2013 saw some truly huge acts releasing critically acclaimed albums that will no doubt become instant classics. Some bands, such as Daft Punk, made spectacular comebacks and others, like Lorde, were newcomers that took the world by storm. So what music did I love the most in 2013? Well scroll and you shall see.
BEST ALBUMS OF 2013
10. Soft Will – Smith Westerns
To be clichéd but perfectly honest, summer tunes don’t get any better than Smith Westerns’ tracks. Songs on the Chicago bands’ third album ‘Soft Will’, emulate iconic sounds of blissful summers and atmospheric indie pop. Similar to other indie surf pop bands like Best Coast, Girls and The Drums, the themes that Smith Westerns explore on ‘Soft Will’ focus on the lack of direction in life and the inevitable heartbreak faced by twenty-somethings worldwide. On tracks like the soaring Varsity, a dreamlike youthfulness evokes imagery of running down suburban streets as the sun sets on the horizon. This album perhaps signals end of summer and maybe even the end of adolescence as the band encourage us to stay “young at heart” whilst the world forces us to grow older.
Best tracks: Varsity, Fool Proof and 3AM Spiritual
9. Paracosm – Washed Out
Washed Out is the stage name for American musician Ernest Greene. He is considered the founding father of the chillwave movement along with musicians like Toro y Moi and Neon Indian. The chillwave genre can be determined by music in which electronic sounds are used to create music that washes over you, just as the name suggests. ‘Paracosm’ captures the perfect mood for summer through tracks that evoke feelings of spending long days on the beach watching the waves crash upon the shore. Lush, exuberant melodies swirl around your ears and entwine with each other creating pure euphoria and sundrenched bliss.
Best tracks: It All Feels Right, Great Escape and All I Know
8. …Like Clockwork – Queens of the Stone Age
The hard rock Kings of the desert, Queens of the Stone Age, made their long awaited return this year after an indefinite six year hiatus. During this time frontman and founder, Josh Homme, fell into a deep bout of depression after technically “dying” on the operating table, which almost made him quit music forever. This event clearly affected the sound of Homme and co.’s latest record. Full of the typically gritty, gloomy sounds you’d come to expect from QOTSA, but with an added sexiness, almost equated to the latest Arctic Monkeys album, AM.
Best tracks: If I had A Tail, My God Is The Sun and I Sat By The Ocean
7. Comedown Machine – The Strokes
Big statement, but The Strokes are perhaps the most influential band of the 21st century. Their new-age brand of alt-rock set up a pathway for imitations and wannabes. But for the original New York five-piece, their early music has only grown and matured with age and become some of the most important musical exploits of our time. Julian, Fab, Albert, Nick and Nikolai are all now in their mid-thirties and have grown as musicians and band mates. Their fifth album ‘Comedown Machine’ was released quietly in early 2013, and contrary to the hopes of diehard fans for a return to an early form, the album was completely different and rather experimental. But that didn’t worry; a new direction for the band was just what they needed and Comedown Machine contained some truly spectacular tracks.
Best tracks: All The Time, Happy Ending and 50/50
6. AM – Arctic Monkeys
British rockers Arctic Monkeys have had a huge couple of years. After 2011’s ‘Suck It And See’ showed a sleeker and softer tone to the band’s music – moving away from the hectic adrenaline rush of their first two albums – the band released their fifth LP ‘AM’ in 2013, possibly one of the smoothest, sexiest records of all time. NME gave it 10/10, a feat that happens none too often, and fans revelled in it’s seductive beauty. A soundtrack to late nights, it’s essentially made up of anthems for young British lads who want to woo girls, wear a leather jacket and gel their hair back like they’re John Travolta in Grease.
Best tracks: Do I Wanna Know?, R U Mine?, Mad Sounds and Fireside
5. Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend are geniuses. They have the ability to create diverse albums with songs that capture particular feelings or places perfectly. Successfully capturing the neurotic essence of their hometown of New York on their third album ‘Modern Vampires of the City’, the band were rewarded last week with a Grammy win for Best Alternative Album. The album was also named Rolling Stone Magazine’s Best Album of the Year, beating out huge albums from Kanye West, Daft Punk and Arcade Fire in the process. The magazine wrote on their website that this decision was made because “In 2013, no other record mixed emotional weight with studio-rat craft and sheer stuck-in-your-head hummability like this one.”
Best tracks: Finger Back, Diane Young and Unbelievers
4. Holy Fire – Foals
Oxford band Foals are experts in “math-rock” (that is, jumpy guitars and constantly altered time signatures) and are no strangers in creating catchy, upbeat hits. After 2008’s dancefloor filler Balloons from the album Antidotes, they won the critics over with 2010’s Total Life Forever which featured more melancholically sparse tracks like Spanish Sahara and This Orient. In February 2013 Foals released ‘Holy Fire’, their third – and best – album to date. Atmospheric, electrified, upbeat, eclectic, spirited, ‘Holy Fire’ really had all grounds covered. Prefect from start to finish, the album felt as though it was telling a story moving from song to song also meant moving from emotion to emotion; from the pure indie pop heaven of My Number to the slow drones of Late Night to the heartbreakingly reflective Moon.
Best tracks: My Number, Bad Habit and Out of the Woods
3. Bankrupt! – Phoenix
French indie pop overlords Phoenix graced us with yet another incredible, flawless album this year that truly lived up to the expectations from their previous effort, ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’. ‘Bankrupt!’ layered influences from Asia with their classic Daft Punk-esque electro-danciness. This album is so effortlessly cool they don’t even need to try anymore. Mindlessly danceable, impeccably French and instantly recognisable, it was everything a Phoenix album should be.
Best tracks: Drakkar Noir, Entertainment and Trying To Be Cool
2. Trouble Will Find Me – The National
New York’s The National created some of the most beautiful and poignant music in 2013 with their exquisite fifth album ‘Trouble Will Find Me’. They are a band enjoyed and loved by both cool Dads and angsty teenage girls alike, showing their diverse range and appeal. Heartbreaking, solemn and melancholic but with moments of pure joy and elation, ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ is an emotional roller coaster from start to finish, exquisitely performed by the New York band. Best enjoyed with a glass of fine red wine. Hahahaaha! Who am I kidding!? Just have the whole damn bottle. It’s what lead singer Matt Berninger would do.
Best tracks: Sea of Love, I Need My Girl and Graceless
1. Reflektor – Arcade Fire
Honestly, I don’t really feel like I need to explain how much Arcade Fire mean to me, but I will anyway just to allow you get a sense of how extraordinary they are. As my absolute favourite band of all time, it seems almost biased to place them on top of the list for both my favourite song of the year and album of the year. But to be perfectly honest, they are like no other band out there. Their music brings out such intense emotions in me that it can be overwhelming; often I am left feeling a mixture of extreme joy and unrelenting melancholy after listening to their more atmospheric and rousing tunes like Wake Up or No Cars Go. And in 2013 they again showed us why they are the greatest and most important band working today.
If there ever were an artefact that best represented to future generations what it was like to live in 2013, Arcade Fire’s ‘Reflektor’ would have to be the go-to item. With its mixture of electronic and orchestral elements, it’s current not only in sound but in themes. Focusing on representation and power of the media and human morality, it may be hard hitting serious stuff, but for our ancestors of the future – with their flying cars and iPhone 400s and such – they will be dancing (and crying) their little hearts out to this record until the end of time.
Best tracks: Afterlife, Reflektor, Supersymmetry, Here Comes The Night Time, Porno and We Exist
BEST SONGS OF 2013
10. Despair – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
New Yorkers the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released their fourth LP ‘Mosquito’ in 2013; the album was a clear throwback to the grungy 90’s full of vast rock anthems and was honoured with the year’s most hideous cover art. Since they broke onto the scene in 2004 with their biggest hit Maps (in my opinion, the greatest love song of our time) the band have shown an outstanding ability to rouse up a crowd with their epic atmospheric indie rock. Despair grows slowly over its five-minute length, beginning with a slow grind of guitars and paced drums that crescendos and reaches a daring peak with an explosion of heartbreaking vocals from frontwoman, the amazing Karen O. It’s surely a rousing crowd pleaser, but it’s lyrics evoke the song’s title, for instance “oh despair, you were there through my wasted life, you’ve always been there.” I guess you could say it’s the most heartbreakingly cool track of 2013.
PLACE IN HOTTEST 100: N/A
9. Step Up For The Cool Cats – Palma Violets
Although they are coming off the success of British alt-rock bands such as The Vaccines and Arctic Monkeys, Palma Violets are perhaps closer to The Clash or even America’s The Ramones in their sound. Displaying a grainy haze over the vocals and grungy weeping guitars, teamed with social commentary regarding Britain’s underground culture, Step Up For The Cool Cats is effortlessly cool and a taste of what is to come for Brit-rock in the future. Already gaining a legion of support from music critics and fans alike – their first single Best of Friends was named NME’s Song of the Year in 2012 -Palma Violets are making thrilling music, proving they’re certainly a band to get excited over.
PLACE IN HOTTEST 100: N/A
8. All The Time – The Strokes
Second single on The Strokes’ fifth LP Comedown Machine, was All The Time which burst onto the radio airwaves and proved that the boys could still rock. It also exhibited all of the classic Strokes elements they’re known and loved for – the screaming guitars, the pounding drums, the woozy vocals. It’s very accessible and perhaps most akin to the attributes of the band’s ‘Room On Fire’ era in 2003. Its vibrant rush of guitars is piercing and exhilarating, and the iconic drones of Julian Casablancas provide an angsty tension for the rather melancholic lyrics, which speak of the band’s successes and hopes for the future.
PLACE IN HOTTEST 100: N/A
7. Sea of Love – The National
It’s difficult to put The National’s gloomy solemn beauty into words; often their music is passed off as depressing or bleak, but in many instances it’s actually rather uplifting and joyful. This joy is no better shown than within the chilling beauty that is Sea of Love, one of my favourite songs from their fifth LP ‘Trouble Will Find Me’. The track is perfectly sums up everything the band stands for: Driving melodies, thumping drums, steely guitars, the gloomy vocals of Matt Berninger, and scathing social commentary (“What did Harvard teach you?”) are all shown in this epic love song.
PLACE IN HOTTEST 100: N/A
6. Reflektor – Arcade Fire
The title track of Arcade Fire’s fifth album was released suddenly in September after months of secretive street campaigns and speculations that a new single from the Canadians was in the works. Often heralded as the greatest band working today, Arcade Fire made a massive change in direction with Reflektor, which was an instant favourite amongst fans and critics alike. The song showcased an array of new themes and musicality for the band, who are most know for their atmospheric art-rock. On the album ‘Reflektor’ a production credit from LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy helped bring the disco-infused groove to this new music, as well as Caribbean tribal influences from the band’s time spent in Haiti and Jamaica.
This epic track grows and grows over its seven-and-a-half length, featuring everything an Arcade Fire song could possibly need: themes surrounding the dangers of the human desire to conform, layers upon layers of instruments with funny ol’ timey names, swirling harmonies, a funky fresh disco beat and, of course, a cameo from David Bowie.
PLACE IN HOTTEST 100: #16
5. Entertainment – Phoenix
Entertainment was the first single we heard from French pop kings Phoenix’s fifth LP ‘Bankrupt!’ and it gave a clear indication of what to expect from the rest of the album. With its combination of Asian inspired electronic synths, soaring melodies and glossy production, the track proved that the band was sticking to what they know best, but showed they were also turning up the volume. With all the members of Phoenix nearing 40, it’s no surprise that although their music remains fun, the lyrics take a darker more contemplative turn. This contemplation provides a melancholic observation on life and love, with lead singer Thomas Mars boldly admitting, “I’d rather be alone” at the chorus’ closure.
PLACE IN HOTTEST 100: #166
4. Do I Wanna Know? – Arctic Monkeys
Lead single on Arctic Monkeys fifth LP ‘AM’, Do I Wanna Know? showed a new side of angsty allure that led on from the band’s 2012 hit R U Mine? From its initial grinding guitar rift, to its dirty lyrics laden with sexual ambiguities, to Alex Turner’s woozy vocals, Do I Wanna Know? is sleazy rock ‘n’ roll at its greatest. And all of this from a couple of lads out of Sheffield.
PLACE IN HOTTEST 100: #4
3. My Number – Foals
I’m not ashamed to admit that My Number was perhaps the No. 1 track of 2013 that made me dance around my bedroom like a crazy person the most and it’s definitely a standout on their third LP ‘Holy Fire’. It’s a song of pure indie pop heaven, with listener friendly dance beats and an insanely catchy chorus; an instant “pick-me-up” that leaves it’s catchy chorus stuck in your head for days.
PLACE IN HOTTEST 100: #29
2. Finger Back – Vampire Weekend
As soon as the first few chords hit my eardrums, Finger Back was instantly my favourite track from ‘Modern Vampires of the City’. It displays outstanding musicianship of jumpy beats, Americana organs, driving guitars, distorted vocals that sound like old Animal Collective and one hell of a spoken word interlude. Truly a near perfect indie-rock song; and it was my favourite track in 2013 until a certain band out of Montréal, Canada released what was to be the greatest record of the year in my eyes.
PLACE IN HOTTEST 100: N/A
1. Afterlife – Arcade Fire
Afterlife is the second “single” taken from Arcade Fire’s 4th LP ‘Reflektor’ and the track is immediately recognisable as a product by the Montréal six-piece. It’s a simplistic yet jaunty tune, which takes its influences from 80’s art-rock-electro bands like New Order and Talking Heads, whilst infusing layers of Haitian inspired tribal grooves. The up-tempo beat remains steady throughout making it one of the most danceable tracks ever produced by the band.
Afterlife’s closest relative would probably be Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), the epic 80’s inspired dance track and closer from their last LP ‘The Suburbs’. The song’s lyrics are – as always – heartbreaking and dripping in social commentary. In the instance of Afterlife, Arcade Fire focus on the pain and suffering of reaching the end of a relationship, and even more melodramatically, the end of life itself. With its focus on themes of faith and adoration whilst retaining a joyful and uplifting sound, Afterlife allows you to (in the words of frontman Win Butler) “shake your arse with a tear in your eye.”
In fact, Afterlife is perhaps the year’s most joyous song about the dissolution of a relationship. Placed second last within an album comprising (almost) purely of up-beat love songs, Arcade Fire have deliberately chosen to distance Afterlife from the remainder of the record, not because of difference in musicality, but difference in themes. Butler laments about love and loss in the song’s chorus, crooning, “Can we just work it out?” whilst his wife, Régine Chassagne harmonises angelically, joining him on the lines “When love is gone, where does it go?”
Focusing on and exploring universal themes such as love and life is what makes Arcade Fire such an inspiring and exciting band to listen to. By bringing up the complications of retaining solid relationships, Arcade Fire are able to create an immensely meaningful love song that still makes you wanna dance like crazy. Listening to this song is about as close to a religious experience as you can get without going to church. If Arcade Fire are planning on selling a ticket to the real Afterlife, sign me up to cry Hail Mary and praise the Lord baby Jesus.
Essentially, it’s the use of shiny synths and distorted sounds combined with their signature atmospheric melodies and melancholic lyrics that make Afterlife a true standout track on ‘Reflektor’ and my favourite song of 2013.
PLACE IN HOTTEST 100: #54
Notable Mentions: Get Lucky – Daft Punk, I Need My Girl – The National, Drakkar Noir – Phoenix, If I Had A Tail – Queens of the Stone Age, Diane Young – Vampire Weekend, Gun – CHVRCHES and Harper Lee – Little Green Cars