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The 50 Best Songs of 2013

December 4, 2013  |  10:31am
The 50 Best Songs of 2013
20. Foxygen – “No Destruction”
While the more unhinged moments of Foxygen’s debut tend to overshadow sugary, buttery pop songs like “No Destruction” (even with the delicious jab: “There’s no need to be an asshole / You’re not in Brooklyn anymore”), the softer moments balance out the record’s tidy nine tracks. 21st Century also balances our post-apocalyptic present day with the past Rado and France hold so dear. The true litmus test is whether a modern take on the classics can hold your attention, or makes you immediately reach for your Transformer record. Foxygen wins. This time.—Mark Lore

19. M.I.A. – “Come Walk With Me”
M.I.A. made us wait a good three years for her new album Matangi. After her label considered postponing its release even further, M.I.A. threatened to leak the album herself. Matangi’s second single, “Come Walk With Me,” is one of the album’s strongest. An airy and elegant track, “Come Walk With Me” shows a rare, more subdued side to M.I.A., whose songwriting ability sometimes get lost in the noise and extravagance of her material. —Eric Gossett

18. The National – “Don’t Swallow the Cap”
Fans of The National’s breakthrough albums Alligator and Boxer have seen the band gradually shift away from songs like “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” with frontman Matt Berninger sticking an album’s worth of memorable phrases into one single song. The best? “I have only two emotions, careful fear and dead devotion, I can’t get the balance right.” Or “Everything I love is on the table.” Or maybe even “Don’t know if anyone I know is awake.” These kind of quips are straight from the lives of people whose narratives peak late at night, who place too much significance in relationships or music or their own emotions, outsiders, the misunderstood, the self-destructive. The song sounds comfortable, even effortless, delivered naturally and without the labor that much of the recent output from The National seems to require. The more difficult songs are commendable for the band being unwilling to settle into their comfort zone, but as Berninger shouts out Nirvana and The Beatles in this cut, the impossible task of joining that company seems closer when The National are on the road more travelled.—Philip Cosores

17. Neko Case – “Man”
The conceit’s a no-brainer, though maybe not for Case, who bends genders as naturally as she grafts country, rock, Southern noir and bizarre non-sequiturs normally. Her hardest-rocking song ever, even including the New Pornographers, takes the simple conceit “I’m a man” as a license to taste bullies between her teeth and show men what a “man” is (“I’m not an identity crisis,” she insists, “this was planned”). It gets an appropriately steroidal backing of hyper drum rolls, blocky piano and off-the-rails guitar soloing with a couple harpsichord breaks only to give the aggression a place to charge back in. Give it up for Kelly Hogan’s harmonies, which give Neko’s head and abdomen some well-deserved torso. Oh, and there’s horns.-Dan Weiss


16. Majical Cloudz – “Bugs Don’t Buzz”
Plenty of the brooding tunes on Majical Cloudz’s Impersonator were considered for this list, but none hit with the immediacy (and lasting waves) of the album’s second-to-last cut, “Bugs Don’t Buzz.” With Devon Welsh’s vocals backed by little more than a looping, bare-bones piano part, he’s left do drive the number into an anxiety-ridden look at the end of life with his words alone—all kicking off with the soaring titular line: “bugs don’t buzz when their time approaches/we’ll be just like the roaches.”—Tyler Kane

15. Lorde – “Royals”
If we’re going to let outside factors affect discussion of this finger-snapping, simple singalong, can it be how the first woman to top the alternative chart in 17 years hasn’t even been alive that long, and it’s already outlasted Alanis’ “You Oughta Know,” which okay, was funnier. But the racism charges ignore the fact that while half her targets are rap signifiers (“Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece”), the other half are not (“trashin’ the hotel room” at least dates back to Van Halen, and there’s no star of any race that owns “islands, tigers on a gold leash”). Being teenage and a woman who speaks her mind, Lorde’s gonna be up to her curls in sexist double standards for years to come. Let’s remember this out-of-nowhere triumph from before she had a target on her back herself, a finger-snapping, simple singalong for people who simply haven’t seen a diamond in the flesh, and plenty who have.-Dan Weiss

14. Speedy Ortiz – “No Below”
Although “No Below” sports a lot of the characteristics that define Speedy Ortiz—gnarly guitars, tongue-in-cheek lyrics—here’s the hooky, anthemic outlier on Major Arcana that’s got the word “single” planted right on it. Sadie Dupuis tells the story of a later-in-life friendship, a signal of hope for those who might be moving away from grade-school pals or those eyeball-deep in depression. And to add weight to the already sentimental track, guitarist Matt Robidoux’s note-for-note mimicry of Dupuis’ wandering lines “True I once said/I was better off just being dead/but I didn’t know you yet” drives this one in as a bonafide tear-jerker.—Tyler Kane

13. Haim – “The Wire”
Fans of the L.A. sibling trio might consider “The Wire” to be Haim’s defining power-pop hit from their stellar 2013. For fans’ parents, however, it probably provides a dose of déjà vu under the pretense of the Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight.” The arena-friendly handclaps notwithstanding, it’s easy to see how the two jams exist as two sides of the same coin. The Eagles are the ones with the sneaking suspicion that their Friday night will be plagued by relationship troubles, but it’s the sisters Haim who are busy planning the ill-fated “We need to talk” drama to come. Sharing mic duties to lament their botched attempt to stay friends, the three are left to commiserate, shrug their shoulders and move along. Because in the end, it felt right.—Nick Petrillo

12. Superchunk – “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo”
Who says a band’s defining song can’t happen two decades into their career? This two-minute power-pop miracle is what rock and roll, and maybe art itself, was put on Earth to do: to defy death. Band friend David Doernberg dies and Mac McCaughan puts his sad, astonishingly honest feelings on the page, about how music can’t “fill up the space between all of the notes.” Then he reminisces about the Record Exchange and “some wild jockey up in the front seat,” and gives the title to the Skatalites’ keyboardist. “Me and You and Jackie Mittoo” is about how music is no substitute for life, yet fills up our lives anyway. As if to demonstrate why this is a good thing, McCaughan gives the song his sweetest, simple distillation of melody ever. It won’t bring anyone back to this earth, but it sure sounds amazing while you’re alive to hear it.-Dan Weiss

11. Vampire Weekend – “Ya Hey”
“Ya Hey” was the second single released off Vampire Weekend’s third album Modern Vampires of the City. Branching out further musically and lyrically, we find a 2013 Vampire Weekend bringing a more confident, perhaps more mature, take to their songs. “Ya Hey” is no exception. It perfectly showcases the poetic lyrical style of frontman Ezra Koenig blending with the catchy, carefree pop melodies that defined the group’s previous work.—Eric Gossett

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