen (again, Robin Thicke can suck it).

12.  “Let Go (feat. Kele + MNDR)”—RAC.  When I first played this song for a friend he accurately and poetically explained that it made him feel like he was listening atop a skyscraper.  Crisp, medium-tempo songs like this (and Miley’s “We Can’t Stop” and Lorde’s “Royals” and Chvrches’ “The Mother We Share,” etc.) have finally (and thankfully) replaced superfluous bro-step gutter trash that took over last year.  Kele and MNDR are a great fit for the standard-but-never-bad RAC vibe.

11.  “Stay (Branchez Bootleg Remix)”—Rihanna.  “Stay” is one of Rihanna’s best ballads to date, and this remix does it justice by simply speeding up the original tune, adding a sicky-gnar beat, and slipping in a subtle monster voice / cheerleader shout that really polishes off the reboot.

10.  “Adore You”—Miley Cyrus.  Really not that ashamed to admit that I’m an unfortunate carrier of the Miley Virus, maybe because I know when to ignore her trite gimmicks, i.e. 90% of the time, or maybe because when it comes to some of the songs on Bangerz, she’s really not missing the mark at all.  Yeah, most of the album feels like she’s trying to force her voice into a genre it wasn’t made for, but “Adore You” fits and it fits right.  It’s a beautiful love song of safety and marriage and things Miley doesn’t seem to stand for, but I’m an advocate of separating “artists” and their teams from their “art” and can overlook the foam finger and the sledge hammer and that exhausted haircut for the genius album art design and a ballad like this.

09.  “Hurricane (Chvrches Remix)”—MS MR.  I wish MS MR always sounded like this.  Chvrches gave the underwhelming original some much-appreciated attention, energizing the track with layer upon layer of revamped 80s New Wave rudiments.  “Hurricane” was probably my favourite dance party song of the year.

08.  “Help Me Lose My Mind (feat. London Grammar)”—Disclosure.  Last year’s release of “Latch” is what initially drew my attention to these DJ youngsters, and this song is my favourite from their 2013 album.  They’ve mastered that 90s minimalism we heard in both the Spice Girls and Jamiroquai but in a much less dated manner, and London Grammar was the perfect fit for this track.

07.  “Grins”—Charli XCX.  Some friends and I saw her with Marina & the Diamonds this past year for my birthday: babest gift any guy could ever ask for.  “Grins” is the best of many dark-pop, neon-goth ballads on True Romance (which I believe is a direct reference to Tarantino’s early-nineties screenplay) that doesn’t feel overthought or contrived like so much conventional pop.  Blood Diamonds (responsible for last year’s Grimes gem “Phone Sex”) produced this track, who, alongside Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim, Sky Ferreira, Blood Orange, virtually half of the artists on this list), worked magic on this album and finally made Charli a household name in underground pop.

06.  “Hold On, We’re Going Home (feat. Majid Jordan)”—Drake.  He is the only member of the hip-hop elite that made my list this year (JT almost made it with “Mirrors,” the distasteful Anna Mae reference in Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love” kept that song off my list, and is anyone else as sick of Jay and Ye as I am?  They learn about Basquiat, figure Gaga is onto something, and all of a sudden they’re art connoisseurs?  Set me on fire).  Drake croons on the same calibre as Chris Brown and Bieber but without the misogyny and scandal, respectively but not exclusively.

05.  “You’re Not Good Enough”—Blood Orange.  Dev Hynes, aka Blood Orange, is the closest thing to Prince since the purple majesty himself.  Such a sad, saturnine message of lovers falling short, but this song has some destroyer guitar riffs and a lovely boy-on-girl vocal arrangement.  Plus he’s a synaesthete and my style hero right now.

04.  “Team”—Lorde.  “Royals” was kind of cheesy but it was definitely the highest quality cheese I’ve had all year (and that’s coming from someone who went to a lot of 2013 weddings).  “Team” is different in that it’s edgier but still shows the youthful side of 17-yr-old Lorde.  She is essentially the antithesis of Miley, the Jennifer Lawrence of pop music, an insightful and creative young writer that isn’t buying into the corporate outline of producing hits.  Lorde’s success instills a subtle but greater hope in consumer-driven humanity—especially with top-down jams like “Team”—illustrating that perhaps the majority is smarter than we’ve always suspected and that there is finally a good reason that the mainstream is mainstream.

03.  “Heavy Metal Heart”—Sky Ferreira.  Even though I really wanted more of last year’s “Everything Is Embarrassing,” I thoroughly enjoyed this entire album, partially because I’m a sucker for Blondie and Joan Jett—whom Ferreira seems to have channeled rather heavily—and also because I love that she didn’t deliver what people were expecting. “You’re Not the One” and “Heavy Metal Heart” are Nighttime, My Time’s best tracks, the latter most expressly illuminating Sky Ferreira’s brilliant shift into femme-rock.

02.  “Bugs Don’t Buzz”—Majical Cloudz.  “If life could be forever one instant / Would it be the moment you met me?” On a long drive home I couldn’t stop thinking about missed opportunities with some high-class ladies and consequently couldn’t get this song off repeat. This is the only record I heard this year that made me weep.

01.  “Q.U.E.E.N. (feat. Erykah Badu)”—Janelle Monáe.  “Q.U.E.E.N.” is essentially a continuation of what “Born This Way” started a couple years ago. The acronym loosely stands for Queers, Untouchables, Emigrants, Excommunicated, Negroid, i.e. a summation of the marginalized in today’s culture, which makes the lyric “And yeah, I wanna be Q.U.E.E.N.” so much more powerful.  While addressing situations all over our unfortunately colourful spectrum of cultural problems—sexism, gossip, hatred, inequality in general—Janelle Monáe retains a lighthearted overtone with her truth-imbued mantra “The booty don’t lie” and the flawless funk production of this sophisticated nü-disco track. Her rap verse at the end of the tune proves that she is definitely our generation’s (better-dressed) Lauryn Hill, and the song is charged with some of the coolest and most applicable rhetorical questions ever posed. “They be like ‘Ooh, let them eat cake’ / But we eat wings and throw them bones on the ground” captures the mood of this track and the reason why it’s my number one song of 2013.
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